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.

4 Literature Review

This section covers:

  • A brief explanation about power
  • An empowerment framework which accommodates the different roles public bodies have around land use and land management
  • Levels of influence in decision making
  • The difference between inclusion and deliberation
  • Relevant tools and approaches to community and stakeholder engagement and empowerment

4.1 Power

Before thinking about how to 'empower' others, it is helpful to understand more about power.

Research shows that 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) 1 . Because power is dynamic, organisations have choices about whether they hold onto power, share it, or give it away. They can also use their power to block or enable action. Crucially, power dynamics affect both the nature and quality of decisions, and the acceptance of decisions. 2

The main types of power held by land owning and managing public bodies (and the larger conservation NGOs) in Scotland are outlined in Table 3 below.

Table 3: Main types of power held by large environmental organisations in Scotland

Power Type

Source of power

How it can be shared



  • Share power to shape the legislation
  • Share power to decide how obligations are met and share or hand over power for implementation


Environmental science and staff who are science trained

  • Co-create science knowledge with communities, users and stakeholders
  • Respect other forms of knowledge
  • Support communities and stakeholders presenting their own knowledge in a professional way

Moral/ethical power

The moral imperative to look after the natural environment

  • Respect the legitimacy of other moral and ethical arguments (such as social, economic and environmental justice, human and community rights and human and economic wellbeing)

Landowning power

Owning land

  • Share decisions about how to manage and use land
  • Lease or sell land to others who can engage the community in management decisions

For a fuller discussion of power, please see Annex 5.

4.2 Empowerment Framework

Engagement researchers use a number of theoretical models for engagement and empowerment 3 4 5 6 7 . However, there are challenges with their practical application:

1. The models use words in specific but different ways to indicate the increasing levels of influence held by communities and stakeholders, but because there are no generally accepted definitions, each model provides its own. This results in the models using terms like involvement, inclusion, engagement and participation to mean different things and rank them in different orders.

2. The models imply that one level of engagement is morally better than the other. For example, one of the first engagement frameworks 8 has manipulation at one end of a 'ladder of participation' and 'full citizen control' at the other. Whilst it is hoped that environmental bodies do not set out to deliberately manipulate communities or stakeholders, it is not always appropriate for them to fully hand over land use and land management to others. This is because land use and land management decisions often require specialist and technical input such as forestry, hydrological or ecological knowledge, or management techniques for rare or invasive species. There are also statutory and regulatory responsibilities and complex laws governing what is or is not acceptable, for example around water quality or protected habitats.

3. The models overlook the fact that there are deciders, influencers and recipients of information in all decision-making processes and so the question is who functions at each of these levels of influence and how inclusive that is.

4. The models do not distinguish between the planning stage and the implementing stage and this can be confusing.

This fourth challenge is a particular constraint of the models. Across the UK, communities and stakeholders are increasingly involved in planning land use and land management, but once the planning stage draws to a close, and the implementation stage starts, power tends to default back to a group of environmental professionals (from public bodies and the third sector). People from communities and other stakeholders may have felt, and been, genuinely empowered with real influence during the planning process, but not in the implementation stage.

For this report, we have adapted and applied a framework for thinking about responsibility and power using an alternative model 9 (see Table 4). No model is perfect but the advantages of this one include:

1. It separates empowerment during the planning process from empowerment at the implementation stage and recognises that different approaches may be needed at each stage.

2. One category is not inherently better than the others, rather each category can be seen as fit for particular purposes.

3. Projects can move between categories or have different parts of a larger project function in different categories.

4. The model does not assume that sole and complete community control is the optimum in all circumstances, but that it is in some.

5. It helps identify what organisations could be doing in each category (see Section 6).

6. It accommodates an understanding of empowerment which functions at different geographic scales.

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

Table 4: Empowerment Framework 10 and theoretical examples.

