Thursday, January 2, 2014

Metrics? Performance measurements? Why are we coming up short in the measuring impact department?

It is disheartening, but I continue to read about BID formation efforts that are being challenged by the local business community [see Lake George Business Improvement District uproar, 12/31]. Much of the resistance is based on reasonable concerns by business owners and property owners (who are footing the bill) that their hard earned dollars will be misused - or worse - will undercut their ability to compete and earn a profit. Whether these concerns are misguided or not, they are a powerful call to action that we cannot ignore. Without metrics to determine the impact of BID efforts, criticisms of BIDs will not be based not on fact, but rather on knee-jerk reactions that have little to do with fact-based, return on investment, decision making.

As an industry, this should be a concern for all of us. Failure to define success, in very specific terms, will continue to undercut our ability to utilize Improvement District's as a tool for successful urban transformation. In England, they seem to be ahead of the curve on this issue. I continue to read about Business Improvement Districts throughout the nation increasingly using metrics to evaluate their activities. One increasingly common tactic is a measurement of pedestrian counts, or as they say across the pond, "footfall". Pedestrian counts, or footfall, is an important metric that can tell a commercial district manager the level of pedestrian traffic in a community. Retailers know that pedestrian counts equal sales - so this information is extremely useful for both existing and potential new businesses.

In a recent project in Pittsburgh ["Mount Washington signs up for more customers", 8/12], we decided to incorporate pedestrian counts as a performance metric to determine the impact of new investments in business signage. The results were outstanding and reinforced what businesses were already telling us - pedestrian counts had increased by nearly 30% and as a result so did business. Mount Washington CDC is now fielding requests from other businesses to put up similar signs. The ability to quantify impact is a powerful tool that served to further reinforce the value that Mount Washington CDC brings to the table through its efforts.

A recent article from a local British paper ["Footfall monitors to track town shoppers", 12/31] chronicles a similar recent decision by a local city government to help fund footfall monitors which are "commonly fitted in many managed shopping centres and used to provide intelligence about the numbers and times of visitors, which help to inform marketing strategies and decisions about investment."

As an industry, this is a call to action. We can and must do better to measure the impact of our work. The report requesting funds to the local cabinet in England made the case for footfall monitors very clearly: "the wider town center has no means of evaluation and as a result decisions taken...are not informed and intelligence." This is a significant challenge that we must face head on if we are to ensure that effective BID's are credited with being the change agents they have proven to be in many places...AND to ensure that ineffective BID's are fixed and/or dissolved if need be. No one should be forced to pay for ineffective services, but if you don't measure impact, how do you improve service delivery or even make decisions about improving interventions and the use of limited resources overtime? The short answer is, you can't.

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