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Findings from Working for Communities - Community Involvement - Research Findings

DescriptionExamines community involvement in the WfC pathfinders looking in particular at consultation, capacity building, involvement in management of initiatives, and attempts to widen participation.
ISBN0 7559 3344 3
Official Print Publication Date
Website Publication DateApril 10, 2002



    Development Department Research Programme Research Findings No.137

    Community Involvement
    Findings from Working for Communities

    Alison P Brown

    This document is also available in pdf format (103k)

    This report is one of a series which summarises research into the impact of the Scottish Executive's Working for Communities pathfinders, which aimed to test innovative ways of delivering local services. This report focuses on community involvement in pathfinders, in terms of consultation, capacity building, involvement in management of initiatives, and attempts to widen participation.

    Main Findings
    • Careful planning and management of consultation and community events is essential.
    • An accessible local base, use of technology, and joint training of agency and community members can assist capacity building.
    • A flexible approach to community involvement can allow people to participate in ways that suit their circumstances and level of interest.
    • Employing local staff and community management of services are direct forms of community involvement.
    • Skilled staff need to balance short- and long-term priorities, support and responsibility, and support for existing activists with widening participation to marginalised groups.

    Thirteen pathfinders were funded under the Working for Communities programme from 1999 to 2002. The aim of the programme was to test out innovative models of delivering services to local communities. Although their activities were very diverse, each pathfinder was expected to take into account the expressed needs and opinions of local people. (A summary of pathfinders is given in Table 2). Community involvement was given high priority in most pathfinders. The approaches taken varied, but rarely involved the 'traditional' route of funding established community groups. The pathfinder 'communities' were extremely diverse and included, for example:

    • 30,000 people in several adjacent neighbourhoods of a city
    • 1,500 people in one neighbourhood of a town
    • all young people across a local authority area
    • all 5,000 people living in a large rural area.

    This purpose of this report is to highlight lessons that can be learned for regeneration and improvement of services from the various ways in which pathfinders involved the community. Examples from pathfinders are presented as illustrations of what worked well.

    Four aspects will be considered:

    a. consultation and awareness-raising with local residents or service users

    b. developing community capacity and infrastructure

    c. community involvement in management of a pathfinder or projects

    d. widening participation.

    A. Consultation

    A combination of methods were used to raise awareness of the pathfinder and involve the wider community in it: these included community newspapers, fun days, information fairs, community conferences, and direct approaches to users of services and existing community groups.

    Several pathfinders engaged specialists in participatory appraisal to consult on services relevant to their target group. These exercises helped set priorities. Not all pathfinders undertook wide community consultation at the outset, either because priorities were decided before the project commenced, or because of 'consultation fatigue' in the areas undergoing regeneration programmes. A number of pathfinders found that consultation did not work as well as expected due to insufficient capacity to manage the work involved, or because consultation happened after priorities had been set.

    Dumbarton Road pathfinder held a community conference. A report of the first conference was presented to a community day held four months later to take the ideas forward. Thus consultation was not a 'one-off' but part of a process, including bringing together and strengthening existing groups and networks.

    Inverclyde Youth Pathfinder's consultation with young people was part of a broader process of engaging young people in the pathfinder and wider decision-making processes. A range of consultation activities included a Youth Summit, two major consultation events that attracted over 200 people, and follow-up meetings to involve participants in specific projects.

    Cultenhove for Change Project involved young people by having an architect work with them to design a new cybercafe in a converted former pub.

    Greater Easterhouse pathfinder designed a community website Touch & Go. Community groups were involved in the site design, and 120 groups contributed information and took pages on the site. Work continued with several groups who wished to create their own sites. Feedback was gathered from people who accessed the site through PCs or the touch screens that were also installed as part of the Information Project.

    Existing consultation mechanisms may not give the level of detail required to pick up the effects of very local activities. Partner organisations in West Edinburgh sought more service-specific information than that available from the Citizens Panel. The pathfinder undertook an audit of consultation activity by partners which made recommendations for how the pathfinder could assist with seminars and information exchange on methods, results and outcomes of consultation.

