By David Feehan


David M. Feehan is CDA’s newest Advisor. Feehan is the President of Civitas Consultants and former President of the International Downtown Association. Welcome David!

How do many downtown and commercial district organizations measure “success”? Not very well, in most cases.  Some report how many hours cleaning staff sweep sidewalks. Others count how many gallons of trash were collected. A few track estimated increases in the number of people attending events.
What’s wrong with tracking hours, gallons, and attendees? Candidly, it tells you very little about how successful your program is. And while it may or may not provide you with useful management information, it probably is not compelling evidence of success for business and property owners, local residents, or public officials.
While a few large BIDs in major cities do a good job of collecting and utilizing data that show the impact of what they do, many other business district management organizations, both large and small, either collect no data, collect the wrong data, or fail to use what they collect in an effective way.
Here are some examples of the kinds of information downtown organizations collect:
  • INPUTS: Number of hours spent by staff and volunteers on a particular task; number of dollars spent; number of people involved in meetings.
  • OUTPUTS: Number of gallons or pounds of trash collect collected; number of incidents of graffiti removed; number of festivals held; number of brochures produced or distributed.
  •  RESULTS: Increase in sales by merchants; reduction in vacancies along Main Street; increase in number of downtown residents; perceptions by visitors that downtown is cleaner and safer.
  •  IMPACTS: A livelier and more vibrant downtown; a more accessible downtown; a more sustainable downtown.
An additional problem: most downtown organizations don’t have a strategic plan. But if your organization doesn’t have something like a strategic plan (and it may be called by a different name) that tells where your organization is going and what it is seeking to achieve, how do you decide what to measure? And if you do make the effort to collect, analyze and distribute information, what do you measure it against?

A strategic plan should at a minimum describe a vision (what you would like your business district to look like and feel like at a future point in time); a mission (a statement of commitment by board and staff to achieve the vision); a limited set of broad goals (major elements that, when achieved, show that you are on your way to reaching your vision); measurable objectives (milestones along the way that guide you to the achievement of broader goals); strategies (descriptions of how you are going to achieve specific objectives); and tasks (the actual day-to-day work that includes specific information about who is responsible for what).
Once you know what vision you are seeking to achieve and have a strong commitment to achieving it, you need to ask yourself: How will I know if we are really getting there?
The answer: measure the right things. Impacts relate directly to your vision and mission. Results tell you if you are achieving broad goals. Outputs measure achievement of specific objectives, and inputs relate directly to strategies and tasks.
As downtown managers wrestle with tighter budgets, funders and stakeholders will increasingly demand accountability. Now would be a great time to start work on a strategic plan, and determine how you are going to measure success. Otherwise, every day is basically a crapshoot.
Note: This article summarizes a recent article I wrote for Downtown Idea Exchange.