This rapid literature review surveys the available academic and grey literature on place o area-based approaches to aid investment and its role in the delivery of effective and coherent development impact1. Place- or area-based approaches to aid investment and development refer to a broad array of interventions under which a place or area is identified as the main entry point, instead of a sector or target group. The approach advocates ‘joined-up’ government and development ‘in the round’ at the local level. Advocacy for the place- or area-based approaches are driven by a belief that traditional approaches and programmes have been unable to adequately respond to complex conflict and development situations.
Area- or place-based approaches have at their core a notion that space matters and shapes the potential for development not only of territories but, through externalities, of the individuals who live in them. There is no one model or definition of the area- or place-based development, neither is there a fixed set of principles and tools. Proponents assert that once the area and its development situation are analysed, the right set of tools and methodologies can be identified to address the specific problems of the area.
Area- or place-based approaches have been heralded as particularly useful for addressing a host of challenges associated with complex conflict or development issues in a specific geographic area. Potential strengths of the approach include:
- Develops an integrated approach allowing for holistic solutions and encouraging horizontal linkages and cross-sectoral responses.
- Provides a platform for partnership and coordination with high potential for better coordination.
- Promotes regional cooperation and therefore utilises economies of scale.
- Encourages an understanding of local context and takes into account the specificity of the local situation.
- Involves local communities empowering them, building human capital and ensuring that local people are agents of change.
- Enhances local democracy, promoting integration, inclusiveness and non-discrimination.
- Supports local governance promoting subsidiarity and decentralisation.
- Encourages manageability and flexibility.
- Improves monitoring and cost-efficiency.
Despite the potential dividends of an area- or place-based approach, a number of issues have been identified that must be factored into programme design and implementation. These include:
Geographic and economic realities: there are areas that, because of fundamental geographic and economic reasons, are unlikely ever to become prosperous.
Inability to respond to fundamental structural problems: even in the case of a good understanding of broader context, area- or place-based approaches often have no or limited influence on structural issues.
Challenges in prioritising very poor areas in developing countries: budget constraints limit the scope for public investment in social and economic infrastructure in poorer, more isolated and economically less significant areas.
Constraints faced in contexts that lack broader structural policy and institutional reforms: this is often the case in less developed countries.
Funding constraints: this limits the scope of what can be achieved in terms of effectively supporting regional socio-economic development.
Challenges associated with multi-stakeholder collaborations: even with clearly defined roles it often takes time to build synergies across programmes.
Dependency concerns: this is a particular concern in developing countries where the dependency on external support is built with donors and implementing agencies often lacking a well-planned exit strategy.
Challenges in linking area- or place-based approaches with national development policies: there exists a need to align and establish synergies between placed-based initiatives and national policies and strategies.
Reflecting on experiences of implementing area- or place-based approaches, a number of broad recommendations have been made for how such policies can be implemented to leverage some of the strengths outlined above and mitigate some of the challenges. These have been delineated as follows:
- The area delineation process needs careful consideration in order to cover similar sub-regions in terms of development situation without reaching a size where participation would be impossible;
- The bottom-up process and its momentum – guidance should be offered to people involved in this process so that they understand the nature of their roles and how they are inter-related.;
- The top-down accompanying framework of the participatory process. Information flows should be improved and one way to do so is to put further support and coordination efforts into the relationship with regional and national authorities;
- The institutional and legal framework. It is essential not only to reinforce but adapt to the institutional and legal framework in order to ensure the sustainability of cross-border approaches.