Attitudes to land reform: research

This report outlines the main findings from research exploring public attitudes to land reform.

2. Aims and method

Aims of the research

The aim of the research was to explore the public's attitudes to land reform and community engagement and provide a nuanced understanding of what policy options are likely to meet the public's priorities. The research:

  • provides insight on what the public priorities are for land reform and what their understanding of land reform in Scotland is
  • offers recommendations for policy on directions for future land reform and what might be done to increase the public's awareness of Scottish land reform


This research project was conducted by Ipsos MORI Scotland in partnership with Scotland's Rural College (SRUC), from early 2020 to Autumn 2020. A mixed-method approach was adopted, including:

  • an evidence review of currently available literature on public attitudes to land reform in Scotland, supplemented by eight interviews with expert stakeholders (summarised in Box 3 in Chapter 1 and in full in Annex 1)
  • a mixed mode (online and telephone) survey of 1,501 respondents aged 16+
  • a deliberative stage which involved 10 online workshops and 12 depth interviews

Evidence review

An important goal of this stage was to establish the evidence base to inform the development of the survey and workshops. The review began with background to contemporary land reform in Scotland, before exploring the main themes of land reform. This provided some boundaries for the types of topics that would be considered in the later parts of the project. It then turned to a discussion of recent work that has considered public understanding of these themes, as well as public perspectives in relation to land use more generally. The review was based on collation of relevant published and grey literature relating to these themes and the production of a concise review. The evidence review is provided in full at Annex 1.

Expert interviews

Scoping interviews were undertaken with eight experts who have professional experience and understanding of public attitudes to land reform. Interviews were undertaken by telephone and lasted on average around 45-60 minutes. The experts were asked to discuss the range of public attitudes towards land and land reform policies, public attitudes to engagement in land use decision making, public awareness of land reform, and how prevalent they thought different attitudes are in different places and in different types of communities.

The main themes emerging from these interviews (together with the evidence review) informed the subsequent development of the survey and workshop questions and are set out the summary box 3 in Chapter 1 and in full in Annex 1.

Mixed-mode survey of the Scottish public

A mixed mode (telephone and online) survey of the public in Scotland was then conducted to explore public perceptions of land, awareness and attitudes to land reform issues and levels of interest in engagement in land use decision making and barriers to involvement.

In advance of the fieldwork period, the questionnaire underwent cognitive testing with twelve participants, and this testing informed the development of the survey.

The fieldwork was conducted between 29May and 24June 2020. The survey involved 1,000 respondents who took part online and 501 respondents who took part by telephone. The online respondents were recruited from the Ipsos Interactive Services online panel, with quotas set on age, gender, working status and Scottish Parliament region. The telephone survey sample was generated using a combination of methods – firstly, Random Digit Dialling (RDD) generated telephone numbers at random, and secondly this was supplemented with targeted sampling, using records which list numbers by user age, including mobile phone numbers. The survey took 10 minutes for respondents to complete. The questionnaire can be found in Annex 2.

The telephone interviewing was intended to boost the response rate from those individuals whose response was disproportionately lower online (when compared to the profile of the Scottish public). Quotas were therefore set for the telephone interviewing to ensure the final sample was representative of the Scottish population in terms of gender, age group, working status, and Scottish Parliament region. The data were also weighted to correct for any remaining differences in response on these measures.

Deliberative research

Following the survey research, deliberative research, in the form of workshops and in-depth interviews, was conducted to explore participants' views in more depth. Deliberative research is a form of qualitative research where participants are presented with information in the course of the discussion. This allows more informed discussion of issues and time for reflection. This is particularly useful when testing policy ideas among people who may not have previously considered the issues in depth.

The ongoing Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic required a number of changes to the research plan and the timescales. In particular, the deliberative stage of the research required adaptation as the original intention was to conduct this stage face-to-face. The initial plan was that the deliberative stage would involve four, three-hour workshops across Scotland. Instead, nine online groups of three to eight people were carried out.

47 participants took part in nine online discussion groups conducted from late September 2020 to late October 2020. Three of these groups were made up of participants with a varied mix of demographic characteristics, while the other six were recruited to focus on the following specific groups:

  • young urban populations
  • older urban populations from areas more deprived areas (based on SIMD[7])
  • younger rural populations
  • older rural populations
  • those who said in the survey that their awareness of Scottish Government land reform policy was low
  • those who said in the survey that they had previously been involved in land use decision making

The discussion groups were conducted online using Zoom, and each lasted two and a half hours. They were deliberative in nature, and participants were presented with information on land reform issues (developed by Ipsos MORI and SRUC, and signed off by the Scottish Government) and prompted to explore their views together. This approach was decided because an important challenge in exploring public attitudes to land reform is the public's low awareness of the issue. The deliberative group format, thus, provided participants with sufficient and balanced information so as to stimulate more informed discussion.

Recruitment for the online groups was slow, and although participants were over-recruited for every group, turnout was lower than expected. For that reason, it was difficult to predict the demographic make-up of the resulting groups. Overall, more women (28) than men (19) participated.

A further 12 participants participated in telephone depth interviews, each lasting 45 to 60 minutes and conducted between mid-October to mid-November 2020. These depth interviews helped ensure that those who were not comfortable with taking part over the internet or those who were not confident participating in group discussions were not excluded.

All participants were recruited from respondents to the telephone survey who had said they would be willing to participate in more detailed follow-up research.

For the rest of the report, the workshops and in-depth interview research will be collectively referred to as the 'deliberative research'.



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