The first phase of developing a place-based approach involves assessing community readiness and scope, mapping the community, and starting initial engagement with key stakeholders. This phase also involves making a decision about whether the community is ready and willing to support a place-based approach.

Growing your understanding of the community, and making initial connections with key stakeholders, needs to take place before the next phases in which a community is brought together to create a vision, look at systemic barriers, and create a plan for change.

The activities in growing understanding of place tend to occur simultaneously. Often you cannot start to engage with key stakeholders until you have started to research who is working in place, but you also will not be able to fully map a community’s assets without talking to key stakeholders. Understanding is also not finite or time-limited, meaning that understanding will continue to grow over the life of the place-based approach. It is nevertheless useful to pause and collect as much information as possible before deciding to continue with the approach.

Growing understanding of place is illustrated in a circle diagram with smaller circles sitting around the edge highlighting the elements of understanding place, those being: map the community, initial relationship, engagement with traditional custodians and elders, digging into data, take your time, assess community readiness. in the centre connected to each is the question, what's happening here?

Scoping involves thinking about whether the community has an appetite and is ready for a place-based approach. It also involves considering your ability to support the initiative, and what your role will be.

Some communities may not have the energy or resources to commit to a place-based approach at a particular time, for any number of reasons; other priorities, local political climate, Sorry Business, major organisational changes or natural disasters. Even changes in staff in key partners can impact on the relationships and motivation required to sustain a place-based approach.

When assessing community energy, it can be useful to consider the Five Stages of Community Life, identified by the Harwood Institute (26):

  • Waiting place – people feel disconnected, limited community conversation, limited leadership, community has given up hope for a better future, looking for someone to provide answers.
  • Impasse – lack of trusted leadership, mistrust, battles over money and who takes credit, rock bottom, stuck with no path forward, no obvious champions to lead the way.
  • Catalytic – people discover shared vision, locally led action emerges with energy to take action, lots of promise, awareness of problems, appropriate leadership in place to move from inertia to action.
  • Growth – community members progress actions, sense of community spirit and connection, visible leaders, people gain confidence from initial wins, there may be splintering of networks and drops in participation.
  • Sustain/review – sense of common purpose grows, community may be ready to take on more deep-seated issues, engagement into hard-to-reach areas deepens, there may be difficulty maintaining momentum, leadership needs to use insights from the past to determine the path forward.

Source: Adapted from Community Rhythms: Five Stages of Community Life

Disruption can present an opportunity for change and may create motivation for more change, or it may present a barrier due to energy and resources being diverted elsewhere. In these circumstances it may be helpful to delay commencing a place-based approach. This is not to say that work cannot occur in a community that is struggling with low levels of leadership and high despondency, but rather that it may take more time and require more capacity building to develop the conditions for change.


The Funders Roadmap, a useful guide aimed at funders but applicable more broadly, identifies different action to support place-based approaches at different stages of Community Life, by Ten20, Opportunity Child and the Harwood Institute

Key learning

During Strengthening our place, some people in the Child and Family Sector admitted they were ‘change fatigued’ and felt they had little energy to offer a place-based approach as their sector felt unsteady enough without trying to implement more change, even if they could see the long-term benefit.

Before starting a place-based approach, it is essential to consider the following key questions:

Does the community want a place-based approach?

It is important to consider whether a community is ready and wanting to engage with a place-based approach.

You might start with an idea of which place to work in based on funder desire, or due to some initial data showing that a particular region experiences high rates of a particular issue or demonstrates complex issues. There is a risk that this can be experienced as a deficit-based approach, impacting on community self-perception and agency. Ideally, appetite and need are driven by the community itself. The reality for QCOSS has often been that resourcing comes from government, and a community is identified before the work even begins. Selection of place is often based on evidence of need (community disadvantage) and policy priorities (particularly government).

If this is the case for you, and you are coming into a community from the outside, we do recommend advocating for a lengthy engagement period before launching any complex place-based approach, to ensure there is energy and interest within a community for that kind of work to occur. To be genuinely place-based, community stakeholders themselves must be empowered to consider the pros and cons of investing in a place-based approach in their region. Decision making and the motivations to undertake place-based approaches must be clear and transparent to all parties. If a community is asking for some structure and assistance to work in this way, the energy may be easier to harness. It may be that a community is interested, but it is not the right time, and it is useful to know that before you get started with any concrete plans.

