What are the benefits of community economic development and how can it become more mainstream?
Localise West Midlands (UK) has been researching how localised and community economic development can be integrated into the mainstream to help create more successful, socially just and diverse places.
Its first stage was a review of the literature evidence for the benefits of localised economies in comparison to more centralised economic approaches. There’s nothing new about localised economic approaches or writing around their social benefits, so the authors assumed this stage would be a quick overview of relevant existing analysis as context for the primary work on ‘mainstreaming’. In fact, they found little direct assessment of different economic approaches, with this review being one of the first to collate evidence around the socio-economic benefits of economic localisation strategies.
Whilst there were numerous gaps in the research, the review identified significant evidence that local economies with higher levels of small businesses and local ownership perform better in terms of economic success, job creation (especially in disadvantaged and peripheral areas), local multiplier effect, social inclusion, income redistribution, health, wellbeing, civic engagement, local distinctiveness and cultural diversity than those more dependent on centralised economic actors. This in itself was one of the strongest outcomes of the research, providing an evidence base for the rebalancing towards indigenous activity that many have called for, and a basis for further research exploration.
These findings signal the need to revalue how we balance and integrate more community-based approaches to economic development with the more dominant experience of attracting inward investment in economic development practice and policymaking. Through the research we have identified actions and approaches locally and nationally that could progress this balance.
A Mainstreaming-CED approach involves developing a mindset that thinks of the local economy as a complex ecosystem in that it takes a ‘supply and demand chain’ approach rather than focusing on individual businesses or sectors. In an ecosystem, removal of a link in the food chain upsets the whole system; likewise regeneration and economic development decisions need to be assessed for their impacts on existing supply networks.
The CED approach mindset also seeks to build a relationship-based economy, focuses economic development on partnerships and networking, understands the strategic importance of the multiplicity of the small scale, seeks to maximise local power rather than handing it to absentee landlords with little interest in or understanding of the local area, and takes a long-term perspective, with clear aims to support greater social and economic inclusion.