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From Place-Branding to Community-Branding: A Collaborative Decision-Making Process for Cultural Heritage Enhancement

Institute of Research on Innovation and Services for Development (IRISS), National Research Council of Italy (CNR), 80134 Naples, Italy
Sustainability 2020, 12(24), 10399;
Submission received: 30 October 2020 / Revised: 3 December 2020 / Accepted: 10 December 2020 / Published: 12 December 2020
(This article belongs to the Collection Cultural Crossovers and Social Sustainability)


The international debate on cultural heritage enhancement and cultural cross-overs, highlights the need to rethink the relationship between economy, society and territory by working on innovative urban planning and evaluation approaches. In recent times, the concept of “place branding” has become widespread in strategic urban plans, linking marketing approaches to the attractive features of places. The purpose of this study is to outline a holistic approach to cultural heritage enhancement for urban regeneration based on creative and collaborative place branding: “Community branding”. The methodology was tested in Pisticci—near Matera (Basilicata region, Italy)—starting from its historic center. As a multi-methodological decision-making process, Community branding combines approaches and tools derived from Place Branding, Community Planning, Community Impact Evaluation and Place Marketing. The main results achieved include: an innovative approach that combines both management and planning aspects and empowers communities and skills in network; the co-evaluation of cultural, social and economic impacts for the Pisticci Sustainable Urban Lab (PLUS); the writing and signing of an “urban contract” with local Municipality, research centers and PLUS hub association.

