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Practical placemaking collection | Article

Practical placemaking: Introduction

Authored by William Barker, Martin Ferguson, Diana Rebaza

Drawing on Socitm’s wider policy, research and leadership resources, this collection offers local public service organisations a range of thought leadership, trend analysis and practical insights that can help local public sector leaders, policymakers and practitioners to anticipate and adapt to the fast-moving place-based digital, data and technology agenda.

Using Socitm’s three-fold practical placemaking model as a guide (see Figure 1 below), the collection provides an introduction to the practical aspects of digital placemaking. With links to Socitm’s resource hub materials and wider capabilities, the collection sets out how local public sector organisations can in turn:

  • Discover the benefits of horizon scanning, joined-up policy making, digital leadership education and building capability from an understanding of what works and what doesn’t.
  • Develop through establishing a strategic focus, supported by continuous development, strengthening diversity and inclusion, and taking an innovative approach to adopting data and emerging technologies than can help place-based transformation and development.
  • Deliver so as to support place-based resilience and regeneration through networking, collaboration and inclusive service design, all in support of sustainable and connected outcomes that will deliver better public and social value.
Socitm practical placemaking model - table
Figure 1. Socitm practical placemaking model

Unpacking Socitm’s practical placemaking model

The practical placemaking model comprises the following three pillars, underpinned in turn by a series of factors identified in Socitm’s policy, research and leadership resources, as follows:

Pillar 1 – Practical discovery

This pillar outlines the benefits of horizon scanning, the role of moving from policy into practice and the pivotal role of digital leadership education, and examines how to build up secure digitalisation and cyber resilience capabilities. Factors supporting place-based discovery comprise:

  • Horizon scanning: Horizon scan to understand the wider digital, data and technology (DDaT) environment so as to anticipate and adapt better to changing circumstances and unexpected events.
  • Policy into practice: Establish an understanding of the interplay of technology and policy, together with the need to integrate DDaT into the heart of decision-making processes to inform policy making and achieve better outcomes.
  • Decision maker education: Nurture wider knowledge and understanding of place-based digital business change amongst decision makers across local leadership, policy-making and practitioner communities.
  • Capability building: Examine what is required around capability building that can support place-based secure digitalisation and wider cyber security.

Pillar 2 – Practical development

This pillar considers the strategic priorities that can help to revolutionise public services, including the roles of continuous improvement, diversity, inclusion and equality, and going on to examine how harnessing data and emerging technologies can help place-based transformation. Factors supporting place-based development comprise:

  • Strategic focus: Build upon local innovation to Covid-19 by sustaining the step changes that local public service providers have taken and harnessing digital cultures, capabilities, technologies and data to support people, communities, organisations and places.
  • Continuous development: Develop continuous feedback and improvement processes than can inform and improve policy outcomes and service delivery, gaining insights and evidence from what works and what doesn’t.
  • Diversity and inclusion: Create a culture of diversity and creativity to support innovation, encouraging people and teams who better represent and engage with the citizens and communities they serve, innovating improvements to place-based design and operations.
  • Supporting transformation: Identify how services can be transformed through the development and use of big data analytics and emerging technologies such Artificial Intelligence/Internet of Things.

Pillar 3 – Practical delivery

This pillar considers how to support post-Covid, place-based resilience and regeneration, champion the role of networks and collaboration across the UK’s nations and regions and deploy inclusive service design approaches, all in support of sustainable and connected outcomes that will deliver better public and social value. Factors supporting place-based delivery comprise:

  • Resilience and regeneration: Enable places to be resilient to disruptive changes, through stimulating regeneration that supports post-Covid recovery, sustains the positive changes that have been achieved and builds economically sustainable, socially just and ecologically safe places.
  • Networking and collaboration: Build upon the shared wisdom and practical experience emerging from networks and collaborations across the Nations and Regions of the UK and beyond. Adopt networked ways of working to improve efficiency and effectiveness to develop more effective forms of accountable and accessible place-based governance and organisations.
  • Designing out of difficult times: Support leaders in co-design, co-creation and co-delivery of public services, establishing a ‘bridge to digital’ that embraces digital, data and technology (DDaT) roles, makes the best use of systems and realises the full benefits of technology investments in designing, targeting and delivering better services and outcomes in the communities they serve.
  • Connected and sustainable places: Establish how a focus on outcomes, frameworks and systems thinking can help build resilient, connected and sustainable places, where digital services transcend the boundaries of related public services in an area and can help to address ‘wicked issues’ such as climate transition and the drive to net zero.
Video: Location Intelligence – Introduction

A New Dimension to Digital Transformation

In digital transformation, the use of data is key to modernising operational practice and improving the experience for users across the full range of local authority activities. Location intelligence is an increasingly widely used term that describes how geographically-referenced data adds a new dimension to predictive analytics i.e. using data to predict future behaviour. 

This is not about re-packaging GIS. Location intelligence has its roots in big data management, advances in technologies for capturing and disseminating data and application of algorithms originally developed for defence and marketing to key challenges in local government. 

GeoPlace: United Kingdom 4 to 1 RoI on geocoded addresses for fraud detection, intelligent routing, data reuse. 

Geospatial Commission: GBP 11 Billion from “unlocking benefits” to UK Economy.

Global Study for Google: Digital Maps generate consumer benefits worth over US$550 billion.

Barcelona: savings of US$ 50m over 6 years from reduced traffic congestion.

Best practice

Advanced councils both in UK and internationally are already using these innovations in:

  • Social care: improved coordination with health and police, better targeted interventions for troubled families and the elderly.
  • Fraud reduction: identifying potential council tax and housing benefit fraud by finding signature “spatial patterns” in big data sets.
  • Smarter planning: smarter design and construction of new developments and better integrated transport.
  • Changing community engagement: through social media and smartphone apps that give people a more attractive and interactive experience, including 3D visualisation
  • Highways Asset Management: reducing costs by improving prioritisation and grouping maintenance tasks by proximity.
  • Public Health: use of national address gazetteer and unique property reference number to identify vulnerable people and match disparate datasets to aid epidemiology of COVID pandemic.


We are grateful for contribution to the video by:

  • Cllr Peter Fleming, Chair of the Local Government Association’s Improvement and Innovation Board.
  • Ralph Buchholz, Head of Corporate Property & Performance, Government of Jersey

For use of images and video clips, we also acknowledge:

  • Bluesky
  • Innovate UK
  • RealSIM
  • Satellite Applications Catapult
  • Government of Jersey