Information is the key to future success

Shared knowledge minimises the risk involved in neighbourhood renewal.
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The Independent Online

According to recent research, it has been rare for regeneration programmes to base their activities on sound evidence about "what works".

According to recent research, it has been rare for regeneration programmes to base their activities on sound evidence about "what works". This is partly because the concept of neighbourhood renewal is relatively new, but also because there haven't been effective mechanisms to find and share good practice quickly. The results are disturbing and, according to the experts, a common cause of failure in renewal schemes.

Thankfully, the National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal recognised this inefficiency and concerted efforts are being made to ensure mistakes of the past are not repeated. Spreading the word, so that other regeneration projects can take advantage of existing knowledge, is now an essential part of the process.

The New Deal for Communities (NDC) initiative is one such example. Launched in 1998 specifically as a pathfinder programme, the NDC programme is testing out new approaches outlined in the National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal. Instrumental in tackling key issues in 39 deprived areas across the UK, lessons learnt from this venture are being implemented into the National Strategy so that widespread learning can take effect quickly and efficiently.

Utilising knowledge from this programme seems wise. So far, results have been impressive and read like a council wish list. Most recently Sandwell NDC has seen a 48 per cent reduction in robberies, the East Manchester partnership has seen a 30 per cent decline in crime and Leicester NDC an 80 per cent drop in the dumping of burnt out cars – and this is just the tip of the iceberg. It is hardly surprising that NDC partnerships are in a valuable position to offer many useful and practical examples of "lessons learnt".

Unlike traditional projects, NDCs are not waiting until the end of the programme for this to begin. Detailed evaluation and analysis takes place early on, throwing up useful findings that can be drawn upon by partnerships and other regeneration projects.

"Sharing our experiences is common sense," says Glenn Jenkins, Vice Chair of Luton NDC. "We've got to realise that making mistakes doesn't matter if we learn from them."

And it is not only regeneration initiatives that benefit – mainstream services also profit. NDC partnerships have demonstrated repeatedly that decisions made in partnership are most successful, with public agencies and local communities sharing responsibilities. By bringing together all key agencies and focusing on what residents see as community priorities, a major rethink is taking place and local services are being reformed. Agencies see it makes more sense to share ideas, costs and to plan services together with residents.

Huge progress has been made within partnerships, identifying ways existing services can be delivered more effectively, freeing up resources and leaving a long-term legacy of improvement. The services themselves are learning valuable lessons, picking up ideas that can be used outside of NDC areas.

East Brighton is one such example. Taking advantage of the work of NDC, it established a public service agreement with all the major local agencies. The police have been involved in a big way, pledging to reduce crime in the area from its current high level to the national average by 2010. "Before NDC we did focus on hotspot areas, but resources were ad hoc and could be withdrawn at any time," says Inspector Paul Smith. "The morale is excellent now because we are working so closely with other agencies. We can also see who we are working for – the community – and there is less distrust."

The Government is also committed to learning as much as possible from the experience of NDCs and from a range of other regeneration initiatives.

On 4 December, Lord Falconer announced a £21.6m Skills and Knowledge programme, to ensure everyone has the support they need to deliver effective neighbourhood renewal. "For the National Strategy to work, everyone involved in neighbourhood renewal – from local communities to civil servants in Whitehall – must have the support, skills and knowledge they need," said Lord Falconer at the launch of the programme.

And this is certainly happening. By the end of the year, a knowledge management system will be set up, providing a systematic and comprehensive guide to information available on what works in tackling the various problems of deprived neighbourhoods. This will draw upon experiences across England and beyond, and link into sources of evidence from government departments, outside bodies and regional, local and neighbourhood feedback.

Resources will be available to ensure the information is disseminated effectively. They will include an online "one-stop shop" for practitioners and residents looking for practical tools and tips. A regional panel of advisers will support neighbourhood partnerships face-to-face and there will be improved networking opportunities.

With such a wealth of good practice information available it seems more likely than ever that regeneration has a greater chance of success.

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