‘Pathways to integration’: tackling social exclusion on Merseyside
‘Pathways to integration’: tackling social exclusion on Merseyside
Abstract and Keywords
This chapter examines the regeneration initiative in Merseyside, England, designed to address the issues of social exclusion and concentrated disadvantage. A distinctive feature of this program is the so-called Pathways to Integration priority, which involves the targeting of a significant tranche of spending towards areas of the city-region experiencing particularly marked concentrations of disadvantage. The result of this initiative showed that communities are willing to engage in policy if genuine spaces for engagement are provided.
As clearly demonstrated elsewhere in this volume (Chapters Two to Five for example), marked spatial concentration of disadvantage is a significant feature of major urban areas across the UK both prosperous and less buoyant. Problems of social exclusion and a lack of social cohesion persist despite considerable variation in competitive strength. At the same time, as earlier chapters make clear, such problems are particularly intractable in those urban areas where the overall economic context is particularly weak. The research reported here focused on Merseyside, which would fall into this category of less buoyant areas. It focuses more specifically on one particular regeneration initiative being carried out on Merseyside to address issues of social exclusion and concentrated disadvantage1. A distinctive feature of this programme was the targeting of a significant tranche of spending on areas of the city-region experiencing particularly marked concentrations of disadvantage. This spending, in the shape of the so-called ‘Pathways to Integration’ priority, was channelled through specially formed partnerships in the targeted areas that were required to involve representation from local residents and community organisations alongside representatives of public agencies, the private sector (where it existed) and voluntary organisations. In the context of the ESRC Cities Research programme, the initiative offered the opportunity to explore the relationship between core research themes – governance, social exclusion/inclusion, participation and social capital – in a major ‘real time’ experiment in partnership working in urban regeneration2.
Objective One and Pathways: multi-level social governance?
The research traced the genesis of the Pathways initiative to the negotiations over the Single Programming Document for delivery of the structural funds. It had not featured in the original proposal, Merseyside 2000 (Government Office for Merseyside, 1993), but was promoted by EC officials who had picked up on some of the arguments in the ex ante evaluation of Merseyside 2000 over the relative silence in the original plan on the city-region’s socio-economic geography (Lloyd and Meegan, 1994). The original proposal had made no (p.368) reference to the marked spatial disparities in industrial development, social and economic well-being and environmental conditions that existed across the city-region. Nor had it made any prior assessment of either the spatial implications of the implementation of the programme as a whole or of the potential spatial impact of its detailed measures. Bringing together the aim of tackling social exclusion and the recognition of the marked spatial concentrations of disadvantaged individuals and groups suggested to the EC’s negotiating team the need to introduce a spatially targeted measure within the broader set of Pathways to Integration measures. After what were, by all accounts, sometimes quite difficult discussions, a final Single Programming document was agreed. With national and local ‘matched funding’, some £1.6 billion was to be spent over the five-year programming period (1994–99). One of the five priority areas for spending, ‘Action for the People for Merseyside’, recognised that a key ‘driver for change’ in the economic and social conversion of the area was the people of Merseyside themselves, including, of necessity, groups and individuals hitherto excluded from or in danger of being excluded from mainstream economy and society. ‘Pathways to Integration’ contained the additional spatial targeting element of the programme. People living in areas with particularly pronounced economic and social problems were also to be eligible for a raft of measures aimed at providing ‘pathways’ to education, skills, training, jobs, a better quality of life and assistance to secure community involvement in designing, implementing and monitoring the initiatives funded in their areas. They were to be given something extra from the programme and, as already noted, this extra resource was to be delivered with the involvement of people living in the areas themselves. Thirty-eight areas, containing just fewer than 500,000 people, were eventually targeted to receive the extra tranche of funding (15% of the total ‘matched’ programme spend, some £240 million) (Figure 20.1).
The research showed that the EC’s view of Pathways was, in principle if not in practice, relatively clear. It regarded spatial-targeting as providing a focus for the social inclusion elements of the programme in terms not simply of concentrating spending but also for broadening participation in the governance process. The aim was to push ‘subsidiarity’ in this aspect of the Objective One Programme down below city-regional level. As such, it exemplified a growing shift towards what can be seen as ‘multi-level social governance’ in European social and economic policy (Geddes and Bennington, 2001).
