Pathways to Integration

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Pathways to integration was a key innovative measure in the 994-99 Merseyside Objective 1 programme

This recently completed research project formed part of ESRC's ongoing 'Cities, Competitiveness and Cohesion' Research Programme. It was a 'free-standing project' based around investigation of an actual regeneration initiative being carried out on Merseyside as part of the city-region's social and economic conversion plan under Objective One of the European Union's Structural Funds.

This initiative - known as 'Pathways to Integration' - was one of five priorities in the Objective One single programming document and was explicitly targeted at issues of social and economic exclusion (see Figure 1). Significantly for the research, just over one third of the total budget for the priority was focused on 38 areas experiencing concentrations of disadvantaged and together containing just under 500,000 people (see Figure 2). Spending was concentrated on four interlinked "pathways" - "to education", "to skills", "to training" and "to jobs" supported by actions to improve the "quality of life" of residents in the pathways areas.

Finally, and of crucial importance for the whole strategy and of particular interest for the research, was the central place given to community involvement in the initiative. 'Pathways Area Partnerships' were formed, with local authority prompting, in each of the 'Pathways Areas'. The partnerships bring together representatives of public, voluntary and private sectors and local community organisations.

The project identified at the outset five interlinked research themes: social exclusion (and the role of geography in this), sustainable community economic development, social capital, citizenship and participation and local governance. A fifth emerged towards the end of the research, urban regeneration as a learning process.

These themes were explored using a mainly qualitative research methodology involving: analysis of secondary material (including, for example 'content analysis' of the 'Area Strategies' and 'Action Plans' produced by all 38 'Pathways Area Partnerships'); semi-structured interviews (with 'key informants' and community representatives in 11 case-study 'Area Partnerships', policymakers/practitioners, managers of community-based economic development initiatives and 'Pathways' projects specifically targeted at excluded groups); participant observation (at, for example, meetings of ‘Pathways Area Partnerships', community for a and public meetings); focus group discussions (with community representatives and groups of young people from the 'Area Partnerships', managers of community-based economic development projects and local authority co-ordinators of the 'Area Partnerships') and a postal survey of community activists.

Summary of Research Findings

The research recognised the politically contentious nature of the concept of 'social exclusion' and argues that it is essential for those using the concept to explicitly define it. This definition should be multi-dimensional (not simply income related), dynamic and processual (emphasising processes) and with a focus at societal level (rather than on the attributes of individuals). Notions of social justice and citizenship rights are also essential elements of the concept.

The research confirmed other findings showing the wide range of causes of social exclusion and underlined the argument that 'social exclusion' is both social and spatial with the 'Pathways Areas' themselves providing classic examples of the geographical concentrations of disadvantage that result from the combination of macro-structural and micro-local factors operating through labour, land and property markets. They are 'excluded' places.

It argues that exclusion from the labour market is a dominating force in broader social exclusion in the city-region and that there is need for active employment policies which address both the demand and supply sides of local labour markets. The 'Pathways' initiative is helping to produce a number of examples of these 'inclusionary' policies. Related to this, the research has also built up a profile of community-based economic development activity in the city-region. This profile throws light on the dynamics of the 'Third Sector'/'social economy', highlighting both the distinctive opportunities that it offers for local economic regeneration, social inclusion and environmental sustainability and the very difficult operating circumstances that it faces. The need for regulation at local, regional, national and international scales is argued for.

What also appears to have emerged strongly from the research is the relevance of the notion of 'social capital' in understanding participation in urban regeneration activity. Drawing on literature based especially on experiences in the 'Developing World', the research is demonstrating how intervention in the form of 'Pathways-type' initiatives can aid in the strengthening of different types of social capital within neighbourhoods. The building of relations of trust between members of local communities is a crucial building block in this process (and is particularly reliant on the openness and transparency of organisations and networks). But, more importantly we would argue, is the need for these relations to be 'scaled-up' to wider power structures and institutions (a linkage that appears to be overlooked in most of the writing on social capital). The research is providing a number of examples of community groups, which appear to have managed effectively to link with 'outside' agencies and 'partners' - and others that have not.

