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Article: An Investor-Centered Approach. Design Thinking for Economic Development

Updated: Apr 13, 2020

Finding impactful solutions for Economic Development Organizations (EDOs) to improve their communications with foreign investors was the topic at our recent Design Thinking workshop at the Women in Economic Development Conference (WinED) in Savannah, GA.

How might we improve the foreign investor’s experience on your website

Together with an amazing group of women we explored the concept of Design Thinking in economic development. Design Thinking is a fairly novel approach in economic development. For this workshop, we shifted focus from a typically data-driven conversation in our field to a human-centered approach and looked at the foreign investor as a person. FDI is a people-business after all, building trust and relationships are as important as providing timely and accurate data to potential investors. At the end, it is a person - the CEO, CFO or a board member - who makes the location decision at a company.

A Design Thinking mindset is human-centered, highly collaborative and empathy-driven.

Design Thinking is a methodology that originated from the creative industries, and which has been successfully applied across other businesses and industries. Design Thinking helps people and organizations cut through complexity and to think like designers. Having a design mindset means to be human-centered, to explore and identify people's needs in order to develop solutions. It is highly collaborative and prototype-driven.

Using Design Thinking as the underlying concept for our workshop, we looked at how EDOs communicate with their foreign investors. As a widely used example for a communications tool we picked EDOs' websites. Most likely, a foreign investor looks at a location’s website at some point during the site selection process to gather information.

In pairs and as a group, each participant researched and collected the key pain points by using an investor persona and browsing the EDOs' website. The collected pain points were the basis to formulate a statement on how to improve the website experience for the foreign investor, and from there to develop solutions and ideas about communicating better with investors.

Small but relevant pain points were suddenly noticed during the workshop such as not being mobile-friendly and having a text heavy website

This was a short 1.5 hours workshop, but it generated plenty of useful insights for the participants. Small but extremely relevant pain points were suddenly noticed on their websites, such as not being mobile-friendly (hello? critical feature!), websites being too text heavy, or having crucial information buried and not visible to the website visitor.

Being innovative is not only having the next big idea, but also about making small changes to improve current processes and services. And Design Thinking is an ideal tool to innovate within an organization. Through the application of Design Thinking EDOs can become more innovative as a team in promoting their region, understand and communicate better with stakeholders and foreign investors, and access hidden strengths and knowledge of their team members.

What is your experience with Design Thinking? Are you going with an investor-centered or citizen-centered economic development strategy in 2017?

This article was published on LinkedIn, December 2016

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