Policymakers increasingly recognise that the solutions to many of our most stubborn social challenges lie outside of Whitehall’s reach.

By giving local areas control of a wider range of policy levers, services can be shaped around the distinct needs of every person and the full scope of local assets can be harnessed to achieve social change.

This insight has led to a number of ‘place-based’ policy initiatives over the years, which recognise the role local organisations play in supporting people to meet their own needs and prevent long-term disadvantage.

However, we have yet to see a fundamental shift in the balance of power: England is still highly centralised and localisation remains a work in progress.

This briefing paper outlines the steps we need to take to finally make decentralisation stick and harness the potential of place-based strategies to save money and create better services.

It draws on Locality’s experience of working with communities, local authorities and central government to innovate from the ground up.

It also introduces case studies of social policy experiments that have been successful across Europe, as part of Locality’s work with the InnoSI research programme.

About the InnoSI Case Studies

InnoSI is a large pan-European research project funded by the European Commission, focused on innovative approaches to investing in people.

In depth case study evaluations across 10 countries have highlighted the potential of local initiatives, cross-sector collaboration and social action to tap into new capacities and resources to achieve public policy goals.

However, the research also suggests that wider system change needs government support and political buy-in, to mainstream new approaches and make them sustainable for the long term.

Our briefing paper highlights innovative pilot projects in Finland, Sweden and Manchester, and the lessons they provide for UK policy:

May I Help You, Finland

This utilises “User-driven Public Service Development”, an experimental approach to public service design focused on collaboration and facilitation between citizen groups, municipal service sectors, and other stakeholders.

The May I Help You model in Kainuu was created as part of this approach. The programme brought unemployed young people to help elderly people living alone with small, everyday tasks.

The evaluation of the programme found that participants valued the process, felt engaged by the dialogue and that they were genuinely listened to.

These positive outcomes show how user-driven policy development can increase service productivity and quality, as well as enhancing democratic participation.

Local Collaborations, Sweden

A partnership between Gothenburg city and nine non-profit organisations was built to develop an approach to the reception and integration of newcomer unaccompanied asylum seeking minors.

The partnership enabled more flexible and timely policy implementation, with more integrated services, provided for the same money as other subcontracted providers, making it cost-effective.

The process of the partnership and the planning of which services each organisation could contribute meant that the needs of the unaccompanied minors could be specified and understood more effectively.

Working Well, Greater Manchester

This locally commissioned, active labour market programme uses a model where keyworkers and clients co-create a personalised approach to address barriers to work, while promoting change in public services by providing information about necessary services.

The success of the programme relies on: the involvement of keyworkers who genuinely want to help clients; the social nature of the programme to address loneliness; and regular performance management meetings between providers and commissioners, which creates an ongoing dialogue around the programme and services necessary to support it.