News from the Top

What is Your Community DNA?


I recently had the pleasure of spending some time in Nashville, Tennessee. Together with several members of the IDA team who also took part in the ASAE (American Society of Association Executive) Annual Meeting, we explored updated best practices in association management, tools for innovation, leadership, education, communications, and myriad member value approaches to enhance our day-to-day work.  Much like IDA’s forthcoming Annual Conference & Marketplace in Vancouver, the conference in Nashville was both an opportunity for learning and recharging our passion for delivering best-in-class membership services. 

I was gifted with an added benefit – I learned even more about one of North America’s iconic cities when I met with Nashville Downtown Partnership’s CEO, Tom Turner, to catch up on emerging topics while confirming new learnings. It begins with an impressive initiative where the organization was instrumental in securing a 0.5% sales tax downtown dedicated to increased ambassador service. With a projected $4M in added revenue, the presence of clean and safe personnel throughout the district was more visible than in any city I’ve seen in recent years. Additionally, I came to learn of added investments being made by the local CVB to the downtown organization for extending added services in areas surrounding the convention center. Many of the 4000+ ASAE attendees remarked on the well-kept downtown. 

I was fortunate to witness firsthand the underlying strength of Nashville. I’m a country music fan and have been all my life, but I was unfamiliar with professional songwriting. It turns out songwriters have publishing contracts, and the publishing company schedules “writings” in the office 40+ times a year. It’s like work scheduling a meeting: a songwriter is told to be at the office on such and such a day to sit down with one or two other writers to write a song. It’s a job, albeit creative, but it’s treated like a job with expectations on the part of the writer and publisher for an outcome. I found this to be fascinating.  

As city builders, we all have seen the benefits of live music and entertainment activating our cities across the globe. We understand the experience economy as a driver of success. However, when I dug a little deeper, I realized for Nashville it is not the outward performance of music alone that drives success. At its essence, this city is about the songwriting culture – it is in the community’s DNA.  

This DNA permeates how the community functions. Like song writing, the public sector, private sector and civic entities, work collaboratively to solve challenges. They show up with different ideas and innovative new approaches. The idea may emerge from one entity, is enhanced by a different entity, and together, is implemented through collaborations often to great success. As a community with creative DNA, experimentation and generation of a great many ideas is core to identifying alternatives.  Like any given song, every idea may not be a hit, but it never deters the community from authoring another idea. 

 So, what might be your community’s DNA? Instead of considering the traditional branding and messaging around vibrant cities, give some thought to the unique inherent strengths in your community’s culture.  What brings all walks of life and all sectors together in your community? If we can better connect our authentic community DNA, I think we’ll find more ideas emerging and many could become #1 hits.