1. Introduction

Against the background of current research and policy guidelines on the enhancement of cultural heritage in Europe [1,2,3,4], which is interpreted here as a shared resource conducive to an increased awareness of European values and a broader sense of community [5], research on “cultural cross-overs” constitute a crucial element to evaluate the effects of material and immaterial heritage such as health and well-being [6]. This reveals that such cultural exchanges are directly related to social sustainability goals. The latter are defined as an inclusive society based on human development—although the growing globalization still causes negative effects on cultural heritage and society such as urban decay or gentrification-led displacement from historic centers [7,8].
These negative impacts disregard the socio-economic needs of local contexts and the importance of intercultural dialogue, often resulting in the gradual impoverishment of local communities [7,8,9,10,11].
In recent years, within the disciplinary debate concerning the city, the issues of cultural values, talent and creativity [12,13,14,15,16,17,18] emerge together with social capital [19,20] as possible answers to these problems. Urban planning and regeneration address this perspective through new challenges related to the management of intangible cultural heritage, the system of physical and digital connections and growing glocal strategies [21,22,23].
At the same time, new forms of economy and management are increasing [24,25,26,27,28,29] which are trying to overcome the traditional forms linked to the capitalist system [30,31,32,33]. As a result, two new dynamic economies’ categories are wide spread: learning economies and network economies [34,35,36]. From these premises, it is evident for the need to rethink in a flexible and transdisciplinary fashion the relationship between economy, society and territory, questioning the exclusive use of urban planning tools or resource management tools [37,38]. This could be done by working on established urban planning and assessment tools on the basis of new elements coming from local resource management [39]. The core point is to introduce and apply a multi-methodological decision-making process that aims to include all stakeholder groups in a creative and collaborative way. This process could start in involving key local actors as representative of the main community sectors and then designing together a creative format to have a wide participation from citizens, as a result of social biodiversity and sustainability, in analyzing and implementing the place attractiveness.
Within the complex territory–economy–society system, local differences (in terms of natural, historical–archaeological, social resources, knowledge and skills, capital and infrastructures) can activate territorial production processes that build local attractiveness [40,41].
The place attractiveness is measured by its ability to bring together economic initiatives, tourist flows and qualified population, and is the result of a complex combination of spontaneous and planned factors with instruments borrowed from different disciplinary sectors [42]. If it is necessary to rethink the relationships among economy, society and the territory, we could define the need to experiment with hybrid approaches [43] that mix different disciplines in a collaborative, creative and productive way.
In line with this perspective, this paper proposes a multi-methodological community planning/evaluation approach [44] based on creative and collaborative tools and aimed at the cultural heritage enhancement [45,46] for urban regeneration, simultaneously creating new added value to community development. This is achieved by outlining a process that combines models taken from management and marketing sciences with urban planning/assessment methods taken from community planning [47,48,49,50,51,52] for trying to generate such innovative elements and community benefits.
In cities, as well as in companies, the innovation factors can be linked in particular to a new product design, a new production process, a new marketing approach, a new way of conducting education and training [53]. In this sense, identity, territory and community are essential multidimensional components to activate innovative processes of local productivity in a global scenario [54]. Production nowadays takes on an immaterial dimension. Indeed, immaterial values, such as innovation, brand and flexibility, tend to gain importance in the strategic visions of urban plans. Seeking to always be one step ahead of the competition (innovation) and to continuously adapt to market demands (flexibility), the brand constitutes the new institution of the information economy—similar to a factory in the industrial economy [55].
In recent years, brand management has become key in order to manage the consumption process in which the consumer links her own personal experiences or even her own emotional ties to a particular type of “brand“. In order to facilitate the creation of social and emotional ties, brand managers seek to create “brand communities” by proactively involving the targeted consumer. In the value-chain of a product or service, a crucial aspect consists in actively appealing to consumers and their opinions—only thus can a brand evolve into a symbol of the social value of the product or service [56,57].
Place branding [58,59,60] has grown in usage and relevance [61,62]. This concept integrates elements of commercial branding with the attractive qualities of places. The last years have seen cities grow in the global international context [63] which highlights commercial competitiveness—in the form of city branding—among urban policies [64].
The creation of a brand identity is based on multiple aspects. These include culture and its material expressions, such as buildings [65], monuments and other historical artifacts, as well as immaterial aspects and traditions that contribute to a community’s values [66].
Within the academic discussion, some authors [47,67,68] argue that the concept of branding may be easily applied to cities [23,62,69,70]. This seems based on the assumption that the value of a city may be measured on the basis of the satisfaction expressed by citizens and tourists—and that such a measurement may be used to compare cities with one another [47,71].
Although some authors oppose applying marketing terms and approaches to territories, since these have their own identity that evolves in unpredictable ways, the majority believe that the application of some marketing strategies, and the concept of brand, to territories and cities, is plausible [72] from a strategic planning perspective.
In this perspective, place branding implements the connection between knowledge and planning as well as between resources and skills in the management of urban heritage development.
If genius loci [73] concerns the phenomenology of places, architecture, landscapes and of communities, then place branding can be understood as the process of discovery, development and implementation of ideas and actions necessary to (re)build the defining features and the sense of place, towards a new local identity to be chiseled between tradition and innovation [74].
In this perspective, many cities are able to create new economic opportunities by experimenting with relaunch policies based on new identities and shared images [75,76,77,78].
Among the many place branding best practices [62], some cities have developed urban regeneration processes, starting from knowledge and culture projects, for enhancing urban heritage in an innovative way (also through new design models or the use of ICT tools): Rotterdam, Liverpool, Hamburg, Barcelona, New York, Turin etc. These best practices at a metropolitan level together with other small municipalities [61] show the potential of the network and culture for local development.
In the context of this debate, my research question is the following: how to build a Creative and Collaborative Decision-Making Process for Cultural Heritage Enhancement starting from place branding/marketing theories and community planning/evaluation approaches?
For responding to the above mentioned question, the research objectives aims to: (1) define a multi-methodological approach tailor-made for a community; (2) build and test simultaneously this approach for the cultural heritage enhancement of an Italian historic center together with different community sectors; (3) identify some key success and critical issues for the replicability of the approach.
The whole process has been structured through constant cooperation with the local community and monitoring of each step’s results: once the vision has been co-created, a collaboration with a team of experts has been established for the cultural and operational contents of the proposal and the first results have been communicated to the public through social media (
The methodology was carried out in Pisticci (Basilicata region, Italy) within a territory that was historically characterized by inefficiency of services and resource management up to the latest recent developments: Matera (Basilicata region; Italy), the first UNESCO site in Southern Italy in 1993 and European Capital of Culture in 2019. The candidacy and the victory of Matera as European Capital of Culture 2019 generated a unique process of community awareness on possible innovative local development scenarios.
Culture becomes the core of Matera’s identity as an example of sustainability that enhances values such as frugality, courage and resilience, a direct consequence of its marginality. Matera wants to be a physical and digital “Open Culture” platform that, thanks to the work of the Matera-Basilicata 2019 Foundation, strengthens cooperation with the creative cluster of Southern Italy and Europe [79].
Starting from the visual analysis [80] of the initiatives activated, it was clear that Matera-Basilicata 2019 was not only an opportunity to improve cultural infrastructures from a European market perspective but also a field test of new ideas regarding cultural institutions and citizenship, launching a debate with European institutions, associations and cities on the future of culture in our continent [81].
By actively participating in the process, the stakeholders, actions, objectives and tools were analyzed with open-ended interviews submitted to some key stakeholders. In particular, the interviews revealed some key points of the Matera 2019 process for the implementation of the network with the surrounding realities in the Basilicata region (Italy).
Participating within the meetings organized by the Matera-Basilicata 2019 Foundation for the capacity building process (“Build Up Matera 2019”) aimed at creative communities in Basilicata, the research on-site experimentation led to further research questions:
  • Which cultural values come into play and how can these be “extracted” from the territory?
  • Who are the relevant actors and what role do they play in this process?
  • What are the appropriate assessment, monitoring and action tools?
In this perspective, and in order to answer the aforementioned questions, the empirical approach was developed as a strategic process of evaluation-and-action on the territory. Its goal was to bring out the potential of the network and of knowledge for local development.
Thanks to this process, the evaluation/action on the territory could be transformed into a possible new method of heritage enhancement that integrates, with innovative tools, the traditional Community Impact Evaluation [82]. Community branding is thus intended as a local “tailor-made” strategy for local communities towards culture-led regeneration [83,84]. Thus conceived, it has proved helpful in order to define precise implementation steps and the related tools (digital and otherwise) for participation, organization, evaluation, planning and monitoring.
These steps came from the different models widely studied by place branding consultants and experts, as Kavaratzis e Hatch 2020 [85] demonstrated the significant fragmentation but also an agreement on that: “every place is different and there are no ‘one-size-fits-all’ branding processes” [85]. Several frameworks that have formulated a place branding process step by step are also subject of contestation [69,86], related to the issue of the complexity of places [87] which highlight that the steps’ implementation differs from place to place depending on local conditions [88].
Moilanen and Rainisto (2008) [89] proposed a five stages place branding process: (a) start-up and organization, (b) research stage, (c) forming brand identity, (d) making and enforcing the plan, and finally (e) implementation and follow-up. For Kavaratzis (2009) [90], the process starts with the formulation of a local vision, which is then open for consultation with local citizens, place branding managers and all potential partners. This leads the definition of actions concerning landscape interventions, functional–infrastructural projects, and economic opportunities for several audiences which finally should be communicated. Hanna and Rowley (2011) [91] also suggest the interpretation of a place branding process from different place branding elements and their interactions.
In a different but not necessarily dissimilar mode, these significant frameworks try to give guidelines for experts and practitioners, but my research try to select a framework that could be open to co-evaluation and co-planning since the first step of the process. So it was selected the Govers and Go (2009) [23] framework also collected by a knowledge platform so called Place brand observer. These steps are [23,92]:
  • Formulate project goals (vision, mission, objectives);
  • Analyze current place brand (perceived identity and image, and projected image);
  • Design place brand essence;
  • Implement new place brand;
  • Monitor the place brand.
As the research is based on the definition of a Collaborative Decision-Making Process for Cultural Heritage Enhancement, the topic of evaluation is crucial. The literature on the evaluation of local identity and image highlights three main approaches [93] of empirical place brand measurement: firstly, using qualitative end-user-oriented methods [94,95]; secondly, with quantitative methods such as standardized questionnaires for different brand sizes and attributes [96]; and thirdly, with mixed methods such as network analysis [97], multidimensional scaling [98], laddering technique [99,100], Brand Concept Map method [101,102] or the Balanced Score Card as a performance monitoring tool [103]. In addition, key models for measuring cultural heritage and its perceived image [104] are included in the Country Brand Index [105], the Anholt GfK Roper Nation Brand Index or the City Brand Index [71] and CHEI, a measurement scale of Cultural Heritage Image [104].
The analysis of these approaches and tools allowed to define with experts and community members which were the most suitable for each “community branding” step, from collaborative urban planning [35,106,107] point of view, trying to combine elements of management and branding. Following the five steps of Govers and Go (2009), we have activated the community branding process in Pisticci with the help of the local community.
Within the first step, the preparation of the data collection allowed the identification of territorial priorities through the case study method [108]. On the basis of the preliminary desk research and consultation of community, local experts and organizations, it was defined the vision, the mission and the related goals.
In the second step, through an innovative form of “walk about” [109,110], called “I luoghi di zonzo” [111], we asked the community about the local vocations for the future development of Pisticci. Later, it was submitted a survey on Pisticci perceived identity structured using the Delphi method [112,113]. Then within the third step, the main tools were selected with the aim on the one hand of building a better interaction between actors and stakeholders and on the other of obtaining concrete results in terms of project actions designed for the different sectors of the community: the World café method [114], the Business Model Canvas [115] and the PROMETHEE method [116].
Finally, the step 4 for implementing the new place brand included a financial analysis structured thanks a classification of the costs and revenues of the project proposal: Pisticci Sustainable Urban Lab (PLUS) artisan and creative density (V4).
This method does not aim to improve previous place brand approaches but aims to improve the capacity building and community engagement in order to get closer and closer to a brand derived from local talent and resources. This is characterized by the collaborative approach: the vision and objectives are co-created with the community itself and consequently also the project actions and the evaluation and communication strategy.
The paper aims to explain this process by defining and updating the Community branding approach in Section 2, by describing the results of the PLUS hub case study (Pisticci Sustainable Urban Laboratory) in Section 3, and finally highlight the research critical issues in the discussion and conclusions within Section 4.

