RSA Policy Expo – Enabling Best Practice in Place-based Policy

The Regional Studies Association (RSA) has commissioned a Policy Expo to look at place-based policy and its implementation around the globe and our team has taken up the challenge to bring it to life. We are looking both at place-based policy broadly as well as the role of place-based leadership within it. Over the course of the next 12 months, we will be continuing to engage with academic and industry partners to produce our research culminating in our final Policy Expo Monograph in June 2020.


The Project

Over the past decade increased attention has been paid to place-based policy making. This focus has been evident in the EU and other nations, and has been applied to a wide-range of policy domains, including research on place-based leadership (Horlings et al. 2018), industry policy (Bailey et al. 2018), and in managing the impacts of economic shock.

Tomaney (2010) provides a useful definition of place-based approaches to the development of cities and regions focussed on


…the identification and mobilisation of endogenous potential, that is, the ability of places to grow drawing on their own resources, notably their human capital and innovative capacities. This approach aims to develop locally-owned strategies that can tap into the unused economic potential in all regions and are the basis for strategies that tackle questions of sustainable development and human wellbeing. (p. 6)


He went on to argue that place-based approaches require strengthened local and regional institutions; local stakeholders need to be active in order to deliver success; the development of human capital and the embrace of innovation is critical and it is a long-term process.

However, even the most casual observer would be aware that too often government initiatives badged as ‘place-based policy’ fall well short of these descriptions of effective and impactful strategies. Too often governments simply relabel long established programs as ‘place-based policy’, or seek to innovate, but do so in a very partial fashion. This results in a considerable mismatch between the ‘promise’ of place-based policy, and the observable reality evident on the ground.

This raises some key questions for our Policy Expo on how we may best develop place-based policy in the future:

  • How do we ensure that place-based policy initiatives are effective and impactful?
    • How do we best bridge the gap between the national and local scale?
    • Which levels of government are in the best position to deliver place-based policy?
    • What national and local infrastructure are determinants for success?
    • What role does local leadership play in executing place-based policy?
  • How do we integrate place-based policy to address social and economic concerns?
    • Should place-based policy be centred on economic policy alone?
    • Should we adopt an inclusive approach across economic and social policy that considers issues such as social disadvantage, welfare and health outcomes?
  • Should industry policy be incorporated into place-based policy?


The Research

In order to answer these questions and more, every opportunity is being taken to hear the views of RSA members and policy makers starting with a call for suggestions that took place in March around case studies the project team should examine.

The first consultations on this important topic took place in June at the RSA’s Annual Conference in Santiago De Compostela. Critically, many of the discussants highlighted the important role of place-based leadership as an enabler – and indeed, a central pillar – of place-based policy in the developed and developing world. The participants in the workshop noted that place-based leadership is about how you work across boundaries and that place leadership could be applied in a homogenous, as well as a heterogenous, system. Co-design is an important part of the process of place-based policy and calls for local leadership to be achieved. A focus on place-based policy also draws out the significance of social networks and social capital, both of which are the foundations of leadership at the local scale. Place leadership – in the minds of the informants – was also strongly linked to institutions and their strength at the local level. The next set of consultations for this project will take place at the RSA Winter Conference in November.

The findings of the Expo will be made available through conferences presentations for the RSA and the European Week of Cities and Regions. We will also produce a paper in Regional Studies, Regional Science and develop our final Policy Expo Monograph. We believe our work has both relevance and significance with the emerging priority of place-based policy in many jurisdictions as well as the clear need amongst policy makers for information on how best to translate this new paradigm into practice.



Bailey, D. Pitelis, C. and Tomlinson, P. 2018 A place-based developmental regional industrial strategy for sustainable capture and co-created value, Cambridge Journal of Economics, pp 1-28 doi: 10.1093/cje/bey019.

Horlings, L. Roep, D. and Wellbrock, W. 2018 The Role of Leadership in Place-based Development and Building Institutional Arrangements, Local Economy, 1-14. DOI: 10.1177/0269094218763050.

Tomaney, J. 2010 Place-Based Approaches to Regional Development: Global Trends and Australian Implications, Australian Business Foundation, Sydney.



About the researchers

The project is carried out by Andrew Beer, Markku Sotarauta, Sarah Ayres, Jiri Blazek (guest author) and Fiona McKenzie, with the support of Jacob Irving, Project Officer of University South Australia.

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Fiona McKenzie
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