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)

4.3 Levels of influence in decision making

In each category or cell of the framework (in both planning land use and land management and implementing it) there will be a group of people holding responsibility for decisions and progress. The key questions are: who are these people, how do they relate to others who are outside the core group, and is it appropriate for other people to have more say. The model in Table 5 below, describes different ways that power holders can function and the level of influence this affords other stakeholders. Table 6 sets out the benefits generated by each category:

Table 5: Roles in decision-making and level of influence 11

Role of power holders


Share decision making

The group holds final sign off

Share making all key decision

Someone external to the group holds final sign off or veto

Share decisions about what to recommend

Consult to be open to influence

Provide suggestions to influence decision makers

Gather information to develop decision makers' understanding

Provide information to decision makers

Give information to raise awareness and persuade others

Receive information

Table 6: Benefits generated by each level of influence

Table 6: Benefits generated by each level of influence

The commitment to collective action is the result of enhanced social capital. Social capital can be described as the 'glue' that holds groups together and includes trust, reciprocity, understanding, established norms of behaviour, shared values, shared goals, connectedness and networks 12 . A recent study commissioned by SNH and SEPA noted that social capital leads in turn to social productivity and collective action 13 . Social capital develops when people feel listened to, treated with honesty and respect; they have influence, they like to be part of the group, they have got to know others and they can relax and laugh together.

As social capital develops, attitudes change and people are more willing to understand each other's perspectives, share information and think more creatively about solutions. This in turn leads to more trust and goodwill. When there is increased social capital, people are also more resilient and find it easier to work through tension and resolve differences.

4.4 Inclusion and deliberation

Systematically identifying and selecting stakeholders (including community representatives when relevant) is essential to achieving credible outcomes and a process that people perceive as legitimate 14 15 16 . The composition of the stakeholder group influences the quality of outputs and outcomes 17 and the diversity of perspectives affects the quality of social learning 18 . Finding the optimum mix and balance of people is important.

A key to thinking about who should take part, and which engagement tools and approaches are best, is to understand the difference between inclusion and deliberation 19 . " Inclusion encourages breadth in decision making" 20 and broadens the range of experience and knowledge involved, whilst deliberation occurs when "there is sufficient and credible information for dialogue, choice and decisions and where there is space to weigh options, develop common understanding and to appreciate respective roles and responsibilities" 21 .

A common view of engagement is that it is successful if it is very inclusive and large numbers of people have been involved. However, the methods for involving large numbers (such as open days, surveys or drop in meetings) only function at the lower levels of influence such as information giving and gathering. In these approaches, there is no opportunity for in-depth social learning or deliberation and crucially, the power to make decisions remains with the original power holders.

Where the goal is to share decision power and generate collaborative action, it is best to have an equitable balance of people from all relevant interests and facilitate in-depth deliberation and negotiation. These processes are inclusive in terms of breadth of perspectives but not numbers of people because of the methods used. For example, a professional and experienced facilitator could design a deliberative Consensus Building process for up to 60 people in the same workshop. Whilst inexperienced or untrained project staff are likely to only be able to cope with 15 or less.

Ideally, there are sufficient resources to do both, to be inclusive and deliberative. This would involve gathering information from a larger number of people to inform the deliberations of a core group.

Deliberation typically consists of the following steps or elements 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 :

1. The group seeks, acquires and shares information.

2. People consider and learn from the information and are able to openly express a range of views through dialogue (rather than being directed, coerced, or silenced). Different views and disagreements are respected. Crucially there is opportunity for deliberation, and people can evaluate and re-evaluate their positions.

3. The group generates options and then critically evaluates each, influencing potential consequences (such as potential benefits and risks and who experiences them).

4. The group determine a preferred option, which is well informed and reasoned.

Thinking about how the core group of decision makers relates to others applies at all levels whether decisions are at a national strategic level or at a local level. In every case there are some who have decision making power, others who influence them and others who are the recipients of information about what has been decided. This is illustrated in Figure 2, below.

Figure 2: Core group of decision makers, influences and recipients

Figure 2: Core group of decision makers, influences and recipients

The more the core group is open to engaging other interests in shaping outcomes, the more it fosters cooperative and collaborative action and the combining of resources for delivery.

4.5 Community and stakeholder engagement

4.5.1 Benefits of engagement

Benefits of well-designed and delivered engagement include 31 32 :

Instrumental outcomes, for example:

  • Better quality decisions that are well-informed from multiple perspectives, bring to the surface a richness of views, and lead to improvements in human wellbeing and ecological health arising from the engagement 33,34 .
  • Easier and quicker implementation because concerns have been addressed and people have worked to find mutually acceptable solutions. As a result, costly objections to non-inclusive and top-down decisions 35 (such as legal challenge or action groups forming) are averted.
  • Collaborative action

Conceptual outcomes 36 , for example:

  • Changes in understanding
  • New ways of thinking
  • Innovations

Social outcomes for participants, for example: 37,38,39

  • Increased equity between participants
  • Trust
  • Learning and information exchange
  • Increased perceived fairness
  • Consensus-building
  • Stronger working relationships and alliances between stakeholders
  • Ownership of the engagement process and its outcomes

4.5.2 Quality engagement processes

The benefits of community and stakeholder engagement depend on a number of factors, in particular the quality of the engagement process itself. 40 Factors that influence quality include:

  • Systematic identification of who is involved at each level of influence (receiving information, providing information, being consulted, and sharing decision making)
  • Design of an integrated engagement process and project plan which ensures appropriate methods and techniques and functional links between elements
  • Impartial and skilful facilitation
  • Fair and equitable discussions that value all forms of knowledge (not just scientific)
  • Opportunity and sufficient time for deliberation and choice
  • Decisions that are the result of in-depth deliberation, so are robust and durable 41,42 .

4.5.3 Critiques of engagement

As well as literature demonstrating the benefits of sound engagement, there is also a body of literature that critiques and questions it 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 . Researchers blame poorly represented communities and stakeholders and poorly designed decision-making processes for:

  • Missed goals
  • Exacerbated conflict
  • Special interest groups being able to bias the outcome
  • Decisions that have unintended consequences or outcomes.

A Scottish example comes from two rural communities using the Scottish Government's Climate Challenge Fund, which had the effect of undermining social capital instead of empowering the local communities 50 .

Concerns about engagement processes fall into the following four areas 51 :

1. Decision quality can be degraded and scientific information not well handled

2. Processes can be unfair and inequitable

3. Results can be trivial at substantial costs in time, effort and funds

4. Processes can be used for manipulation

The first three are most often failings due to flaws in the way the engagement process is designed and facilitated 52 and so can be avoided with better process design and skilful facilitation.

However, the last, manipulation, is the greatest risk. Project officers, engagement facilitators, communities and stakeholders can all enter an engagement process in good faith, believing it to be genuine and to have real influence, only to find out that trust is misplaced. Research 53 shows that when public bodies and other organisations deliberately or inadvertently misuse engagement processes, it can have the following effects:

  • It disempowers and delegitimises opposition by those who have participated because the public body can argue " they've had their say" and for those who did not participate " they've have had their chance"
  • It takes up community and stakeholder time and money so there are no resources to act outside the process
  • It builds unwarranted trust with short-term gain in public acceptance at the expense of legitimacy and trust over the long run
  • It insulates the public body from legitimate external challenge because the engagement is perceived to be legitimate (but is not)
  • It could allow the public body to avoid or defend against legal challenge on the grounds that the engagement was undertaken according to statutory requirements, even if the engagement had no real influence and did not conform to good practice
  • It can "co-opt, localise, and contain or channel conflicts that would otherwise influence public body actions and so function as a way for an agency to exert control and engage in hollow public relations rather than being truly responsive"

4.5.4 Maximising the chance of getting it right

Successful outputs (such as strategies, plans or other agreements) and outcomes (such as social learning 54 , network forming, preference change, implementation of solutions and empowerment) are highly dependent on five factors 55,56 :

  • The selection of participants
  • The provision of information and decision-making power to all those involved
  • The process design (including the sequence of workshops, other activities, selection of methods and techniques)
  • Professional facilitation to balance power dynamics between participants, or at local level where professional facilitation is not feasible, guidance and discussion packs to enable groups to work in a more equitable way
  • Applying good practice to the context in which the engagement occurs 57

4.5.5 Tools and Approaches for engagement

When considering the tools and approaches for engagement we can split them into the following:

  • Forms of engagement ( e.g. workshops, one to one meetings, drop in meetings, written consultation)
  • Methods, approaches and techniques 58 ( e.g. Stakeholder Dialogue, Appreciative Inquiry, Planning for Real)

Table 7 maps the different forms of engagement against levels of influence, the number who can take part and the amount of deliberation they provide.

Table 7: Forms of engagement related to the role of power holders, numbers of people and amount of deliberation.