2. Community Branding Approach: Materials and Methods

The research aimed to build an operational methodological approach for the enhancement of cultural heritage that leads to the activation of “cultural” urban regeneration processes generated by community and economic enhancement strategies.
In this perspective, “Community Branding” is a strategic glocal process since it uses physical and digital connections to immerse themselves in territorial realities and build operational links between traditional forms and innovation tools, building awareness and community self-organization.
The phrase “community branding” [44] would define a creative and collaborative multi-methodological decision-making process which utilizes the place branding process [23] to plan a territorial offer of attractions, services and amenities, place marketing to plan the demand, community planning and creative cultural enterprises to plan the productivity of the territory, the Community Impact Evaluation for the selection of cultural heritage enhancement alternatives and impact assessment. It is a co-creative process because of the creative format such as performing media storytelling “walk about”, the survey sections co-created with different community sector, round tables developed with Imbianchini di Bellezza and involving different citizens recorded to the event.
The multi-methodological approach seeks to integrate tools for multi-actor decision-making and place branding for the enhancement of cultural heritage through the strengthening of material and immaterial relations held between the local community and its heritage. The proposed approach was strictly related to the local context and community, and considered the combination of different disciplines not only from the literature study but also thanks to the dialogue with local stakeholders, experts and also local citizens.
The approach (Figure 1) was co-created and tested in the Lucanian municipality of Pisticci (MT) whose historical–cultural and landscape richness is also demonstrated by the sensitivity of the creative and social initiatives that have been generated starting from the candidacy of Matera Capital of Culture 2019 in 2014.
Pisticci is the third largest municipality in Basilicata with around 17,900 inhabitants, the Municipality extends for about 231 sk. In 9 February 1688 the historic center of the town was almost completely destroyed by a landslide. The tenacity of the inhabitants prevailed over the pain for the loss of hundreds of citizens and in only 2 years the district was rebuilt and was called “Dirupo” (cliff), to indicate the event that happened. Today the “Dirupo” historic center, made up of typical rural architecture—the so-called “lammie” and “casedde”—is included in the catalog of Environmental Heritage among the Hundred World’s Wonders. On the whole, the peculiar beauty of the territory derives from the natural landscape—the clay mountains, so-called “calanchi”—together with the variety of animal and vegetable species despite the pollution events linked to the Basento Valley industry. Furthermore, there are many local creative initiatives among tradition and innovation, for example the bottom-up initiative of “Imbianchini di bellezza”—Painters of Beauty (Legambiente Pisticci). Between tradition and innovation are also the theatrical experiments of Teatro lab (Act in Circus) within “calanchi” landscape scenario, the Lucania Film Festival and many other initiatives demonstrating the aptitude for creativity and participation that make Pisticci fertile ground for an experimental proposal of community branding.
Consequently, identifying and “extracting” cultural values was a spontaneous process induced by the knowledge and experience of the various exponents of the community who enriched the process with elements that characterize the territorial reality. The various steps, according to which the proposal was structured, were aimed at building a new offer and consequent territorial demand starting from the perception of the community’s desires and existing and potential relationships between places and people.
Building relationships involves a redefinition of the territories and their economies, of the categories to interpret them, mixing skills and immersing oneself in the territorial reality. In this sense, the approach was built to integrate the Community Impact Evaluation (CIE) method of evaluation [82] through a series of actions on the territory by relating the different territorial resources. With the focus on defining the appropriate monitoring and action tools, the analysis steps of the CIE were integrated with the five steps of the place branding process [117] for defining the community branding different phases: (1) territorial priorities, (2) alternative vocations, (3) territory trough vocations, (4) territorial preferences, (5) experiential variables, (6) community perceptions, (7) community needs, (8) impacts’ previsions, (9) impacts’ evaluation for community sectors, (10) vocations evaluation, (11) synthesis of community sectors preferences, (12) evaluation report.
By applying these 12 phases, transdisciplinary approaches and tools of evaluation, management and communication bring results in terms of analysis of project interventions and actions on the territory through experiences. The phases of the process understood as Deliberative Multi-Criteria Evaluation [118] of the alternative vocations put in place are reported below.

