By Anna Randle and Alex Khaldi | Originally published in The MJ on the 17th July 2019

The future of public services is about the power of place. There’s a bold claim to begin this piece, but how many readers of The MJ would disagree? Those of us who work in and with local government already take the question of how we create thriving communities and places as our starting point. But what is changing is that other organisations are starting to do the same. Health, police, fire and education leaders are asking how they can understand and work with communities — and each other — in new ways to improve social outcomes. The voluntary and community sector is largely ready and waiting. The business community is also starting to explore its role in place. So the question becomes one for all of us: what would a better future look like for our places, and how do we get there together?

This question is starting to be asked in places across the country. We are seeing new partnerships forming, new conversations starting and new work beginning that is about collaboration among organisations and people who have traditionally worked side by side. We know that local authority chief executives are spending an increasing amount of time on their external relationships, and that this shift is taking place quite rapidly. We also know that there is no simple toolkit for effective collaboration — it takes time and is about building relationships, shared purpose and a collective understanding of the opportunities and challenges in the place. Local system leaders are therefore operating in new territory, and this is why Collaborate and Grant Thornton have come together to ask: what collective leadership capabilities, behaviours and relationships are required to lead place-based change today?

Until now, leadership development has predominantly focused within particular sectors. Collaborate and the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers (Solace) run the Ignite leadership programme for local government chief executives, which creates a safe space for leaders to explore the changing and increasingly outward-focused nature of their roles. The police have their own programmes, health leaders theirs, and so on: the focus is on professional development, rather than collective, cross-sector system leadership. These programmes remain essential: safe spaces with immediate peers who understand the sector and operating environment. But increasingly they are not enough.

This is why we have created PlaceMakers, a dedicated leadership support offer for all leaders in a place, together.

PlaceMakers is a nine-month immersive programme that brings local leaders from all sectors together to develop a collective understanding of their place, build shared commitments to improve local outcomes, plan together for the future, and build the relationships and leadership skills that will help them get there. While it draws on system leadership ideas, it is grounded in the practical and the local: partners work through live cross-cutting challenges, developing their skills and personal resilience along the way.

PlaceMakers explores three core elements to place-based leadership:

  • A progressive and shared model of leadership: Less heroic and hierarchical, more relational and networked. This is about truly understanding what it means to be working within and as a system. PlaceMakers also provides people with deep insights and intelligence on their place to help them collectively respond to complex challenges, rather than as leaders of single organisations.
  • Learn through doing: The model of single organisation targets and KPIs has failed to facilitate thriving places. Leaders and organisations need to design new approaches to tackle cross-cutting challenges. We prioritise ‘learning through doing’, even if this means failing fast and adapting. The PlaceMakers programme guides the partners through a process where they identify what they want to start tackling together, and helps them create spaces to learn and iterate as they go.
  • Developing the road map: What we hear from public sector leaders is that they must feel equipped to continue to work with their fellow place-based leaders when the programme ends. This is why we focus on what will come next after the programme. Partners collaboratively design a place-specific road map — outlining their areas of joint activity and how they will continue to evolve their relationships and behaviours to build sustainable change.

The outcome of the PlaceMakers programme is not only the development of collaborative leadership and a deeper shared understanding of place, but a blueprint for the future of the place and a stronger set of conditions for getting to this future.

Collaborate and Grant Thornton are collaborating on PlaceMakers because we believe in the power of place and the collective potential of the thoughtful, dedicated and determined local leaders who we work with every day. Yes, times are tough, the distractions are many. But this is all more reason for local leaders themselves to grasp the nettle, powered by the shared ambition to do more and better, for and with, their communities.

Anna Randle is chief executive of Collaborate CIC and Alex Khaldi is a partner at Grant Thornton

If you are interested in PlaceMakers for your place, get in touch with Hannah Anderson at Collaborate or Alex Khaldi at Grant Thornton.

For more information on Collaborate CIC, please email [email protected] or visit