How We Got Here

The Boston Planning & Development Agency (BPDA), formerly known as the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA), set out to change fundamentally the way we engage, internally and externally, as an organization. This was an effort to redefine what we do, why we do it and how we do it.

About This Project

Under the leadership of Mayor Martin J. Walsh and BPDA Director Brian Golden, the effort to reform the agency—not just its image, but also its policies, practices and community engagement strategies—has been a constant focus over the past two years. 

As new construction projects and development proposals continue to take shape at an almost unprecedented pace in Boston, the BPDA has reached an important crossroads. Effectively managing these planning and development pressures while building consensus among neighborhoods about the future, preservation, enhancement and growth of Boston provides an opportunity for the BPDA to define a new legacy, one that speaks to the world-class city that it has helped Boston become. 

In order to continue to partner effectively with the community to shape a more prosperous, resilient and vibrant city for all, the agency established an identity that reflects the organizational reforms underway and inspires greater trust and confidence from the people it serves—the residents and community members of Boston. 

To do this, the BPDA’s board of directors approved the hiring of Continuum, a Boston-based global innovation design consultancy, to engage with the BPDA and the Boston community to chart a path for the agency’s continued transformation.

Our Approach

Over the course of 14 weeks, Continuum immersed themselves in our organization’s work. They heard from employees, residents and other stakeholders about ways to improve how we interface with our communities and communicate our values to the public. The following are the primary phases and goals of the project.

Phase 01. Discover

Continuum studied the BPDA’s interactions with its constituents, most notably the community. They conducted interviews, facilitated workshops and attended public meetings. The information gathered helped them articulate our larger purpose.

Phase 02. Create

Continuum translated the opportunities they identified during the “Discover” phase into potential conceptual directions for the future organizational identity of the BPDA. They used visual mood boards and spoken narrative to bring these proposed directions to life, before narrowing to one. 

Phase 03. Execute

Continuum developed a new brand identity, organizational strategy and corresponding recommendations for both external and internal touchpoints. These were communicated in this website, a video, brand identity guidelines.

Our Findings

From a wide range of stakeholders including residents, architects, developers and employees we identified the following themes insights and implications. These serve as the strategic foundation for our recommendations, organizational identity and brand strategy.

Observation 1

Boston’s Story = America’s Story

What is our role in addressing our shifting culture?

INSIGHTS

• Growth has positive and negative outcomes; often the BPDA becomes associated with the negative ones (the “transitive property” of blame).

• People are often not provided enough context to see their concerns as part of larger issues, so they feel singled out and victimized.

IMPLICATIONS

Tell Compelling Stories
Tell stories that contextualize issues and connect emotionally.

Be Present in the Community
Understand the culture of neighborhoods by being there.

Address Social Issues
Have a point of view on important socio-economic issues.

Observation 2

Our Purpose & Role

Who do we serve, and how should we exercise our expertise?

INSIGHTS

• There is little shared understanding of what the BPDA is here to do and alignment around purpose is essential to successful organizations.

• Our stakeholders want an advocate to take charge and demonstrate professional expertise; this suits our regulatory role.

• A disproportionate amount of time and energy is spent on a small group of active community members in an effort to build consensus.

IMPLICATIONS

Have A People-based Purpose
Be advocates for the people—present and future—of Boston.

Align Our Name
Ensure that our name reflects what we do.

Elevate Planning
Conduct comprehensive planning in the city of Boston.

Observation 3

Perception Is Reality

How do we change the way people perceive and interact with us?

INSIGHTS

• Often it is difficult for people to connect our actions and their positive outcomes, so we do not get credit.

• Our jobs and processes are very complex and inherently leave a lot to interpretation by our stakeholders.

• People struggle to relate to our content—we tend to focus at a city scale, speak architectural or developer language, and appear to value different results.

• The current stakeholder engagement model is sub-optimal for residents, developers and employees.

IMPLICATIONS

Redesign Community Meetings
Work to satisfy our goals and stakeholders in a productive way.

Rethink Key Touchpoints
Redesign interactions between us and our stakeholders.

Identify New Models Of Community Engagement
Create new ways that (all/more) people can participate in city planning and processes.

Observation 4

Parts, Still Being Summed

How do we create a culture of communication and collaboration?

INSIGHTS

• The outward focus of the BPDA has created a siege mentality at the expense of internal dynamics – i.e., team-building and communication.

• Our structure (how we’re organized and funded) results in confusion, distrust and perceived conflicts of interest.

IMPLICATIONS

Examine Our Structure
Ensure that our structure aligns with our purpose and brand.

Connect and Collaborate
Increase impact by collaborating inside and outside the organization.

Be Leaders
Lead the team to build a more engaged, informed and empowered culture.

Contact Us   //   BPDA Home   //   nextBRA
One City Hall Square, Boston, MA 02201 tel: 617.722.4300 fax: 617.248.1937 © 2016 Boston Planning & Development Agency  
One City Hall Square, Boston, MA 02201 tel: 617.722.4300 fax: 617.248.1937 © 2016 Boston Planning & Development Agency  
This document was created in collaboration with Continuum, a global innovation design consultancy based in Boston, MA.
This document was created in collaboration with Continuum, a global innovation design consultancy based in Boston, MA.