Engaging and empowering communities and stakeholders in rural land use and land management in Scotland

Report on how best to assist rural communities to engage with decisions on land use and land management.

Executive Summary

Engagement and empowerment are at the heart of changes in the way decisions are made around land use and land management in rural Scotland. This research investigated what is already working well, and provides recommendations for action

The Scottish Government commissioned this research on behalf of the CAMERAS [1] partners with the involvement of Forestry Commission Scotland ( FCS) and Scottish Natural Heritage ( SNH). This report is backed by a literature review and, thanks to 74 people who responded to surveys and interviews, it is grounded in the practical realities of delivering engagement and empowerment ' in the real world'. This came from:

  • 14 interviews including 4 with senior managers, 7 with officers in public bodies, and 3 people from partnership projects
  • 14 responses to an online 'Success Story' survey and 46 responses to a survey about opportunities, challenges, what is working well and further suggestions

Responses were analysed to tease out key findings.

The need for engagement and empowerment in rural land use and land management

Engagement and empowerment are now central to rural land use and land management policy in Scotland. The reasons for this include:

  • Local democratic accountability
  • Recognition that communities and stakeholders are an integral part of social-ecological systems, hold valuable knowledge and resources, and have the right to be involved in changes that affect their lives, livelihoods and landscapes
  • Proven benefits of engagement and empowerment combined with experience of top down approaches triggering negative reactions and blocking progress.

Main Recommendations

Work culture:

  • Embed empowerment values and ethos in environmental public bodies
  • Transition internal culture, skills, and capacity to support the engagement and empowerment agenda
  • Celebrate success and value those with relevant skills

Review and maximise empowerment:

  • Map current land-use and land management tasks onto the Empowerment Framework - then optimise the empowerment appropriate to each task
  • Maximise opportunities for full co-production
  • Develop processes and structures that empower
  • Make land use and land management decisions with, not for, others
  • Provide guidance, materials and practical support to communities and stakeholders so they can share in planning and implementation

(Detailed practical recommendations for how to achieve these are in Section 7 of the report).

Three key pieces of policy support this emphasis:

  • The 2011 Land Use Strategy which says " people should have opportunities to contribute to debates and decisions about land use and management decisions which affect their lives and their future"
  • The 2015 Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act empowers communities "to influence how land is used and managed in Scotland"
  • The Land Reform Bill includes guidance on "engaging communities in decisions relating to land"

What is engagement and empowerment?

The Scottish Government defines community empowerment as " communities being supported to do things for themselves; people having their voices heard in the planning and delivery of services [through] community engagement and participation" 1 .

Our research differentiates between engagement and empowerment as follows:

Engagement is the processes and activities through which people are involved in projects. These may or may not provide people with influence on relevant land use and land management decisions.

Empowerment is when communities and stakeholders have power to function in the following ways: during planning land use or land management they have either strong influence, or they share or make the main decisions, and during implementation of agreed management they hold responsibility, capacity and resources to implement particular actions.

Understanding power helps with understanding empowerment. Power is created at the interplay between relationships and power structures. It is not fixed and it can be cumulative (rather than lost if another person gains power). Because power is dynamic, organisations can choose whether to hold onto power, share it, or give it away, and whether to use it to block or enable action. Crucially, power dynamics affect the nature, quality and acceptance of decisions.

Benefits of engagement and empowerment

The benefits of engagement and empowerment are numerous and differ between the planning stage and the implementing stage of land management. A key point is that benefits are not guaranteed but depend on the level of influence that people have and the quality of the decision processes they are involved in. The more influence people have, the more benefits are realised.

Key Findings

  • 74 people provided a substantive response to the interviews and/or the online surveys. This far exceeded our expectation and shows a keen interest and foundation for embedding an empowerment and engagement ethos and practice.
  • Of the 74 responses, just five indicated there had been deliberate design and choice of methods within engagement projects and only two named specific techniques. This suggests that engagement activities are generally ad hoc and disconnected.
  • Stakeholder Dialogue and Charrettes were the only specific engagement methods described so it was not possible to establish any link between particular approaches and their usefulness in different circumstances.
  • If project staff are unaware of specific methods it suggests they are unable to assess their situation, evaluate alternative approaches, or deliberately design engagement processes selecting the optimum method/s for their context.
  • Quite a few respondents regarded successful engagement as being contact with lots of different people in a wide variety of activities (open days, questionnaires, education activities, newsletters, volunteer tasks and so on). However, these methods are not decision processes: they do not empower people to strongly influence or make land use or land management decisions.
  • The success of large area projects was attributed in part to dedicated engagement facilitators in the form of project staff who had special training or to professional engagement designer/facilitators.

Local community projects encounter a lot of challenges and need support to plan and implement land use and land management. They have particular needs around information, simplified procedures ( e.g. for funding, community buy-outs and licensing), and guidance to help them set up successful enterprises.

An Empowerment Framework

The public bodies have started to adopt new ways of working but there is also a way to go before they have embedded good practice engagement and empowerment across the range of their activities. Some officers in public bodies are worried about empowerment, asking: "are we meant to engage everyone about everything all the time?". To help landowning and managing public bodies (and third sector organisations) get a handle on engagement and empowerment we have adapted and developed a framework for thinking about responsibility and power. This 'Empowerment Framework', (Table 1) recognises that:

  • Different approaches may be needed at planning and implementation stages
  • 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 situations
  • It identifies the roles in each category

In the model, the following categories are used:

  • Environmental professionals who are the stakeholders in land use and land management from public bodies and third sector conservation organisations who have similar perspectives, often share power, and work as partners and allies.
  • 'Other stakeholder and/or communities' from other perspectives and interests

The framework describes different roles in the two stages of planning and then implementing land use and land management. The text in brackets provides some theoretical examples of the kind of activities that could legitimately fit in each cell.

Table 1: Empowerment Framework (adapted from Bovaird, 2006) 2

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)

Strengthening engagement and empowerment

This research found examples of good engagement and empowerment in Scotland around rural land use and land management. However there is some way to go before environmental public bodies are consistently able to deliver appropriate, tailored, effective, and good practice engagement and empowerment. To do so will include embedding a different ethos, and new ways of working.


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