Engaging and empowering communities and stakeholders in rural land use and management: technical report

Summary report of the aspects of research on how to assist rural communities to engage with decisions on land use and management.

Study Methods


This research followed four stages as set out in the specification:

  • Stage 1: Background research, policy familiarisation and development of evaluation criteria
  • Stage 2: Development of approach and limited collection of primary data
  • Stage 3: Analysis of data and development of conclusions
  • Stage 4: Reporting

Each stage is described further below.

Stage 1: Literature Review

The literature review included and built on the team's extensive pre-existing knowledge of academic and practitioner literature. The focus of our literature review was therefore on the current and fast-changing policy context and current and forthcoming peer reviewed literature and policy or practitioner literature.

The research specification set out that the work should rely on developing a clear theoretical framework based on prior research including the relationship between empowerment, engagement and practical action. In response to this, the team adapted, tested and developed a framework for thinking about responsibility and power Table 1. This 'Empowerment Framework' has several key features:

  • It recognises that different approaches are needed at the two stages of planning and implementation
  • One category of empowerment is not seen as inherently better than the others, rather each category can be seen as fit for particular purposes
  • Projects can move between categories or have different parts of a larger project function in different categories
  • It does not assume that sole and complete community or stakeholder control is the optimum in all circumstances - but that it is in some
  • It helps identify what environmental organisations could be doing in each category
  • The framework describes different roles in the two stages of planning and then implementing land use and land management.

Table 1: Empowerment Framework (adapted from Bovaird, 2006)

Responsibility for designing and planning land use and land management

Environmental professionals from public bodies (and the third sector) design and plan

Shared design and planning

Other stakeholders and/or communities design and plan

Responsibility for delivery and implementation of land use and land management

Environmental professionals from public bodies (and the third sector) deliver

Traditional professional service
(e.g. emergency pollution response)

All share in planning.
Professionals responsible for delivery
(e.g. collaborative design of flood defences followed by construction led by professionals)

Other stakeholders and/or community design, professionals manage delivery
(e.g. a local community looking after green space wanting eradication of exotic invasive species by the local council)

Shared delivery

Professionals design, shared delivery
(e.g. a citizen science monitoring programme)

All share in planning and in delivery (Full co-production)
(e.g. integrated management of an area of land or sea)

Other stakeholders and/or community design, shared delivery
(e.g. community level flood resilience)

Other stakeholders and /or communities deliver

Professionals design, other stakeholders and/or community deliver
(e.g. an agri-environment scheme)

Shared design, users/community deliver
(e.g. Deer Management Groups)

Self-organised stakeholders and/or community deliver
(e.g. community woodland, energy, water or food projects)

Stage 2: Development of approach and limited collection of primary data

We carried out the following primary data collection (Table 2).

Table 2: Primary data collection methods and intended numbers


Total done

No people involved

Benefits of method

Disbenefits of method

Semi structured interviews with managers



  • In-depth discussions about how their organisations function in relation to community engagement
  • Disclosure about perceived gaps and challenges and practicalities
  • Confidentiality
  • Limited number of people involved

Semi structured interviews with Project Officers undertaking engagement work in rural Scotland



  • In-depth discussions about how their project is functioning and lessons learned
  • Disclosure about perceived gaps and challenges
  • Confidentiality
  • Limited number of people involved



75 responded of which 46 substantively or fully completed the questionnaire

  • Capture a breadth of perspectives
  • Quick to analyse
  • Can reach more people than interviews
  • Responses are constrained
  • No opportunity to pursue points and get more in-depth insight

Success Story Survey


23 responded of which 14 are substantively or fully completed the survey

  • Captures in-depth information about specific cases
  • Captures lessons learned
  • Captures practicalities
  • Time to code and analyse


Our approach to the interviews was as follows:

1. The Project Management Group, gave us suggestions of people to contact including managers and people with direct experience of community and stakeholder engagement work.

2. Our aim was to obtain a balance of projects and geographical areas across Scotland.

3. As there was no representation of SEPA on the Project Management Group, it was more of a challenge to secure interviews with people from SEPA. Of the names we were given, 2 people did not feel able to contribute.

4. We conducted our own research to obtain the names of Partnership Projects. We looked for projects already underway in Scotland.

5. Each of the Partnership Projects we approached was happy to be interviewed.

6. We designed and structured each interview to last approximately an hour.

7. We asked different questions depending on whether we were talking to Managers or Project Officers ( See Annex 1 and Annex 2)

8. Where appropriate, we designed questions to be consistent with the online questionnaire to aid analysis.

9. The questions were submitted to the Project Management Group for approval

10. We asked participants in advance for their consent for interviews to be recorded (in writing) and reported.

11. During the interviews we recorded the responses in note form because the costs of audio recording and transcription are high and were not the best use of resources for this project.