The formal governance structure of the programme, however, was the responsibility of the local partners and early negotiations clearly revealed differing institutional powers and capacities as representatives of local authorities, Training and Enterprise Councils (TECs), the private sector and Further Education (FE) and Higher Education (HE) sought to influence this structure. What these negotiations revealed was the continuing importance of government in the partnership structure: central government for reasons of overall public accountability for the public expenditure that acted as ‘matched funding’ and local government for delivery of the Pathways element of the programme (p.369)
The responsibility for defining the ‘Pathways Areas’ and for setting up the Area Partnership Boards was assumed by local government and the research revealed considerable variation in the ease with which this could be achieved. Some areas had existing community groups and partnership structures; others had none. One local authority, St Helens, was hindered by its previous political (p.370)
Social exclusion and Pathways
‘Social exclusion’ has become a key element of the political and policy discourses of European economic and social policy and is at the centre of the tension in these discourses between the agendas of ‘competitiveness’ and ‘cohesion’. Combating social exclusion in Europe can justifiably claim to be the ‘new urban policy challenge’ (Atkinson, 2000). Given the political nature of ‘social exclusion’, there are inevitably a number of different approaches to understanding it, which are themselves based on very different theoretical perspectives and political ideologies. It is essential, therefore, that those using the concept explicitly define it. This definition needs to be multidimensional (and not simply income related), dynamic and processual (emphasising the processes causing social exclusion, as well as seeing it as a state), with a focus on the mechanisms, actors and institutions operating at societal level to cause disadvantage (Silver, 1994; Atkinson, 1998; De Hann, 1998; De Haan and Maxwell, 1998; Parkinson, 1998; Percy-Smith, 2000).
The European Foundation definition of the term as “the process through which individuals or groups are wholly or partially excluded from full participation in the society in which they live” (cited in De Hann and Maxwell, 1998, p 2) captures the meaning to some extent but what came out from interviews with community activists involved in Pathways was the need to extend this definition to incorporate notions of social justice and social and political citizenship rights (Fraser, 1997; Young, 1999):
I honestly think [the aim of Pathways] it’s about giving the most basic right to those communities that are in need and by basic right I mean the right to help themselves, to be involved and not to be excluded, to make decisions, to move on upwards and to fix the things that they feel need to be fixed in whatever way … whether it’s with European funding or non-eligible activities with non-European funding or whatever. But I think it’s about basic rights. (p.372) (Executive member, Merseyside Pathways Network, interview December 2000)
The Pathways Areas are classic examples of the geographical concentrations of disadvantage that result from what Allen and Cars (2002) have called ‘disjointed structural change’. Their ‘everyday life-worlds’ are produced by the disjointed operation of economic, political and welfare state structures. Structural economic change impacting on aggregate employment patterns through broad sectoral and occupational shifts produces new demands (in terms of the provision of education, housing and social insurance) on welfare states that are increasingly limited in their capacity to adjust by financial constraints operating on them as part of the political adjustment to the changing role of the state in global economic management. The loss of (manual) employment and long-run increase in unemployment accompanied by the growth of flexible labour in service sectors demanding particular accredited and personal skills have detached groups and individuals from the labour market who are also experiencing welfare state provision that is struggling to cope. Macro-structural processes then interact with micro-local factors in the form of labour, land and property markets to produce geographical concentrations of disadvantaged groups (Glennerster et al, 1998; Madanipour, 1998; Byrne, 1999), as exemplified by the Pathways Areas on Merseyside.