    Points to note

    1. Thorough planning of consultation, research and community events is essential.

    2. It is important to use skilled facilitators in consultation, and to feed back the results and outcomes to the people who were consulted.

    3. Lead-in times for regeneration initiatives should allow for consultation.

    4. Methods should be chosen carefully to fit the purpose of consultation.

    5. To ensure that community involvement is as inclusive as possible requires an active approach and skills in working with particular groups.

    6. It can be most effective to work through existing groups and to build feedback into use of a service or facility.

    B. Capacity building

    Many pathfinders aimed to increase the ability of their community or target group to put their case to service providers and decision makers, by training and development activities for groups and individuals. Different forms of support and structures were in place for community representatives.

    Local base

    Pathfinders benefited from a base in a community centre that was well used, or in a prominent open shop-front, and not in a community centre that had a reputation for exclusivity. New facilities that people feel ownership of contributed to optimism and motivation. For example, the Auchenback One Stop Shop provided a new high-quality base for community groups and learning opportunities. It acted as a focus for a range of activities and its shop front became a community noticeboard.


    New technology featured in many pathfinders. Lochaber Communications Network Ltd. (LCNL) Community ICT Training aimed to ensure the participation of local groups and organisations in the pathfinder, by allowing them to share information through the LCNL website.

    The Great Northern Partnership contracted the Media Unit to support members of the community in producing video, photographic and printed information that they used to inform and influence Council policy and service provision. A community-based SVQ Video Production Course was developed. Local residents made videos on drugs, school exclusion, the impact of physical regeneration, and community safety. In one case, young parents group who made one film were invited to join the local community forum and subsequently met with councillors and council heads of departments. Their film was used in development of a local regeneration strategy.

    Other forms of training included joint training with officers. In West Edinburgh, a training course brought officers and community activists together to give the Local Service Partnerships of agencies and community reps the skills to establish service level agreements (SLAs). The two-day course was adapted from one on SLAs in housing, to take in environmental and police services. Participants came from Council departments, housing associations and community organisations. From the training emerged plans for an agreement with the Council's environmental service, including further training.

    Community and agency representatives from pathfinders took part in the Scottish Executive's partnership training programme Working Together Learning Together. Great Northern community partners, for example, reported that the programme improved mutual understanding with partner agency staff.

    Flexible opportunities

    Capacity building is not about a selected few. Oakley Pathfinder involved local residents not through representation to a board or steering group, but brought them in gradually as volunteers. Residents could be involved in any aspect of the pathfinder's work, in ways that suited them. People with mobility problems were targeted. In Oakley, community involvement took several forms: participatory consultation in early stages of the pathfinder; promotion of pathfinder activities through a community newsletter; an 'opportunities day'; leisure activities supported by the pathfinder such as a five-a-side league; formation of groups on particular issues such as community transport; and support for local environmental projects.

    Community involvement in the Community Health Shop in Greater Easterhouse had three aspects: community vision and planning of the Shop from the outset; consultation with users and the wider community about quality and range of services; and community management by community directors of the health shop company. People could move between these levels of involvement.

    Auchenback Active's management committee of local residents grew from the existing tenants and residents association and pathfinder public meetings. It formed themed working groups supported by the pathfinder co-ordinator. One was the Neighbourhood Management Group. Although the group felt that progress was slower than they wished, and perceived attempts by some service providers to marginalise their activity, they identified the following achievements:

    • the group took the lead in representing the community's interests
    • community individuals grew in knowledge and confidence and came to chair the group
    • the group reached out to involve other local groups such as the Tenants and Residents Association
    • the group learned from videos, the internet and visits about good practice elsewhere. With that information to hand, they were in a stronger position in negotiations with service providers
    • community members' sense of isolation and powerlessness reduced, as they worked with service providers.

    Support and structures

    Across pathfinders, support for community representatives varied considerably. One model was support through SIP or similar structures which have dedicated community support staff. Another was support from the pathfinder co-ordinator in their community worker role, or from a dedicated staff member. In one case, buying in expertise of an established community organisation assisted in building a network over a wider area.

