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Chapter Four: Place-based Tools and Methods

Along with theoretical development, the Sustainable Places Research Institute has worked to develop tools and methods that allow our approach to be applied across different contexts.

4.1 Modelling

Place-based modelling empowers local communities to identify actions to improve their lives.

Modelling can often be excluding of local challenge or opaque in its assumptions, but the Institute’s modelling work is designed to be accessible and inform how communities can increase their sustainability. Our Spatial Design Network Analysis (sDNA) software was developed to model sustainable transport planning, including information useful to health and economic assessments and efforts to address climate change. An important aspect of this research was to consider different impacts and how they can be modelled to address issues of inequality in access and well-being, reflecting the diversity of transport users.

The model included cycling and walking, often omitted in traditional transport models, with a ground-breaking strategic pedestrian model that has now been used and refined through real time data over several years.

The software is open access and has around 3,000 active users worldwide. It has been applied to major transport infrastructure and urban design projects, including design of walking and cycling networks in numerous local authorities, by commercial collaborators such as Arup and Wedderburn Transport Planning, and sustainable transport charity Sustrans. Recent collaboration with the Institute for Transport Studies, Leeds University, has combined our respective research expertise to create new open-source active transport models for better user engagement.

4.2 Evaluation Methods for Local Needs and Opportunities

Place-based working uncovers the full social impacts of actions for local communities.

Canals and Rivers Trust

Blues paces are areas of coastal and water environment that are vital to the health of both body and mind. In partnership with the UK’s largest manager of inland waterways, the Canal and Rivers Trust, researchers from the Institute have helped to understand the well-being benefits of the Trust’s works. Our research is now embedded as an outcomes measurement framework and accompanying toolkit across the Trust’s operations and planning. By having better evidence of who engages with waterways, the Trust was able to identify groups and communities not currently making use of their spaces. Researchers worked with them to design qualitative research to explore the factors that affect engagement with waterways.

The research has provided the most detailed picture to date of how different people perceive blue spaces, and what deters access. This insight has shaped the Trust’s priorities for community engagement and is informing their work to engage diverse audiences. Working in long-term partnership has resulted in a programme of research shaped by diverse needs.The Trust is now recognised as leading the way in strategic planning for well-being benefits across different communities.

4.3 Systems Thinking

Place-based systems tools enable sharing of perspectives across different groups or disciplines.

Collaborative mapping tools

Major health issues often originate in decisions made in non-health sectors, such as land use, housing, agriculture or transportation. Identifying linkages between health and physical, social, and ecological environments can lead to better understanding of the drivers of health outcomes and help to shape healthier, greener, more equitable cities.

We held a series of workshops with partners in Malaysia working across disciplines and sectors, focusing on green infrastructure and food systems in relation to urban health. We enabled participants to generate ideas on the wider drivers of poor health and the measures which could help to address them through systems mapping. In addition to developing participants’ skills in systems and place-based methods, these workshops have nurtured transdisciplinary networks between policy makers, practitioners, academics, community leaders and civil society representatives around urban health and sustainability challenges. Participants have generated a diversity of new initiatives focused on issues such as river restoration, walkability, food systems and indigenous knowledge.

4.4 Tools for Local Co-Production

Communities become our partners in research, empowering them to act and capturing a richer range of knowledge and experience.

SUSPLACE toolkits

Co-production, the involvement of citizens in the design, development and delivery of research, public policies, programmes, and services, is an important approach in place-based research. Co-production is rarely achieved in practice due to the failure to use appropriate tools to enable different voices to be heard and to help shape the research agenda. The SUSPLACE EU programme developed a range of toolkits and policy lessons, including a practitioner guide to place-based co-production and a guide to arts-based methods. The aim of these products is to allow others to avoid familiar pitfalls or misunderstandings and to be stimulated to use new methods of engagement.

People’s Assembly

Researchers from the Institute’s Food, Land and Security research programme partnered with Cardiff’s local food partnership, Food Cardiff, to facilitate a people’s assembly on the future of food in the Cardiff city region. We used co-production methods to support conversations around the food futures of a city-region. Through this use of an assembly, we created a space for public dialogue on the future of food in Cardiff.

4.5 Place-Based Citizen Science

Creating local benefit rather than extracting research information for use elsewhere.

Place-Based Citizen Science for Global Watershed Management

Place-base citizen science can create direct benefits and agency for local communities. Our researchers, in collaboration with the University of Malaya, supported the development of a place-based citizen science programme for watershed conservation in urban and rural Malaysia.

Engagement of communities in citizen science is better when local values, relationships to the environment and local environmental problems are used as the starting point for the development of tools. Our researchers and the community both benefited from place-based discussions about how the local environment is understood, leading to outputs that were meaningful both to science, and society. The work was directly used to shape regional watershed management policies and local responses to pollution and contributed to discussion in the British Ecological Society.