This blog was prompted by a coffee catch up with Anna Powell, from Collective Ed. in Tasmania and Meg Beilken from Children and Youth Area Partnerships in Victoria. We were sharing our experiences working on place-based initiatives and felt that having a ‘map’ to navigate through the different options for place based work would be so useful!

There is no approved definition for place-based approaches.  However, the soon to be published “Evaluation Framework for Place-Based Approaches” which was commissioned by Queensland Government and Department of Social Services uses the following definition:

“A collaborative, long-term approach responding to complex issues delivered in a defined geographic location. This approach is ideally characterised by partnering and shared design, shared stewardship, and shared accountability for outcomes and impacts.”

A starting point, no doubt!  One of the challenging things in working in the place-based space is that place based initiatives take many different shapes and forms. It feels more like a continuum of approaches to place based work rather than categories. A great resource for thinking about this is the Historical review of place based approaches (2017) by Lankelly Chase. The article provides a succinctly presented review of the literature on PBAs and lists amongst other things different ways in which PBAs can be distinguished from one another. These included:

·         How place is defined by the initiative? – is it a people focused approach (does the intervention aim to improve life for residents) versus a place approach or to make the place a better place to live and stay

·         How the work was triggered and how it is funded?  – is it a top down regeneration approach tendency to be government led versus a bottom up community development approach

·         What approach(es) is/are in use?  – is it a holistic, broad-based approaches versus those that are more focused – is the intervention starting from a place and its characteristic or starting from an issue/model and testing out in place

·         What are the values and principles informing the work? – is it an approach focused on assets versus one focused on deficits, etc.

Other aspects of a place-based initiatives that might be useful in distinguishing different types of place based initiatives are:

·         Who is part of the collaboration? – does it include community people, those with lived experience, representatives from government and service with sufficient seniority etc.

·         How is it structured?  What can it do? – is there a backbone, are there resources for scaling, etc.

·         And more.

·         You could use some of these to describe a place-based initiative and even create a tool to map and track how an initiative might be changing over time across the different continuum's (see figure below). Remembering that there is no right or wrong here, rather a tool to help understand your place-based work.


Figure 1. Mapping of Initiative A overtime across four descriptive continuums for place-based work

Another interesting way in which the article suggests that place-based initiatives could be categorised was by the key assumptions in their Theory of Change. The article identifies three broad types of assumptions:

·         Communitarian – The causes of disadvantage lie within the area and the people who live there – a lack of individual skills, capacity and or motivation, or a ‘loss of community’…[These Place based approaches] tend to centre on skills training and technical support, community development and promoting self help

·         Systems – The causes of poverty lie in the failure of local systems and services – lack of coordination or responsiveness to local needs and preferences. …[These Place based approaches] tend to be government led, focused on strategic partnership working and collaboration and/or managerial solutions. They concentrate on local agencies and services, or they may promote community empowerment supporting local residents to have a greater say in local decision making or to take over local services and assets.

·         Structural – The causes of poverty are structural, resulting from economic change, and related changes in the labour and housing market. …[These Place based approaches] have focused on economic and physical regeneration, giving a greater role to business, encouraging investment to bring more jobs into the area, changing the housing mix, and designing out crime and addressing environmental degradation.

I’m looking forward to testing and building on these.