If you are from community, you will have some sense about your fellow community members’ enthusiasm for working in this way. You will have started to engage across your community – building community connection and agreement for continuing the work.

The work of assessing community readiness takes place throughout the initial engagement with the community; mapping the community to understand its current assets, evidence of need; and continues throughout the visioning, planning and actioning stages of a place-based approach.

Generally speaking, all communities can benefit from place-based approaches at the lower end of the continuum. These types of initiatives build community cohesion, drive civic participation, and empower individuals and communities. However, not all communities require higher complexity place-based approaches, such as collective impact which particularly focusses on communities that may be experiencing high need.

How is place, or the geographic scope, defined – and does it consider community views?

Some place-based approaches may start with a predefined boundary for the work. Funders may prefer definitions of place that align with their own jurisdictions (typically electoral and administrative geographical boundaries, instead of community led definitions of place). However, in our experience, when defining where a place begins and ends (the geographic scope of the initiative), it has been critical to work with the communities to understand what they see as their ‘place’ and to define their own boundaries. It is also important to map the regions assets before defining place. Often communities have their own definitions of place, and unique regional or suburban identities. Communities can vary in scale, from a small neighbourhood surrounding a single service site, to large departmental regional boundaries. Furthermore, geographic boundaries may fail to consider major infrastructure and institutions outside the boundaries that are still considered key assets by community members.

Limiting definitions of place to formal boundaries may limit buy-in from community members and can oversimplify the lived experience of communities-in-place.

Film clip

#1 Strengthening our place Vignette #1 – How did you agree on a place?

Key learning

From Rockhampton to Capricornia When developing the Strengthening our place initiative in Central Queensland, QCOSS started with Rockhampton. However, as QCOSS talked to services and community members, and developed the leadership group, we realised that there were strong links between Rockhampton and the surrounding region, particularly with many community members living on the coast but working and interacting with those living in Rockhampton. Those involved in Strengthening our place voiced that it was important to include close townships such as Yeppoon, Gracemere, Emu Park and Mt Morgan. As a result, the Strengthening our place leadership group changed the name and the scope of the initiative to Strengthening our place Capricornia.

Are themes for change emerging from the community itself?

Similarly, many place-based approaches are initiated by funders and facilitators with a predefined desire to address an issue in a community – such as homelessness, childhood development, or public safety. The demographics of the target cohort, and themes for change (what issues are we seeking to address?) might already be predetermined.

However, some practitioners would argue that for an initiative to be truly place-based, the community must be engaged and committed to the themes for change. It may be that a community has other priorities than those determined by facilitators or funders. Engagement of the community must start early, and the community must be involved in framing the scope of the initiative to enable broad ownership of the initiative. It may be that the rationale for focussing on a particular theme is not clear to stakeholders, and an ongoing conversation needs to take place to develop shared understandings of the issues. It may be that the focus of the place-based approach needs to be reframed or broadened to multiple issues to harness community energy. Involvement of community continues in the following stages when Finding shared vision.

Does the place-based approach have time, resources, and energy, both from within and outside the community?

It is important not to over-promise to a community which may already be over-consulted and have experienced repeated failed attempts at change. The place-based principle of Do No Harm applies here – if you are unable to adequately resource and sustain the project, it may be better to wait until you can.

This does not mean you need to have enough resources to drive the whole Place-based Action Plan, as some activities might be resource-neutral, or resources might emerge or be re-aligned to support activities. In place-based approaches, the path forward is often not clear, making it difficult to quantify resources required, particularly over the long term. Nevertheless, at a minimum, place-based approaches require a minimum amount of time, some kind of internal (within region) or external facilitation to maintain momentum, and a group of people with the energy and resources to work together on at least some place-based activities.

Do you have enough time to build a movement for change? In our experience, even the simplest of place-based approaches tend to take more time than anticipated to build genuine engagement and buy-in from the community. If you have already worked with or in this community over time, your pre-established relationships might fast-track some of the time needed to build trust and commitment to change. Nevertheless, the energy for change will ultimately come from the community themselves.