Our interviews with both policy makers and practitioners and community representatives involved in Pathways showed the wide range of interlocking causes of social exclusion (fragmenting local labour markets, the ‘poverty trap’, caring responsibilities and poor health linked, in turn, to poor quality housing) and its often ‘hidden’ effects (high dependence on tranquilisers, debt and coping with declining local shopping provision). What came out strongly from the interviews and discussion groups was a virtual consensus that social exclusion on Merseyside was heavily conditioned by exclusion from the labour market. Employment on Merseyside reached a post-war peak in 1966. Since then, it has fallen by some 30% and in Liverpool the loss of employment has been even more pronounced with nearly half of its jobs disappearing in just three and a half decades. Other research in the Cities Research programme (Turok and Edge, 1999) demonstrated the endemic problem of demand deficiency in local labour markets on Merseyside. By the late 1990s, the city-region stood out as having the highest levels of ‘worklessness’/economic inactivity in Britain, with an economic inactivity rate of just over 30% compared with the corresponding figure of 17.5% in the South East of England. And, as the mapping of Pathways Areas itself revealed, this worklessness was highly spatially concentrated.
Data relating to Pathways Areas graphically revealed the multidimensional nature of social exclusion (MIS, 1998, 2000). Rates of claims for council tax rebates and free school meals are almost universally higher in Pathways Areas compared to non-Pathways Areas. So, too, are rates of claim for income support which, when added to the high numbers of people on unemployment benefit, (p.373) underline their low levels of income. Educational attainment (measured by GCSE qualifications) – a key indicator of social exclusion – is also predominantly lower in Pathways Areas in relation to the averages at local authority district, city-region, region and national levels. Electoral turnouts in Pathways Area wards were also consistently lower than in non-Pathways Areas and with one of them, Abercromby in inner Liverpool, setting a record low level (6%), suggesting considerable disillusion with formal politics.
Tackling that scale and depth of social exclusion is asking a lot of one or even two rounds of Objective One funding. However, what the Pathways approach did provide was an experiment in developing policies to address the problems of disadvantaged neighbourhoods and a philosophy of intervention, elements of which have subsequently been pursued in national policy and specifically in relation to the current government’s Neighbourhood Renewal Strategy (Social Exclusion Unit, 1998).
As already noted, a central issue was jobs and how to make these accessible, both physically and socially, to people distanced from the labour market. One of the important things that the Pathways focus revealed, especially in the areas made up of ‘outer estates’, was the central importance of transport and physical access to areas of new employment opportunities. This reinforces Meadows’ (2001) argument that transport needs to be viewed as an integral part of employment policy. Thus, Pathways saw Merseytravel, the local Passenger Transport Authority, experimenting with supported bus services linking Pathways Areas to growing employment centres. Pathways also underlined the need for active employment policies. Access to employment is more than just physical, of course, and the social distancing of Pathways residents from the local labour market means that while generating new jobs is necessary it is not in itself sufficient to address the needs of those most ‘distanced’ from the labour market. Labour market policy has to be sensitive to this and the research identified a range of Pathways-based employment and training policies and projects that demonstrated this sensitivity, including:
• customised training programmes involving one-to-one mentoring of the voluntary trainees;
• non-vocational training operating on a non-formal basis being used as a ‘bridge’ to orthodox training programmes generally perceived by potential trainees as being distant and “not for us”;
• outreach delivery of computer training (using laptop PCs) in community venues (again geographically and socially distanced from orthodox training provision);
• outreach educational provision for young children and, through them, their disadvantaged young parents;
• in Liverpool, Jobs, Education and Training (JET) Centres, based in Pathways neighbourhoods, have been set up to combine individual-centred educational and employment guidance with active labour market placement.
(p.374) These projects recognised the social and geographical dimensions of exclusion from the labour market and were ‘closer’ in both a social and geographical sense to those excluded. The projects also recognised the multidimensional nature of exclusion. One example, a project targeting young homeless people, perhaps best captures this sensitivity. Homelessness was not seen as the ‘problem’ but as a symptom of a range of interrelated problems (such as family break-up, alcohol/other drug dependency and unemployment), which needed to be addressed in a holistic manner for inclusion to be achieved. Housing is just one element in the individually tailored package. Employment is another (in this case, the recycling of old furniture), which can provide, for the individual concerned, income and self-confidence and an opportunity and incentive to break away from alcohol dependency, offending and other associated problems.
