In recent years, place-based change has become a buzzword in the social sector. As a result, it’s misused to describe any type of intervention that happens in a place.

But place-based change is so much more than that.

At Renaisi, we’ve spent years delivering, learning about, facilitating and advocating for place-based change.

We recognise that place-based change can cover anything from shifting educational attainment across a city to community-led improvements on a single street.

That doesn’t mean place-based can be used to describe any change that happens in a place. Correctly used, the expression defines an approach – rather than simply placing a geographical boundary around a project or fund.

What place-based change means to Renaisi

Of course, geography is relevant but what makes place-based change special is how it’s done not where it happens.

We define place-based change as:

While our definition allows for a range of approaches, place-based interventions require understanding and adapting to the social, economic and demographic landscape of a place. These interventions will both shape their context and be shaped by it, and so replicating the same type of intervention in a different place is not likely to have the same impact.

Driving change through values and principles

We believe in the power of place because – whether it’s a ward, county or city – place can unify people around a shared vision. That shared vision helps to shift the focus away from ‘issues’ or ‘cohorts’ of people to make powerful improvements for individuals, at the same time as influencing systems.

Place-based practitioners should always ask “who’s not in the room?” and “who hasn’t been heard?”. That focus on relationships and inclusivity helps to establish long-term resilience.

This approach gives place-based change the potential to impact multiple parts of a local system, and to create more sustainable change than other interventions might.

The focus on addressing and shifting historic power dynamics often leads to place-based change and systems change being talked about together. We call approaches that aim to make systemic change in a place ‘place-based systemic change‘.

Place-based approaches and systemic change aren’t the same, but place-based approaches lend themselves well to systems change because they both aim for lasting, holistic change.

Read more about the differences and overlaps of place-based and systems change approaches.

Why does this matter?

Describing any intervention in a place as place-based misses the point.

While the history and context of the place is important, place-based change is a mindset and philosophy more than it is about geography. It aims to:

  • Give more people a chance to say what they want from their lives – and get involved in achieving it.
  • Remove the barriers to collaboration that suck money from civil society and limit its potential.
  • Build relationships across sectoral and social divides that have the potential to create long-term improvements.

After years of austerity and a global pandemic, understanding how to strengthen communities is more important than ever.

But those communities will only be strengthened if funders and practitioners of place-based change understand what it is at its heart and use it to develop solutions that enable everyone to thrive.

Beth Stout