BIDS Annual Conference Event


”Prosperity requires not just investment in economic capital, but investment in Social Capital,” Mark Carney, Bank of England Governor, 2014.

Simply defined by the OECD as ‘networks together with shared norms, values and understandings that facilitate co-operation within or among groups’ meaning an individual’s inclusion  that allows them to develop and gain this capital.


Headlining the Conference will be Deputy First Minister John Swinney and John Lambeth, President and CEO of CIVITAS, USA. The aims are to focus on the further development of the BIDS model in Scotland and how this can help transform local communities, grow the local economy and improve quality of life.

The aim of this post is to illustrate how the annual National Business Improvement Districts Conference operates Social Capital to leverage a shared knowledge economy across all sectors for the benefit of all. The conference acts as a focus point for BIDS districts, Members of Parliament and Civil Servants, Local Councillors, Local Authorities, Third Sector organisations, advisory bodies in the regeneration sector, academics, contractors, consultants and practitioners, community activists and many others to come together and share best practice, ideas and knowledge to enable economic benefit to be leveraged for all. Finally the post will comment upon the apparent pitfalls of social capital in instances where ‘sharing’ in certain ways can be damaging.

Business Improvement Districts (BIDS) are by their very nature mechanisms of social capital that have at their very core the ideology of pooling resources from all levels and sectors for the betterment of the areas within which they work. They come to existence partly by voluntary means and partly by a democratic process. The projects they carry out aim to provide further targeted investment as decided by the community for the benefit of business, residents, public sector and the ‘third’ sector volunteer and charity sectors. The aim is to provide improved prosperity to BIDS areas and therefore create better economic and social conditions for all to work, study, live, visit and volunteer. The BIDS ‘industry’ is an ideal example of Social Capital being leveraged and used for betterment.

Engagement or networking happens all of the time but this annual event helps to concentrate the mind and push people together who might not otherwise meet. The idea is to share new ideas, critically analyse current thinking and exchange contacts all to foster continued improvement. Therefore, an annual event like this has less problems with duplication of thinking and ideas and will not suffer overkill and indeed serves to support innovation. The event is truly a once a year opportunity to join around 200 senior civil servants, practitioners and professionals with direct influence and responsibility for delivering BIDS, key stakeholders and policy makers, and representative bodies such as Scotland’s Towns Partnership the Governments go to body for all things regeneration.

So the stage is set at the event to embrace the three main categories of Social Capital:-

  • Bonds: Links to people based on a sense of common identity; family, close friends, and those who share common culture.
  • Bridges: Links that go beyond shared identity; acquaintances’, colleagues etc.
  • Linkages; Links to people or groups that exist higher or lower down the social ladder.

In an environment with common aims such as BIDS these networks and understandings result in the creation of an environment of trust and therefore enable people to work together. The BID manager may at the same meeting be able to engage with the Government Minister equally and as easily with contractors offering their wares, so the event is designed to ‘facilitate co-operation, exchange and Innovation’ as described in The New Economy: Beyond the Hype, OECD insights.(2015)

Creating trusting relationships with people from other social networks to build social capital is the aim of the BIDS Conference and the contacts, knowledge and advice given is the reward. This is facilitated through a full day of participation where interaction is key and delivered via the following means:-

  • Presentations from practitioners and experts on best practice, new ideas and experiences.
  • Presentations from other BID organisations (Over 40 in Scotland) to share their knowledge,successes and failures for the benefit of others.
  • Workshop and Q&A panel sessions again discussing all manner of industry solutions and knowledge.
  • Exchange of information with Civil Servants and Politicians.
  • Trade stands from contractors and consultants indicating services and products.
  • All day networking.
bids perth.jpg


The International Downtown Association (USA) Sharing Information at the BIDS Conference in Perth. 2015.

To conclude, knowledge gained through ‘access to information and influence through social networks also confers private benefits on individuals and in some cases can be used by individuals or groups to exclude others and reinforce dominance or privilege’ as outlined by ‘The Well-Being of Nations, OECD. This will also factor in society but events like these will help to minimise this negative aspect of social capital as the audience is an interdependent group of individuals and organisations that definitely work better together and the BID model is designed to enhance this.

Finally, for consumption to be continually cultured this annual conference event must by its very nature produce new solutions and new ideas every year but not seek to conduct a hard sell to its audience but to attract it by innovation in the solutions provided. Finally to prevent atomisation the event must be irrestible to attend and be able to convince attendees beyond doubt to make it. Putnam’s (2000) assertion that social engagement is eroding as described well in ‘Bowling Alone’ cannot be ignored as the digital world accelerates and facilitates almost any engagement from sitting at your desk. A reminder that events organisers need to be operating at their very best in this challenging age. Helping to solve problems together is social capital.



Web: (2015)

Misener, L. (2013) ‘Events and Social Capital’. In McGillvary,D. and MacPherson,G. ‘Research Themes on Events’. Oxford:CABI Publishing.


Putnam, R. (2000), ‘Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community’, New York: Simon and Schuster.


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