The trend of reputation and brand management in Norwegian municipalities is extraordinary in an international context. Government-sponsored learning programs, consultancies, the media and researchers have given the trend significant attention. Inspired by comparable initiatives in the private sector, this trend is importing a market-like logic into the public sector and local democracies. The main aim in this project has been to increase the knowledge about reputation and brand management as a phenomenon in municipalities: How do processes of reputation building and brand management play out in Norwegian municipalities? Do these processes serve as an integrative force, or do they create new conflicts or intensify existing ones? Do they lead to more formalization and control? Do attempts at reputation building and brand management affect local identities and culture? Do reputation and brand management efforts have beneficial effects on broader municipal governance?
Findings are that municipalities work extensively with reputation and brand management and that there most often is political agreement about objectives and procedures. Municipal strategies vary with context, and are contingent on size, identity and media influence. In sum, we find that municipalities address a different set of values than does the private sector, and that the processes of reputation and brand management most often serve as an integrative force. The strategies most often involve a focus on identity and culture. We find that reputation and brand management may have implications for municipal governance in a broader sense and that it often involves participation from a variety of stakeholders. Reputation and brand management affect employees' attitudes and citizen identity as well as the ways in which the municipality communicate with the broader environment. As such, these processes have led to a renewed focus on the importance of effective communication - especially on the ways in which strategic communication can enhance the municipality's reputation. This entails democratic challenges, as it is likely that municipalities will seek to downplay aspects that may undermine their strategies and hence, their reputation.
Norwegian municipalities have become the arena for various activities related to reputation and brand management. This project sets out to study these activities in detail. As very limited research exists, this project will fill a number of empirical and theoretical gaps. The purposes are to determine how reputation and brand management initatives unfold internally, how they are manifested externally, and to identify their effects. Using a combination of qualitative and quantitative approaches, the propos ed project focuses on central issues such as the politics of branding, formalization and control, the content of self-presentation, differentiation issues, symbolic aspects, the revitalizing potential for local democracy, and the implications for governan ce and policy.
The project description presents the state of knowledge and work packages, and provides detailed research questions. The proposed choice of method includes about 12 case studies and 120 interviews (including a comparison with Denmark), a survey of all municipalities in Norway, studies of municipal web pages, media articles and publications by various third parties.
The proposed network of researchers involves three institutions; it is interdisciplinary, and has previously collaborated on a book project.
The topics addressed in this project proposal have a clear relevance to society. Trust in the municipality is of crucial importance to everyone. Reputation and brand management activities in municipalities are likely to affect the public agenda, citizen identities, participation and democracy. It is also likely to affect municipal policy, the governing of the municipal apparatus, and at least it aim to have implications for the number of job applicants, business start-ups, tourism and th e like. This research is assumed to be of great interest for decision makers at all levels, for the broader public and especially for those directly affected in the municipalities.