2.1. Step 1 Formulate Project Goals

On the basis of desk research on such creative and bottom up initiatives (e.g., “Imbianchini di Bellezza” (Legambiente Pisticci), Lucania Film Festival, Teatro Lab, etc.) and related research (e.g., “Green Lucania” project), the proposal for Community branding was outlined together with some local partners and citizens (representative of NGOs, enterprises and City Council). Its goal was to support the enhancement of the cultural heritage of the historic center of Pisticci in the context of a broader territorial regeneration project.
First, the preparation of the data collection allowed the identification of territorial priorities through the case study method [108]. On the basis of the preliminary desk research and local community consultation, it defined the vision, the mission and the related goals:
  • Vision: “Networked Pisticci” a network of heritage and resources between tradition and innovation;
  • Mission: Enhancing the territorial specificities and the local community;
  • Goals:
    Favor the efficient management of human and territorial resources;
    Identify protective measures of the cultural heritage;
    Develop community actions for an identity-oriented development of the historic center;
    Plan meetings for international exchange on the potential and challenges of the territory.
In this direction, small businesses have a great potential of network and territorial rebranding, due to their genuineness as well as to the lower social and territorial complexity. Pisticci as a network of local and creative micro-communities, with its naturalistic peculiarities and its matrix of peasant and artisan culture, becomes the ideal testing ground. The ultimate goal was to build opportunities through new forms of cultural development, thus constituting a possible model for the entire region in the perspective of Matera 2019.
For the following steps, in addition to the consolidated multi-criteria and multi-group methods for evaluating choices, various key tools for place branding, place marketing and community planning were selected.

2.2. Step 2 Analyze Current Place Brand

The two tools used during step 2 were linked to the theme of place branding with the aim of recognizing, evaluating and extracting cultural values from the territory, pursuing the following objectives:
  • Understand the perceived identity;
  • Identify the perceived image;
  • Clarify the projected image.
In this phase of the experimentation, urban storytelling [109] and stakeholder satisfaction [119] were chosen, since these have proved effective in monitoring how a community perceives its cultural heritage.
The “walk about” explorative/digital method (PerformingMedia territorial storytelling of “Urban experience”) was used in order to identify alternative vocations by actively engaging with the local community. A storytelling local expert (P-stories project) activated the process and then many members of community sectors have participated (The Pisticci Mayor, associations, enterprises, citizens).
Thanks to listening to community stories and the vocation framework that emerged from the walk about, a survey was carried out on specific stakeholder categories (cultural associations, cultural managers, student, artist, entrepreneur) for analyzing current place brand (perceived identity and image, and projected image. This allowed for in-depth knowledge of community perceptions of local traditions and innovative initiatives rooted in Pisticci (IO-PISTICCI survey form:
During this survey, the priorities perceived by the community on its own identity and cultural image were collected in order to refine the questions along the process by improving the structure and contents of the survey form.

2.3. Step 3: Co-Design and Co-Evaluate

The next step (step 3) concerned the co-planning and co-evaluation of the proposal for the cultural heritage enhancement for the urban regeneration. The output is a physical and digital platform intended as a community hub [120]: PLUS—Pisticci Urban Sustainable Laboratory (Pisticci Laboratorio Urbano Sostenibile)—aimed at building a territorial vision (PLUS community brand) on the basis of the various wishes formulated by the community.
Starting from the analysis of the data extrapolated from the questionnaires, the proposal was constructed pursuing the following objectives:
  • Brand identity;
  • Interaction among values;
  • Territorial experiences.
Through the tool of co-planning round tables (structured according to three thematic groups on governance, activities and economic sustainability), this local networking process was triggered by the design of the PLUS hub. The two approaches used—World café method and Business Model Canvas—aim to define changes in the territory by listening to the needs expressed by the community.
The Business Model Canvas (BMC) “Value Proposition” was used here to facilitate groups work thanks to large printed posters where people could discuss the elements of the model by drawing and writing. In this way the tool is easily adaptable to community planning logic, favoring understanding, discussion and analysis of the business but at the same time also creativity and sharing. The Value proposition established the needs of groups and actions/services for sectors of the community that increase the advantages and decrease the disadvantages for each group.
Starting from the alternative vocations defined in the step 2, and thanks to the collaboration of the actors participating in step 3, the implementation measures for the construction of the urban regeneration strategy were identified. The measures were structured on four experiential variables (Figure 2):
  • Regeneration of the material and immaterial heritage;
  • Digital platform;
  • Services for citizens and temporary residents;
  • “Urban contract”.
The fourth variable tries to define co-governance models through the activation of “urban contracts” among public and private stakeholders [121].
For each experiential variable structured in different project actions (Table 1) the community impacts were classified according to economic, social and cultural criteria (E, S, C) relating to the hardware, software, orgware and virtualware macro-criteria corresponding to the investment categories of the place branding strategies [92].
Through these categories, the approach aims to maximize the benefits of community groups by working at the hardware level on physical and digital heritage, at the software level on the people’s perception models, on the organization and participation tools at the orgware level (organizational skills of community groups) and on digital actions and symbols for spreading the message at the virtualware level. Starting from the community impacts, the matrix for the evaluation of alternative vocations was built through economic, social and cultural indicators. These indicators were constructed referring to two main frameworks: the European framework on culture and democracy, and the AUDIS (Italian Association of Disused Urban Areas) indicators of urban regeneration [122,123].
The evaluation of the different alternative vocations was carried out through 34 economic, social and cultural indicators (data from ISTAT, City Council, local official sources and survey). Each vocation was evaluated according to the macro-criteria and criteria, as mentioned above, defining the following categories of impacts: Economic Hardware (HE); Social Hardware (HS); Cultural Hardware (HC); Economic Software (SE); Social Software (SS); Cultural Software (SC); Economic Orgware (OE); Social Orgware (OS); Cultural Orgware (OC); Economic Virtualware (VE); Social Virtualware (VS); Cultural Virtualware (VC).
We applied a qualitative evaluation scale (9 points), chosen through the aggregation procedure of the PROMETHEE (Preference Ranking Organization METHOD for Enrichment Evaluations): multi-criteria method in which an outranking procedure is applied as the basis of the evaluation [124]. In total, three preference streams were calculated to consolidate the results of pairwise comparisons of alternatives [116]: Phi+ (f +): positive flow (in-flow); Phi− (F−): negative (outflow); Phi (f): net flow.

