What is a whole-place collaborative approach and why does it matter?

A drawing of people enjoying a large outdoor space with plants, trees, paths and benches. A bridge and a few buildings are visible in the background.
Published: 28/06/2021

As part of the roll out of our new Corporate Strategy we are publishing a series of blogs to expand on the main themes. A key focus of our strategy is to make a whole-place collaborative approach the norm in planning our places. In this blog Jim MacDonald, Chief Executive, Architecture and Design Scotland outlines what a whole-place collaborative approach is and why it matters. 


There was a time when life was easy. As a fresh-out-of-college planner, I got to work, safe in my assumption that someonesomewhere was keeping an eye on what I, my colleagues and those from other organisations were doing and how it added up to the particular part of West London whose misfortune it was to have me in it. After all, that was the whole point of planning wasn’t it?  

But there was no someone and the idea that everyone was working toward a shared vision was a myth, not just in West London but across the whole country. However, 30 years on, things are starting to look very different here in Scotland.   

Working together

Since the Christie Commission first articulated the importance of working together in places, policy makers have wrestled with the challenge of making this a reality. In 2019, the Scottish Government and COSLA adopted the Place Principle which asks all those responsible for providing services and looking after assets in a place to work and plan together with local communities.  

In a nutshell, this is what a whole-place collaborative approach is all about – everyone working together to make things better in a place. 

However, like many things that are easy to describe, in practice this is much harder to do. The good news for those of us still struggling is that some pioneers are already blazing a trail for us to follow.  

Spatial policy  

On Glasgow’s southside for example, we helped the city council bring together public services, local stakeholders and national agencies to prioritise changes that will be taken forward via spatial policy. 

This work started with a Place Standard consultation before a series of stakeholder workshops to explore Climate Change, 20-minute neighbourhoods and the community response to these. As a mechanism for professional collaboration and community empowerment this works well. It means everyone knows what is planned and what their role will be to deliver it.  

Meanwhile on Skye and Raasay, the Highland Council and Highlands and Islands Enterprise are working with national agencies and the local communities to develop a shared vision for future infrastructure investment.

Again, the aim is to use a whole-place approach to understand the issues and collaborate to address these. The use of design thinking provides a great way of both understanding the different options for change and resolving often very complex issues as they emerge. 

These examples show how local authorities, national agencies and the communities they both serve can change the way we work. Above all, they show the very real benefits to people’s lives of this approach. 

The team at Architecture and Design Scotland and I are committed to making this happen that we are focussing all of our efforts on it and with your help, I firmly believe that we can do so.

Share your stories on collaboration

Let us know how this works for you. Contact us to share your examples of collaboration in the places that you live and work in.

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