In order to steer the place-based plan, it is essential to develop representative, collaborative leadership structures. Such a group is essential to have oversight of the work, maintain a focus on the vision and the commitments people have made, and make decisions about how the work will unfold as things move and change.
The form and complexity of governance will vary dependent on where the place-based approach sits on the place-based continuum. For example, under a collective impact approach, a formal structure with high levels of systemic influence is essential; on the other hand, a small-scale neighbourhood level project using a place-based approach may require a small strong working group to lead the work. Such structures should be locally driven, involve adequate levels of delegated authority to make systemic changes where relevant, and incorporate strong representation from the community.
Work with existing structures
During your mapping work, you will have identified existing networks and partnerships. To avoid ‘meeting overload’ and duplication of existing efforts, it is a good idea to work with existing structures. If your area already has a cross-sector leadership group, can the place-based governance structure become a working group within that existing structure? As long as it incorporates the features of local collaborative governance (including multiple levels of influence and community involvement), it can help drive the work.
Who is at your table?
It is very important to carefully consider who will form part of the leadership group. It is a good idea to consider your Tool – Community mapping checklist and your Tool – Mapping relationships and influence. Ask as many people as possible who they think should be represented. Who forms part of the leadership group will depend on the theme and plan of the place-based approach. Ideally, a leadership group should include:
- Community representatives with local lived experience/context expertise in relevant themes of the initiative
- Representatives from government agencies with some level of delegated authority to influence government agency operations and/or government resourcing
- Strategic-level leaders from community services organisations
- Strategic-level leaders from industry and business.
More complex place-based collective impact initiatives would require representation from all levels of government and across several portfolios, as well as leaders from all major service providers. It should also include as many people as possible with relevant context expertise.
The following framework from the Community Engagement Toolkit is useful to consider context expertise.
When looking at your decision-making table, you should be aiming to include as many people as close to the centre of the circle as possible, representing as broad a diversity of people from the community as possible.
You may wish to invite participation in leadership structures from a broad audience. For example, you can invite expressions of interest from a broad range of people who might like to participate in leadership and working groups. You might establish local champions who can be a point of contact and advocate around the initiative. The process of inviting and engaging community members to be part of the initiative can take a significant amount of time.
Creating socially inclusive governance structures requires both resourcing excluded people to participate, and changing the way structures operate so that they are more inclusive. For example, people experiencing disadvantage might benefit from support and reimbursement for transport, sitting fees, food, and childcare. The timing of processes and meetings should be accessible to broader communities wherever possible – for example, by hosting some key meetings after hours. You should also engage in the same practices for being socially inclusive mentioned above in Hosting conversations in place – see Tip: Socially inclusive engagement and Tip: Socially inclusive facilitation.
The extent to which community members engage with a project will depend on their own energy and resources and may lose momentum over time. Remember that people in communities may wear many hats. They may play different roles at different times and move between positions in organisations. People across the community are often time poor and find it difficult to make the time to participate. It can help to have clear roles for community members, and lots of different opportunities for community members to be involved in and contribute to the initiative. These opportunities will range from being part of the core leadership team to providing input and advice.
Clear roles and purpose
When creating leadership groups, we have learnt it is important to establish clear roles for the group and group members; have some degree of formal terms of reference and formal processes; and maintain consistency in group members as far as possible.
Time should be taken to ensure leadership group members are clear on the role and purpose of the leadership group within the initiative, purpose of the group, and where there is more than one working group, the overall structure of governance. There must be a sense of local ownership of the vision, and a shared commitment to sharing the vision across their community and achieving the shared outcomes (see also Documenting and sharing the work).
“I think one of the greatest opportunities is hearing from all the parties and having an open mind to see not only what the collective group can do, but seeing what the opportunities are inside connections, or within the connections you form with the people at the table. My experience has been that as an entire group we obviously have a vision, but then there have been incidents in time, and I’m a big believer in allowing the time for things to naturally occur, so it might be next week, it may be next month, it may be next year, that another conversation is had and it resonates with you, and you’re able to pick up the phone to the connection you’ve made,” – Anita White, place-based leadership group member.
Regardless of the differing ‘status’ or ‘importance’ of different group members, it is important that power is shared and no one organisation or government agenda overpowers another. Your role in the group must also be very clear – are you facilitating the work, are you a funder, or are you providing services or activities that work towards the shared vision? It is important that decision-making processes are transparent, and funding arrangements are handled with care and sensitivity.
We have also learnt that having structures around meetings and purpose helps to drive the work. We recommend developing a terms of reference, and holding regular meetings with a clear agenda, purpose and actions arising. We have also learnt that a significant part of each meeting should be devoted to conversations and activities that build relationships.
Each group and place have their own dynamic and energy, and so as with all things place-based, the pace of activities, meetings and workshops should be flexible and adjusted to the needs of place. Meetings might need to be adjusted for Sorry Business, major community events, or even natural disasters and critical incidents.
One Group to rule them all?
In the Strengthening our place Fraser Coast initiative, several groups evolved to lead different elements of the work. This developed over time as different structures emerged to manage different parts of the plan. This is consistent with the theory of constellation governance, a model of governance and leadership which enables people to organise around the things that energise them and are relevant to their work.
It is important where there are multiple structures that the terms of reference for each is clear, and that there are clear pathways for how they interact and communicate that everyone is aware of. It is also often useful if there is shared membership of at least one person across groups to share information between them (without duplicating membership completely).