Is there a sense of urgency about needing change? Is there some degree of collective efficacy about being able to make a change? Are key stakeholders and their senior executives willing to share power and undertake the cultural shifts necessary to drive systemic reform?

A second consideration, if you are from outside community, is whether there are enough resources to devote to supporting a place-based approach. This is a good place to stop and consider your or your organisation’s relationship to the region, your role in the place-based approach, and your ability to support the place-based approach into the future:

  • Do you have resources inside the community?
  • Is there financial support devoted specifically to the initiative?
  • Will you be facilitating the initiative alone, in partnership, or will the responsibility for facilitation shift between partners over time or for different aspects?
  • Is there someone better in the community to lead the project?
  • Who can you partner with locally to deliver the project? What value or benefit can you bring to the project/community?

While not essential to all initiatives, high-level complex initiatives such as place-based collective impact projects will require significant energy, commitment and resourcing from all stakeholders, as well as a strong authorising institutional environment (such as support from government to make what may be significant changes to decision-making and commissioning) (27). Not all of these elements will be in place when you start the initiative. However it is worth having these in mind as you commence work and revisit them in the context of your integrated learning and future planning.

Key learning

External or internal facilitation?
In our experience, successful place-based projects involve both strong in-region partnerships, and independent facilitation. The ways of resourcing these two priorities are many and there is no single answer. Whether facilitation of the work is provided by developing a fully-fledged independent backbone organisation, or through a combination of external facilitation and in-region coordination, will depend on the scale and aims of the initiative.

At QCOSS we have regularly considered the opportunities and issues with our role as an independent or external facilitator of a place-based approach. Not living in community and not being directly affected by work on the ground may affect the energy, commitment, scepticism or willingness to take risks. Those who live in community are inherently affected by the issues at hand – they are context experts, have ‘skin in the game’, and unlike others, they do not have the option of walking away from the community and the issues that affect it. They are likely to have strong relationships within the community, and some people will have lived experience expertise. They may be best placed to build on existing relationships, saving time and resources in the critical work of creating and maintaining relationship in the community.

On the other hand, external facilitation of place-based approaches by people outside the region brings a valuable impartial view; are not influenced by local ‘politics’; and are outside competitive tendering processes. This independence mitigates issues of perceived conflicts of interest or indeed vested interest. It also may bring contacts and ideas to the region from other places and, in return, spread the news of the initiative outside of the community. Depending on the organisation, it is also possible for an external facilitator to provide a critical link between the initiative and the policy reform required to make systemic change.

Leadership group members in the Strengthening our place initiative commented that, “the external support is part of the success,” and, “it is good to… have independent support and views”. Participants in the Fraser Coast community spoke of external QCOSS workers as, “roaming motivators” who helped to bring the big picture and fresh ideas, facilitation and administrative support.


Why is local context a critical success factor in community change efforts?’, commentary by Liz Weaver and Max Hardy(2016):

Tools for Backbones on the Collective Impact Forum website

Mapping a community is useful to start to understand who is working in place and what is already occurring in place. One way of thinking about community mapping is called Asset Mapping, which aims to identify all the strengths and possible opportunities in an area.

Collectively there needs to be an understanding of a place’s points of pride, its past struggles, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, and the story that makes that place unique. The comprehensiveness of your initial mapping will depend on your time and resources.

Mapping can be done in partnership with others – part of your mapping may even involve an event where you ask a group of stakeholders to start the map together, or you may share your evolving map with people as part of Initial relationship building [link]. The results of your mapping can become a community resource that is shared and added to over time.

Mapping a community’s assets

There are a number of resources available on ways to map community strengths and assets. We have developed a checklist, Tool: Community Mapping Checklist , which covers the following assets to consider:

  • Traditional Custodians, Elders and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and culture
  • you and your organisation
  • previous mapping and planning work
  • geography, infrastructure and environment
  • current government agendas and announcements affecting this community
  • history
  • cultural resources and key events
  • political representation and activity
  • institutions
  • programs and services
  • networks and relationships
  • community and cultural groups
  • business and industry
  • informal leaders.

As you gather your data, you might map the information on a large blown up geographical map of the region or a spreadsheet.