    Officials were very positive about community involvement in the Great Northern pathfinder, but community partners had mixed views. After two years, they felt that there was little to show the community in terms of practical outcomes, and that a culture change was still required throughout departments and agencies. Some community partners felt that their involvement was often tokenistic, especially when they were in the minority in meetings. However, the community partners found the Partnership's community support workers valuable. Their experience of meetings improved 'one hundred percent', as the support team prevented officials lapsing into jargon.

    LCNL pathfinder was managed by a Board of five, including two community directors elected by user groups. User groups worked with staff to develop the procedures and systems, for example, security, access to facilities, and use of income. Users groups did not operate in isolation from other community structures. For example, in one village, there was a perception that the LCNL facilities, located in a community centre, were not as accessible to the wider community as they could be. To resolve this, LCNL invited other organisations into the group: a local youth worker, the Community Council and the college's local steering group.

    Area's history

    Some pathfinders found that due to the social problems in their areas, apathy was high, and many people who might otherwise become involved simply wanted to leave the area. Others experienced infighting among community groups due to personality clashes and dominance of particular families. Community involvement appeared to be most effective where there was less 'history', therefore local people had more enthusiasm. In areas with a long history of regeneration programmes, community involvement was quicker to set up, but was more likely to be dogged by burnout, suspicion of short-term initiatives, the complexity of structures, disillusionment, and local 'politics'.

    In terms of sustaining capacity-building, several pathfinders were wholly or partly in, or adjacent to, SIP areas and were able to integrate their work into that of the SIP. Others obtained European or Community Fund resources to continue to support community involvement. A minority of pathfinders lost momentum of community involvement as they moved towards the end of their designation with no sustainable future plans. Towards the end of pathfinder designation in Auchenback, community members met with their equivalents from the SIP, which covers adjacent neighbourhoods. Determined that Auchenback Active would continue beyond pathfinder designation, they were able to secure involvement in SIP structures and influence on the SIP's strategy for its final two years. This required flexibility in the SIP's approach to working with neighbouring communities.

    Points to note

    1. An accessible local base is important.

    2. Working with ICT, video and other media can increase skills and confidence as well as providing effective means to communicate issues.

    3. Successful consultation can lead to further levels of capacity building and involvement. A flexible approach to involvement can allow people to participate as and when they wish.

    4. Joint training is particularly effective.

    5. Skilled support is essential for community representatives.

    6. Community involvement in a new initiative must take into account the area's history, and its future.

    C. Management

    Local residents and service users were involved in management of pathfinders in a variety of ways. Most but not all pathfinders had steering groups, either a group of community members or a multi-agency group. Many pathfinders worked in themed subgroups where community representatives could choose their area of interest. Some pathfinders created a new community organisation; elsewhere, community representation was via an existing organisation, such as a SIP board, community centre or housing association committee, or tenants and residents association. (A summary of means of community involvement in pathfinders is given in Table 1). Because pathfinder committees did not make decisions about funding of local groups, the management role focused on pathfinder activities; this made it easier for people who were involved in specific pathfinder activities to increase their level of responsibility.


    In parallel to volunteer involvement, some pathfinders employed local people or service users as staff. Local people as staff may have had higher motivation than others to improve their area, but they faced undue demands on their time out of hours and the risk of intimidation. It proved easier to find staff with fewer training and development needs in areas that had lower levels of deprivation.

    Some of the estate caretakers employed by DEMI and by Cultenhove for Change Project, and sessional workers in the Cultenhove young tenants and drug users' groups were local residents.

    LCNL employed eight local residents part time as community support workers at each rural resource centre. These workers provided basic IT training, administered the facilities, co-ordinated user groups and liased with LCNL management. Not IT specialists, their role was wide and extended into support and provision of information and advice for groups and individuals, and signposting to other learning opportunities. Users reported that having local staff encouraged them into using the facilities. The independent evaluation of the pathfinder stressed the unexpected benefits of the workers' contribution.

    In Dick's Hill, the Pathfinder employed several local people part-time as Community Agents, recruited from initial Pathfinder public meetings. Their role was as 'mini one-stop shops', to provide information and advice, improve communication between residents and agencies, and encourage participation. They also set up a range of community activities and identified volunteers to take over. Their identity as independent of the local authority was felt by the agents to be very important in gaining residents' trust.

