Children’s Neighbourhoods Scotland, Concepts, ideas and research

How to make a difference in place-based work with children and young people

Whether conducting research using our Children’s Voice approach, facilitating international dialogue on climate change, or evaluating how local authorities engaged with the third sector throughout the COVID-19 pandemic – our Research and Evaluation (R&E) team is kept pretty busy here at CNS!

Our researchers undertake qualitative and quantitative data collection, while delivering a programme of capabilities research in schools and with youth groups.

They produce and disseminate research reports and findings and, through local collaboration, develop opportunities for future activity and action.

The team has responsibility for participatory research and context analysis in each of our neighbourhood sites, and they also monitor and evaluate the overall work of the CNS programme.

A researcher with a group of primary school children from the Bridgeton and Dalmarnock neighbourhood undertaking group work
Our Process Evaluation explores the roles of our Local Coordinators and Researchers

As the CNS programme progresses, it is vital we take stock of where we are, what we’ve achieved, and how we can improve our processes.

This has been the R&E team’s focus most recently, with the publication of our first Process Evaluation report.

The Process Evaluation looks at the roles of our Local Coordinators (LCs) and our Researchers, and considers the experience our team has gained while implementing the practical elements of the capabilities research. The report highlights who the CNS approach works for best, where and how.

Impact of Local Coordinators on place-based approach

In their everyday practice, our Local Coordinators (LCs) apply the skills of critical reflection and practical reasoning to make decisions. CNS research clearly shows that the capacity for reflective thought, engagement with local contexts, and the work of building and maintaining relationships, is key to understanding how LCs make a difference in communities.

Place-based work requires a deep understanding of poverty, local contexts and people. This skill involves making judgements in situ, with a view to understanding the impact short term actions will have in the longer-term. The skills of an LC are in taking the right action, at the right time, and at the right moment. These actions are both social and political.

Our Local Coordinators pay attention to the local contexts they work in – as well as the world views and values of the people they work with

This skill involves knowing and understanding where they are positioned within a complex social network of stakeholders and organisations – and what decisions and choices are most likely to produce desired results. This is a particular way of thinking and applying knowledge in practice.

Utilising ‘Value Rationality’

Our LCs use a form of ‘value rationality’ in their work. This involves making judgements with attention to the local contexts they work in – as well as the world views and values of the people they work with.

Local Coordinators do this by combining their own instinctive interpretations of the situation and knowledge gained through experience, with research evidence, including evidence from the CNS capabilities research with children and young people.

The integration of these forms of knowledge enables our Local Coordinators to build relationships, and act at many levels and across diverse sectors, services and professions.

In this way LCs bridge the boundary between research and practice, applying their practical wisdom to achieve longer term outcomes for the communities they work in.

This practical wisdom is not a form of knowledge that is easily generalisable, or easy to observe or teach. Instead, it’s an orientation, a practice, and an ethical commitment.  It’s instinctive, and gained slowly, through investment over time.

Key principles of place-based work with children and young people

Initial findings from our process evaluation show that seven aspects of programme implementation are key to how our Local Coordinators develop their practice, and the place-based work with children, young people and local partners and organisations:

Diagram from CNS Process Evaluation showing the key principles of place based work with children and young people
The key principles of place based work with children and young people

Commitment – presence in the community, over time, building trust and delivering on promises.

Clarity of approach – making sure the approach to place-based working is clearly conceptualised and described.

Adapting to the local context – knowledge of the pre-existing relationships between local organisations, and the physical and social infrastructure.  The ability to flex and change as the context changes.

Relational and communication skills – listening and understanding, acting on commitments; building trust; working with and building on existing projects and programmes; communication and translation of core purposes; strategic level and front line buy in and alignment to policy drivers; working across sectors.

Facilitative leadership – working in multi-agency spaces, enabling communication between local organisations and across different departments, accepting diverse perspectives and approaches, holding the space open for dialogue, seeking alliances and networks.

Understanding vulnerability and resilience (including trauma) of children and young people, and communities – including safeguarding, signposting to appropriate services and support, awareness of personal and professional boundaries.

Ethos and values – an ethic of care for young people and the local community, careful use of language to convey dignity and respect.

Learning from our Process Evaluation

The work of a Local Coordinator is highly skilled. To be successful, the role must be physically and visibly present within a community and embedded in local area networks and partnerships.

Like with many other place-based programmes, COVID-19 has had a significant impact on CNS, and programme delivery has been challenged across all seven dimensions of place-based working described.

For disadvantaged neighbourhoods, the impact of the pandemic continues. With widening inequalities, the need for Local Coordinator skills and competencies has increased.

Through research and evaluation, we are learning about the difference Local Coordinators can make in communities, and in doing so, support COVID-19 recovery.

Please see here for more insights on the learning from the CNS Process Evaluation.

If these principles of place-based working resonate with your own practice, or if you think there are important aspects of place-based working with children and young people which we haven’t considered – please get in touch with us

We would love to hear from you!

Author: Dr Claire Bynner

Acknowledgements:  With thanks to Dr Jennifer McLean for review and editing.

How to cite this blog article: Bynner, C., (2021) How to make a difference in place-based work with children and young people. Glasgow: Children’s Neighbourhoods Scotland.

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