Place-based working and funding

Key Learning

Know the history, background and context of place

  • Don’t lead with the money - take plenty of time getting to know the area
  • Identify local assets and systems, don’t simply focus on data and demographics
  • Base yourself in your chosen place. Local people don’t trust ‘parachuting in’ from the outside
  • Define boundaries of place that have meaning for local people but don’t ignore the wider context
  • Take time to understand local power dynamics, political agendas and cultures
  • Be aware of the reputation and ‘baggage’ that your partners may carry locally and how this might impact on people’s readiness to engage
  • Areas with transient populations can pose particular challenges and require constant attention
  • Ensure there’s accountability between, and to, local partners, not to you as a Funder
  • There’s no easy answers on whether to target work in cold spots or where there’s some pre-existing activity
Beginning work in an area requires a commitment to learning about the place and respect for what is already there [...] too many past approaches have failed on this count

Invest in people and relationships

  • Some funders have found that starting with strong local leaders is essential, others have reflected that this perpetuates that issue of the ‘hard to reach’ or ‘easy to ignore’
  • Funders may need to skill-up local people to maximise their contribution but might need help from others to do this effectively
  • Working ‘with’ people and not doing things ‘to’ them is essential
  • Making work relevant and useful is done best by connecting to to people, their lives and where they live

Work with others to build a shared vision for change

  • Funders must listen deeply, facilitate effectively and challenge appropriately
  • Agree realistic ambitions and clear objectives
  • Work on what’s possible, build on local assets and invest in potential
  • Working separately with different communities may needed to begin with, to build confidence and trust
  • Giving power to local people is an important component of achieving and sustaining change, however, “over ‘romanticising’ community members can perhaps be as disempowering in the long term as the failure to share power - they don’t have all the answers and cannot be expected to”
  • Partnerships can help distribute power but tensions and disagreements need to be worked through
  • Agreeing the right lead organisation is vital

Start small, try different things

  • Have a clear sense of purpose for your work but don’t come with preconceived ideas of what will and won’t work
  • Resident-led, short-term projects can act as a catalyst and build foundations
  • Quick wins to show ‘what’s in it for me?’ are really important in engaging local people
  • In some contexts, big ‘showy’ events are important in giving the community a ‘ta-dah!’ moment
  • Funders must not judge the tastes of local people
  • Focus on the possible; local people are creative and their skills and passions may surprise you

Allow for variation

  • Things almost always take longer than anticipated
  • Stay flexible, learn and adapt - consciously and mindfully
  • It takes time to develop trust and understanding and this can add pressure if project funding windows are tight
  • Alternative worldviews add value and challenge to local working and help partners to adapt their language and approach
  • Scaling or moving a successful approach from one area to another will not necessarily be straightforward
  • Talk to people about the changes and improvements they want to see to services
Plans will change as a result of what happens and how people involved respond. No matter how well you predict, you’ll be surprised

Be realistic. Accept mistakes and failure, make space for learning and reflection

  • In some places local people may not recognise or use the assets in their community, thinking they are not for them
  • Things will go wrong, long-term funding allows time and space to regroup and rethink when this happens
  • Space and time to learn and reflect is essential to success but don’t expect this to come good overnight
  • Place-based working should also lead to changes in how funders work, including their internal processes

Keep looking for change

  • The length of a grant may feel at once like ‘a long time’ and ‘no time at all’ so looking out for and noting signs of change may help keep up momentum and reduce pressure
  • Listening to those nearest to the issues and places you work with can reveal new perspectives and help you think ahead
  • Joseph Rowntree Foundation found their strength was an ‘honest broker’, which allowed them to enable conversations that would not have happened otherwise