2.4. Step 4 Implement New Place Brand

Starting from the selected vocation, we proceeded with the implementation of the PLUS brand with the focus of activating different inputs based on experiential variables. We therefore proceeded in this step to a synthesis of sectoral preferences through cost/opportunity approaches and stakeholder maps to establish the coalitions for vocation 4 (Artisan and creative density).
In line with this perspective, step 4 sees PLUS as a sustainable physical and digital urban laboratory that pursues the following objectives:
  • Construct shared territorial landmarks (construction);
  • Activate “PLUS community” processes (cooperation);
  • Communicate the PLUS brand (communication).
Starting from the priorities that emerged from the working groups (step 3) and through a financial analysis, we want to reach a framework of costs/opportunities of PLUS hub.
The focus consists in demonstrating the strength of a “PLUS hub” proposal intended as an experiment of a co-creative community enterprise: a physical and digital platform of production network for the territory fueled by the links between human resources that they are part of it.
The financial analysis aims demonstrating the economic and social convenience of PLUS hub for the Pisticci cultural heritage enhancement and urban regeneration

2.5. Step 5 Monitor the Place Brand

To evaluate the effectiveness of the new brand, the ideal would be to request a periodic assessment of the value and equity of the brand [117]. The “brand equity” is built not only on the identity/image of the place and the level of satisfaction/loyalty to the brand, but also based on how widespread its awareness is: that is to say that a strong identity cannot be built, if the awareness of community compared to the place brand is limited. The focus of this step is to create a PLUS hub mind map and agenda for monitoring and programming the different project actions above mentioned. The monitoring process could be conducted and clarified in a follow up of this research.
In line with this perspective, step 5 of the community branding process should aim at the following objectives:
  • Evaluate and monitor the level of awareness of the PLUS brand by the actors to whom it is addressed and by the partner subjects, using specific evaluation methods and techniques;
  • Evaluate and monitor the change induced by the perceived identity/image and the level of loyalty, using evaluation methods and techniques with particular reference to potential users such as tourists, investors, traders and citizens;
  • Evaluate and monitor the impacts of the designed image, carrying out an assessment linked to data relating in particular to: media coverage, online communities, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, virtual communities and online virtual worlds, etc.
The phase of the CIE referred to for this step is the “evaluation report”, which uses ad hoc questionnaires to verify the feasibility of individual interventions.

