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Chapter One: Understanding place-based approaches and how they evolve over time


What are place-based approaches?

In this guide, place-based approaches describe community-led initiatives that target the specific circumstances of a place.


The term ‘place’ commonly refers to a specific geographic area where people live, learn, work and recreate. ‘Place’ in the context of place- based approaches has no universal definition. The key is that the definition used by any initiative is meaningful and resonates with the local community.

Place-based approaches

The term ‘place-based approaches’ describes a diverse range of activities that target a place or location, to build on local strengths or respond to a complex social problem.

While there is no agreed definition of a place-based approach, the following definitions outline the main characteristics:

“A collaborative, long-term approach to build thriving communities delivered in a defined geographic location. This approach is ideally characterised by partnering and shared design, shared stewardship, and shared accountability for outcomes and impacts.” (Dart, 2019).

“An approach that targets the specific circumstances of a place and engages local people as active participants in development and implementation, requiring government to share decision-making.” (Victorian Government, 2020).

Why are they important?

Place-based approaches are recognised across the world as an important platform to respond to complex social and economic challenges, including the impact of natural disasters and pandemics.

Beyond immediate crisis and recovery needs, Victorian government departments are increasingly adopting place-based approaches to help achieve their objectives, including:

  • implementing Recommendation 15 of the Royal Commission into Mental Health to establish place-based collectives in every local government area
  • the expansion of ‘Our Place’ sites by then Department of Education and Training in partnership with the Colman Foundation
  • establishing 20-minute Neighbourhoods as part of Plan Melbourne 2017-2050
  • the Suburban Revitalisation program in 47 locations across Melbourne, where government partners with community, local government and businesses to support communities to thrive economically and socially
  • continued support and advocacy for local place-based initiatives by Regional and Metropolitan Partnerships.

What do place-based approaches look like?

Place-based approaches are different from traditional, government-initiated programs or policy development processes. They go beyond service delivery to encompass social, economic and environmental governance and practice. Place-based approaches focus on building readiness and identifying shared desired outcomes to enable collaborative implementation (Victorian Government, 2020).

In contrast, ‘place-focused approaches’ (as defined in the Victorian Government’s A framework for place-based approaches) plan and adapt government services, programs and infrastructure to ensure they are meeting local needs. Government listens to community to adapt how business is done, but ultimately, has control over the objectives, scope and implementation.

Place-based approaches may be initiated by the community or by government; or even start out as a government-led, place-focused initiative and evolve to a more community-centred approach over time.

Place-based initiatives take a holistic approach, connecting existing government investment and services and building cross-sector collaborations that tackle the root causes of local challenges and build on opportunities. They can also build community resilience, trust, and cohesion, and empower communities through a sense of belonging, connection, and purpose.

Aboriginal communities have led the way in articulating and demonstrating the strength of community empowerment through self-determination. Place-based approaches share these same principles to provide impact to a broader range of vulnerable and disadvantaged communities.

Place-based approaches drive actions based on what local knowledge shows will make a real difference for the community. Because of this, no place-based initiative looks the same. Their strength lies in harnessing local community leadership, ideas and capacity to develop tailored and long-term solutions. Action might include coordinating and identifying gaps in local services, building grassroots social infrastructure and networks, or embedding policy changes in local institutions. Often a combination of strategies are used to address challenges and leverage opportunities for a local community.

Examples of place-based initiatives that have driven meaningful and outcomes and impact include:

  • The Geelong Project, which has supported at risk young students from becoming homeless, disengaging in their education and leaving school early through building a ‘community’ of schools and service providers. It coordinates an accessible, integrated suite of services that a single organisation or sector could not achieve alone.
  • Flemington Works which, as at June 2022, has supported 200 paid employment outcomes for 127 women and 73 young people residing at the Flemington Housing Estate, the establishment of 40 micro-enterprises in social change, hospitality and creative industries, and social procurement clauses being included in five Moonee Valley City Council labour force tenders.

Initiatives such as Go Goldfields in Victoria and Logan Together in Queensland are focused on creating a strong foundation for children, to give them the best chance in life. Logan Together has reduced smoking and overweight/obesity rates during pregnancy, improved newborn health, and increased the uptake of antenatal care. Since opening the ‘Village Connect’ maternity hub in Logan City in 2020, engagement has increased with over 85 per cent of mothers also participating in other activities offered, such as playgroups and gestational diabetes education sessions.