Asset mapping is an iterative and ongoing process. It is highly unlikely that you can completely map the community straight away. Your asset map will continue to build as you undertake your community engagement and relationship building (see below).

Tool: Community Mapping Checklist 

For more on asset mapping, see:


Participatory Asset Mapping by Community Science

Asset Based Community Development on Community Door

See also Principle Being Asset Based


Community leaders might not be elected officials, be holding any particular position of authority, or even be associated with any one organisation. Sometimes the only way to hear about them is to ask around – who are the most influential people in this area? Who do people turn to for advice? Who is supporting the community?

This initial stages of working in a community involves what we call ‘light-touch’ engagement.

This engagement is intended to develop an initial understanding of people in place, build relationships and trust, and float the potential for a place-based approach. This stage also involves laying the groundwork for key partnerships in the region. If you are already working in place, you will have already started the process of developing relationships on the ground.

Relationship building should start as soon as you feel you have adequate sense of the place to know a few key stakeholders and general understanding about the place. You do not need to have completed all mapping before getting out into community – in fact, many answers to the questions contained above in Scoping the place-based approach can easily or even exclusively be found through talking to local people. Often, we ask ourselves, ‘how will we know what is happening for people in the community?’ and the answer is often simply ‘ask them!’ If you are part of the community, or already doing work in the community, you might already have a good idea and will be able to start reaching out to people immediately.

Engagement with Traditional Custodians and Elders

It is important to seek permission from traditional custodians and Elders to work in place and explore opportunities to partner in a place-based approach. This is essential to pay respect to First Nations people, and to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives and approaches are included in the visioning, planning and implementation of the work. In our experience, traditional custodians have been generous in their time, guidance and provision of connections that can progress place-based approaches and associated projects.

The work of connecting can be complex, requiring careful thought and research. In some communities, there will be a group who have been successful in claiming Native Title. This can make work more straightforward, providing some clear direction towards who you should be contacting initially to establish relationships in a region. However, it is important to acknowledge that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in a community may not all be represented by Native Title, and that it is important to include a variety of community leaders and voices.

Where initiatives are based in Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander communities, or where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are significantly affected by an issue the place-based approach seeks to address, it is important to carefully consider you or your organisation’s role and mandate to work in that community. There may be other organisations, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations, who are better suited to facilitate the place-based approach. At a minimum, creating formal partnerships with key Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders and organisations is highly recommended.

Case Studies

Relationships with traditional custodians in place, part of the Strengthening our place project (Capricornia)

How the Butchulla people are re-visioning an ancient rite of passage, part of the Strengthening our place project (Fraser Coast)     

Who are the Traditional Custodians?

To find out who are the Traditional Custodians for the place you wish to work, you might consult the Department for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships in your state or territory. Land councils and native title support services around Australia can provide guidance around who has land rights and native title determinations in a particular region. Other places to enquire might be a local community or neighbourhood centre, council, early childhood services or schools.

In some regions, there may be more than one language group who has Traditional Custodianship. It is also possible that there is no native title determination in a region, or it may be disputed. Furthermore, even where native title determinations exist, it may be contested.

Protocols for working in place

It is important to observe proper protocols when working in any place. It is best to ask those who you make connections with about what protocols they prefer you to follow when working in place. Common protocols include arranging a Welcome to Country from Traditional Custodians or acknowledging Traditional Custodians and Elders.

Welcome to Country

A Welcome to Country should be the first part of the program for significant events, including large community engagement forums, conferences, award programs, and festivals. A Welcome to Country is a ceremonial protocol where the Traditional Custodians of the Country welcome guests to the land of their ancestors. Inviting Traditional Custodians to provide a Welcome to Country is the respectful way to begin any formal events or proceedings.

Before a Welcome to Country, it is respectful to briefly explain the intentions of the meeting to Traditional Custodians, invite them to be involved in the proceedings, and meet them face-to-face prior to an event, on the morning or if time permits, in the lead up to the event. Check with the person providing a Welcome to Country to see how they would like to be introduced, and if you need to check the pronunciation of any words you may be unfamiliar with.

