RED DEER, Alta. – The Municipal Information Systems Association (MISA) Prairies chapter has come a long way from its humble beginnings, and its latest conference reflected that in more ways than one.
The 2018 MISA Prairies Conference, which kicked off Monday in Red Deer, Alta., was its first as a registered non-profit, and also the first to use the organization’s new logo (below) – part of a broader rebranding that will see a renewed focus from MISA Prairies on delivering value to members and partners alike.
With its outlines of Canada’s three prairie provinces, the logo also reflects the organization’s efforts to branch out beyond its Alberta home base, chapter president Dan Newton told ITBusiness.ca.
“The majority of our membership is from Alberta,” he acknowledges, “but we do have members from Saskatchewan and Manitoba, so we want to make sure they feel like they’re part of this.”
“The new brand is about collaboration among three provinces – not just Alberta,” says Newton, who in his day job serves as the City of Red Deer’s IT services manager. “It better reflects who we are, and where we want to go.”
As part of its rebranding efforts, Newton says, MISA Prairies plans to run more workshops in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and to reach out to their municipalities both electronically and physically to inform them of the benefits of joining MISA and its network of experienced, supportive municipal IT staff who regularly share best practices with each other both at conferences and online.
Incorporating as a non-profit, a process that MISA Prairies completed in fall 2017, helped too, Newton says, as it allows the organization to provide members with benefits such as reduced software costs, limited member liability, organizational continuity, and an increased chance of receiving government grants.
“Before we were a bit informal, so registering as a non-profit formalizes us, and I think will allow us to be recognized more,” he says.
The organization has also been asking its members what they enjoy about and would like to see more from MISA Prairies, and the answers are clear: networking, collaboration, and opportunities for training, and incorporating as a non-profit will help it better deliver those experiences as well, Newton says.
“From a legal perspective, being a registered non-profit makes us somebody,” he says. “The other side to that is: now we can set out with a new strategic plan that reflects what our members think we should be.”
In fact, MISA Prairies’ rebranding, in both its logo and as a non-profit, served as the trigger the organization needed to develop a better strategic plan, Newton says, because it provided a much-needed opportunity to collect information from members about the type of image it should portray and what it should strive to be.
“We’re in the information technology business, so our rebranding effort took us through an electronic process of gathering information from our members to help us develop a strategic plan and initiatives that would move that strategic plan forward over the next three years,” he says. “But in the end, a lot of it boils down to collaboration and community.”
Five years to rebranding for success
MISA Prairies’ efforts to become “rebranded for success,” as its 2018 conference slogan put it, was ultimately the culmination of a five-year journey, 2018 MISA Prairies conference organizer and City of Red Deer business systems consultant Doug Toepfer tells ITBusiness.ca.
“We went through a strategic planning initiative about five years ago,” Toepfer says. “At the time, MISA Prairies was a relatively young organization that didn’t have a lot of membership, so we took the strategy of taking our conference out to destinations – we were in Banff for three years and Kananaskis for two – figuring that the destinations would drive membership.”
It worked – a membership study two years ago showed that all but three municipalities with in-house IT in the organization’s cachment area were members of MISA Prairies, Toepfer says.
And so with their finances and membership numbers considerably more stable, the organization now felt ready to develop some new strategic goals.
In particular, Toepfer says, MISA Prairies wants to focus on three key goals:
Better communication with members: “We have a lot of really good tools and information that we’re not delivering to our members,” he says. “For example, we have a tool that municipalities can fill out, indicating which software and hardware platforms they’re using, which technology they’re employing, and store it in a MISA database where other municipalities can then say ‘I’m having an issue with XYZ platform’ and find somebody else who’s using it.”
To organize memorable events in addition to its annual conference, such as webinars or individual presentations.
And to further engage with vendors to ensure the organization is providing value for their investment in MISA Prairies.
“We’re going to take those goals and see if we can grow MISA Prairies even more,” Toepfer says.
Which isn’t to say the organization has left its former strategy of choosing popular vacation destinations for conferences behind: The 2019 MISA Prairies conference will take place in Jasper, Alta.