3. PLUS Hub Case Study Results

The Community branding process is aimed at increasing the local attractiveness and implementing local cultural and creative production for cultural heritage enhancement and urban regeneration attentive to the specificities of local resources (cultural, environmental, social and economic). This is realized in line with the research question: how to build a Collaborative Decision-Making Process for Cultural Heritage Enhancement starting from place branding/marketing theories and community planning/evaluation approaches?
For responding to this question, the methodological approach of the experimental proposal combined, on the one hand, the managerial, branding and organizational aspects for networking skills and increasing the awareness of local identity and image, on the other, the co-evaluation/planning of project actions and cultural, social and economic impacts for the affected community. This experiential proposal tried to achieve the first research objective: define a transdisciplinary approach tailor-made for a community.
In a logic of action-research on the territory, we could define the approach successful because of it is evident that is tailor-made on Pisticci community also thanks to the results identified on field, such as: the partnership agreement between the PLUS association, the Municipality and the research bodies; the free concession, by the Municipality, to the PLUS association of six public buildings in the historic center (the so-called “lammie”); participation and success in national tenders (PON FSE “per la scuola, competenze e ambienti per l’apprendimento” 2014–2020, “Magna Grecia” program of the Ministry for Culture Affairs, “Matera 2019—Capitale per un giorno”, “Residenze Matera 2019”); participation to the co-planning workshop “Val Basento-Matera” in the Cucinella studios for the “Arcipelago Italia” wing (Biennale di Venezia 2018); the approval of the planning variant to the current General Town Plan to allow the reuse of buildings in the historic center, in the Dirupo District, and the relevant zoning amendment; the proposal of a new museum dedicated to “Il pittore di Pisticci” (Pisticci painter). The different results on field includes the project actions co-created for the PLUS hub mentioned in Table 1.
For the second research objective (build and test simultaneously this approach for the cultural heritage of an Italian historic center together with different community sectors), the explanation of the whole process, step by step, and the results achieved for each step demonstrate that the approach was tested for the historic center of Pisticci (MT) and co-created with local community members. In the following part the results achieved for each step.
Step 1. The key results are the definition of desk research framework on the case study based on the analysis of ISTAT data, previous research projects and local bottom up initiatives. This helped to define vision, mission and goals of the place branding process and discuss these with community.
Step 2. Within this step the walk about method stimulates participatory planning by walking and exploring, together with the reference community, and building empathy with the participants. People learn to sharpen their gaze and listening, developing their different senses thanks also to the use of digital tools. This highlights local potential and place vocations.
From this walk/experience, direct information and planning ideas for sustainable development of Pisticci emerged on the basis of its history and its territorial vocations (report “I luoghi di zonzo#1”):
  • V 1: the sacred and the profane
  • V 2: agricultural tradition
  • V 3: landscape and biodiversity
  • V 4: hotel industry and resilient community
  • V 5: artisan and creative density
Furthermore, the elaboration of the closed-ended questionnaires, structured on a Likert scale, concern 110 stakeholders’ preferences surveys classified by type of activity carried out and by district/neighborhood they belong to. The consultation online and offline with the Pisticci community (see the above-mentioned IO-PISTICCI survey form), enabled us to collect common and divergent points of view and to categorize stakeholder preferences’ degree on place identity.
Step 3. With the focus of establishing who were the actors involved (associations, institutions, universities, enterprises and citizens) and their respective interests and needs, the process continues through co-planning and co-evaluation for designing place brand essence. The Value proposition (Figure 3) made it possible to establish the needs of different actors and project actions for the community sectors that increase their advantages and decrease their disadvantages.
Thanks to this model a first result was the identification of PLUS hub stakeholder and needs. The main stakeholder categories include: associations, youth, schools, entrepreneurs, seniors, families, disabled people, PLUS team, City Council, cultural and tourist operators, tourists and farmers. The inhabitants and representative of these categories are really involved thanks to a public call for participating in the workshops.
Later, once the local vocations, the stakeholders’ preferences, stakeholders and relative project actions emerged, the research defined and improved the criteria framework (hardware, software, orgware, virtual ware as macro-criteria of place branding investments, and economic, social and cultural as main criteria of cultural heritage enhancement project) and indicators set (data from ISTAT, City Council, local official sources and survey) for the evaluation of the impacts by community sectors. The direct and indirect impacts (D, I) on the various sectors of the community have been classified by “experiential variables”.
Thanks to this step, and on the basis of the analysis that these generated, we were able to better define:
  • Brand identity: “Pisticci Urban Sustainable Laboratory” (PLUS);
  • Interaction among values: Pisticci as a network of urban sustainable organizations;
  • Territorial experiences: Pisticci as the place for urban sustainable laboratories rooted into local traditions and landscape. This is summarized in a needs/project actions matrix for the PLUS hub, divided by governance mode, cultural activities, and economic sustainability;
  • elaboration of matrices of economic, social and cultural impacts on community sectors for the enhancement of heritage and urban regeneration;
  • co-evaluation of alternative vocations through the multi-criteria PROMETHEE method.
The PROMETHEE method allowed for the co-evaluation of different vocations as project scenarios thanks to the calculation of the preference degrees that define the ranking of all the alternatives from the best to the worst. Each degree of preference establishes a score (from 0 to 1), which highlights how one alternative is preferable over another, from the point of view of the decision maker.
Step 4. Starting from the main types of financing for cultural and creative enterprises, reported in the book “Creative Turin. Independent cultural centers in the Torino area” (Torino creativa. I centri indipendenti culturali sul territorio torinese) [125] and in the report “Creative Italy creates value. 2nd report on the Cultural and Creative Industry” (L’Italia che crea, crea valore. 2° studio sull’Industria della Cultura e della Creatività) [126], we identified the profits of PLUS hub intended as a creative community hub for cultural heritage enhancement. These were divided into: self-financing, fundraising, collaborative platform, ticketing, service provision, private investments.
The financial analysis shows a total investment of EUR 1,519,000 and a yearly net revenue of EUR 389,428. By carrying out a long-term analysis (20 years), the Net Annual Value amounts to EUR 956,277.62, whereas the Internal Rate of Return (TIR) amounts to 13.63%. This clearly shows that the potential benefits outweigh the utilized resources.
This calculation should be integrated by potential revenues deriving from public funds and co-financing. Considering the member of the strategic partnership (urban contract, vocation 4), we classified the respective total costs and the revenue/year for each member (Figure 4).
The financial analysis results defined possible coalitions, identifying on one hand the cost/revenue matrices of PLUS hub (and on the other hand stakeholders’ maps identifying conflicts and coalitions for possible urban contract. This highlights the economic convenience of the PLUS hub because there are a lot of revenues in 20 years that overcome initial investments/costs but also the social convenience because there are several convergent interests among stakeholders selected for the urban contract proposal for Vocation 4 (Creative and hand-crafted).
Step 5. For monitoring the final place brand, a PLUS hub mind map was proposed (Figure 5) [127], as PLUS projects actions’ agenda, but it has not yet been used by the Pisticci community.
Within the whole process, the research tried to respond to case study questions mentioned in the Introduction. Step 1 and Step 2 have defined which cultural values come into play with vocations and stakeholder perceptions and how can these be “extracted” thanks to the performing media storytelling and the survey tools. Step 3 identified who the relevant actors and stakeholders are thanks to World Cafè workshops and the role they play in this process thanks to the BMC of the PLUS project.
Step 3 also identified appropriate assessment, monitoring tools for defining project impacts thanks to deliberative multi-criteria evaluation and PROMETHEE software. Step 4 evaluated the economic and social convenience of the Vocation/scenario selected for the local heritage enhancement.
The third research objective is discussed in the Section 4 to better highlight the key success points and critical issues for the replicability of the method.