It is common practice to provide remuneration for giving a Welcome to Country. The level of remuneration will depend on the ceremony, with ceremonies that include a traditional dance or smoking ceremony involving a higher fee. Organising Welcome to Country can take some time, so this should not be left as a last-minute task. Prioritising the organisation of a Welcome to Country also communicates to Traditional Custodians that you value their presence and contribution as part of your engagement.

Acknowledgement of Traditional Custodians

An acknowledgement of Traditional Custodians should be made before any significant meetings or group activities are held in place. There is no hard rule for what constitutes a ‘significant meeting’ – it may be the first meeting in an important process, or where people are meeting from different organisations, or where there are more than a handful of people catching up.


Acknowledgement of Traditional Custodians:
I would like to start by acknowledging the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we meet, the _____ people (optional of the ___ Nation), and pay my respects to their Elders past, present and emerging. We recognise their enduring connection with land and sea, and it is a privilege to be standing on ____ country.

It is respectful to pause after acknowledging Traditional Custodians, before continuing with the program.

Once Traditional Custodians have been acknowledged, it is not necessary for every speaker in the program to acknowledge the Traditional Custodians, although some speakers may like to do so.

Other protocols

There are many other protocols for working on country that are specific to each region. It is always respectful to ask Traditional Custodians and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people about proper protocols. There are also some guides available for different regions.

Relationships are the foundation of any place-based approach. Relationships take time and energy to build, and they need to be based on high levels of trust. Relationships should also be purposeful and founded in shared vision, values and investment in the community.

Start with building relationships with people and organisations on the ground and respectfully offer yourself as a resource to further the work that is already happening in place. Many organisations will have existing relationships, projects and knowledge that are invaluable in driving change in the community. It is highly likely that there are organisations and community leaders already working in the region on community development, community engagement and community visioning projects.

You really need to understand who is the community that you’re working with so they can trust you… [with that understanding you can] bring in those people who need to be part of the picture, or at the table, so to speak, to make those outcomes happen.  … It comes back to building those relationships. If you don’t know your community, that placed based stuff, you’re going to make mistakes along the way,” – James Mundy, community consultant with Strengthening our lace in Capricornia.

Contact key formal and informal leaders you have identified in the Tool: Community Mapping Checklist. If you can, go and spend time in place at key community hubs and centres, and start conversations with as many people as you can. We like to call this ‘loitering with intent.’ In particular, key people you may wish to start talking to and building relationships with are:

  • neighbourhood or community centre
  • local council
  • local networks you have identified in the Tool: Community Mapping Checklist.
  • anyone with ‘community development’ in their title – they will have useful skills and are likely to have a good sense of the pulse of a community
  • contact person for government services and departments
  • school principals
  • police liaison officers
  • National Disability Insurance Scheme Local Area Coordinator
  • key health organisations such as community health centres and the Primary Health Network

It is important to consider you and your organisations’ existing relationships with the community, as well as the quality of relationships between people and workers in the community. Where there are existing networks in a region who work well together, and are well aligned, less work is needed initially to bring people together and move forward with a place-based approach.

For better or worse, working relationships are built on one-on-one connections between people. While organisations can form partnerships and establish trust, ultimately working relationships occur person to person. When a worker leaves the project, relationships need to be re-established before work can progress – often slowing down the work considerably.

Film Clip

Key learning

Key learning: Addressing concerns around place-based approaches
The goal of the initial relationship building stage is to gather information and build understanding of the place, rather than propose particular activities or projects. Nevertheless, people will understandably be curious or even wary about your intentions and motivation for contacting them, and particularly busy people will want to know the purpose of meeting. It is important to be transparent about why you are hoping to connect.

In our experience, key stakeholders are generally excited about place-based approaches. Many stakeholders are already purpose-driven and relish the opportunity to improve systems and outcomes for the people they serve. They see the benefit in planning and working together and want to understand how they can better achieve outcomes. They see the opportunity for change, and they are particularly excited by the possibility of change in traditionally rigid and permanent systems, such as government institutions and processes.

There are, however, some concerns you may come across including: misunderstandings of the motivations behind the work; the potential impact of a place-based approach on existing arrangements; the resourcing to support and drive place-based approaches particularly over the long term; and consultation fatigue or apathy around collaborative processes. These are legitimate concerns, and there are no simple answers to these questions as they will be different in each circumstance. It is appropriate to be prepared to work through these questions and concerns with community members in an open and considered manner.