The last example was of a firm operating in the ‘social economy’ or ‘third sector’, the sector operating in the spaces between market and state and ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ economies (Lipietz, 1992; Amin et al, 1999). The growing importance of this sector on Merseyside in general and in the Pathways Areas became evident in the research, which identified:
• an evolving institutional diversity with social businesses, consolidating their position alongside more hybrid organisations operating, under one umbrella organisation, trading activities and charitable operations funded through a mix of market and non-market sources;
• examples of intermediate labour market projects offering (social) enterprise-led training for individuals and groups particularly prone to exclusion from formal labour markets and with employment outputs better than those from orthodox training schemes;
• examples of environmental projects which are particularly important in a local context in which Local Agenda 21 is struggling;
• the formation of a network of social economy practitioners, the ‘Social Enterprise Network’ to support and promote the sector locally. The network, an important example of ‘social capital’ (see later in this chapter), emerged out of an initiative by Liverpool City Council to establish a community-based economic development unit to promote the social economy locally. With practitioners operating predominantly in what became Pathways Areas in the Objective One programme, Pathways funding helped to consolidate the unit’s activities and widen its geographical scope. The network has gone from ten founding members to 170 at the time of writing.
The research also identified some of the difficulties that the ‘third sector’ faces, most notably those related to promoting social entrepreneurialism in the context of depressed local economies and labour markets and funding and sustainability.
(p.375) Participation and Pathways
Pathways was about citizen participation. The politics of participation, however, is chaotic and disorderly and, if power is genuinely at stake, conflictual. Reaching particular rungs on Arnstein’s classic (1969) ladder of participation (symbolising the hierarchy of different elements of non-participation, tokenism and citizen power) is dependent, then, on the negotiation of political interests. And the complexity and contradictory nature of political intervention offer spaces for engagement, which communities can potentially exploit to their advantage. Thus, Taylor cites Abbott’s (1996) argument that the amount of influence communities can have on government policy depends on the degrees of openness of government and complexity of decision making. Where government is closed and where the issues surrounding decision making are simple, communities are excluded3. As government becomes progressively more open and decision making more complex, community participation can shift to an arena of consensus or ‘negotiated development’ that transcends confrontation or manipulated involvement. The impact of participation is not determinate but dependent on the way in which its politics is played out. In relation to area-based initiatives, in participation like Pathways, what is important is what Allen and Cars (2002) describe as the ‘micro-politics of neighbourhood governance’. The institutional structures and governance of participation are crucial in this context and especially the degree to which they create webs between the informal networks of representatives of community organisations, tenants’ associations and other local interest based activities with the formal networks of the professional officers and representatives of local authorities and statutory agencies (Allen and Cars, 2002).
Accepting the political contingency of participation emphasises the need to recognise that the ‘interests’ of participants and facilitators and the participatory structures adopted have always to be critically interrogated (Jones, 1999). First is the need to be sensitive to the discourses of participatory exercises (Atkinson, 1999). These discourses reflect the asymmetrical power relations involved and can set limits to what can be achieved by participation and steer action in particular directions that do not necessarily benefit those participating. Second is the vexed question of defining ‘community’ and the need to recognise that communities are not homogeneous and are often riven with divisions and conflicts (Taylor, 2000, 2002). Again, the politics of participation (when genuinely open and transparent) will bring these divisions to the fore and provide an arena for conflict resolution. Time is crucial. It is very difficult, for example, for self-interested cliques to dominate local community politics over a sustained period of time if the arena in which they are operating is open to general public scrutiny and offers opportunities for other groups to form.
A third issue relates to levels of participation. Participation historically has been low and particularly so for the least advantaged whose capacity to participate is systematically undermined by their disadvantaged situation (Parry et al, 1992). If intervention is to address that situation – and involve (p.376) representatives of those affected in it – then there is clearly a need for the development of participatory capacity. This, again, is a political choice and involves ‘capacity building’ of all those engaged in the participatory process, not just the disadvantaged. This capacity building needs to be a political goal of participation. It is also necessary to be clear about the nature of participatory democracy. Chanan’s (1997) notion of a pyramid (rather than the orthodox ladder) of participation by local people in partnerships and development programmes is helpful in capturing this difficulty. At the base of the pyramid is the general population of the areas who could potentially benefit from local development programmes. The pyramid progressively narrows as a result of the degree to which smaller and smaller proportions of this population participate: from people who use community groups but do not actively help; to people who occasionally use them and are willing to help but are not initiators of activity; to people who are regularly active and influential; to the higher, and narrower, levels that make up the apex of the pyramid in the shape of elected or nominated representatives of community groups on community fora from which representatives are elected or nominated to serve on partnerships. The pyramid thus shifts from the 100% population base to something like less than 1% active participation at the apex. Pathways was a good example of this model.
