Continuing with our series of blogs on the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs’ Business Retention & Expansion (BR+E) Program, this blog will outline the first two stages of the BR+E process.
The four stages of the BR+E process are:
- Collect and Analyze
- Develop Goals and Action Plans
- Implement and Monitor
BR+E Stage I – Preparation
Step 1: Assess Community Readiness
Community leaders should work with a Provincial Staff Advisor to determine if BR+E is the right project for the community, and assess the community’s readiness for the project.
Check out our previous post, 6 Reasons Why Your Community Should Undertake a BR+E to understand the advantages of a BR+E project.
Step 2: Form the Leadership Team
The leadership team (about 6-12 people) will:
- ‘Champion’ the project;
- Set clear, attainable and manageable objectives for the project; and
- Ensure that a communication plan is in place.
The BR+E Coordinator will work with the Leadership Team through all stages of the project, The coordinator will help develop:
- An action plan;
- A project assessment; and
- A reporting process, and and write the project’s final report.
Step 3: Project Design
At this stage in the project:
- The BR+E Coordinator should develop a project work plan and communications plan;
- The Leadership Team should select the survey method(s) that will be used to collect data from the project’s target local businesses; and
- Project volunteers should be trained to conduct these surveys.
Selecting businesses to interview will vary depending on the context of each community and should be based on the scope of the project. It is recommended that a new project begin with businesses that are most important to the local economy (e.g. based on number of employees).
The Ontario BR+E program includes a ‘main’ survey with questions that are relevant to all businesses. Also available are seven optional surveys that explore issues directly related to specific sectors of the economy, including:
- Local Food
- Downtown Revitalization
- Natural Resources/Forestry
Step 4: Volunteer Visitor Recruitment and Training
Volunteers are very important to the BR+E project, because they represent the project to the business community. Volunteers should be known and respected in the community and businesses and they should be from both the private and public sector.
Volunteers should receive training to prepare them for surveying the businesses participating in the project. This will allow them to learn how to:
- Consistently collect data while maintaining confidentiality;
- Use interview skills in a friendly and courteous manner without pushing businesses for responses; and
- Record responses in an easy to read manner.
BR+E Stage II – Collect and Analyze
Step 5: Conduct Business Interviews
At this stage in the BR+E process you will:
- Contact businesses you wish to interview
- Schedule interviews with willing businesses
- Conduct the interviews, and
- Enter the data collected from the interviews. A copy of the survey should also be emailed to the businesses in advance.
The BR+E Coordinator needs to ensure that volunteers responsible for data entry are properly trained, prepared, and scheduled to begin when the first surveys are completed.
Both volunteers and business owners or managers should sign a confidentiality agreement before starting an interview. While conducting interviews, volunteers should make sure business owners or managers know about the “Skip-It” rule (i.e. business owners or managers are free to skip interview questions without having to explain why).
Step 6: Address Immediate Issues and Opportunities
The success of a BR+E project strongly depends on how effective follow-up activities related to individual businesses are.
About half of the businesses involved in a BR+E project will ask for information or assistance. To give the BR+E Coordinator more time to focus on moving the project forward, the project’s Leadership Team should recruit an Immediate Action Coordinator to coordinate and track all follow-up requests and actions. This individual will:
- Review the volunteer follow-up worksheets and Green/Red flag reports and any other potential follow-up requests;
- Determine the urgency of follow-up requests;
- Develop a work plan and alert people in the Resource Network if immediate actions are needed (e.g., a business closing, relocating, or having expansion problems); and
- Track the follow-up actions for each business including who is responsible, what was done, the outcome, and date completed.
Step 7: Analyze Data
When all the data from the business surveys has been entered into the system, a report highlighting the results of each survey question should be generated.
To prepare a summary report and presentation for the Leadership Team, a “Technical Advisory Team” should be created to meet and review the data collected from the survey results. These team members should be comfortable working with and analyzing data.
This team will help:
- Highlight the important results that should be included in the summary report and presentation;
- Identify any confusing findings;
- Help the BR+E Coordinator understand which questions and results are important; and
- Be available to answer questions and analyze more data, if necessary.
This step in the BR+E process allows participants and communities to have productive and creative discussions about the meaning and importance of the survey findings. This will help you develop strategic action plans to help the BR+E Coordinator move your project forward.
Our next blog will cover stages 3 and 4 of the BR+E process.