Place-based initiatives not only address the immediate and short-term needs of communities, but seek to breakdown structural barriers that trap communities in cycles of poverty and disadvantage.

Scotland’s New Deal for Communities Program and Victoria’s Neighbourhood Renewal Program (2001-2013) have helped address the inequality gap between communities by reducing unemployment, overall crime rates and feelings of social exclusion among residents in intervention locations.

When to use them?

A place-based initiative can be a powerful tool where an issue, problem or opportunity faced by a community:

  • is multifaceted and complex
  • cannot be addressed through services or infrastructure alone – existing government interventions have not had the desired impact
  • does not have a clear solution and needs local people and organisations to be actively involved to find and develop meaningful responses
  • requires a whole of government or cross-sectoral response
  • requires a long-term response.

It’s important to remember that place-based approaches are not suitable in all circumstances.

They should complement rather than replace traditional government services and infrastructure and local community action.

Refer to Chapter Two: Working with local communities and government agencies to learn more.

Collective Impact

The Collective Impact (CI) framework is a method of place-based working that takes a structured approach to collaboration to address social challenges. This approach leverages all the resources and assets in a community to achieve change. It puts communities and people with diverse lived experience at the heart of defining local problems, using their strengths, voices and perspectives to co-create local solutions.

CI is a key methodology used internationally to address complex problems at the local level and achieve sustainable change with communities. The Tamarack Institute, based in Canada has identified that the approach is effective where complex disadvantage is experienced by a community and there is high community capacity and readiness to address the disadvantage.

An influential 2011 paper in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, outlined five core elements of the CI framework (Kania and Kramer, 2011):

  • common agenda – defined by all partners
  • shared measurement – with a focus on accountability and ongoing learning to support adaptative ways of working
  • mutually reinforcing activities – leveraging resources across all partners to achieve shared priorities and achieving the best possible impact from available investment
  • continuous communication and engagement – across partners to enable effective collaborative working, as well as engaging broadly and in an ongoing way, including with those with lived experience
  • independent backbone structure – to facilitate and mobilise the collective effort. There is more on backbone organisations further in this section.

Since then, there have been further iterations of the CI framework, including the development of principles and phases of work, and a stronger recognition of the central importance of addressing equity. In 2021, the Stanford Social Innovation Review published a series of articles looking at the 10 years of the Collective Impact framework. The series was sponsored by the Collective Impact Forum, a program of FSG and the Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions, and documented the thinking as to how local practice has evolved as communities responded to their local context.

A range of articles have been published that reflect on the evolution of the CI framework, including Power and Collective Impact in Australia (Graham, Skelton and Paulson, 2021). It talks to how collective impact work has evolved in Australia, including how initiatives have adjusted the approach to address Australia’s community context, culture, and history.

The Collective Impact 3.0 paper (Cabaj and Weaver, 2016) was a significant evolution of the CI framework. It included a broader focus on measurement, evaluation and learning (MEL) and a more explicit focus on the importance of inclusive community engagement.

Role of government in collective impact efforts to achieve social change

Government can play a supportive and enabling role within each of the elements and phases of the CI framework. This can include the provision of funding and working internally across portfolios to bring a more ‘joined-up’ approach to engagement at the local level.

In Victoria, government funding has been provided to support the backbone functions of local place-based initiatives – for example, Go Goldfields, Beyond the Bell and the Greater Shepparton Lighthouse Project, as well as working internally to support local collaborative efforts.

Backbone organisations

Supporting ‘backbone’ organisations help to ensure that place-based initiatives can achieve their objectives.

The functions of a backbone need to be flexible and will evolve over time in response to the context and collaborative effort.

Key functions include:

  • guiding vision and strategy
  • facilitating collaboration across partners
  • coordinating key actions and priorities
  • managing shared measurement and learning practices to track progress and impacts
  • enabling broad, inclusive engagement across the community, including those with lived experience
  • mobilising resources to support the sustainability of the initiative.

Backbone functions can be held by a stand-alone organisation or distributed across local partners (with dedicated roles identified) depending on the size, scope and context of the Collective Impact effort. The Tamarak Institute has a great resource about different approaches to backbone structures.