Role of power holders

(face-to-face discussion)

(no face to face discussion)

No of people involved

Amount of deliberation

Share decision making

The group holds sign off

  • Deliberative consensus-building workshops facilitated by a third party
  • (Not applicable)

10 - 60


Someone external to the group holds final sign off or veto

Consult to be open to influence

  • Workshops
  • Written consultation
  • Online consultation

100- 200


Gather information to develop decision makers understanding

  • Workshops
  • Drop in meetings
  • Semi structured interviews
  • 1:1 meetings
  • Questionnaires
  • Interviews
  • Surveys
  • Online surveys
  • Exhibition with feedback



Giving information to raise awareness and persuade others

  • Dislilays
  • Olien days
  • Social media
  • Press release
  • Leaflets
  • Newsletters
  • Advertisements
  • Public meeting



There are a wide range of specific methods, approaches and techniques 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 used to design and facilitate specific kinds of engagement. Each has developed from particular disciplines, has different strengths and ethos, and provides stakeholders with different levels of influence:

  • Human geography and economic research (for example multi-criteria analysis)
  • Planning (Planning for Real, participatory mapping, charrettes, online methods, drop in's and town hall meetings)
  • Environmental conflict management (Consensus Building/Stakeholder Dialogue, and environmental mediation)
  • Development Studies (Participatory Rural Appraisal)
  • Community Development and Education (participatory art projects, greening projects, fun days, open days)
  • Social Research and Marketing (focus groups and social surveys)
  • Legal (Alternative Dispute Resolution, Citizens Juries)
  • Business development (Appreciative Enquiry, Open Space)

Being aware of the ethos, purpose and level of influence each method provides, and of their strengths and weaknesses, is important when selecting which is optimum in any given circumstance. A table summarising this is provided in Annex 9.

Increasingly, professional engagement designers and facilitators are blurring the boundaries between these approaches. Instead, they focus on the design of integrated and cohesive participation processes, tailored to the situation and drawing on whichever methods are most appropriate for the task in hand.

4.6 Community and stakeholder empowerment

4.6.1 Benefits of empowerment

The benefits of empowerment overlap with those for engagement and we have not repeated them here. Additional benefits flow from the enhanced ability for communities and/or stakeholders to take responsibility and act, and include:

  • Strengthened communities (of place or purpose)
  • Social capital, social cohesion and enhanced resilience
  • Increased confidence, and skills to adapt to, and take on, new challenges
  • New economic opportunities
  • Enhanced capacity as a result of new skills and access to new resources 70,71

4.6.2 Critique of empowerment

A critique of empowerment includes the following:

  • The word itself is problematic. 'Empowerment' implies that there are holders of power and those they are bestowing it on, but many communities and stakeholders perceive themselves to already have power to act, and so are merely exerting that power in a new context.
  • Some research suggests that authentic power comes from within; it cannot be bestowed or controlled 72 and any attempt by one group to 'give' power to another is likely to be a subtle way of exerting power and attempting to keep control. 73
  • Another concern is that the empowerment agenda can be perceived as a way for public bodies to cut budgets and shed responsibilities onto local communities and other stakeholders who may not have the time, resources and skills to take up the challenge. If they do not take it up, they are worse off; the public bodies are no longer delivering a service and the recipients of that service are unable to make up the shortfall 74 .
  • Taking on land use and land management responsibilities requires a level of competence, skill, professionalism and time, and so favours those organisations and communities that have these resources. At a local level, this favours communities with a pool of retired professionals. Communities that do not have this resource are less able to act. This then raises questions of social justice.
  • Both the causes and effects of rural issues reach beyond local boundaries 75 76 77 so there is the potential for local management to be at odds with wider social and ecological processes.

4.6.3 Maximising the chance of getting it right

Public bodies have traditionally held 'power over' communities and have experienced having that power challenged 78 . The new policy drivers in Scotland mean that this is changing. Organisations now need to work with and support communities and stakeholders to take on new responsibilities. To do this, public bodies must engage with communities and stakeholders to develop mutually beneficial, acceptable and achievable goals, as well as make a transition to new arrangements such as new partnerships, collaborations, or management arrangements.

For public bodies this requires a change of ethos, attitudes, and culture so that front-line staff have power to act alongside, or in support of, communities and stakeholders.

4.6.4 Tools and approaches that support empowerment

Tools and approaches that support empowerment differ between the planning stage and implementing stage.

To enable communities and stakeholders to engage in the process of planning, they include 79 :


  • Support with two-way communication with their wider network.
  • If needed, helping stakeholders and community groups to prepare and present their own data, maps and graphs in a professional way so it stands alongside information from other sources (such as GIS maps, graphs, and power point presentations).
  • Provide plain language briefings, PowerPoint presentations, notes, and maps.
  • Support the development of community/stakeholders' social media or newsletters.

