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Five questions your trustees should ask about place

By Nicola Pritchard 3 March 2020 4 minute read

Place-based approaches have increased in popularity over recent years, yet there remains a lack of clarity for many, including for trustees, about what this concept means and how to go about doing it. This is made harder by the fact that there are different ways of approaching it depending on who you are, your ‘place’ (geographical or otherwise) and the challenges you are trying to address.

NPC has been working with charities, funders and local authorities over the years to help grapple with this complexity and we have found some great examples along the way, including; Corra Foundation’s People in Places programme, Rank Foundation’s Community Development programme, and Grapevine in Coventry. We have been reflecting on what can be learned and what can be transferred or scaled effectively. As part of this, we recently ran a seminar which brought together individuals who have influenced place-based change, using different approaches, within their own organisations and communities; below are some of the key takeaways from the event.

Firstly, what do we mean by ‘place’?

Place means lots of different things to different people. We found this description by Professor Marilyn Taylor and Eliza Buckly to be a helpful starting point:

[Place is] more than just a term to describe the location of funding [or work]; it also describes a style and philosophy of approach which seeks to achieve joined up systems change.

Although place-based approaches might not be appropriate for tackling every social challenge, places can be an essential unit of social change and having a greater stake in our places can help us all to thrive. We think place-based approaches are characterised by a shift away from centrally dictated and siloed policies and practices, towards holistic solutions that are defined by local people and delivered locally. In order to do this, different organisations and sectors need to coordinate their work at the local level to achieve outcomes that meet the needs of local people on prioritised social issues.

What social challenges can place-based working solve?

Place-based approaches can tackle different interrelated social challenges, which can manifest themselves in different ways depending on the local context. These might be thematic challenges (such as homelessness, education, social mobility), challenges related to specific groups of people (young people, early years, the elderly) or challenges related to specific local infrastructure (physical or social). No matter the starting ‘problem’—there are generally three broad, and often interwoven, ways we can try to overcome them using a place-based approach:

Funding: More strategic distribution, allocation and stewardship of funding.

Coordination: Better coordination of services, knowledge sharing and collaboration between different organisations and sectors working in a place.

Community: Empowering the local community to own the design and drive the delivery of solutions.

What are the common organisational barriers for trustees that are interested in place?

Some of the key barriers to effective place-based working that we identified in our Framework for place were around; not understanding the local context, not having lived experience or knowledge of the issues, aversion to risk, short-term thinking, working in isolation and avoiding complexity. It is well known that many of these barriers are very difficult for organisations to overcome. For example, how can charities be expected to build lasting partnerships and collaborate when funding mechanisms still promote silos and duplication? How can organisations be less risk averse when their trustees and funders are conditioned to ask for immediate return on investment?

There is no one-size-fits-all solution; place-based working requires a whole ‘system’ shift that no single board of trustees can be accountable for. With these limitations in mind, what can boards be doing and thinking about to help challenge the ‘system’?

Five questions for boards of trustees to ask themselves

  • How close are we to the local context? How well do we understand the issues our charity or organisation is seeking to address? Have we listened enough to what our beneficiaries need and want? Do any of us have lived experience and are any of us from the local areas we work or fund in?
  • Do our governance processes restrict our ability to be agile in a changing local context? Are our processes governed by charity law and wider legislation that is restricting us? What can we do about this? Are our charitable objectives holding us back?
  • Do we put enough long-term thinking into our strategic discussions on place? Are strategy discussions centred on needs and outcomes rather than activities? Are we enabling our leaders to work towards longer-term goals for the places we work in? Are we restricted in our ability to do this because of the funders and donors we rely upon? If so, what can we do about this?
  • Do we know who we should and could be partnering with? Are we in competition with our partners because of funding and other local contextual reasons? If so, what needs to be done to change this?
  • Are we aware of our role in the system? Do we have a sense of how our efforts work in connection with others, and also how the issues we seek to address interlink with other issues in the areas we work in? What parameters do we need to set ourselves within the system in order to have a greater chance of success?

This is not an exhaustive list and we are continuing to put thought into this through our events and seminars and our Pledge on Place network of charities, funders and others. If this piece has sparked any ideas or reflections, we’d love to hear from you.

Place-based approaches involve coordinating work at the local level to achieve outcomes that meet the needs of local people. Here are five questions about place that trustees need to be asking themselves Click To Tweet