4. Discussion and Conclusions

This paper has attempted to describe a different view on place branding by adopting a community-based approach. It is evidenced that community has a key role in cultural heritage enhancement [128] also because of the intangible values in which people recognize themselves.
Starting from the theme of cultural values, talents and creativity [12,13,14,15,16,17,18] together with social capital [19,20], urban planning addresses this “community” perspective for the valorization of cultural heritage through new challenges related to the system of physical and digital connections and the growing glocal strategies [21,22,23].
Parallel to urban studies, studies on alternative forms of economics and management [24,25,26,27,28,29] are trying to provide an innovative response to classic economic models [30,31,32,33] that often deplete local resources. Within the complex territory–economy–society system, local resources (in terms of natural, historical-archaeological, social resources, knowledge and skills, capital and infrastructures) can activate territorial production processes able to build local attractiveness [40,41].
The Community branding process, intended here as a creative co-creation of the place identity, was triggered by the convergence of interests of economic operators, institutions and the community in order to enrich the value of the process and make planning actions feasible. In order to increase the sustainability of urban policies, it could be appropriate to combine territorial enhancement with methods deriving from management and marketing using an approach that combines managerial and organizational aspects on the one hand and community planning on the other in a circular process of conservation and innovation. The effectiveness of this process consists in combining aspects related to perception (place branding and relational marketing) with aspects related to the logic of economic enhancement (place marketing, resource-based theory and evaluation). Innovation and production become the keywords of this process that starts with the assimilation and creation of new knowledge and manifests itself through the operational links between places, organizations and people thanks to place experiences.
In this process, resources, skills and the social environment are related thanks to human resources that are complementary to all primary and support urban functions. Through this strategic connectivity, resources, social cohesion, active and participatory protection of the cultural heritage are implemented the management skills of all the actors who are part of the process.
From these premises, the proposed “Community branding” approach aims at implementing the existing scientific debate on the enhancement of cultural heritage for territorial regeneration from a systemic (economy, territory, and society) and transdisciplinary point of view, where tools and approaches of multi-group territorial planning/evaluation [118,129,130] are combined with tools and approaches of economics and resource management [37,38] in a multi-stakeholder perspective.
This also emerges from many place branding studies, for examples Kavaratzis and Hatch (2019) proposed a dynamic and processual view of place and destination brands based on the ATLAS wheel [131] in line with multistakeholder orientation. In this perspective, Kavaratzis and Hatch highlight that the place brand attempts to define the place experience in an open process of multiple and crossing pathways along which individuals can generate their own place experiences.
In line with these theories, “Community branding” is thus intended as an urban planning/evaluation approach “tailor-made” for local communities especially thanks to “experiential variables”. Thus conceived, it has proved helpful in order to define precise implementation steps and the related tools (digital and otherwise) for participation, organization, evaluation, planning and monitoring.
This approach could be innovative especially for collaborative urban planning and evaluation disciplines [35,106] that could implement the effectiveness of their approaches thanks to place branding process frameworks [69,86,87,88,91].
From these relevant frameworks emerges the key role of stakeholders and of the open consultation with local citizens, place branding managers, and all potential partners. Hanna and Rowley (2015) [62] also note that place brand stakeholders include activities groups, residents, local and national businesses, institutions, employees and visitors [131].
The “Community branding” framework would stress this aspect and increase the inclusive and collaborative engagement of local community in designing project actions and evaluate relative impacts of its place brand.
The issue of the evaluation of local identity and image is particularly crucial for field experimentation. End-user-oriented qualitative methods [94,95], quantitative methods for different brand sizes and attributes [96]; and mixed methods such as network analysis [97], multidimensional scaling [98], laddering technique [99,100], or the Brand Concept Map method [101,102] and Balanced Score Card [103] are crucial. These tools in the process have been selected and put into the system in a strategic planning logic that straddles the programming of economic resources and urban planning tools for the design of spaces.
The strength of this collaborative urban planning/evaluation process lies in planning interventions not simply shared with the community but derived from its perceptions and desires. From a collaborative perspective, this should be achieved by trying to build experiences, such as opportunities to build bonds and alliances between various groups of people by combining different interests.
The weak point certainly concerns the length of a such large-scale urban process and the lack of economic resources especially in Southern Italy. A continuous and capillary action of trust- and awareness-building of the community brand is necessary, which accompanies the physical transformations of a territory. The main difficulty lies in making communities and institutions understand that investing time and money in the immaterial (therefore in place branding and community planning actions) greatly helps the transformation of the material towards a long-term regeneration of the created capital.
The contents of the various steps were built thanks to a series of inputs which left a trace on the territory. These inputs were subsequently received and collected by some community members and thanks to team work it was possible to design and implement the contents and tools of each subsequent phase. The process thus takes the form of a chain of experiences and which finds its real and concrete dimension bearing in mind the three key points in the planning of territorial change [132]: resources in terms of the costs of conservation and transformation towards sustainable financing strategies; rules for the reduction of public/private conflict with a view to activating positive cooperative strategies; the project idea through which the plan is implemented.
Another implication concerns some opportunities and critical issues found in the analysis of the process steps that are able to respond to the above-mentioned research question (Section 1):
  • Which cultural values come into play and how can these be “extracted” from the territory?
  • Who are the relevant actors and what role do they play in this process?
  • What are the appropriate assessment, monitoring and action tools?
Within Step 2 (analyze current place brand), the investigation of the identity and image perceived towards a designed image was crucial to activate the involvement of the community and extract those cultural values necessary for the proposal. Time and logistics did not allow the survey to cover a larger area than the two most populated centers (Pisticci and Marconia): what is desirable for the general picture linked to the perceptions of the entire population of the municipality.
Later, in Step 3 (design place brand essence), building the co-design tables was essential to define the monitoring and action tools but also to identify key actors of the proposal and their roles as explained in the urban contracts proposals. The approach used for the roundtables could be improved by facilitating and streamlining the contents of the individual interventions of the experts who prepared the groups and involving people in a more informal atmosphere to allow greater freedom of expression.
Subsequently, Step 4 (implement new place brand) helps to understand the economic and social convenience of the proposal and should subsequently be discussed in a further meeting with the community and with experts in the relevant sector locally.
The final step 5 (monitor the place brand) should be necessary to constantly monitor the process and evaluate the results of each phase in order to verify the feasibility of the proposal. It would be advisable to submit post questionnaires to the community on the place brand and the PLUS agenda for accompanying local community in the continuous evolution of place brand. Unfortunately, there is a lack of economic resources, time and awareness from public institutions for developing this step.
In conclusion, the literature analysis, the empirical survey and the first results achieved showed that “community branding” could be a replicable method but should be supported by a collaborative governance model of local cultural production within the global network and by the consultation of international place branding experts. The possible advantage exists in that the approach is replicable not only in urban contexts but also in small rural areas and probably within cities at the neighborhood scale.
In this sense, the added value consists to define and use some rules, tailor-made for a territory, in order to attract human and financial resources for integrating participatory processes in urban and regional development strategies, towards a culture-led urban regeneration [39,83,84]. For this reason, the approach is open and implementable depending on the human resources that make it possible on field.
The proposal of PLUS as a co-creative community hub aims to demonstrate how a horizontal type of territorial growth is preferable to a vertical type. The research follow-up could be to build an “open” network of cultural activities with the surrounding Basilicata (Lucania) region. Pisticci and Matera together with other “Lucanian” realities should be the driving forces for the improvement of the cultural creative offer in Basilicata in the national and European context within the framework of Sustainable Development Goals 2030 [3,133].
Self-organization can be the driving force to stimulate these communities to take action [134,135] with renewed awareness: the anthropological and economic paradigm shift of collective intelligence oriented to act towards sustainable local development in people’s places and perceptions.


