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How to… create a local economic blueprint

As communities take on bigger roles in their local areas, Stir to Action magazine has published a Community Toolbox of illustrated how-tos to support more community-led change.

Here, Frances Northrop explains how to create a Local Economic Blueprint:

The case for community-led economic development is one which is well understood by communities who wish to use local assets to transform their economy. However, in a world dominated by corporations and economic development models that champion inward investment, it can often be difficult to make the case for a more localised, internal investment approach.

The Economic Blueprint process aims to make the case for community-led economic localisation by developing an evidence base about the local economy and key resilience sectors, such as food production; identifying opportunities for more local provisioning; and estimating what they might be worth in terms of revenue, livelihoods (jobs), and wellbeing. Just as important, this process also aims to include key people in the local community from the very beginning, including members of local government institutions, non-profit organisations, schools, large employers, and community groups.

These two things – making the case for relocalisation and involving key members of the community – form the core of the Economic Blueprint process. Where this has been followed, the results have been positive in many ways. In Totnes, for example, the district council
chief executive was part of the process, and based on the findings and recommendations of the Totnes Local Economic Blueprint, granted a district-owned office space rent-free for use as a community enterprise incubator, The REconomy Centre. It has also catalysed many new projects for Transition Town Totnes, including Caring Town, Totnes
10, Grown in Totnes, and the Food Shed. Key to these successful and thriving projects was the evidence base provided through the blueprint for funding bids and the power to convene people around the outcomes of the blueprint.

So far, this process has been successfully undertaken by groups in Totnes, Brixton, Bridport and Herefordshire, and has supported their wider aims by providing credibility and evidence, creating opportunities to develop relationships with other constituencies in the community, and informing their strategic planning. It has also, critically, increased their ability to influence, not just the local approach to economic development but also adding to the groundswell of voices across the world saying
that there is a better way to deliver economic outcomes that work for people, place and planet. The process is now being picked up by other communities embarking upon community-led economic development initiatives and proving hugely useful in framing the narrative for their work in a local context.

Nine Steps to creaing a Local Economic Blueprint:

1. Assemble your economic blueprint team

  • It is critical that you have a supportive core team.
  • You will need to be able to work well together, sometimes under pressure, and share the aim of producing a plan which enables you to move to strategic activities.
  • You may wish to invite people who have particular skills to be part of the group.

2. Write a project plan

  • This involves planning, assessments, and a clear idea of the goal or destination.
  • Do you know where you’re going? Do you have everything you’ll need? Think about what needs to happen during the course of the project, who is going to do what and when? What resources will be required?
  • One key team member should take the lead on creating the project plan, getting input from the rest of the team.

3. Identify community and economic leaders and create a stakeholder group

  • The nature and character of this group will differ for every community but ideally, this group will be collaborators and co-creators.
  • Brainstorm and map the economic stakeholders in your community: Who makes your economic policy? Who is involved in economic regeneration or sustainable development projects? What groups represent the interests of independent and/or high street traders? Who are the major employers? Who are the secondary and further education institutions? Who are the potential allies in this work?

4. Hold a workshop to create a shared vision

  • To make your visioning event successful you’ll have to plan, prepare, and assemble resources.
  • What are the roles and responsibilities of team members? Who will facilitate? If an outside facilitator, who will brief them? Where and when will the meeting take place? When must invitations go out? Who will manage that? What will be the agenda for the day? Will there be a need for presentation or briefing materials? Who will produce those?

5. Decide which economic sectors to cover

  • Research and analysis from Totnes, Herefordshire, and Bridport have looked at food, residential energy retrofitting and renewable energy production.
  • Ask if these sectors are relevant to your local economy? Are they strategically important for creating long-term resilience, transitioning to low-carbon energy, supporting sustainable economic development and employment? Are there other sectors more relevant to your community and local economy? Given your resources, how many sectors should you look at?

6. Plan your research methodology

  • The methodology you use and the scope of your research will dictate the success of your project.
  • What can be borrowed from economic blueprints done elsewhere? Outlines, research questions, data sources, graphics, other content?
  • Are the research questions and outlines appropriately defined? Do they align with your goals and objectives?
  • Now draft your research questions and report outlines appropriate to the economic sectors you are studying and your local conditions.

7. Undertake research

You can approach this like a mapping exercise.

  • Given the sectors you wish to study, who are local experts you can approach to review and comment on your work?
  • Can local schools and/or universities provide expertise and/or resources?
  • Spend some time mapping individuals and organisations you might approach, and develop a plan for engaging these individuals and organisations.

8. Write the report

This summary document will become the iconic representation of your economic blueprint process.

  • It is the main tool you use to communicate with others about what you, your stakeholders, and community have accomplished.
  • It will ideally need to be of a high professional standard.
  • Whether you have chosen to have a single author of this document, a main author with contributors, or an edited work with several contributors, there are several key questions to ask yourselves: What is the purpose of this document? How will it be used? For which audience(s) is the document intended?

9. Present your findings and call to action

This is where all the hard work starts to pay off and you can progress to the exciting activity of planning your strategy for bringing your blueprint to life.

  • What new projects could you initiate?
  • What will create the conditions for change?
  • What might we want these projects to accomplish?
  • What are the opportunities for partnership and collaboration?
  • What are some intermediate projects to get us there?
  • Buy the Spring 2017 edition of Stir to Action, here.

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