You can find a further range of resources to better understand how to establish and support effective backbones by visiting the Collective Impact Forum and the Tamarack Institute.

How they work

The importance of government and community partnership

An innovative approach

Government is traditionally the largest service provider in communities, such as through schools, health, police and human services, and the largest funder of other service providers. This policy and funding dominance creates power imbalances. In addition, all levels of government often engage with local communities in ways that are disconnected and fragmented.

Place-based approaches provide a crucial platform for a more equal power relationship between governments and communities. Government must take the role of partner and enabler and genuinely share decision-making to define the outcomes that matter locally and the best ways to achieve them.

In placed-based approaches, governments go further than listening to or consulting with communities – they must actively support and enable local people and organisations to be involved in the decision making for their communities (Graham, Skelton, and Paulson, 2021).

This approach can challenge government systems, culture and staff. Traditional programmatic ways of working generally have more rigid accountability structures and contracts that can unintentionally undermine collaborative relationships and lead stakeholders to compete.

Effective place-based approaches challenge prescriptive and centralised processes by facilitating a more enabling and flexible operating environment where government agencies and staff work collaboratively with communities and across programs and portfolios.

A new type of role for government

Government needs to work differently to realise the full potential of place-based approaches.

While each place-based initiative is unique in terms of place, design and objectives, they often require similar capabilities from governments.

Government agencies will not always be the ‘drivers’; but instead, will enable and support local community action, which includes removing barriers that are sometimes created by government itself. Government agencies and staff need to relinquish some control and accept a level of uncertainty around priorities and implementation. They must work with community partners to provide:

  • flexibility, so local partners can tailor their actions to what has the most impact on their community
  • commitment, so community partners and government agencies have stability as they work over the long term (often 10 years or more) to tackle complex, multi-faceted issues
  • trust, to support innovation and an environment where it’s safe to fail and learn.

The specific role (or roles) of government in a place-based initiative may evolve over time as the needs and preferences of the local community change, and at different stages of development and implementation.

Building the case for place-based work in the VPS

As place-based approaches can challenge traditional government ways of working, at times your role might be about building a coalition of support within government or securing authorisation to work in a non-traditional, more collaborative way to support a place-based initiative. It is important to:

  • engage with leaders across government who will champion the work at the executive level
  • design governance structures that enable the work
  • build and maintain networks with staff across government who can advise, support, and authorise work
  • utilise effective mechanisms to track impacts being achieved.

Building the case for place-based approaches within government often needs an assurance that a place-based initiative is robust and effective in its approach, and capable of achieving real change for community. Pointing to the evidence underpinning an initiative’s approach and supporting and promoting approaches that align with the evidence and best practice – as set out in this guide – is an important part of this process.

Key stages of development and implementation

There are some common stages typically involved in developing and implementing place-based initiatives. It is important to remember that many place-based initiatives are initiated by community players at the grass roots and government may not be involved at all in the early stages, but asked to provide support over time. Equally, the role of government will vary at any given stage according to the changing needs and priorities of the place-based initiative.

An overview of the common stages of a place-based approach is provided below. These stages are interlinked, rarely linear and there will often be a need or desire to loop back through one or two of the stages before moving to the next. It also provides an overview of the potential role of government at each stage. Government’s role is always to work in partnership as supporter and enabler with the community, rather than to take the lead.

A place-based initiative is a long-term undertaking and the steps that take place before on-the-ground action are critical to success. Some practice leading place-based initiatives spend up to 18 months in the first two stages.

Common stages of a place-based approach

1. Identify if a place-based approach is beneficial


Work with local community stakeholders and use in-depth local knowledge to assess if a place-based approach is an appropriate response to local opportunities or challenges.

Potential role of government (subject to the needs and preferences of the community): 

2. Assess readiness


Work with the community to assess if it is ready to, or is already, self-mobilising around an opportunity or issue, and if government can meaningfully contribute. This considers if the required resources, leadership, connections and mindsets exist, or if they can be built.

Potential role of government (subject to the needs and preferences of the community): 

3. Develop a shared vision and plan for change


All community members and organisations with an interest come together to identify the change they want to make in the community. This is articulated with clear outcomes, measures of progress and impact, and a plan for making it happen, monitoring, evaluating and learning.

