Greater Exeter

Independent policy research and advocacy

We explore and develop novel solutions to Greater Exeter's challenges. We publish research and opinion. We collaborate and influence.

About - Sustainable inclusive prosperity

Greater Exeter CIC is an independent, not-for-profit Community Interest Company dedicated to realising a prosperous, inclusive and sustainable future for all who live and work in and around Exeter.

Our aim is to enable the novel, cross-sector, multi-stakeholder approach that is needed to address the region’s social, economic and environmental challenges. We intend to:

  • explore interventions that have produced successful outcomes elsewhere
  • clarify their essential elements and translate their context to assess their potential to solve problems here
  • demonstrate their viability and strategic relevance with participatory action research pilots
  • leverage their adoption through effective advocacy and communications
  • complement and collaborate with other progressive initiatives across the region.

We are part of a global network of thinkers and doers who are developing new ways to create thriving economies which value and sustain human and natural resources, putting people and place at the heart of their vision.

Manifesto - Think local, act global

Globalisation presents complex challenges that transcend local, national and international boundaries, exceeding the reach of democratic mandates and corporate strategies as well as individual citizens.

Confusion over the role of the state and public investment has constrained needed intervention, while deregulated markets and private enterprise have not delivered the goods.

Rather than relying on remote, centralised policy-making to serve local interests, the scale at which people live, work, form families and participate in communities is the basis on which these issues should be addressed.

A place-based perspective helps reduce complexity, enabling joined-up thinking about local needs and achievable action to answer them. Instead of relying on governance alone to solve problems, individuals and organisations of all shapes and sizes can work together around common interest in the place they share.

Rather than local action requiring global insight, the reverse is true. The formal and informal relationships that constitute communities can foster unique solutions to specific local challenges that cross sectoral and institutional boundaries, creating exportable models for constructive change elsewhere.

Understanding the collaborative potential of place helps leverage public, private and community resources so we become greater together than the sum of our individual parts, renewing the social contract and enhancing our resilience in the face of a changing world. Then no-one gets left behind and everyone prospers together.

Mission - Challenges & opportunities

Exeter has developed rapidly during the past decade, significantly outperforming the region to become its principal economic engine and the UK’s fastest growing city.

However, not all the claims that are made about its strengths represent differentiating advantages when compared with its competitors, and many structural weaknesses remain. Partisan perspectives, institutional exceptionalism and insufficient policy co-ordination all undermine the region’s ability to meet its needs.

Making the most of Exeter’s opportunities requires realistic insight into its place in the world, shared strategic vision for its future and the courage to collaborate in pursuit of novel ideas with truly transformative potential.

As risks proliferate and roaming venture capital arrives in search of rapacious returns, business as usual is no longer an option. The region must reinvent itself and find new routes to prosperity on its own terms, rather than seek to emulate success stories from elsewhere.

Realising its strengths while rising to meet its challenges requires the kind of familiarity that only comes with physical proximity and the kind of commitment that results from a real stake in its future. The people who live and work here are best placed to get us from where we are to where we need to be.

Agenda - Insight, Vision, Impact

Greater Exeter’s agenda is informed by a unique three-stage theory of change.


There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true - Søren Kierkegaard

Peering through the wrong end of a telescope can produce parochial points of view that play well in filter bubbles but do not convince those with broader perspective. Unreliable sources can also undermine understanding by supplying attractive but misleading claims. Even impeccable evidence can be easy to overlook when it challenges established consensus.

Instead, significant differentiating insight based on realistic strategic appraisal and rigorous situational analysis is needed to expose assumptions and deliver a reality check. Fresh assessment of recontextualised objectives generates strategic intelligence that offers real understanding of the bigger picture.


Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come - Victor Hugo

Insight alone can only reveal the situation as it already is. The courage to pursue new vision at the limits of what is possible is also required, alongside open-minded, lateral enquiry to discover interventions with real potential to create prosperity in a complex, changing world.

Novel approaches that provide demonstrable, measurable benefits elsewhere can be skilfully translated to meet specific local challenges, offering compelling evidence-based common interest change narratives capable of catalysing active stakeholder engagement around concrete opportunities for collaborative impact.


Ideas change the course of history - John Maynard Keynes

Effective intervention to implement renewed vision depends on inclusive future-oriented thought leadership to facilitate common purpose around new, incentivising ideas. Previously intractable challenges can become opportunities to establish new alignments around transformative change, leading to meaningful impact.

Methodologies which systematically test and measure repeatable, real-world outcomes help avoid pie in the sky thinking and support solutions brokerage by demonstrating how a better world looks in practice. They also provide for potential export of successful interventions.

Decision-makers and research participants gain better understanding of local problems and their potential solutions, organisations benefit from greater strategic alignment and cross-sector collaboration, and more inclusive economic policies distribute prosperity more equally and enhance regional resilience for all.

Methods - Research & advocacy

Greater Exeter’s methods involve translating successful interventions from elsewhere with real potential to solve problems here, conducting participatory action research pilots to demonstrate their viability and strategic relevance, and leveraging their adoption through effective advocacy and communications. Tools include:

  • analysis: horizon scanning, channel monitoring and stakeholder mapping
  • data-gathering: desk and field research, interviews, focus groups and surveys
  • policy development: community budgeting, planning and feedback
  • reflexive interaction: roundtables, seminars, presentations, meetings and workshops
  • content publishing: research briefings, editorial opinion and curated reports.

Our aim is to stimulate constructive collaboration between private, public and third sector decision-makers, business networks, community groups, advocacy, campaigning and non-profit organisations, charities, social enterprises, residents, workers and visitors, around practical impact that will make a difference in everyday lives. We seek to:

  • challenge the status quo while recognising its strengths
  • explore leading-edge options alongside established solutions
  • maintain vision without losing sight of detail
  • advocate strategic direction which acknowledges risk and uncertainty
  • remain critically reflective while favouring bold, experimental action.

Outputs are framed as potential social, economic and political capital to help leverage strategic interest alignment among key actors, and stakeholder perspectives and preferences are incorporated both in individual projects and at organisational and methodological level. Our practice is:

  • agile - adopting lean, minimum viable mechanisms to get results quickly
  • modular - designing standalone tools for reuse across contexts and topics
  • experimental - adopting innovative methodologies to stimulate engagement
  • open source - sharing insight and information to enhance deliberation
  • peer to peer - leveraging network effects to convey compelling narratives
  • whole system - transcending silos to address multiple barriers to change.

Approach - Single issues, complex systems

The whole regional policy puzzle cannot be solved with a single move. There are, moreover, competing views of what it looks like when complete. Nevertheless, a complex systems approach is necessary to avoid the limiting single-sector focus that characterises much current policy research and practice.

Greater Exeter accordingly seeks to deal with issues individually, at appropriate spatial scale and sectoral scope, while recognising their unique position in the larger scheme.

The interdependency of each piece of the puzzle is then framed and resolved at the whole picture level of place. Each renders essential detail that cannot be captured in overarching vision without losing sight of important information. As each piece is placed, the emergent image offers an impression of the whole landscape.

When a particular piece is correctly located, the solution it represents offers potential insight into another similar problem elsewhere. Interventions thus combine across many places at multiple scales with complex whole system impact. Local action can solve global challenges.

Greater Exeter is a not-for-profit Community Interest Company limited by guarantee, registration number 10711812.

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