Be aware of your vested interest and the interest of others involved. It is also important to acknowledge the extensive and ongoing work that community members, neighbourhood centres and other community-based organisations already do in their regions to build a better community, and not to ‘cut across’ or claim this work. Rather, start with relationships and offer yourself as a resource to help bring about the aspirations and visions of the place in which you are working. Consider the distribution of resources needed to both facilitate a place-based approach and to implement the activities of a place-based plan which will ultimately drive change in the region.

We need to look at what we’re doing already, so we’re not duplicating and replicating the work [that is already being done]. But [instead ensuring that we’re] tapping into the best pieces of each of the parties,”Anita White, place-based leadership group member in Strengthening our place.

As you are building relationships, you may start to identify organisations, government departments and people who you would like to partner with more formally on the place-based approach. Place-based approaches need effective coalitions or partnerships between key community stakeholders. You may have already started the place-based approach in partnership with an organisation, government department or other funding body.

Partnering formally can have many advantages – increasing trust, developing clear ways of working together, and opportunities to promote your collaboration. There are many tools and resources around partnering and developing Memorandums of Understanding to support partnerships.

Thinking through your partnership early in the piece is an important foundational step. Using good process helps articulate shared outcomes; individual and collective value of the partnership; expectations around practice and behaviour; and any resource commitments.

Learnings from Strengthening our place

Key learnings

Neighbourhood centres and place-based initiatives
Neighbourhood centres have been operating in Australia from the 1960s with an emphasis on community development approaches, location, social cohesion and community learning. There are 124 neighbourhood centres funded by the Queensland Government throughout the state. Many are run by local volunteer management committees and are essential place-based infrastructure in communities. In Queensland, QCOSS’ Neighbourhood Centres Community Consultation Results outlined the range of outcomes neighbourhood centres achieve, and there is research demonstrating the significant social and economic impacts of neighbourhood centres around Australia. (28) Neighbourhood centres play an essential role in building the social capital of place.(28) Neighbourhood centre knowledge and experience provides critical support for place-based approaches, as described below:

Agreed place

Neighbourhood centres operate in geographical localities. Their funding is for specific catchment areas and because many have been operating for several decades within spatial areas, they have gained specialised local knowledge of the communities in which they operate. They feature multiple services and activities that are often specifically relevant to the local neighbourhood in which they are located.  Centres are often also involved with ‘communities of interest’ in geographical spaces, such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders, migrant communities, young people, and older people.

Shared vision and commitment to outcomes
Neighbourhood centres operate from a community development approach, identifying opportunities for collective purpose and building community projects. Many have long-term experience in supporting communities to come together around a vision and supporting action.

Working together
Neighbourhood centres often establish local networks between services to respond to community needs as they are identified, or bring services together as hubs to offer wrap around services. Additionally, their relationships are not limited to the human services sector and they will have relationships with local business, government, politicians, schools, community groups, academics and faith-based organisations. Neighbourhood centres are collaborative by nature and are often the ‘poly filler’ that fills gaps between services. Given neighbourhood centres key role and relationships in many communities across Queensland, they are key place-based partners.

Community engagement
Because neighbourhood centres have offered local responses to local needs for long periods of time, they have an intimate knowledge of local community issues. Many are involved in collecting demographic data and are involved in ongoing discussions with community stakeholders on social issues. They often have a strong volunteer base and highly developed processes for meeting people ‘where they are at’. They are also aware of community assets, well informed of referral pathways and utilising professional community volunteers.

Local collaborative governance
Community development and strengths-based principles are often key for neighbourhood centres, providing a basis for emphasising the need for self-determination for individuals and communities. Many have a demonstrated ability to involve local people in developing local solutions, and processes for involving the local community (organisations and individuals) through consultation and active involvement in decisions.

Cycle of integrated learnings
Many neighbourhood centres have an embedded practice of adaptive, iterative co-design. Their community building approach and program delivery is based on principles of flexibility to meet the needs of the community and build on strengths and aspirations of presenting community members.


