It’s all about people and places

It’s all about people and places

VICTOR FISHER 02 Mar, 2017

We are often approached by clients needing to solve complex service-delivery issues and make strategic business decisions. While using an evidence-base to assist in decision-making is a well-known approach, at .id we help solve business challenges by applying a spatial lens to demographic information. Here’s a quick look at what we call place-based approaches.

Place-based approaches

Strategies grounded in the particular social, environmental or institutional context of the issue to which they respond are known as place-based approaches. Focusing on a geographical location, such as a neighbourhood, municipality or region, these approaches are sensitive to the way in which an issue is experienced at a local level.

Place-based initiatives are particularly useful in addressing complex social issues and business planning decisions. These issues are deeply connected with local conditions and require an approach that considers the importance of place. A place-based approach frames an issue at its geographical scale, drawing out unique local conditions and often engaging community groups to help devise appropriate responses. This helps foster collaboration by integrating responsibility across government, business and non-profit organisations.

People and places

Place-based strategies can be classified according to whether they identify places or people as the focus and target.

A focus on place analyses how local factors interact with each other and with macro-level forces that make up the broader regional context. This is often referred to as spatial targeting.

Social targeting, on the other hand, targets particular populations based on socio-demographic characteristics. This approach focuses on generating benefits for key community stakeholders.

People-based approaches are considered effective in addressing health or well-being issues, while location-based initiatives provide a useful approach to situations where the problem is more complex and the required strategy is less certain. Considering these advantages, there is growing recognition of the need to adopt place-based strategies that also reflect a person-based outlook.

Benefits of place-based approaches

Placed-based approaches are characterised by a number of key elements, including:

  • Providing flexible service delivery and engaging the community in consultation and decision-making processes.
  • Utilisation of community skills and resources, ensuring outputs are closely tailored to local needs.
  • Promoting integration between different government agencies, private and community sectors.
  • Emphasis on capacity development that recognises complex problems require a long-term approach to achieving sustained outcomes.
  • A decentralised model allows for greater autonomy among local organisations while promoting resilience and learning through shared ownership.

While place-based approaches have certain common features, they can vary considerably in their model and application. Variations include:

  • Characteristics of the target population
  • Size of the geographic area
  • Extent of community engagement and service system coordination
  • Adaptation of actions to local needs.

Considerations for place-based approaches

Place-based initiatives often face challenges in terms of evaluation, mainly around establishing causality and attributing outcomes, so the scope of evaluation needs to be clearly defined when determining the cost-effectiveness of place-based approaches. To assess impact, long-term outcomes should be captured in governance evaluations as well as short-term evaluations.

Difficulties can arise in determining the appropriate size area for place-based approaches, as well as defining target communities. It is important for place-based approaches to consider macro-level factors that influence the delivery of services through national or state-based policy. Another consideration is the inclusion of important stakeholders who reside outside the defined spatial area.

Overall, place-based approaches provide a great way of understanding people and places with a spatial dimension and can provide new insights and strategies for a range of issues.

.id is a team of demographers, population forecasters, spatial planners, urban economists, and data experts who use a unique combination of online tools and consulting to help governments and organisations understand their local areas. Access our free demographic resources here


Victor comes to us as an outstanding graduate via .id's Graduate Development Programme after completing his Master of International Urban and Environmental Management at RMIT University. He is particularly interested in how population dynamics are used to inform planning processes and understanding the importance of place.

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