At the end of the first programming period, there were some 260 residents/representatives of community organisations sitting on the boards or area groups of the 38 Area Partnerships. The constituencies of these community representatives varied significantly in size, from small neighbourhood fora or church groups to large Residents Associations. The Area Partnerships have also held public meetings, which, from our observation, have had attendances numbered in tens or, on occasion with controversial issues, hundreds. Overall, it is clearly not mass participation but there has been citizen participation in the programme and arguably at unexpected levels for an area like Merseyside in which the political climate in the years leading up to the Pathways initiative had veered between outright hostility to citizen participation (outside of political party organisation) to only lukewarm encouragement of it.
Of 90 residents that we interviewed who were active in 11 case study Pathways areas, 26 (29%) were in paid (full- or part-time) employment, 25 (28%) were registered unemployed (and participating despite all the complications produced by the benefits system and the need to be ‘available for work’), 10 (11%) were receiving disability/sickness benefit (unemployment benefit by another name in some cases) and 18 (20%) were retired. The remainder described themselves as (unpaid) volunteers. The great majority was relatively old: of the 81 interviewees who gave their age, 86% were over 35 years of age, and 54% over 45. Only three were in their early 20s. They were split evenly between males and females.
While it could be argued that this profile is weak on relatively young residents (but then, local representative democracy also has difficulty in involving and/or representing these) it is strong on gender balance and the economically (p.377) inactive. The high proportion of registered unemployed residents shows that exclusion from the labour market does not necessarily signify exclusion from active citizenship. Individuals who were actually identified by the Objective One spending programme as members of a targeted ‘socially excluded’ group (the unemployed) were actively participating in the delivery of it.
Those interviewed gave a wide range of reasons for wanting to participate, varying from a concern with housing issues (which are not eligible for support from the Structural Funds), unemployment and associated social problems (especially as these impact on the future prospects of children in the areas) and general environmental and quality of life concerns. The perceived barriers to participation included, not least, the bureaucracy and language of ‘partnership working’. Time demands were also important, with participants claiming to spend between a half-day and a full ‘working week’ on Pathways activities – and it is unpaid work. Support varies across the Pathways Partnerships. Some pay travel and subsistence expenses; others provide childcare, but none pay for time commitment. This adds weight to the arguments for the introduction of some form of ‘community wage’ or ‘credit’ that can be offset against public services (in the shape, for example, of a discount on council tax payment) in recognition of participation.
Pathways also demonstrated the important role of neighbourhood in relation to participation with neighbourhood-based organisations playing a significant role. The challenge for the partnerships was to balance the strengths of ‘natural neighbourhoods’ (their rootedness in ‘place-communities’) and their representative organisations with their potential weaknesses (fragmentation and competition). This issue came to a head in Liverpool towards the end of the first round of Pathways, with a proposal by the local authority to change the geography of Pathways Areas. This proposal met with a considerable degree of opposition from some of the Pathways Areas. The episode revealed the tensions between operational definitions of regeneration areas and neighbourhood-based ones and emphasised the need for area definition to be part of an evolutionary process of community engagement. To be effective, the areas defined need to make social sense to the neighbourhoods and neighbourhood-based organisations within them (Meegan and Mitchell, 2001).
Social capital and Pathways
Participation is clearly linked to the notion of ‘social capital’. The research focused on definitions of social capital from writers such as Coleman et al (1988) and Putnam (1993) emphasising the networks, norms and, especially, trust that enable individuals and groups to engage in cooperative activity. It reinforced the argument in the literature (mainly from a developing-world perspective: Evans, 1996; Harriss and de Renzio, 1997; Woolcock, 1998; Ostrom, 2000) that orthodox usage of the term underplays power relations and emphasises horizontal links within communities at the expense of linkages between communities and between the state and society.