Collaboration and collaborative practice on Community Door

Collaboration decision support tool on Community Door eTraining

Collaboration for Impact’s Collaboration Health Assessment Tool

What is a Memorandum of Understanding? on Community Door

Partnering Toolboxes by the Partnering Initiative

The Partnerships Analysis Tool by VicHealth

Brokering Better Partnerships on the Partnership Brokers website

QCOSS Community Consultation Report

Data! Some people love it, some people hate it. For some, a good Excel spreadsheet is their idea of heaven, for others it is hell. This part of building understanding of place involves starting to scope data sources and researching available data to build a profile of the community. Data can provide context, build a common understanding of the issues and a baseline measurement for the initiative, and which may later help you to measure whether your project has made a difference (outcomes indicators). Demonstrating changes in data can help you build an evidence base for the work that you do. Digging into data can reveal surprising results, where what is commonly believed is happening in a community may not be borne out in statistics. It can support thinking about a problem differently and looking for novel ways to generate change.

On the flipside, data that is available about the community may not be comprehensive, or the collection methods may not have been perfect, so data should be used with caution. Data also tends to lead to deficit conversations, often measuring what is lacking rather what is there.

Numbers are also never the full story – it is often missing perspectives and will never have the nuance and quality of information held in people’s stories. It is important to seek out qualitative data too, and always ask ourselves, is this data useful, or is it blurring our vision?

The presentation of data on its own is not sufficient to progress a place-based approach. To be truly valuable it is important to accompany the data with conversation in which the data is explored further, and with stories of lived experience. Qualitative insights should be combined with quantitative data. This allows for the combination of content and context expertise to provide a full picture of what is happening in a community.

There are several places where data is recorded – some data is already published, while other data is held by public institutions and available on request.


Key learning

Data and disadvantage

Data can be a useful tool for getting to the bottom of an issue, and sometimes what we think is happening in an area isn’t borne out in the statistics. Evidence of disadvantage can provide evidence of a need and justify investment in a certain place or theme. It might also galvanise people behind a particular cause, create a sense of urgency, and help build a movement for change. However, in our experience, it can also be disheartening, and further entrench negative perspectives about a region. We use data about disadvantage with caution – our message is always, “Here are our strengths, and here are our areas for improvement that present an opportunity for change.” This may not seem like a big change, but it will help to reframe and balance the discussion.


Australian Bureau of Statistics

Data by region
SEIFA (Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas)For more additional breakdowns of data, you can submit a data request to the Australian Bureau of Statistics via their Contact Us page. There is sometimes an associated fee.

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare

ID for community profiles

Queensland Government Statistician’s Office

Queensland Regional Database, formerly known as Queensland Regional Statistical Information System (QRSIS)

Community profiles by the Queensland Department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships (DATSIP)

Queensland Crime Statistics QLD 

Queensland State School statistics

Australian Early Development Census (AEDC)

NAPLAN (National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy) data


If you are looking for some data that doesn’t appear to be publicly available, it is worth checking with relevant government departments and agencies. Sometimes data can be released in response to specific simple data queries. Complex population health data is available to authorised researchers, for example, through the Secure Unified Research Exchange (SURE), the Australian Data Archive Dataverse and the Multi-Agency Data Integration Project (MADIP).

Jargon alert:

A baseline measurement is a record of where a community starts on a particular outcome indicator. It is helpful to decide on a few key overarching outcomes that you are hoping to achieve in the place-based approach, and at the start of the initiative, record or measure the ‘baseline’ status of the outcome – that is to say, where is the community starting? Otherwise, you might get to the end of the project and have evidence of good outcomes through lots of great stories and narratives, but without a baseline, you haven’t got data on how things have changed.

Outcomes indicators are tangible measurements of an outcome – that is, an actual piece of data that provides evidence of an outcome. For more, see Committing to shared outcomes in Building a plan for change.

The above might seem like a daunting list of things to do and questions to ask in building your understanding of place, which serves to demonstrate the amount of time required to prepare to work in place. How long this stage takes will depend heavily on whether a community strongly resonates with the data and stories you find. If this is not the case, more time will be needed for you to make sense of the landscape before you get to action. Initial community engagement is also a key step and should not be rushed. As always, building understanding and relationships takes time!