Establishing LARIA

LARIA was born in 1974 following the Bains Report recommendation to set up Research and Intelligence functions within the newly reorganised local authorities. In May of that year, a group of 23 officers from a variety of authorities attended a seminar for Heads of R&I Sections organised by the Institute of Local Government Studies (INLOGOV) at a hotel in Birmingham. This was in effect the first LARIA Conference. In the first four years LARIA was known as the R&I Steering Group and with considerable help from INLOGOV seminars and small conferences providing a networking arrangement started to be developed. The meetings were chaired on a rotating basis between the Group members, until 1978 when a permanent Chair was elected from amongst the Group (a full list is at the bottom of this article).

In 1992 LARIA became a Specially Authorised Society under the Friendly Societies Act 1974, its formal membership being the individuals on the Steering Group. This ensured a robust financial auditing model with accounts currently formally submitted to the FSA each year. The full accounts are available on the LARIA member portal.

Continually improving and expanding

In 1979, it was thought that to widen its networking impact, a newsletter was first produced – R&I News, later to become LariaNews. Other publications have been produced by LARIA over the years including a series of monographs covering topics such as corporate planning, survey techniques and population estimation. LARIA also produced a Research Education and Training Guide and in collaboration with Kirklees Council, a popular publication on Including Disabled People in Communication and Consultation, and Proceedings of various LARIA Annual Conferences. Occasionally LARIA has also commissioned organisations and individuals to undertake investigations of the workings of research in local authorities. The website was launched in 1997 and is accompanied by discussion boards on the Knowledge Hub, a Linkedin group and Twitter account. Members also receive a regular email bulletin.

In 2002 LARIA was approached by ALGIS (Affiliation of Local Government Information Specialists) and it become an autonomous group affiliated to LARIA, before eventually merging with LARIA in 2008. In 2013 a similar arrangement happened with BURISA (British Urban and Regional Information Systems Association) who are now part of LARIA.

LARIA has always tried to cover the needs of all those in the UK, but in 1993, LARIA in Scotland (LiS) was formed to cater for the specific needs of those practising R&I in Scotland where the local government structure is different to that in England and Wales. In 2011 a local network was established to provide opportunities for members to meet locally. These groups have no budget but active volunteers have helped to organise a number of local events and engage with members.

Also in 2011 the name of LARIA changed from Local Authorities Research and Intelligence Association, replacing “Authorities” with “Area”. This reflected the changing local research landscape and the increasing focus of our members on forming partnerships across the public sector. Since then we have also worked hard to establish LARIA as a network of networks. We focus on helping organisations and local researchers get in contact and share best practice, rather than seek to compete with providing a full range of services. This is why we have kept a free level of membership. For us the network is more important than bringing in membership fees (although we do still need enough paying members to keep us going!).

The LARIA Excellence in Research Award was founded in 2002 and a trophy, and CACI sponsored data was awarded to the winning local authority. The winning authority presented its project to the Annual Conference. In 2013 the awards were relaunched as the LARIA Research Impact Awards.

Developing LARIA’s aims

In 1999, the Steering Group held an Awayday to consider how LARIA should face the challenges ahead. One of the most significant things discussed at the Awayday was the formal statement aims and purpose of the organisation. The purpose of LARIA was described as: “To promote the role and practice of research within the field of local government and provide a supportive network for those conducting or commissioning research”

In achieving this LARIA stated that its five key aims were:

  1. to promote research in the field of local government
  2. to support those conducting or commissioning research
  3. to share ‘information’
  4. to enable networking
  5. to influence key agencies/opinion formers

In 2007, in recognising the growing importance of local partnership working beyond local councils, LARIA agreed a new strapline, “supporting local researchers in the public sector”, reflecting the changing, evolving and diverse arrangements for research & intelligence in local areas.

By 2013 LARIA had developed a Charter that set out more clearly the behaviours expected of LARIA Full Members. This established the clear statement that “LARIA Full Members improve lives and local areas through the use of local research, intelligence and policy”. The shift in focus was to establish not only LARIA as a network promoting best practice, but that the work members do helps to underpin evidence based decisions. This was a reflection of the tougher challenges being faced in the public sector and the need to ensure that LARIA promoted the impact of local research as well as networking opportunities.

LARIA Chairs 1978 to date

  1.  1978-1979 Grahame Handley (Berkshire County Council)
  2. 1979-1982 Reg Fox (Cleveland County Council)
  3. 1982-1984 Stuart Creak (South Yorkshire County Council)
  4. 1984-1988 Graham Smith (Cheshire County Council)
  5. 1988-1991 Les Worrall (Wrekin District Council)
  6. 1991-1992 Bill Cross (North Yorkshire County Council)
  7. 1992-1993 John Hollis (London Research Centre)
  8. 1993-1994 Graham Smith (Cleveland County Council)
  9. 1994-1995 Tim Blackman (Newcastle Upon Tyne City Council)
  10. 1995-1998 Alison Smith (Buckinghamshire County Council)
  11. 1998-2002 Bryan Hall (Cheshire County Council)
  12. 2002 Bob Cuthill (City and County of Swansea)
  13. 2002-2003 Dawn Roberts (Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council)
  14. 2003-2006 David Karfoot (Hampshire County Council)
  15. 2006-2007 Jill Tuffnell (Cambridgeshire County Council)
  16. 2007-2012 Andy Davis (Warwickshire County Council)
  17. 2011-2012 David Onions (Worcestershire County Council) Joint Chair
  18. 2012-present Neil Wholey (Westminster City Council)

This article is adapted from “A short history of LARIA” written by Graham Smith in 2007.