(p.378) It was clear that, running throughout the Pathways process, were issues of trust between the partners. Our research revealed the pronounced degree of mistrust historically between residents and ‘outside’ agencies yet we also found evidence of a transformation of relationships as networks of trust and channels of communication between them develop (Hibbitt et al, 2001). Transparency and information exchange play a vital role in this context and the research underlined the variability of these across the Pathways areas.
It is possible to point to examples of the way in which Pathways is strengthening different types of social capital within neighbourhoods by helping to build relations of trust between members of local communities and between them and outside agencies. Newly forged relationships are acting to reduce some of the mistrust of professionals that has developed in neighbourhoods over time and which has also acted as a barrier to community involvement. This process, however, is slow and fragile, and must be accompanied with appropriate support for local residents and within an open and transparent process where agendas are clarified and, importantly, language is not divisive. While a consensus model of partnership is not always to the benefit of communities, a partnership approach to building social capital would appear a particularly useful step in breaking down barriers between residents and policy makers. Trust in these partnerships cannot be taken for granted and assumed to emerge spontaneously – it needs to be a political objective and the building of trust relationships needs to be a core element of the regeneration process.
In this context, local authority support units and outreach workers had a key role to play in the governance of Pathways and much depended on the quality of the relationships that they were able to form with the Area Partnerships and, given the initiative’s focus on inclusion, especially with representatives of community organisations. It was these who were crucial in creating the webs that could combine the informal networks of local ‘communities’ with the formal networks of local authorities and statutory agencies and help establish the trusting relationships and institutional flexibility that implementation of partnership initiatives like Pathways requires (Cars et al, 2002). It is at this level that community participation is encouraged or discouraged. It was not easy for council officers, especially those operating in the areas themselves, to balance the demands placed on them by the community members of the partnerships and the constraints of local government accountability for the funding of the partnership. The legacy of mistrust of local authority motives, more marked in some areas than others, only compounded these difficulties.
It needs to be emphasised that partnership relationships are fragile and there were occasions where outcomes appear to have been adversely affected by the failure to develop strong working relationships, where the arena of consensus referred to earlier in this chapter was not reached. For example, community groups in one inner-city partnership in Liverpool have had a history of conflict with the local council that pre-dated and conditioned Pathways. When it came to allocating the partnership to directorates, it also became a case of what can only be described as ‘pass the parcel’, with the area having three different (p.379) directors in fairly rapid succession. The Pathways Partnership also had a somewhat ambiguous relationship to an already established Single Regeneration Budget programme that encompassed the Pathways Area but was not designed around it. Revealingly, at the end of the programme, it was the area with the largest single ‘underspend’ on its European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) allocation. While issues of accessing ‘matched funding’ loomed large in this, the legacy of strained political relationships did little to help4.
In terms of social capital, an important development was the creation, by community activists, of the Merseyside Pathways Network (MPN), a network of residents and representatives of community organisations involved in the Area Partnerships. It is an unassociated organisation with six board members elected at annual general meetings by voting members of the MPN who are mandated representatives of community organisations active in the Pathways Areas and on the Pathways Area Boards. It has bi-monthly members meetings that are open to anyone who ‘works, lives or plays’ in the Pathways Areas and the board also meets every two months. It successfully lobbied for representation on the monitoring committee and network directors also became voting members of the Technical Panel for the People of Merseyside, which had specific responsibility for Pathways.
And this small group of activists has been particularly influential in developing the programme. Representatives of the MPN were involved in internal assessment of the first programme and in the group responsible for drafting the single programming document for the second round of Objective One funding5. A representative from the Pathways Network co-chaired (with the North West Trades Union Congress [NWTUC] representative) the ‘People and Communities’ Working Group which was chiefly responsible for Pathways Mark II in the new Single Programming Document. There had been general agreement among the partners, and the community participants in particular, that while Pathways had performed better than expected (not least in its ability to spend its financial allocations), it had tended to operate in isolation from the rest of the programme. Consequently, two priorities were combined in the new programme: one, Developing Locations, concerned with concentrating investment in eight areas identified as having the greatest potential for economic growth (Strategic Investment Areas) and the other, Developing Pathways Communities, concerned with ensuring that the jobs that this investment creates are accessible to Pathways residents. Central to this linkage, was the awkward question that had been constantly raised throughout the programme by community representatives at individual partnership level and through the MPN on the monitoring committee: ‘Who is benefiting?’ This critical role did not always make for comfortable relationships between the MPN and agencies and local authorities, as might be expected from a network that at root was contesting the ‘ownership’ of Pathways (Box 20.1). However, in practice, a generally positive ‘negotiated consensus’ was reached.
