Places are complex ecologies given they are simultaneously geographic locations, economic hubs and a repository of emotions, experiences, meanings, and memories. Places are therefore where life courses are shaped, social networks are formed, employment opportunities are generated, and environmental impacts are experienced. As such they are always in flux and this constant state of evolution requires sensitive, multi-sectoral approaches to the everyday and structural challenges, such as regionally relevant economic and environmental inequalities.
The recently launched opportunities for Local Policy Innovation Partnerships (LPIP) and a strategic coordination hub recognise this need by prioritising partnership working. The UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) programme, delivered by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and Innovate UK, will bring together researchers across disciplines, with partners from across the place ecosystem. These will include a breadth of collaborators from local authorities to cultural organisations, and crucially people in the communities themselves. It is their intimate, everyday, and embedded relationships within their places that will ensure their local knowledge can be front and centre within any proposed solutions to local challenges.
Co-designing and co-producing research
Building on long-standing approaches across UKRI, the LPIP and hub opportunities recognise that co-design and co-producing research, policies and practices offers the greatest potential for nurturing places and supporting positive outcomes for local people. This is particularly evident when thinking about place-based work as a coalition of different forms of expertise. Delivering place-sensitive actionable solutions requires privileging local knowledge, along with other forms of specialist knowledge such as data analysis, economic forecasting, and policy implementation.
The arts and humanities have a central role to play within this collaborative place-based work. Each of the core themes within the LPIP opportunities speak to research areas familiar to those within the arts and humanities. For example, the AHRC place programme is producing a body of work that evidences the impacts of partnership working in ways that lead to improved outcomes for communities and their places, as well as a deeper understanding of felt experiences.
In addition, work within the Creative Industries is producing new knowledge around innovation and skills. The significant work of the design field is advancing work in the context of inclusive and sustainable development and the role of the arts and humanities in supporting, and understanding the processes of cultural recovery has secured a roadmap for cultural and creative recovery, renewal and growth post-pandemic.
A human-centred approach
Crucially, work within the arts and humanities is based on a belief in human-centred approaches that can understand, complicate, and offer actionable solutions to questions concerning what it means to both live in, and feel about, place. Work in the arts and humanities centres the felt experiences of place, defined simply as ‘the way we feel in and about places and the felt relationships we have to and within place’. This approach offers the potential to put human-centred approaches at the heart of place-based working in ways that can sensitively nurture the ways in which actionable solutions can be co-designed, co-produced and co-critiqued.
Working in partnership to combine knowledge and share expertise offers opportunities to understand why economic geographies do not often easily map onto emotional geographies in ways that can prioritise the intimate, everyday, and embedded connections between people and place. Work within the arts and humanities can engage with this issue through the kinds of questions we ask, the methods we use, the temporal depth we embrace through the sources we examine, and the creativity we practice.
Contributing to the cultural economy of place
In addition, the arts and humanities are central to meeting the challenges faced by places. This is most obvious through formulating innovative heritage policies, further stimulating advances in the creative industries and generating varying forms of cultural engagement. Finally, through research and creative practice the arts and humanities also actively shape the everyday lived and felt experiences of communities and make a significant contribution to the cultural economy of place.
Combining the skills, approaches and knowledge of the arts and humanities with others in multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary teams, alongside embracing partnership working with local communities, authorities, actors and agencies provides the opportunity to develop truly innovative solutions to the challenges that places face. The UKRI LPIP programme promotes the need for pluralised expertise within place-based working in ways that recognise and respond to the unique personalities of different places and the challenges and opportunities that the place agenda presents.
The Local Policy Innovation Partnerships and strategic coordination hub funding opportunities are now open. I’d encourage all those within the AHRC disciplines to work with communities and across disciplines and sectors to advance actionable solutions that can deliver place-sensitive outcomes.
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