Choice of methods:

  • Use methods that enable dispersed communities to build consensus and work together, even when face-to-face meetings are too difficult and there is poor internet access (see section 7.4.5, which suggests how to do this).
  • Provide guidance and discussion packs to enable local groups, who can't afford facilitators, to hold meetings in a more equitable way.


  • Help communities or stakeholders to link with others with similar interests.


  • Provide expenses to enable people to attend workshops.
  • Provide a payment (per diem) to enable people to attend ( e.g. the self-employed, people who would need to take a day off work, or for care of dependents).
  • Provide a crèche if wanting to involve parents of young children.

At the implementation stage, communities and stakeholders may need different kinds of support and help that include:

  • Funding, such as pump priming funds (which enable a project to get underway) or support to access funds, for example to fill in complex grant or funding applications.
  • Advice and mentoring to help build the organisational capacity essential to any enterprise such as sound governance, health and safety, human resources, insurance, and accountancy.
  • Building the ability to sell goods or services, which requires business planning and advice, tendering and bidding, establishing supply chains, marketing, sales, managing cash flow management.
  • Help in securing land tenure which requires negotiating and legally establishing long term lease or sale of land.
  • Technical land management advice and practical land management support, including specialised equipment, vehicles or licences, and training in practical land management skills.

4.7 Relationship between power, engagement, and action

The sections above explore power, influence, engagement and empowerment separately. This section explores the relationship between them. It looks at how they function and at theories about how they lead to practical land use and management action. There are a number of theories about what is going on:

1. A sound engagement process, trusted as fair and legitimate: this increases confidence in decision quality

2. Learning and social processes: this leads to changes in individuals

3. Social learning: this leads to collaborative action

4. Quality of information: this increases confidence in decisions

5. Early engagement: this leads to stronger buy-in and ownership of decisions

6. Local context

Each of these are explained in more detail below.

4.7.1 Quality of the engagement process

The quality of the engagement process has a significant impact on the outcomes 80 . A summary of what works is in Section 4.5 and step-by-step keys to success are in Section 7.4, we have not repeated them here. However, it is important to note that the quality of the engagement process itself will help or hinder the deeper social, psychological and learning process, and the likelihood that action and sustainable land management will result. Research has also shown that when people regard the process as sound and having legitimacy, they are more likely to accept outcomes that are not their own first preference 81 .

4.7.2 Learning and social processes lead to changes in individuals

Engagement may lead to practical action as a direct result of changes in understanding, attitudes and values causing changes in individual behaviour.

Early thinking about behaviour change was based on the idea that knowledge led to concern, which in turn led to a change in behaviour, so the solution was to increase knowledge. Although this has largely been dismissed 82 , it is still a common view amongst environmentalists who believe that explaining the issues to people is enough for them to change to pro-environmental behaviours. Individual attitudes and actions 83 are shaped by social and personal norms ( e.g. internalised ways of acting that the individual feels obliged to maintain to avoid negative consequences) and by personal values ( e.g. altruistic versus egoistic values) 84 .

In contrast to individualistic theories, another theory 85 is that a person's actions are the result of complex social processes 86 and of the way ideas travel through social networks, often aided by opinion leaders 87 . Based on this more social view, engagement processes may lead to action because they enable co-operation and reduce or resolve conflicts of interest.

4.7.3 Social learning and collaborative action

Well-designed engagement processes help people to discuss and deliberate openly. When information is gathered, considered, evaluated and appraised those who take part learn from and with each other and their behaviour can change over time (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: Potential shift in people's attitude and behaviour during a deliberative engagement process 88

Figure 3: Potential shift in people's attitude and behaviour during a deliberative engagement process

When people listen to a wide range of perspectives with less prejudice, learning may happen at a number of levels: from better understanding on a cognitive level, to deeper learning that enables participants to re-evaluate their assumptions and values. This may in turn lead to people shifting their position so individuals' values and preferences start to align more closely 89 90 91 92 and then diffuse to their social networks: a process called 'social learning' 93 . A well-designed process enables groups to go beyond acquiring factual knowledge, groups collectively and creatively develop new solutions as a result of genuine deliberation, reflection, an inspiring group atmosphere, and encountering multiple perspectives 94,95 .