    Table 1: Means of community involvement in pathfinders

    table 1

    Community-run services

    Cultenhove for Change pathfinder and another community organisation successfully bid for challenge funding to establish a community-based drugs service across the Health Board area. Community involvement on this issue pre-dated the pathfinder by many years. The idea for the service originated in the community and the bid was put together by the project co-ordinator and community members. The advisory group set up to supervise the manager included three community representatives.

    Points to note

    1. Employing local staff is a direct route to community involvement.

    2. Management committees and Boards require long-term development. This includes building confidence, and the ability to take a non-confrontational approach when required. This requires skilled staff who can provide opportunities for increased responsibility and ensure appropriate support.

    3. A flexible approach can accommodate both people who wish to be involved only until the new service or facility is achieved, and those who want long-term term involvement.

    4. Community groups need to see results in order to maintain motivation. This requires skilled workers who can operate to secure both tactical and strategic goals. The worker also has to balance motivating people by showing the direct benefits to them, and ensuring that benefits across the community are based on assessment of need.

    5. Substantial community-run services are feasible where sufficient organisational capacity exists.

    D. Widening participation

    A significant challenge in many regeneration programmes is how to widen involvement beyond a small self-selecting group, who are more likely to attend public meetings but who are not representative of the wider community.

    It is possible to involve excluded groups such as young people in project design and management if they are given responsibility and can take the lead with appropriate support. Inverclyde Youth Pathfinder set up the Inverclyde Youth Council as a representative body for young people. Through the Youth Council, young people were involved directly in planning and managing youth services. An Executive Committee was established, supported by a capacity building programme and an advisory group. The work put into supporting the group paid off as they became an influential group, which met with and lobbied elected members and established community representatives. As a result, the group secured funding for a new youth facility.

    A year into the life of the Greater Easterhouse Community Health Shop, community involvement began to wane, and the Steering Group drew up an action plan to address this. This had several strands: feedback, a skills audit, training, and team building for those already involved; an open day, newsletters, advertising and other publicity to bring people into the shop, and approaches to existing community organisations such as housing co-operatives. A Services Group, including service users, was set up to monitor quality and develop new services. Targeting, for example, the parents' group reached younger people. Another means was to involve local college students on placement at the Health Shop. These were routes to greater involvement e.g. on the Board of Directors.

    DEMI held local forums to broaden out community involvement. It also set up training opportunities to encourage new people who felt unsure of their abilities and wanted to avoid becoming involved in poorly-run meetings.

    Although the core management group of Auchenback Active was fairly consistent throughout the life of the pathfinder, there were opportunities for others to become involved through public meetings, newsletters and a range of new community groups e.g. for elderly people. These produced fresh representatives to work with the Auchenback Active committee. Many people with special needs found housing in Auchenback after leaving institutions, but they were vulnerable to isolation and harassment. After making contact through partner agencies, Auchenback Active involved people in this situation on its Board, and gave others work experience in its one-stop shop. This required changes to the way the committee operated, such as to ensure documents were clear. It also brought local professionals from minority ethnic backgrounds onto its Board. It set up services for drug users and lone parents. Staff had to demonstrate to the committee the need for service and the benefits of inclusion. The service users could then set up their own self-help groups.

    In Cultenhove, the steering group of local residents grew out of a local regeneration group and the management committee of the community centre in which the pathfinder was based. It included both long standing activists and young people who were involved in pathfinder projects. The project maintained a high profile among the wider community. Cultenhove for Change involved people through its community run services and support groups, so people already had familiarity with the project and other people there. It also encouraged people into the project through public meetings. Community workers encouraged the core group of activists to 'step back' to allow others to participate. It took the approach of including anyone who wanted to be involved, subject to clear rules of unacceptable behaviour. It encouraged drug users into the centre. New people came onto the management committee through the route of being involved with services for their families or tangible improvements to their street.

    Points to note

    1. Skilled staff work with groups in a way which supports existing activists in their aspirations while also encouraging them to see the advantages of wider participation.

    2. It can be effective to approach people who already have a stake in a project or service to take on extra responsibility for management.

    Table 2

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