Place-based approaches are one way of working in place that empowers the broader community to collaborate and respond to their own unique challenges through locally tailored systems. Place-based approaches foster strong community partnerships, place-based planning and action, and flexible systems and responses. They employ systems thinking, which create opportunities for novel, collaborative efforts cross-community, cross-sector and cross-governments. They seek to embed devolved decision-making and support public service innovation, and enable civic empowerment, participation and discourse in communities where citizens may be despondent and disengaged.
A place-focus provides a helpful lens for looking at and interpreting systemic issues and creating locally-led solutions. Places are unique in their strengths and the barriers they face. For example, the experience of living in a mining town differs to that of people in remote Aboriginal communities, which differs again from the experience of young people in a regional area.
In some communities, people experience much higher levels of disadvantage. The Dropping of the Edge Report found that the experience of disadvantage tends to concentrate in a small number of locations, and that such disadvantage tends to persist over time (1). People living in locations of concentrated disadvantage tend to experience challenges that are generally interrelated and often become intergenerational.
Places have unique physical, historical, cultural, social and environmental characteristics, which can support or deter communities from achieving their vision for a better life. For example, some locations have lower employment opportunities, lower quality, quantity and diversity of education, housing, health services, a lack of affordable essential services, and a lack of infrastructure or support for community safety, public transport, and recreation. Some communities experience higher levels of disconnection, exclusion and isolation, and lower levels of civic participation. A place-based approach to working can support a whole of government, cross-sector and whole-of-community commitment to improve experiences for people living in these places.
Historically, place-based approaches have sought to overcome complex systemic issues, also known as ‘wicked problems’, affecting people on the margins. While well-intentioned, current structures do not always meet peoples’ needs. They may even contribute to deepening social exclusion and disadvantage and limit the ability of communities to respond to and resolve complex social issues and create change. Existing systems may entrench issues through:
- investment in solutions that do not address systemic issues
- lack of community input, empowerment and leadership
- fragmentation, siloing, duplication and lack of coordination of services
- short-time horizons for projects and initiatives
- lack of focus on prevention
- rigid grant conditions limiting flexibility or innovation
- constantly reinventing the wheel instead of drawing on learnings.
Systemic issues require a response that extends beyond more service provision (2). For example, in Hopevale, Queensland, 78 different services were provided by 46 different service providers through 44 different funding programs across 22 Queensland government departments to a population of 1,125 people (3). Despite a high level of service provision, people in Hopevale are still experiencing high levels of disadvantage.
While place-based approaches have traditionally focussed on complex systemic barriers, they also have the capacity to inspire change around a variety of themes, not just disadvantage and complexity. As a particular framework for place-based working, a place-based approach can provide communities with an opportunity to work together to achieve outcomes in a range of areas.