Urban regeneration as a learning process
Atkinson (2000) argues that, in the current context of multi-level governance, regeneration initiatives need to be treated individually as learning exercises in their own right. What emerged strongly from our interviews and discussions with community activists, policy makers and practitioners (at all levels, from Europe through national to local) was that the Pathways initiative was very much a learning process. References were repeatedly made, unprompted, to terms and phrases like ‘learning curves’, ‘learning experience’, ‘learning exercise’, ‘building up expertise’, ‘learning the language’, ‘learning the lessons’, ‘learning from our mistakes’, ‘cultural change’, ‘knowledge’ and ‘understanding’.
It was also evident that the initiative had itself produced institutional change and experiment in the governance of the programme. Individuals and groups were engaging with each other in different ways, new relationships were being formed and new skills and capabilities were being developed. The more we thought about these changing institutions and relationships, the more relevant the literature on ‘learning’ in economic geography (Braczyk et al, 1998; Cooke and Morgan, 1998; Mackinnon et al, 2002) became with its focus on ‘localised learning’. The emphasis is on learning and knowledge transfer in and between firms, technological development and allied institutional structures. The policy focus is on networks and linkages between firms, regional innovation clusters, technology transfer, education and training at regional and local levels and the learning economy at national level. The basic concepts, however, seem to be clearly applicable to broader economic and social policy and, as the Pathways initiative appeared to show, regeneration policy.
Learning, from an institutionalist perspective, is an interactive, action-oriented process (Lagendijk and Cornford, 2000; Lakendijk, 2001). Three forms of learning can be distinguished and these are all visible in Pathways. First, there is the cognitive learning that allows understanding of context (in this case, of regeneration). This form of learning revealed itself, for example, in the ‘jargon busters’, the plethora of briefing papers produced for community representatives (p.381) by the Area Partnerships and the computer-based guide to Objective One funding produced by the MPN. Second, there are clear instances of the interactive process of social learning that improves understanding between those involved. This process was played out generally in the day-to-day interactions of partnership business. Finally, there are examples of the institutional learning in which attitudes, routines and behaviour within institutions change as a result of the learning process. This could be seen, for example, in the experience of (senior) local authority officers directly linked to some of these partnerships. In the partnerships there was also evidence of partners changing their behaviour as power relationships shifted. Thus, for example, there were cases of Training and Enterprise Councils (TECs) changing their institutional structures and general approach in response to the changing expectations of local partnerships (strengthened, it has to be said, by the granting of ‘scoring’ powers for project bids to partnership level).
A key strand in the literature on learning is the distinction between tacit knowledge and explicit or codified knowledge (knowledge that can be communicated in a formal, systematic manner). The interviews and discussion groups showed the depth of tacit knowledge (knowledge derived from direct experience) that participants had gained of the regeneration process as it progressed. They were very much ‘learning by doing’ and, in the process, learning how to learn; but there were no obvious institutional mechanisms for ensuring that this knowledge was consolidated and codified. The learning process has been fragmented and ad hoc and there are real dangers that the knowledge and learning to date remain unconsolidated, particularly as new policy agendas emerge. To avoid this loss of ‘collective memory’, there does appear to be a pressing need for some form of institutional structure in major policy initiatives like Pathways that can act as a knowledge and learning base: retrieving, documenting and disseminating experience.
The imminent establishment of a Merseyside Social Inclusion Observatory is a very positive step in this direction, but there does also appear to be a strong argument for a separate institution performing the ‘ombudsperson’ role, perhaps at regional level. Finally, while the development of the neighbourhood learning strategy set out in the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit’s (2002) The learning curve is also unquestionably a very positive development in this context, the Pathways experience would strongly suggest that emphasis in the strategy needs to be placed on ‘co-learning’, bringing together representatives of community groups and local authorities and public agencies in ‘action learning’.