Potential role of government (subject to the needs and preferences of the community): 

4. Implement together


Local partners such as community organisations, business, philanthropy and potentially government work collaboratively to resource and implement the plan. A local collaborative governance group oversees the implementation and can make changes.

Potential role of government (subject to the needs and preferences of the community): 

5. Embed a culture of learning and continual improvement


All partners embed a culture of learning to bring in new ideas and keep the initiative effective and relevant. Evaluation enables them to assess if work is progressing shared outcomes, learn from failures and consider how practice and policy changes can be embedded into their organisations over the long term.

Potential role of government (subject to the needs and preferences of the community): 

6. Celebrate and Communicate success


Everyone should be supportive of each other and ensure achievements are recognised and celebrated.

Potential role of government (subject to the needs and preferences of the community): 

  • Help to communicate well and widely

An alternative yet similar approach is the ‘Collaborative Cycle’ developed by Collaboration for Impact which outlines key stages of a place-based initiative, from the ‘Readiness Runway’ to ‘Achieving Transformation’.

It highlights the role of government and the critical enabling capabilities (such as expertise and skills) at each phase to achieve and sustain progress.

For more on this, see Platform C.

Key considerations

Be open to an ongoing, adaptive way of working as initiatives evolve

When working with a place-based initiative, processes and actions are dynamic and generally not linear. To be most effective, collaborative ways of working need an adaptive and flexible approach.

Clearly define your role and seek authorisation to work differently

Working in government, your traditional role may include contract management and/or performance monitoring. Holding these roles whilst participating in a collaborative initiative that asks you to disrupt business as usual to achieve better outcomes is challenging. Be clear that you will be taking a different role as part of the collaborative initiative and seek authorisation from your executive to do so.

Leverage existing capacity and knowledge

When working with communities, consider their existing platforms, groups or networks to help build capacity. Encourage natural leaders in the community and people with relevant skill sets or expertise, including those with lived experience, to get involved. These leaders often have a good understanding of the strengths and opportunities, wicked problems or underlying issues within their communities.

Refer to Chapter Two: Working with local communities and government agencies to learn more.

Build trust

Be mindful of the signals you send early in the process. Ensure that community voice is heard and valued and take the time to listen, learn and build relationships. This will help build trust that the intent to collaborate is genuine.

Help partners to navigate the complexity of government

Place-based practitioners report that government can sometimes seem impenetrable and confusing to navigate. Community members often don’t know who they need to speak to, how government priorities are determined or how decisions are made. You can help by connecting people to your colleagues in relevant government portfolio areas and explaining how government works, as well as setting up supportive internal governance arrangements (if appropriate).

Case study: Hands-up Mallee (Victoria)


Hands Up Mallee (HUM) is a place-based initiative in the Mildura local government area (LGA) that supports local responses driven by community- identified priorities, research and data. In 2016-17 HUM had over 1600 conversations with community members to determine its community aspiration of a ‘connected community, where families matter and children thrive’.

HUM partnerships

HUM brings local leaders and the community together to address social issues and improve health and wellbeing outcomes for children, young people and their families.

HUM negotiated Victorian Government funding through the adaptation of funding under Primary Care Partnerships in 2014. Since May 2020, HUM has been funded through the Stronger Places, Stronger People (SPSP) initiative, that involves a partnership with the Commonwealth and Victorian Governments. Alongside philanthropic funding and significant support from the Mildura Rural City Council, HUM is resourced to build trusting relationships and local partnerships over time and can work flexibly and responsively with the community.

The Victorian Government’s partnership with HUM and the Commonwealth Government through the SPSP initiative is a unique opportunity to understand how to best work with a broad range of stakeholders to support place-based approaches, including partnerships across three levels of government. By participating in SPSP, the Victorian Government seeks to understand what policies, funding approaches, culture changes and partnership approaches we need to make us better at this critical way of working.

HUM approach

A collaborative approach to boosting Covid-19 vaccination rates

In 2021, during an acute Covid-19 outbreak in the Mildura LGA, HUM was a key partner in a collaboration to develop and mobilise targeted community testing and vaccination clinics. The response model was based on the need in the local community to create equitable access and cultural safety for members of migrant, refugee and asylum seeker communities and people living in locations with lower vaccination rates.

