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AI this and AI that: AI in Economic Development and Design Thinking

Updated: Mar 27

You can’t escape this topic at the moment, new tools, new use cases are everywhere. AI has arrived in economic development and destination marketing as examples show by Costa Rica with its first AI-driven Nation Branding Strategy or Dublin’s partnership with OpenAI to develop AI-powered tourist itineraries


In speaking with peers about how they use AI within their Economic Development

Organization (EDO) or Destination Marketing Organization (DMO), the discussion circled around the following:


  • AI can be many things (i.e. machine learning, generative AI, natural language processing, computer vision): what exactly do you define as AI in your organization and how do you develop ethical principles around AI usage in your organization?

  • We are in a people business. Some organizations are intentionally focusing now on the things AI can’t do to provide the best services to their community, investors or tourists. What are these human-centered services?

  • Is developing a proprietary In-house AI tool better or using one of the many AI tools that are on the market? 

We at the Location Lab recognize following AI applications in the design thinking and economic development space as particularly useful, surely there are many more to come:  


AI is your wingman for idea generation

One of the attractions of applying Design Thinking/Service Design to economic development is the many tools it offers for generating creative ideas to help solve problematic econ dev challenges.  AI can be used as a catalyst for ideation, the act of creating and generating ideas. For example, think of ChatGPT as your brainstorming buddy, a virtual sidekick or your wingman. AI tools can foster ideation in the Design Thinking process by simulating conversations, rephrasing ideas, and challenging assumptions. However, AI isn't a surrogate for human interaction. Design Thinking's core lies in human-centricity and empathic understanding. AI is a facilitator in the process, complementing real-world user and stakeholder interviews and insights. It's a tool to spark creativity and exploration but cannot replace genuine human interaction, which is the heart and soul of Design Thinking applied to economic development.


AI aids pinpointing ideal matches for investor’s needs

Probably the most obvious use case for AI is in location analysis and market research. Economic developers, who are generalists but not industry experts, require comprehensive market research for investor projects. AI tools can swiftly gather and analyze vast amounts of data, providing valuable insights into market dynamics, industry trends, and competitor analysis. Through AI, economic development and investment promotion specialists can support investors in identifying the best location. While AI helps in the search for personalized data which is crucial for any expansion project, relying solely on AI without any other validation is a bad idea (as of now).


AI empowers marketing teams

The most common application of AI is in marketing with many nifty helpers and tools to promote locations. AI empowers marketing teams to create tailored content, visuals, and campaigns. It enhances operational efficiency, allowing teams to focus on delivering content tailored to investors' specific needs and preferences. It can provide personalized responses to inquiries, disseminate information about programs, policies, and opportunities, and assist in creating content for newsletters, social media, or community outreach materials. For example, to create key visuals for your marketing campaign that are otherwise hard to produce such as showing your region’s landscape characteristics in combination with your key industries and technologies that you want to attract.


Is AI, with tools like ChatGPT, a revolution? I think it is more of an evolution—a powerful new ally joining the ranks of technological innovations, acknowledging its limitations and role as an aid in Design Thinking and for economic development strategies. Leveraging AI, while staying anchored in human-centric Design Thinking principles is the way to go. 


Looking for inspiration and support for your next innovation project or to solve a current strategy challenge? The Location Lab helps EDOs and IPAs in applying the Design Thinking principles. We bring clarity and alignment to teams with fun and engaging workshop programs. Much like AI, we are your wingman for strategy development. 



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