Emma Hardie: The value of being place-informed: what I’ve learnt from an organisation in the middle
A guest blog by Civil Service Fast Streamer Emma Hardie reflecting on her placement at Renaisi.
As part of the Civil Service Fast Stream I had the opportunity to take a six-month secondment in the non-profit sector. I was placed at Renaisi and these are my reflections on what I learnt while working at the social enterprise.
What did I expect?
At the start of my placement, I understood my job to be looking at how Renaisi could do place-informed policy and develop their voice on the subject. What I didn’t appreciate fully was the extent of the interaction with the rest of the sector. Looking back, I was expecting Renaisi to do more ‘telling’ and less ‘asking’.
What have I actually been doing?
The importance of the sector as a whole became apparent very quickly. My early work at Renaisi began with researching and trying to understand the problems and challenges of other organisations within the sector, to see how Renaisi could use its ideas and experience to help address them. I came across several recurring challenges in the sector, the main three being: funding, infrastructure, and expanding or scaling a programme. Despite these challenges, I was struck by the overall sense of positivity in the sector. And I felt a sense of optimism too, because I was starting to see areas where I thought Renaisi could help.
There have always been two elements to the work that I’ve done at Renaisi. The first is about place as a concept in policy and interventions, thinking about what place is and what it isn’t. I often found the latter easier to define than the former! The second is around products, and what can help address the sector challenges. The first has become integral to a lot of the other work I’ve done, to the point where I tend not to think about it as a separate thing anymore. Since Christmas my focus has been on bringing the ideas for new business development within the organisation together and creating processes that help turn the ideas and conversations that are happening into action to develop new products.
What have I learnt?
I’ve learnt that what Renaisi is doing around place is not unprecedented or untried – there are others who are thinking about place and it can clearly work to provide meaningful support for communities. And I learnt, after an initial moment of panic, that this is not a bad thing. As I understand place better, I realise Renaisi could never be a lone voice in this area, because the whole point of thinking about place is about connections and a holistic approach to policy.
So the question is how can everyone be brought together to work on it? And how can those who aren’t already involved be brought into the conversation?
Understanding this has given me a much better grasp of where Renaisi’s CEO John Hitchin is coming from in his essay on the concept of place policy (link) and why its most constructive to explore these lines of enquiry together rather than try to be a single voice.
I’ve learnt about what it’s like for those in the middle of the place challenge, the organisations and intermediaries that are delivering services for people and communities, and how policy can play out for them. It’s made me more conscious of all the parts in the whole, something I will try to stay mindful of.
I’ve learnt a lot about Renaisi itself: it struck me as an organisation that has a lot going on. It has a rich and long history that its rightly proud of and which provides a wealth of knowledge and perspective, while at the same time it has ambitions to do something new in the future. I think Renaisi’s own journey to fit these parts together and to share both its history and its future, can in many ways reflect other evolutions in the sector.
And more personally, I’ve learnt just how much good work is going on in east London. There are so many ways for people to give back and get involved in communities and that’s reinforced by the fact that so many people at Renaisi are involved in projects and organisations outside of the day job. I found that incredibly inspiring.
I’m keen then to stay involved in the conversation around place, and how thinking about public services in this way can help communities so I’ll be keeping an eye on Renaisi’s news in 2020.