Places shape people's life chances
There is a growing awareness, both in literature and of policy makers, that today’s major public policy challenges play out in local places:
- Geographers studying innovation in the knowledge based economy emphasise the importance of localised knowledge clusters for national economic success.
- Analysts of social inclusion describe the multiple barriers that people face living in ‘distressed neighbourhoods’.
- Rural areas and smaller centres face another set of risks, managing change with declining, and often ageing, populations.
Local geographic contexts - the form and nature of places - shape people’s life chances and policy designed in isolation from delivery can lead to ineffective outcomes.
Place-based policy development
Barca (2009) defines place-based policy as:
- A long term development strategy aimed at reducing underutilisation of resources and social exclusion of specific places, through the production of integrated bundles of public goods and services.
- Determined by extracting and aggregating people’s knowledge and preferences in these places and turning them into projects.
- Exogenously promoted through a system of grants subject to conditions and multilevel governance.
The current Alice Springs Transformation Plan is an example of this place-based policy approach in practice. The Australian and Northern Territory governments have targeted locally administered funds with a focus on housing regeneration and social support service provision.
Other examples of similar place-based approaches are the Bonnyrigg Living Communities project in New South Wales and the Castle Vale regeneration project in Birmingham, England.
From government to governance
A characteristic of place-based development is moving from a notion of government to governance processes that find ways to leverage diverse ideas, coordinate collective resources, and use new tools and techniques to inspire decision making.
Rather than acting alone or resorting to jurisdictional claims, governments work with one another, and through civil society partnerships, for joint problem solving.
In practice, governance involves a ‘double devolution’ of policy responsibility from upper level government to local representatives for both municipal empowerment and community building.
Progress relies on multi-level collaborations where a host of policy resources and governing tools - recognition, voice, authority, and money - come to be shared with in situ networks of municipal officials, community organisations, and residents.
Place-paced as well as place-based
Local involvement in implementing national policy is not new. Local Implementation Plans (LIPs) have been a strong feature of the Closing the Gap commitment by all Australian governments. ACIL Allen Consulting’s experience in working with such approaches in Indigenous communities has revealed place-based approaches have another strong and important characteristic. They not only allow policy interventions to be tailored to the community’s situation and needs, but also to be paced at a timing that allows for effective engagement and implementation within the community.
By empowering local governance structures with the resources and authority to identify and allocate funding to local priorities, the sometimes long delays in approval processes can be avoided. Equally, place-based decision and delivery can help where the need for policy speed by government has to be tempered with the time required for meaningful engagement and coordination with communities.
Successful outcomes for governments and communities come through negotiated relationships around context sensitive strategies integrating priorities formerly dealt with sequentially or, worse, traded off.
Learning from place-paced approaches
Recognition of the synergy between central policy setting and targeted interventions is important. These are policy laboratories generating fresh new insights about how sectoral policies work on the ground.
With appropriate feedback loops, the macro level policy focus can be sharpened, suggesting where and how mandates and operating rules should to be reformed. Designed and delivered in isolation from one another, neither targeted nor general policies will reach their potential.