Once the record was typed up, the results were sent to the participant so that they could check it and confirm they were satisfied it was a fair record of the discussion. Of the 14 people interviewed, 6 people made minor amendments to the notes of their interviews. All of them were happy with the capture of their ideas. Throughout the interviews, we were mindful that inquiring into the success of organisations and projects could be sensitive, particularly if things have not gone as well as hoped. With this in mind, we avoided a problem-and-issues focus, which could either meet resistance or have a negative effect on the interviewee. Instead we framed questions positively asking 'what went well?' and 'what is the room for improvement?' This approach had a significant beneficial effect on the respondent's willingness to disclose information.

The focus of the interviews with project officers was the tools and approaches that are being used currently, and the opportunities and challenges of land management in a rural setting. We also asked them what is working well and what could be strengthened generally and specifically within their organisation. We also asked for their 'wish list' of what they would like changed.

The focus of the interviews with managers was about the drivers for engagement and empowerment. We asked them about successful projects and the tools and approaches used. We also asked for their opinions on how their organisations were doing and what they thought were the top priorities for action.

Each interview lasted for approximately one hour. People were encouraged to elaborate on the formatted questions and contribute their views and opinions about all aspects of community engagement in Scotland. Where they knew them, they went into detail about specific projects as well as giving an overview of their experiences and aspirations in general.

Online questionnaire and survey

We created two online surveys: an 'engaging and empowering' survey to capture more views than was feasible in the interviews (see Annex 3), and a 'success story' survey to collate information about existing projects currently up and running (see Annex 4). The engagement survey mirrored the interviews in content and was intended to expand the data collected. The success story survey was intended to go into greater detail over particular projects, tools and approaches used, who held power to plan and to implement land use and land management, and lessons learnt.

The questionnaire on involvement and engagement was straightforward to design and mirrored the semi-structured interview to project officers. For the questions, please see Annex 3.

The 'success story' survey proved problematic. Our original proposal was that it would be short and focused, but the Empowerment Framework meant that we needed to consider empowerment and engagement at two stages: planning and implementing land use and land management. The research team also felt that more detailed and nuanced questions were needed to find out what specific tools and approaches projects had been used and to probe where power really resided in the project. However, the Project Management Group rejected this more detailed approach, on the basis that it was too technical and although multi-choice, looked too long and would put people off. After further amendments, the survey was signed off for use. For the questions, please see Annex 4.

We identified potential participants through:

  • The project officer and Project Management Group
  • Through our data base comprising over 600 contacts in environmental organisations in Scotland, and people we already know who are doing participatory work with communities and stakeholders in land management in Scotland (for example speakers and attendees at the June 2014 SNH 'Delivering Better Landscapes for People, Nature and Heritage', James Hutton Institute, ACES, and people we have trained).
  • We also used the 'snow ball method', in other words asking people we knew to forward the email invitation to people they know and so on.
  • We also promoted the research via a Twitter account to about 150 people and to UK Ecosystem Knowledge Network.

We initially proposed keeping the questionnaire and survey open for 2 weeks but extended this by a further week to enable more people to respond. We also reopened in on request for someone who was keen to contribute but had been unable to do so before the deadline.

Stage 3: Analysis of data and development of conclusions

The main method of analysis for all the qualitative data was 'emergent analysis' where similar points are coded and clustered together and then summarised.

To do this we looked for similar comments and gave them a code number. When we coded all comments, we sorted the data so similar points were together. We then reviewed each cluster for similarity and to see whether or not the comments were saying the same thing or were really presenting a new point. In this way, themes emerged from the data and we avoided looking for preconceived ideas.

We took care not to split or group to the point that the cluster lost meaning. (This happens if the clusters are broken down too far to see themes, or clustered so much that distinct themes are merged.)

Once all the data was sorted, another member of the team reviewed the outcome to cross check for similarity and impartiality.

Unlike searching for pre-determined criteria, this approach avoided the risk of missing new and different perspectives. Instead, ideas emerged and novel or unique perspectives were not lost in generic categorisation.

Stage 4: Reporting

The main report:

  • Sets out the background to changes in land use and land management
  • Describes the policy context
  • Reviews white and grey literature about empowerment and engagement
  • Provides a framework for thinking about engagement and empowerment
  • Describes the experiences of those working with communities and stakeholders around land use and land management
  • Provides suggestions and recommendations


Email: Clare Magill, socialresearch@gov.scot

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