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Citizen volunteers as place brand ambassadors?

Project Description

Participant evaluations of the Aarhus 2017 mega event

A key aspect of the Aarhus City of Culture mega event is that it is very much about citizen inclusion. The event’s volunteer program in particular is intended to ensure this inclusion as it aims “to involve citizens and create ownership of Aarhus 2017”. In addition, the volunteer program aims at training volunteers to be ambassadors: “welcoming tourists, acting as guides, supporting cultural events and much more”. In this way, the volunteer program can be viewed as playing a role in Aarhus’ city branding efforts that aspire to “make citizens good ambassadors, so each of them can tell their story about Aarhus in their own way”.

The place branding literature is currently very concerned with citizen participation in branding efforts. Many theoretical and case studies have recently been conducted to explore the potential of “citizen brand ambassadors” (Rehmet and Dinnie 2013), “participatory place branding” (Zenker and Erfgen 2014, Kavaratzis and Kalandides 2015), “roles of residents in place branding” (Braun, Kavaratzis et al. 2013), “brand co-creation” (Hatch and Schultz 2010) and “resident destination brand ambassadors” (Wassler 2014).

The bulk of these studies examine citizen participation in the managed, strategic (governmental) development of a place’s brand.  In contrast, the Aarhus 2017 case exemplifies a different type of citizen participation; here citizens are understood as part of the relatively uncontrolled word-of-mouth process in which they tell others their own unique stories about Aarhus.

The purpose of this project is therefore to evaluate Aarhus’ efforts to “make citizens good place ambassadors” from a volunteer participant perspective, and to relate these findings to current understandings of citizen participation in place branding. Through focus group interviews with Aarhus 2017 volunteers, the project asks:

  • How do citizen volunteers understand their role in the Aarhus 2017 mega event, and what is their experience with (and evaluation of) the volunteer program in this regard?
  • Do the volunteers view themselves as (good) place ambassadors?
  • Indeed, what does it mean to be a good place ambassador?