The concept of social learning explains how opinions and values are shaped and shared in deliberative processes. During the process people co-construct meaning, and this can lead to changes in their own beliefs and through them the views of the wider community and organisations. Well-designed and facilitated processes enable people to be influenced "by rational arguments and to lay aside particular interests and opinions in deference to overall fairness and the common interests of the collective" 96 . They also result in ideas and the values that underpin them becoming more explicit and contestable, and enable critical evaluation of the likely consequences of a decision 97 .

In summary, social learning enables people to become aware of the 'bigger picture' and to recognise the need for integrated action thus resulting in new strategies, initiatives, processes, or organisations.

4.7.4 Quality of information increases confidence in decisions

Engagement processes draw in a wide range of information, so people may have greater confidence and willingness to act because they feel that potential action is well informed and tested through deliberation.

At a local level, community members have detailed knowledge of the local context 98 and how the land and landscape works at a local level. Scientists from public bodies can express concerns about the quality of community and local stakeholder knowledge and its use in environmental decisions 99 . They may consider the technical nature of the decision too complex and so can deliberately or unintentionally exclude non-scientists 100 . On the other hand, local people may feel that their views and detailed knowledge is vital to nuanced and workable solutions that broad-scale approaches and computer modelling can fail to factor in.

A well-designed deliberative process overcomes these issues by enabling mutual briefing and sharing of knowledge, data and opinions. It also provides the opportunity for people to contest and question information and build greater confidence in proposed action.

4.7.5 Ownership arising from early engagement

Another set of ideas about why engagement processes are more or less likely to lead to empowerment and practical action is because they engage those responsible for implementing decisions fully from the outset 101 102 . By involving all relevant perspectives, the decision is more likely to reflect the views and practical realities of those who have to implement it 103 . Along with early engagement, this depends on a sound process that stakeholders perceive to be legitimate including with a fair and balanced mix of people taking part (if this is not the case, acceptance is likely to remain low) 104 .

Of course, there can then be a dispute about who has the right and opportunity to participate 105 but where this is a risk, methods can be used so that the process of selection of the deliberative group is itself seen to be legitimate and fair 106 .

4.7.6 Local context determines the outcomes of engagement

A number of studies have emphasised the role that local context plays in determining the outcomes of engagement processes 107 108 109 . Broadly speaking, there are two groups of factors that determine whether engagement will translate into empowerment and action:

  • External, collective factors, including demographic ( e.g. age and gender), socio-cultural ( e.g. prevailing norms), economic ( e.g. incentives or disincentives), collective capacity ( e.g. human capital) and political and institutional factors ( e.g. infrastructure to enable changes in land use and management).
  • Internal, individual factors, including personal capabilities ( e.g. knowledge and skills, disabilities), resources ( e.g. time and money), habits, emotional involvement with land use problems and a belief that it is possible to bring about change through an individual's action.

4.8 Costs and savings in engagement

It is beyond the scope of this research to investigate costs and savings of doing empowerment. However, this is an area of concern for some environmental organisations, so we discuss it briefly here.

The costs of doing engagement processes are easier to assess than the benefits. They include: external costs (venues and refreshments, professional facilitators), internal costs (staff time organising events, typing outputs, liaising with participants and providing facilitation materials such as maps) and hidden costs (such as stakeholder's time for attending workshops, reading briefing materials and draft documents, and liaising with those they represent).

The benefits of engagement will depend on the quality of the process and are less tangible and harder to monetise. For the projects hosting the engagement, benefits include buy-in, momentum for change, enhanced social capital and trust, smoother and quicker implementation, the avoidance of legal challenges or costly delays, and compliance. Other benefits derive from the quality of the decisions. For example facilitating innovation that avoids a restriction on particular uses, or avoids costly environmental impacts such as flooding. Quality engagement can also result in synergies and the avoidance of duplication of effort.

A challenge for evaluating these benefits, is that there are no commonly agreed measures of either the quality of the decisions or resulting benefits. Also, it is not feasible to prove that legal challenges or delays have been avoided, or what the costs of those would have been. Proving that the benefits of innovations and synergies are a direct result of the engagement is also difficult.

A simple measure based on cost of engagement per head of those who took part could be used. But this incentivises superficial inclusion of high numbers rather than deliberation: it does not measure the influence those people have on the decisions, nor the influence the decisions had on the wider social-ecological processes.

The literature that explores these issues focuses on stakeholder participation 110 and public dialogue 111 . There is a lack of evidence regarding the cost and benefits of empowerment in an environmental context.


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