HUM was able to leverage existing trusting relationships with community members, local services, funders and government to collaboratively set-up testing and vaccination clinics to meet community needs. The collaboration developed an adaptive pop-up clinic in neighbourhood parks and known community locations such as the Ethnic Communities Council. The clinics operated for several days at the same location and engaged trusted people from local communities to support community members in accessing the service.

This way of working was key to the success of the model. Trusted community members like Aunty Jemmes Handy, a respected Aboriginal Community Elder, were willing to work with the collaboration due to her existing and ongoing relationship with HUM’s work and way of working:

“We started talking about what was going on in our community, the whole community, not just one part of it. The organisations involved actually listened and took notice of what we wanted for a change”. (Aunty Jemmes Handy – Aboriginal Community Elder)

HUM and its partners Sunraysia Mallee Ethnic Communities Council, Sunraysia Community Health Services, Mildura Rural City Council, Mallee District Aboriginal Service and Sunraysia Medical Clinic understood the importance of the clinic location, representation of people running the clinic and the way of operating:

“You need a well-organised venue, bilingual staff, consent forms in different languages, all of that needs planning. I couldn’t do that by myself, neither could any of the other partners, but together we could do it. Together we did amazing work.” (Dr Mehdi – Sunraysia Medical Clinic GP)

Food relief

During the initial Covid-19 lockdowns in 2020, HUM drew on their existing relationships to convene more than 16 local organisations to respond to the community’s food security challenges. HUM and their partners quickly created a joint approach to emergency food relief through organisations pooling resources to respond more effectively to local needs and to strengthen the state-funded food relief approach. HUM and partners developed an adaptive system that saw food and essential supplies delivered to community members who needed them in a timely and targeted way to address identified gaps.

By the end of the lockdown period between March and November 2020, the collaborative work of HUM and their partners had supported a total of 3354 people through almost 900 immediate food parcels, 171 activity packs, and 194 referrals between organisations.


Case study: Our Place (Victoria)


The Colman Foundation (Colman), a philanthropic organisation, established the ‘Our Place’ approach based on the lessons learned from their work at Doveton College since 2012.

Our Place is a holistic place-based approach to support the education, health and development of all children and families in disadvantaged communities by utilising the universal platform of a school.

DET and Colman partnership

Based on the outcomes at Doveton College, in 2017 then Department of Education and Training (DET) and Colman signed a Partnership Agreement to establish the Our Place approach at 10 sites in vulnerable communities across Victoria for a period of 10 years.

Our Place approach

The Our Place approach supports children and families in vulnerable communities by providing:

  • a single, welcoming point of entry to the school and early learning centre to engage with families and support continuity for children in their transition from kindergarten to school
  • shared spaces to offer services such as maternal and child health, playgroup, general practitioners, paediatricians, immunisations, parent support groups, and adult education, training, volunteering and job seeking services
  • access to tailored health, wellbeing and community services for families and children from one location
  • community facilitators working on site to foster collaboration between service providers and help families and children connect to early childhood, education, health and wellbeing services.

As part of the establishment process, Colman consults with local service providers and the community to identify the services to be delivered at the site. This ensures they respond to the need of that specific community, avoid duplicating existing services and address any gaps in service delivery.


The DET and Colman Partnership governance structure is designed to:

  • provide strategy and direction for the Our Place approach
  • facilitate collaboration between partners, and oversee the establishment and implementation of the Our Place approach at sites
  • support local implementation through the establishment of Site Partnership Groups.


DET has funded and built infrastructure at Our Place sites to provide a single point of entry for children and their families, and shared spaces for health service providers and community activities.

A partnership manager is also on site to support partner organisations to implement the Our Place approach. Colman has developed a central team to oversee all sites and support the implementation of the Our Place approach and the partnership.

Partnerships with local service providers and community groups are a key feature of the Our Place approach. These partners include:

  • early childhood services
  • local government
  • other government departments
  • community health services
  • adult education providers
  • community and cultural organisations.

Colman employs two community facilitators who work at Our Place sites to engage families and the community, identify and address barriers to implementation, and evaluate what is working and where further effort is needed.

Additional tools and resources

Victorian Government framework

A framework for place-based approaches, Victorian Government, 2020

Efficacy and history of place-based approaches