News and Comment

Looking to the local: place-based approaches to change

Tuesday 21 October 2014


In a blog for the Guardian, Rachel Wharton from NPC outlines ‘10 ways that philanthropists are changing the world’. The innovative ways of working includes philanthropists coming together to share data and pool resources, thinking like a start-up and learning from failure. Each of these 10 approaches are illustrated through the example of an organisation leading by example from inside and outside the UK, including Canada, the US and India.

This is a really helpful checklist and the international examples are interesting and diverse. But it feels like there’s something missing. At no point does the blog mention anything about the importance of place – as in a geographically defined area – as a starting point for philanthropy.

OPM evaluated the impact of place-based philanthropy in relation to the Islington Giving campaign. Islington Giving brings together philanthropists, funders and other trusts, as partner organisations, to focus on the ‘wicked problems’ facing the small number of postcodes which makes up the north London borough. Islington is an interesting area for such an approach due to the scale of inequality found there: affluence, privilege and excess co-exists with poverty, isolation and social exclusion.

The evaluation was designed to pull out the impact of Islington Giving upon local residents, and also to explore what, if anything, was innovative about the place-based approach that led to these impacts. What emerged through the research was substantive evidence that the place-based approach not only defined the campaign issues at the outset but it brought together local philanthropists – and others – to tackle the problems in a strategic and effective way.

For example, partner organisations identified campaign goals based on a needs assessment of Islington, commissioning a series of interviews with some of the borough’s most disadvantaged people to explore their most pressing issues. Areas identified through this review formed the core vision and shared goals of Islington Giving and a compelling narrative for philanthropists to get involved, donate money and provide governance through a seat on the board.

Yet, what was truly innovative about the place-based approach was that it attracted another tier of stakeholders beyond the main partner organisations. The clearly defined set of local goals motivated representatives from the local authority, local businesses and local residents to engage with the campaign, donating time, money or other in-kind support depending on what they had available. This created a magnifying effect, where philanthropists were joined by others who had a local interest and who trusted Islington Giving to deliver against these transparent goals.

In other words, the focus on place allowed Islington Giving to deliver impacts ‘bigger than the sum of its parts’.

At OPM we are involved with a number of other projects that use place as a starting point to delivering change. For example, as part of the Cabinet Office funded Delivering Differently programme we are working with partners including Locality, Prospects and Walker Morris Solicitors to help communities in Devon explore new, locally-based approaches to achieving results for their citizens. We are also part of the support team for DCLG’s Our Place programme, which aims to give people more power over local services and budgets in their neighbourhoods – again on a place footprint, instead of being tightly framed by traditional service boundaries.

Like Islington Giving, many of the local projects emerging through these programmes highlight the value of a place-based approach, not only in joining the dots which a service-siloed focus can obscure, but through looking beyond public services to a much wider pool of local resources – financial and human – that a community can muster.

There is a lot that philanthropists can take from the Islington Giving place-based approach to philanthropy – in the same way there is a lot for local and national government (and other community-based organsiations) to learn from Delivering Differently and Our Place. So when it comes to a handful of North London postcodes or a small town in Devon, it is the focus in on place which offers lessons for the wider world.