This research received no external funding.


This study has been elaborated by the author thanks to a fellowship of CNR IRISS of Naples, within the PhD path in the Department of Architecture (DiARC) of Federico II University of Naples, but also thanks the collaboration of local organizations and administrations in the Basilicata region. In particular, the author is very grateful to “Imbianchini di bellezza”, PLUS hub association, “Legambiente circolo Pisticci”, Urban experience, Lucania Film Festival, Teatro Lab, University of Basilicata and Pisticci Municipality.

Conflicts of Interest

The author declares no conflict of interest.


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Figure 1. “Community Branding”: general approach and single steps.
Figure 1. “Community Branding”: general approach and single steps.
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Figure 2. Experiential variables and urban contracts for local vocations.
Figure 2. Experiential variables and urban contracts for local vocations.
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Figure 3. The Business Model Canvas and the Value Proposition of the BMC (graphic adaptation for the co-planning tables of the PLUS hub).
Figure 3. The Business Model Canvas and the Value Proposition of the BMC (graphic adaptation for the co-planning tables of the PLUS hub).
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Figure 4. Urban contract: % revenue-year for PLUS.
Figure 4. Urban contract: % revenue-year for PLUS.
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Figure 5. PLUS hub mind map.
Figure 5. PLUS hub mind map.
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Table 1. Project actions for the local vocations and experiential variables.
Table 1. Project actions for the local vocations and experiential variables.
Experiential VariablesAlternative Territorial Vocations
V1: hospitality and resilient community V2: the sacred and the profaneV3: agricultural tradition V4: artisan and creative density V5: landscape and biodiversity
Regeneration of the material and immaterial heritageRegeneration of the 6 public lammie (urban center)Regeneration of ancient churches and buildings Regeneration of the 6 public lammie for agricultural usageRegeneration of the 6 public lammie for artisan and artistic activities Creation of an environmental education center (CEA)
Increase of commercial structures for tourist hospitalityIncrease of commercial structures Increase of commercial structures for local economyRegeneration of 5 private lammie for hospitality purposesIncrease of commercial structures in symbolic landscapes
Realization of hospitality exchange services (couch surfing) for the private lammieCreation of a crowdfunding platform for the recovery of lammieRegeneration of public spaces with events at different times of the yearCreation of a collaborative crowdfunding platform for recovery and temporary rent of the lammie Coordinated planning of workshops and researches for the discovery and recovery of the tangible and intangible landscape
Coordinated program of the Pisticci tourist office Promotion of Pacchiana stories, banditry, short stories about San Rocco and othersConstruction of a communication strategy Construction of the archaeo-museum school “The Painter from Pisticci” Digital archive processing of natural and architectural heritage
Calendar for seasonal thematic walk-about (P-stories)Calendar for thematic seasonal walkabout calendarCreation of multimedia peasant historical archiveCreation of multimedia historical archives (Lucania Film Festival) Promotion of symbolic online actions to communicate the variety of landscapes
Digital platformCreation of a community tourism platformDigitization of hidden cults and traditionsDigitization of the texts of peasant history Collaborative platform for temporary rent of the lammieCollaborative platform for knowledge exchange
Services for citizens and temporary residentsIncrease of road transport lines for touristsIncrease of road transport lines for events and exhibitionsIncrease of means of freight transport for the network Implementation of theatrical experiments (Teatro dei Calanchi)Increase of rail transport lines based on the planning
Creation of car sharing provider for PisticciConstruction of thematic maps for accessibility to historical/religious buildingsConstruction of thematic maps for agricultural products Increase of road transport lines for eventsCreation of car-sharing provider for visitors of Pisticci
Urban contractConstruction of Pisticci Sustainable Urban Lab (PLUS) network between community groups, the Municipality and the “Local development agency” (APT) Strengthening of the production cooperative network, associations (e.g., ass. Feste San Rocco), Ministero Beni Culturali and Pisticci Municipality for heritage revitalizationCreation of a collaborative platform between “Local action group” (GAL Basilicata), APT, local tourist office, local dealers and producers for temporary estate rent Establishment of partnership “Municipality and Foundation Matera 2019” (social contract) —GAL COSVEL and enterprises, associations and creatives
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Daldanise, G. From Place-Branding to Community-Branding: A Collaborative Decision-Making Process for Cultural Heritage Enhancement. Sustainability 2020, 12, 10399.

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Daldanise G. From Place-Branding to Community-Branding: A Collaborative Decision-Making Process for Cultural Heritage Enhancement. Sustainability. 2020; 12(24):10399.

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Daldanise, Gaia. 2020. "From Place-Branding to Community-Branding: A Collaborative Decision-Making Process for Cultural Heritage Enhancement" Sustainability 12, no. 24: 10399.

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