Total Place 2.0: What would it take to shift place-based approaches from the margins to the mainstream?

Feb 28, 2024

The Centre has, throughout its history, pioneered the notion of place-based leadership – leading beyond organisational boundaries in collaboration with others in pursuit of thriving, resilient, and equitable communities. We’re now launching an enquiry to explore the challenges of place-based leadership and what it would take to shift place-based approaches from the margins to the mainstream.

The art of “Leadership-of-place” reflects an acceptance that some issues are much more of a priority for some localities compared with others, and that issues manifest themselves differently in different areas and therefore require differing responses.

The Centre has been a key player in getting to here. We have, alongside partners and our enabler network, extensively developed place-based leadership. Our curiosity has been piqued, theory developed and practice honed through designing and delivering programmes that explore and develop the relationship, culture and ways of working between national and local such as Total Place, Community Budgets, Local Vision and integrated care systems. Locally, we continue to work with council officers and politicians, health professionals and community leaders on local projects tackling issues such as food poverty, social isolation, homelessness and supporting those living complex lives.

As a senior local government officer once reflected:

“What you’re doing at a local level is trying to get around deficiencies in the system. At the moment you’ve got a very fragmented public sector, you’ve got lots of different organisations at different tiers; national, regional, local, all with different funding models and performance management regimes. At a local level you’re trying to pool budgets and join fragmented central and regional government initiatives together. The problem is not so much lack of joining up at a local level but the fact the whole system needs to be joined together in the first place… A lot of partnership working involves papering over the cracks and it’s all sub optimal.”

A 2023 LGA report, looking at the history of place-based initiatives notes that “more serious {than the common doomed to fail “roll-out” phase of initiatives} are the constraints of the ‘move on’ phenomenon and the frequent failure to apply the lessons of programmes such as these so that they can influence mainstream practice in the longer term. Too often the findings in evaluation reports…are forgotten in the rush to design or apply to participate in the next initiative.”

Whilst the value of place-based approaches is widely documented, the reality is that despite the impact, the embedded siloes of power, funding and governance are hard to shift and often reject or absorb change efforts. Living systems theory tells us that  this is a likely response to change initiatives, but it also describes a way forwards – experimentation and learning that disturbs the system sufficiently and for long enough that it changes.

There are currently a significant number of place-based ‘pilots’ initiatited and supported by national organisations. Whilst a number of them will likely create meaningful change in certain localities, we notice that despite declaring a whole system approach they don’t appear to be connecting to each other, let alone the whole system.

Our appetite to continue to support and grow place-based working and our curiosity about the current landscape surfaces a number of observations and questions including:

  1. Breaking the continuous cycle of bid & pilot – it’s a process that appears to encourage the flow of resources into bidding infrastructure (and rewards those that have it) rather than ongoing development. How might the cycle of chasing the next opportunity for cash be broken and more focus be put on building change capacity and growing the impact of previous investments.?
  2. Shifting more responsibility to national bodies – The current paradigm places responsibility for ‘whole system working’ with local actors. What might the inverse of this look like, where local public services rate, challenge and make recommendations and hold national bodies to account for becoming more place-based and holistic, changing the conditions in which local services make decisions and operate?
  3. Sharing and amplifying the learning – Due to the way many of these initiatives are set up, funding, reporting and departmental responsibilities ensure much of the learning and practice is contained and impermeable. What are the spaces we need to create to allow the experience and learning to flow in a way that allows for amplification?

Are you wrestling with these and other place-based working challenges? Join us to explore ‘what would it take to shift place-based approaches from the margins to the mainstream?’

Throughout 2024 we’ll be holding a series of face-to-face and online explorations of place-based leadership, with leading experts in the field. If you would like to receive an invite to any or all of these events, please drop us an email to be added to the mailing list.



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