The Regional Studies Association has commissioned a Policy Expo to look at place-based policy and its implementation around the globe. As an initiative of the Association, every opportunity is being taken to hear the views of RSA members and from policy makers. In March there was a call for suggestions around case studies the project team should examine, and in June there will be an opportunity for attendees at the Annual Conference in Santiago De Compostela to give their input in person at a series of focus groups we are organising.

It is our hope to see you there, so you can make your voice heard on this important topic. The details of these meetings will be made available via the Conference program which will be published on the RSA Website and via the App.

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.

At first glance, place-based policy and associated programs are well understood by scholars and policy makers in the regional studies community, but a deeper analysis finds glaring gaps in how we think about place-based policy and translate it into actions with the potential to reshape the future of places. Our current state of knowledge and debate is unable to provide clear guidance to city and regional authorities:

  • on the relative costs and benefits of place-based policy making, the most appropriate implementation strategies;
  • how to integrate place-based policies with our social and economic interventions;
  • and how best to span the gap both between ‘places’ and the national and local scale.

As Bentley and Pugalis (2014, p. 563) noted, ‘place based modes of working lack conceptual clarity and operational precision’.

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. Such approaches require strong and adaptable local institutions, such as regional development agencies. (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.

Other research has found a slightly different combination of factors to be critical for success, and this depends on governmental and economic context. Rodriguez-Pose and Wilkie (2016) noted the variability of regions and the variation between places in terms of their economic development capacity, resources and influence. However, they concluded place-based strategies:

…are off to a promising start and that maximising the returns of place-based territorial development at the local level can be achieved via both (i) capacity building to ensure that localities and communities are technically capable of assuming the responsibilities associated with greater powers and developing territorially-oriented approaches and interventions, and (ii) the promotion of multilevel governance to enhance vertical and horizontal coordination, guaranteeing a sufficient degree of coherence between the resources allocated to, and responsibilities assumed, at local level and also minimal overlap between the actions taken by various tiers of government. (p. 2, emphasis added)

While Morgan et al. (2009) found place-based policies work when:

  • local capacity to manage economic change is enhanced and deployed;
  • higher education institutions are fully engaged;
  • the access of firm to technical assistance is increased;
  • innovation is supported through a clearing houses/hub; and,
  • regional creative assets are defined and measured.

In a similar vein, the Brookings Institute’s Amy Liu (2017) suggested that the new and emerging economic, political and social conditions facing regions required a remaking of place-based economic development. According to Liu, the aim of the new approach starts with reframing the goals of regional development in a more inclusive fashion, which she proposes as setting out:

…to put a regional economy on a trajectory of (higher) growth that increases the productivity of firms and workers (prosperity) and raises standards of living for all (inclusion), thus achieving deep prosperity – growth that is robust, shared and enduring. (p. 2)

Liu suggests re-orienting regional policy will also require identifying the industry clusters that form the foundation of the regional economies. Accordingly, Liu proposes five principles for place-based policy development:

  • Setting the right goals to expand the scope of the regional economy;
  • Grow from within to support the growth of existing and emerging firms;
  • Boost trade to facilitate increasing commerce in ways that deepens regional industry specialisations;
  • Invest in people and skills to incorporate skills development of workers as a priority for economic development; and,
  • Connect place to the multiple geographic levels of economic activity and connect to local

While Bailey et al. (2018) argued place-based industrial strategy needs to break down the barriers between knowledge networks and business networks, they saw that one way to achieve a stronger exchange of information between the two sets of networks was through the introduction of ‘anchor tenants’ into the region. These are enterprises heavily engaged in the knowledge economy and able to apply these concepts to new technologies. Their presence allows for the spillover of knowledge externalities, helping raise local productivity. They suggested regional ‘stickiness’ could be achieved through established mechanisms such as the creation of clusters, the co-location of activities and the building of regional ecosystems. In the long term the goal is to generate:

…public sector entrepreneurship that aims to co-create value and help business capture as much of it as possible, while also capturing part of it for the regional economy and the public sector too. (Bailey et al. 2018 p 11)

Overall, Bailey et al. (2018) argued that there is a need for:

…an integrative approach, with a mix of appropriate inclusive policies across a range of policy domains, reflecting the desired and aimed-for competitive advantage of regions…Indeed, the OECD has recently pointed to the need for policy support for ecosystems to be provided at different levels. (p. 17)

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 government 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?

And as we said before, we would love to hear from you at this year’s Annual Conference.

Andrew Beer, Markku Sotarauta, Sarah Ayres, Jiri Blazek, Fiona McKenzie.


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.

Liu, A. 2016 Remaking Economic Development – The Markets and Civics of Continuous Growth and Prosperity, The Brookings Institution, Metropolitan Policy Program.

Morgan, J. Lambe, W. and Freyer, A. 2009 Homegrown Responses to Economic Uncertainty in Rural America, Rural Realities, Vol 3, 2.

Rodriguez-Pose, A. and Wilkie, C. 2016 Revamping Local and Regional Development through Place-based Strategies, Penn Institute for Urban Research, Working Paper prepared for Reinventing our Communities: Transforming Our Communities, Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, Biennial Conference, September.

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