Harbinger Consultants

Culture + Complexity + Change

ADAPT | Place-based approaches

We recently prepared briefing notes and collated resources about place-based approaches for a colleague, and this gave us pause to reflect on why we find place-based approaches so powerful. This is particularly resonant with the learnings from the adaptive leadership program which stresses collaboration and systems orientation.

Briefly, place-based approaches tend to be applied to situations in which ‘wicked problems’ require redress, potentially through collective impact process. It is focused on working with the whole system to work collaboratively (or in a joined up way) to address those complex issues that are strongly inflected in place or location, including poverty and homelessness which cannot be attributed to a single cause. According to the Centre for Community Child Health (CCCH) Policy Brief (Number 23, 2011):

A place-based approach targets an entire community and aims to address issues that exist at the neighbourhood level, such as poor housing, social isolation, poor or fragmented service provision that leads to gaps or duplication of effort, and limited economic opportunities.

We first became aware of place-based approaches through the work of The Smith Family which had canvassed place management as a mode of service delivery some time ago. This is different to place management or place-based approaches as practiced in urban regeneration and regional development which tend to hinge on economic development. Emergent practices, such as collective impact and shared value, are also providing approaches to place-based engagement.

We tend to think a lens of economic development or social exclusion can only go so far and prefer an integrated and integrative approach to place that recognises a need for a 360 degree approach. However, principles can be distilled that suggest a place-based approach is inherently adaptive, collaborative and integrative, intended to leverage endogenous resources and institutions and implement integrated development programs to improve local conditions. The objective is human development, as per the Max Neef model of human need that underpins our work, recognising that the economy, competitiveness and social inclusion are not ends in themselves, but rather elements of a complex system that sustains and supports human development in a broad sense. Retaining focus on only one part of the system or using only one lens enforces a silo mentality that is intrinsically perpetuates wicked problems and inhibites systemic change.

While it’s relatively easy to point to many social and environmental issues as wicked problems, for some regions, however, lack of economic opportunities may be emerging as contributor to the mix of wicked, interconnected and complex dynamics that entrench or embed complex disadvantage. In this circumstance, focusing on economic development alone is unlikely to redress disparity or enhance productivity. Many threads of economic development emphasise human capital and innovation.

According to a Canadian report, The Evaluation of Place Based Approaches, the common characteristics of Place-Based Approaches (PBAs) include:

  •     Designed (or adapted) locally to meet unique conditions
  •     Engage participants from a diverse range of sectors and jurisdictions in collaborative decision-making processes
  •     Opportunity-driven, dependent on local talent, resources, and constraints
  •     Have an evolving process due to adaptive learning and stakeholder interests
  •     Attempt to achieve synergies by integrating across silos, jurisdictions, and dimensions of sustainability
  •     Leverage assets and knowledge through shared ownership of the initiative
  •     Frequently attempt to achieve behaviour change

As scholar Professor John Tomaney suggests in the context of regional development:

Place-based approaches require strengthened local and regional institutions that are able to assess and develop local economic assets in ways that amount to more than “tailoring national policies”.

He also stresses the importance of fiscal federalism, the role of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ capital, and the active involvement of local stakeholders particularly in relation to shaping local policy. Such themes are also reflected in research addressing regional and local governance, suggesting the value of a complexity lens in formulating place-based approaches and agendas. In Australia’s regions, for example, it may be possible to frame some forms of inequality and the stagnation of productivity as a complex issue. Such approaches tend to require a shift in emphasis on inputs and outputs to outcomes and impact. While recognising the value of place-based approaches also makes for some interesting governance challenges, it also enables a broader and integrated view of human development and progress.


Canadian Government, The Evaluation of Place Based Approaches
Centre for Community Child Health, Place-based approaches to supporting children and families
QCOSS, Place Based Collaborative Responses
The Smith Family, Addressing disadvantage through place management: Is there a role for nonprofit organisations?
Tomaney, J. Place-based approaches to Regional Development: Global Trends and Australian Implications


1 Comment»

  bundabergartsnetwork wrote @

Reblogged this on bundabergartsnetwork and commented:
This is a practice that we advocate here at Creative Regions. An interesting read.

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