Conclusion: ‘Pathways to integration’ – learning the lessons
Pathways was a learning exercise; so, what was learned? Pathways certainly showed the difficulties involved in reconciling representative and participatory democracy and of moving participation into a negotiated arena of consensus. It underlined all that we already knew about the difficulties of ‘partnership’ and ‘community participation’ (unequal power relations, the clash between formal/professional (p.382) cultures and their informal/community-based counterparts, resource and cultural constraints on participation and difficulties of ‘reflecting’ heterogeneous communities) and ‘social capital’ (its ‘goods’ and ‘bads’, the need for horizontal networks to be ‘scaled-up’ to vertical ones and the centrality of trust). And coming out of all this, the crucial importance of time and political commitment – for building the knowledge and human capital and the trusting networks that social capital and participatory policy intervention require (Taylor, 2000).
Pathways did show that communities are willing to engage in policy if genuine spaces for engagement are provided. It showed that this process of participation is sustainable where power is devolved (as, for example, with the scoring and appraisal of project bids), informal institutional capacity is developed to encourage collaborative working and trusting relationships are developed between local authorities, agencies and participating citizens. In terms of the latter, the role of officers acting as intermediaries and brokers appears to be crucial. Opening up strategy development and monitoring and evaluation to community representatives consolidates this. The fragility of this process of social learning, however, cannot be overstated6. It needs continually renewed political commitment to flourish.
Table 20.1: Lessons from Pathways Round One (1994–99)
Capacity building and community engagement
Capacity building and community engagement
Nature of projects
Nature of projects
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(1) The project formed part of the city-region’s social and economic conversion programme under Objective One of the EU’s Structural Funds (initially for the period 1994–99 but subsequently extended until 2006).
(2) The research used mainly qualitative research methods based on over 200 semi-structured interviews with ‘key informants’ and community representatives on the Area Partnerships in 11 case study Pathways Areas, policy makers/practitioners and managers of community-based economic development initiatives and ‘Pathways’ projects specifically targeted at excluded groups. It also involved participant observation in the form of attendance at meetings of Pathways Area Partnerships, community public meetings, training days, project steering groups and a New Deal for Communities focus group and focus group discussions with community representatives from the Pathways Area Partnerships, trainees on Pathways Area-based training courses, managers (p.385) of community-based economic development projects and local authority coordinators of the Pathways Area Partnerships. Fieldwork was undertaken in 1999 and 2000.
(3) The discussion specifically relates to geographical communities but the argument could equally apply to communities of interest.
(4) This strained relationship was carried over into the second round of the programme but there does appear to be recent promising signs of reconciliation with the direct intervention of the Council’s chief executive.
(5) The MPN also came up with a scoring system for project funding under the Pathways priority in the second programme. Central to the system is consultation over bids at the level of partnerships which is built in to the ‘quality threshold’ score that all bids need to exceed. The quality threshold criteria include a range of essential and desirable requirements. The key essential ones are that the proposed project fits with the Pathways Partnership Action Plan, that there is community participation in the design of the project, that the applicant in question agrees to regular monitoring and evaluation (with regular feedback to Pathways partnerships), that the project is appropriate for the Pathways priority and is complementary to existing services/activities.
(6) This fragility was underscored in a discussion group we held bringing together policy makers and practitioners and representatives of the MPN at the end of the research and early in the second round of the Objective One programme. A key theme was the importance of time, the need to recognise that addressing the social and economic problems that people in the Pathways Areas are facing and consolidating the participatory arena of consensus will take time, and certainly more than one or even two rounds of Objective One funding. Yet, there were still political pressures for ‘delivery’ and ‘outputs’ from a process of participation that itself needs to be seen as a key ‘output’ of the programme and one that needs continuing support to ‘bring on board those whohaven’t bought into it yet’. There was a concern expressed by the MPN participants that training support for residents and representatives of community organisations was not being sustained into the second programme and, from policy makers, that a renewed political mandate for participation was needed.