The research also demonstrates that exclusion from some arenas (most notably paid employment) does not necessarily mean exclusion from others. A sizeable majority of the residents involved in the 'Pathways Area Partnerships' could be described as 'socially excluded" given their (lack of) paid-employment status yet this does not prevent them from engaging in 'Pathways-type' regeneration initiatives - as 'active citizens' concerned with questions of justice and community.

The research also underlined the problems of accurately measuring levels of community involvement from the 'hard core' of community activists to their varying constituencies in organisations like Neighbourhood Councils and Tenants and Residents Associations to public fora. Levels of involvement vary across the city-region reflecting historical variation in the development of community activity but all 'Pathways Areas' have community representatives on the partnership boards (at the last count some 360, just over a third of total board membership).

The profile of those involved and their motivations for involvement are complex. Given the relatively speedy introduction and short duration of the 'Pathways' initiative, established community groups and activists have been prominent albeit with some recent degree of turnover. A substantial number, as already noted, are unemployed or in receipt of some form of benefit. The gender breakdown is mixed and contradicts some of the normal patterns of volunteering, with men involved but also with women involved in prominent positions. The age profile shows a lack of involvement of young adults and the participation of ethnic minorities, not surprisingly, reflects the city-region's polarised social geography. Respondents in our interviews gave a range of reasons for involvement including concerns with housing, unemployment and local environmental and quality of life issues. The perceived barriers to participation included the bureaucracy and language of ‘partnership working' and the image of volunteering. Time commitment and lack of financial support were also cited as important factors.

Participation is also heavily influenced by 'neighbourhood’ and the histories of neighbourhood-based organisations and the research argues that the challenge for area-based partnerships is to balance the strengths of 'natural neighbourhoods' (their rootedness in 'place- communities') and their representative organisations with their potential weaknesses (fragmentation and competition). Spatial targeting needs to be part of the process of community engagement and operational areas need to make social sense to the neighbourhoods and neighbourhood-based organisations within them.

The 'Pathways' initiative demonstrated the increasing complexity of urban governance with the European Commission seeing it as a way of pushing 'subsidiarity' in one element of the Objective One programme down below city-regional level and the local partners having to come up with the institutional arrangement to achieve this. The research reveals what this meant in terms of institutional response across the partners while underlining the continuing importance of both central and local government in the partnership structures, albeit in different roles involving partnership working with a range of agencies.

The research also revealed the difficulties that local authorities variously experienced in setting up Area Partnership Boards, reflecting geographical and historical variations in community development and organisation and the different support structures that they provided. Echoing the findings on 'social capital', much has depended on the quality of the relationships that have been formed between support workers and the community members of the Area Partnerships. The research also documented the networking amongst partners and lobbying that significantly altered the way in which the programme operated. The main changes included a shift from competitive bidding to financial allocations in the 'Pathways Areas', revisions to 'match funding' requirements and the delegation to partnerships of some scoring powers over project bids. The latter was particularly important in changing relationships between partnerships and project bidding agencies.

The research also traces the history of the 'Merseyside Pathways Network' which represents community representatives across the 38 Area Partnerships. It shows how, using local authority and voluntary sector networks and, crucially, links developed directly with the European Commission, this group has come to play a central part in the governance of the second round of the programme, which it also helped to shape.

Finally, what emerged strongly from interviews and discussions with community activists, policymakers and practitioners was the need to view the 'Pathways' initiative as a learning process. Individuals and groups were engaging with each other in different ways, new relationships were being formed and new skills and capabilities being developed. Participants had gained significant tacit knowledge of the regeneration process, 'learning by doing'. The danger of this knowledge not being consolidated prompts us to argue for the establishment of some form of institutional structure that can act as a knowledge and learning base, a source of advice and support for those engaged in regeneration and an independent 'referee' of disputes and conflict.

notes and references

'Tackling Social Exclusion: The Role of Social Capital in Urban Regeneration on Merseyside - From Mistrust to Trust', European Planning Studies, 9, 2, 2001, 141-161 (with Karen Hibbitt, Peris Jones and Richard Meegan)

'"It’s not community round here, it’s neighbourhood": neighbourhood change and cohesion in urban regeneration policies' in Special Issue on 'Neighbourhoods', Urban Studies, 38, 9, September 2001 forthcoming (Richard Meegan and Alison Mitchell)