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The increasing role of communities in the fostering of civic responsibility as well as governing and administering local affairs, has been a key theme of government for many years. One of the most telling phrases from the 2006 White Paper on local government says: high quality service provision is not just a matter for government: people themselves have their own ideas and contribution to make to improving public services.

But this interest goes beyond just providing services. It also involves improving the quality of life in local communities - such as the care of the elderly, the health of younger people, as well as reversing the growth in drug abuse, crime and unwanted pregnancies that occur in all parts of the land. The counties also face different issues of economic scale, geography and cultural legacies, no less pressing than in large metropolitan areas, and often with greater pressures on funding and resources.

The White Paper goes further: ‘Places need clear vision and strong leadership if they are to deal with constantly changing economic, social and cohesion challenge. Voluntary groups, faith groups, local businesses and other public agencies have an important part to play in the life of our towns and neighbourhoods…’

There are multiple influences that need to be recognized and accounted for both in terms of their immediate and obvious effects as well as those that are more complex in nature and emergent over time – the ‘unexpected consequences’ we have become increasingly ready to expect. These kinds of complex problems involving e.g. ‘place making’ and ‘way finding’ need to be tackled by new forms of organization that through their focus on local affairs, awareness and responsiveness to matters of context, and greater levels of creativity are able to match the complexity and cope with the ambiguity, these community problems pose.

And so as a proliferation of new forms emerge in response to these demands, there is a growing awareness that these do actually need to bring a clearer focus on complex issues that cut across disciplinary boundaries, offer greater responsiveness to differing local needs, and generate a higher level of creativity in delivering desired outcomes. However, as with the protea itself - which ranges from low growing shrubs to trees  - these networks/partnerships are not like a single bloom: they show an amazing diversity of form and shape to suit their purpose, and there is no ‘right’ or ‘best practice’ approach to structuring and leading them.