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Five Considerations When Planning Your Sector Development Roadmap

Over the past five years, Eden has had the privilege of contributing to the development of sector development plans for the advertising and marketing; design; fashion and retail; legal; social enterprise; and urban planning industries. Throughout these missions, we have conducted over 1,000 in-depth business-to-business interviews to understand common challenges, pain-points, and aspirations, and worked closely with trade associations and government agencies to chart out sector transformation plans that can best meet the needs of industry stakeholders and advance a common future.

Here are five reflections from our body of sector development work so far:

  1. Understand actual needs experienced

While it is important to start with a review of global megatrends and macro-level statistics, we have found that investing in bottom-up research helps to richly surface the challenges experienced by local firms, rather than focus prematurely on high-level issues we might read about or imagine. It is when we spend hours performing ethnography at these firms, understanding their industry structures, growth journeys, value flows, that their frictions, aspirations, and business linkages will emerge. For instance, in examining the linkages among fashion designers, retailers, and manufacturers; or the synergies between urban planning firms and the transport, architecture, and landscape architecture sectors, we were able to unlock new forms of partnerships and define areas of true market failure where government intervention would make a real difference.

  1. Contextualize past learnings

It can be inspiring to learn from the trajectories that other industries or countries have taken. Sector developers may then find it tempting to replicate a success story, emulating another country such as to have Singapore become the “Switzerland / Monaco / Silicon Valley of the East”. We have learnt that models that are directly transposed may not be implemented easily. We often need to re-contextualize policies, programmes, and investments to Singapore’s unique economy, geography, history, culture, and societal make-up. Failures are important teachers; it is vital to go beyond programme designs and gain a deeper understanding of enabling conditions and success factors in each case. For example, an acceleration programme that failed to take off might not necessarily mean that it was a bad idea. It could lead us to improvements in the programme financing structure, mentors involved, participant mix and group dynamics, application process, and so on.

  1. Co-create the vision

Industry participants tend to look to the government for leadership, ideas, and support. On the other hand, government agencies may especially prefer the more developed industries to assert their own direction. The “market” does know best, but to be unleashed needs to very clearly know which aspects where it has freedom to decide: Organizing the ecosystem? Setting goals and standards? Self-regulating? Deciding on investment priorities? Coordinating stakeholders? Instead of announcing a grand unifying vision after performing industry consultations sessions, government agencies or industry associations can experiment with the messy and chaotic process of actually co-creating the vision for the industry with key participants. An industry vision should not feel disconnected from local firms, but should be reachable, authentic, and relevant. Allowing a vision of the future to surface from the mouths of industry participants builds leadership, motivates buy-in and collaboration, and boosts industry morale.

  1. Technology is not a silver bullet

In today’s era of digitalization, many businesses look towards digital solutions almost as a reflex. Indeed, we have been applying technological tools to help clients reduce inefficiencies, increase speed to market, and increase access to new customers. However, we also see that each sector will be digitally disrupted in different ways and at different timeframes. Targeting the right value drivers in different sectors will help firms to select and invest in the right kinds of technologies that can give rise to the greatest productivity impact. For example, digital tools that power upstream participatory design are growing in popularity among urban planners, while programmatic advertising solutions that differentiate the ads that different consumers see downstream are gaining rapid traction due to the relatively low returns on marketing investment experienced in the advertising sector. Sector developers need to help industry participants figure out where and how to adopt technology meaningfully, which involves fundamental changes to business models, growth strategies, skillsets, and mindsets.

  1. Augment ideas and intuition with a logic model

An industry transformation map needs to go beyond a rousing theme, compelling numbers, exciting programmes, and lofty outcomes, to justify the considerable resources needed to sustain meaningful industry-wide investments. At the micro-level, sector developers need to work closely with industry participants to determine exactly how each programme will create value: For example, in which work processes will digital transformation create time savings; where will the redundant manpower be redeployed; what skills and attitudinal shifts will be needed in their new roles; and how the business model needs to adjust to resulting new value propositions. They will need to establish a strong problem-solution fit, quantify the exact dollar value created, and work through how an intervention will scale up and evolve over time.

Hope you found these few reflections useful when you next go into planning season. Do let us know if you have come across other many reflections that you would like to share! You can also read about some of our client case studies in sector development here.