Local collaborative governance is a key feature of place-based approaches. It ensures that systems are driven by local people in place and involves establishing inclusive leadership structures in different areas of the community and with multiple levels of influence, and capacity building communities to lead systemic changes.

Enabling local collaborative governance, depicted as a triangle split in three. The left third is Inclusive leadership structures. The right third is Influence in different areas. The bottom third is capacity building.

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.


Expression of interest for local champions – Southern Cross University and QCOSS

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.



Key learning

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).

The success of a place-based approach is dependent on the ability of those leading and participating to work well together, make decisions, negotiate, manage conflict and resolve disputes. Participatory processes are essential to supporting effective leadership groups.

There are many resources available on developing and working well as a group. It can be challenging bringing together and facilitating teams of people with diverse perspectives and priorities. In our place-based approach, we aim for diversity in our leadership structures, but this itself can present challenges. Modelling participatory processes in leadership group meetings demonstrates authenticity in the work; provides an opportunity to practice process in trusted environment; and builds capacity across the team to engage across community.

Psychologist Bruce Tuckman created a useful framework for understanding team formation and group dynamics, known as Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing (31).

Forming: the initial stage where group members learn about one another, the goals of the group and the resources available to achieve them. At this stage, group members are often getting to know one another, and interactions tend to be distant and polite. This will typically last for the first one or two meetings.

Storming: This stage is more tumultuous, as differences between group members start to emerge. Members tend to be more open with their opinions, meanwhile trust and collegiality is still developing. Often group members will debate, critique, confront and ‘test’ one another. This stage can be occasionally unpleasant and uncomfortable, but necessary for group members to get to know one another. This stage can often take up to three or four meetings before transitioning.

Norming: During this stage, the group starts to find clarity and function better as a team. People are more aware of each others strengths and areas for improvement, and more willing to take action to meet the group’s goals. Roles and responsibilities become more clearly defined, conflict is avoided and activity is more streamlined.

Performing: At this stage, group members actively trust and accept each other. Leadership within the team is flexible and can shift between group members at different times for different pruposes. Processes for making decisions are streamlined. Group members have a sense of freedom and a sense of belonging. Not all groups reach this stage.

Key learning

Consistency of group membership

While it is important to engage as broad a group as possible to lead and govern place-based approaches, we have also learnt that it is important to maintain some degree of consistency in the membership of leadership and working groups. Casual, changing membership and regular inclusion of new members can reduce commitment to the agreed activities, and interrupt the process of creating a group identity, consolidating relationships and trust. It can revert the group to an earlier stage of team-building, so the group is always stuck in forming and storming.

It is important that group membership is somewhat stable, attendance is as consistent as possible, and that new members are supported and properly inducted into the group’s purpose and ways of working. See also Key learning: The need for stability in Scoping the place-based approach.

A number of decisions need to be made as part of a place-based leadership group. At increasing levels of complexity, actions in the plan might include radical shifts in ways of working together and managing resources. It is essential that decision-making processes are clear and inclusive. There are a number of theories and methods that can guide decision-making processes. There are some resources on this available in the Prioritising and planning section below.

Community Door also has a number of resources around managing change and working in collaborations.


To ensure governance structures are socially inclusive and citizen-led, it is important to support and skill community members to lead the development and implementation of the work. This is not to say that there is not capability within communities – in some cases there may be more of a need for connecting people (for example business with community sector), rather than hosting training.

Capacity building includes developing skills and providing resources for communities and workers. When scoping the assets of a community it is very useful to consider what the leadership needs are – do leaders need to be better connected to leverage off one another’s expertise, or are there some real gaps in the skills required to work collaboratively? Leaders and champions in place have found professional development helpful with a focus on:

  • Systems thinking
  • Collaborative practice
  • Mentoring emerging leaders in community

While training and professional development can be a useful part of building local capacity, the learnings must be revisited and embedded. It is too much to expect that community members can attend one-off training and be equipped to address the complex issues they are faced with. Support in applying and testing out theory is useful and is best done over a period of months.

In some of the place-based approaches we have supported, we have created local champions training to do just this. It has involved calling on members of the community to express their interest in learning and refining skills required to lead place-based work in community and supporting them through the delivery of training and ongoing mentorship over a period of time.


Local champions training presentation, by QCOSS at Rockhampton and Fraser Coast

Additionally, we often need to revisit what we mean by leadership or ‘leader’. In the place-based approaches we have supported, we have considered anyone with the energy and willingness to guide work a ‘leader’.

Developing leadership means regularly ‘re-casting the net’ to develop leadership broadly in the community, including those who are deeply socially excluded. We draw upon learnings around pluralistic leadership, where leadership is a verb that people do at different times, rather than a quality people have or a position they hold.