What is Place-Based Partnership Working and Why is it Important?

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Placed-based partnership working can have positive outcomes for neighbourhoods, cities and regions. Charlotte Hoole looks at what makes a partnership successful, what challenges lay in the way of success and what policy changes are needed to support place-based partnership working.

Place-based partnership working typically refers to collaborations and alliances formed between various institutions, organisations, communities and stakeholders to address specific issues or promote the economic development of a particular geographic area, such as a neighbourhood, city or region. Its growing popularity in urban planning and public administration literature (e.g. Bentley et al., 2017; Broadhurst, 2018) coincides with a notable political shift towards functional economic geography, driven by the globalisation of the economy. The effectiveness of the evolving sub-national governance structures that followed has been in part linked to the capacity of sub-national actors to implement impactful economic development policies and contribute to policymaking across multiple levels. This involves recognising shared challenges and opportunities and engaging in negotiation and agreement processes to formulate solutions and collective actions. The strength of place-based partnerships geared toward fostering consensus and stability has been found to play a pivotal role in determining the effectiveness of strategies and interventions at sub-national levels (Nelles, 2012).

The impacts of place-based partnership working

The impact of place-based partnership working can vary depending on the context, goals, and stakeholders involved. Some of the potential impacts of place-based partnerships are outlined below:

  1. Collaborative Decision-making: Place-based partnerships encourage more inclusive and transparent decision-making processes by involving multiple stakeholders within a place, leading to more trust in institutions and greater buy-in to decisions.
  2. Resource Sharing: Collaboration may involve sharing resources, knowledge and expertise, leading to the more efficient and effective use of available resources.
  3. Strategic Planning: Partnership-working can increase local confidence, help to build trust, create stability and, as a result, stimulate increased strategic planning.
  4. Innovation: Collaboration encourages more innovative ways of working by bringing together partners with varied expertise and experience, leading to new ideas.
  5. Community Engagement: Place partnerships often involve community members in decision-making processes, increasing the likelihood that strategies and initiatives align with the needs and aspirations of the local people.
  6. Social Inclusion: Collaborations can promote diversity and enhance social inclusion by involving various groups in the strategic planning and implementation of initiatives.
  7. Emergency Preparedness: Place partnerships can increase community resilience by fostering collaborations in emergency preparedness, to support more coordinated and effective action during crises.
  8. Crisis Recovery: In the aftermath of a crisis, place partnerships can play a crucial role in coordinating recovery efforts (e.g. Hoole et al., 2021).

The following provides details of a partnership that demonstrates the considerable potential inherent in place-based collaborations for addressing major challenges in place.

Healthy New Towns Programme

The Healthy New Towns programme (2015-19) led by NHS England utilised the development of new large-scale housing developments and regeneration projects to innovate and implement novel approaches to population health and integrated care with a focus on community engagement, in 10 demonstrator sites across England. The sites worked with the NHS, Public Health England, The King’s Fund, the Town and Country Planning Association, PA Consulting and The Young Foundation to draw out key lessons, supported by a Steering Group comprised of experts from health, government, local authorities, and academia. Find out more about the key lessons learned.

The partnership emphasises the effectiveness of a place-based, collaborative approach for designing interventions to address health challenges in place. Through the utilisation of in-depth knowledge of local services and assets, coupled with the collaborative implementation of various interventions, place-based working in demonstrator sites supported interventions that addressed multiple risk factors in a cohesive and mutually supportive way. Strategies aimed at fostering healthy environments in specific places promoted social interaction among older people, facilitated outdoor play for children, and enhanced access to nature. Notably, partnerships extended beyond the health and social care sector, fostering collaborations with schools, local businesses, and district councils recognised as pivotal for improving population health, emphasising the importance of cross-sector efforts. The programme facilitated relationship strengthening among agencies and built a mutual understanding of processes and timelines across different organisations.

What makes for successful place-based partnerships?

The success of place-based partnerships depends on various factors. Broadhurst (2018) identifies the following common conditions supporting an effective system of local collaboration:

1) Common aims and a workable strategy

2) Engaged partners with established levels of trust

3) Effective leadership

4) Strong governance arrangements

5) Access to resources and skills

6) Partnership history and a capacity for collaboration

When implemented effectively, place-based partnerships can have a positive and lasting impact on the economic, social and environmental development of a place.

In the UK, the need for partnership working is being recognised, supported by the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Programme initiative to fund Local Policy Innovation Partnerships (LPIPs), alongside a Strategic Coordination Hub to work with the LPIPs. The LPIPs and Hub will bring together stakeholders from the public, private and voluntary sectors with people from local communities to promote place-based, community-driven solutions to local challenges.

Challenges ahead

However, previous research suggests that this is not going to be without its challenges. Notably, the UK’s highly centralised system of governance, complex sub-national governance architecture and unstable funding arrangement have been found to undermine the development of and capacity for place-based partnership working (Newman et al., 2021; Hoole et al., 2023). At the local level, different working cultures, unequal power balances and a lack of accountability also present challenges to the effectiveness of partnership working. Going forward, stakeholders at all levels must consider how best to leverage the opportunities of place-based partnership working while carefully navigating the structural and individual factors that we know too well could impact its effectiveness.

Policy changes to support place-based partnership working

Policy changes to support place-based partnership working could include:

  • Providing local institutions and partners with adequate resources to support capacity building and enhance skills needed for effective collaboration, data analysis and strategic planning.
  • Developing policies and funding projects that explicitly support and incentivise place-based partnership working.
  • Designing funding mechanisms that allow for flexibility and adaptability to local needs. Implementing multi-year funding cycles to provide stability for long-term initiatives and avoiding mainly short-term, project-focused funding schemes.
  • Fostering an environment that encourages innovation and experimentation in place-based partnership approaches. Supporting initiatives that test new models of collaboration and address emerging challenges. This should include implementing robust evaluation mechanisms to improve future initiatives and share lessons learned.
  • Actively involving local communities in decision-making processes. Ensure that community voices are heard and that residents are engaged in shaping the direction of place-based initiatives. This can enhance the legitimacy and effectiveness of partnership efforts.

This blog was written by Dr Charlotte Hoole, Research Fellow, City-REDI, University of Birmingham.

The views expressed in this analysis post are those of the authors and not necessarily those of City-REDI or the University of Birmingham.

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