Place-based funding: is everything in its place?

At a recent meeting, it was striking how the majority of the funders that attended introduced themselves as a ‘place-based’ funder. It seems that this term, that has been kicking around for several years, is now taking centre stage.

What does it mean?

For a really good summary, I suggest you take a look at IVAR's briefing paper (see below). They define place-based funding as:

targeted investment in defined geographic areas. This is usually a package of support – for example: multiple grants; particularly large investments; grants and additional funding plus activity (capacity building, networking, influencing activity) – within a defined place.”

I also like this description from US blogger Janis Foster Richardson: “A place-based funder has an intimate tie to a particular place that you can find on a map, and is focusing their work in that place with the people who live there …They may work on one problem or issue at a time, but do so with respect for local history and culture, a commitment to identifying and mobilising local assets, and an interest in building local capacity to weather the next storm.” which tries to get to the difference between a geographic limit and an approach that is deeply focused on place.

Being ‘place-based’ sounds like a good and necessary thing: a way to get funding into areas where there are no organisations ready and able to seek grants; to provide a narrow focus so that in depth work can be done in a defined area; to listen to, involve and build relationships with local people. It’s emphasis on collaboration certainly acknowledges the messiness of real life and how social change comes through different people and forces interacting rather than one organisation competing with another for funding.

Whilst I like the ethos behind it, I am still wrestling with a few questions:

How is seeking to assist people in a place, any different from supporting a community? Is ‘place-based’ just another way of describing good old community development, which seems to have fallen out of favour?

Does it only apply to urban areas where boundaries are easily defined and people more readily gathered together? And if it does include rural areas, how big does a place become: the whole of Wiltshire or Scotland?

If everyone becomes a ‘place-based funder’, then what happens to communities of interest? And who will help the various ‘places’ to connect up to bring about systemic and social change when it is needed at a regional or national level?

What happens to these ‘places’ when the next trend comes along? I don’t wish to be cynical but I am old enough to have seen a few swings of the pendulum from local to central, universal to targeted and back again. How long will place-based funders stay in one place? When will things be sufficiently better to move to the next place? And will there be a lasting legacy when they do move on?