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.

5 Findings from surveys and questionnaires

5.1 Introduction

This section is based on the findings of the interviews, online survey and success stories conducted as part of this research. First we have provided headline findings followed by an overview of who responded.

Headline 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.

The table below gives an overview of the research respondents.

Table 8: Breakdown of respondents

Category Total number who responded Responded to two or more of the data collection methods
(interviews and two surveys)
Public Body ( includes central Government, agencies and local authorities) 24 5
Non-government Organisation 7
Community Organisation 10 1
Voluntary 6
Business and consultancy 8
Research 5 1
Partnership Project 6 1
Other 8
Total 74 8

The rest of this section follows the order of questions in the survey and semi structured interviews:

  • The benefits of engagement and empowerment
  • The opportunities and challenges of working in a rural context
  • The opportunities and challenges of working in a land use and land management context
  • Engagement and empowerment tools being used
  • What the public bodies are doing well and what more can be done
  • Findings form the success stories

Through qualitative analysis, some key themes emerged and are described in more detail. In line with engagement and empowerment ethics, we wanted people who responded to our questions to have a strong voice in this report.

The quotes in italics are the words of individuals with direct experience of engagement and empowerment in a land use and land management context - mainly in rural Scotland, but with selected examples from urban areas in Scotland and from comparable situations in other countries.

Each quote is referenced with a respondent number with a table in the Annex setting out the number, type of organisation, and country. We have not differentiated between responses made to the interviews or surveys, because this could compromise confidentiality.

The views of respondents ground this research in the practical realities of delivering engagement and empowerment ' in the real world'. They also point to potential new lines of inquiry: for example, what is the evidence for the perceived differences between rural and urban communities.

Other than the short summary paragraph at the beginning of each section, we have let the voices of the people speak for themselves. In some paragraphs, we have constructed sentences from quotes from more than one person.

5.2 Benefits of engagement and empowerment

The surveys and questionnaires did not include a question specifically asking about the benefits of engagement and empowerment, but respondents were keen to tell us:

Benefits of engagement and empowerment include…

…" Co-creating a solution that is the best possible for the community"[9]

…"Inclusive decision-making - and resolving injustice"[9]

…"Engaging hard-to-reach communities"[41]

…"Bringing people together - idea generation"[68]

…"Individuals can develop self-esteem and sense of capability"[35]

…"Communities can grow as a result of making decisions about land"[71]

…"From this developed sense of care and an increased awareness of the natural environment, commercial or productive enterprise may be encouraged or steps taken to facilitate this development".[35]

…"It can transform a community"[27]

…"It encourages a feeling of ownership of their community and landscape"[47]

5.3 Opportunities

5.3.1 Opportunities of engagement in a rural context (compared to urban)

Many of the people who responded to questions about engagement in a rural context focused on the unique characteristics of rural communities, including their culture, their demographics, resources, capacity, and their strong sense of a connection to the land.

Contextual opportunities included the favourable policy context, working at different scales, and opportunities to increase business and employment in rural areas.

The following paragraphs express some of the views and voices of those working in this context:

Community Characteristics: There are fewer people to work with but communities are clearly defined and identifiable and " people are often strongly connected with one another"[74] and have "a greater sense of community"[15]. Communities are also " less transient"[64] and more stable with long-term relationships.

There is more of a " can-do attitude" [64] with " higher levels of volunteering - double that of urban areas"[32] and "a culture of self-reliance and cooperation that make them more open to engagement/empowerment projects"[12].

The size of some communities means it is possible " to get a fair cross section of community and still have manageable numbers for a discussion"[95] or even "engage all the community in the creative process"[9]

Capacity: Rural communities and stakeholders also have " energy for change and focus - networking is easier because it is a small group of motivated individuals who know each other well"[99]. People " are used to working together - they have to fight for things - so it makes it easier"[94] to do something new .

The demographic profile of rural communities can provide great opportunity - "There is a section of retired folk who have time and amazing experiences - they might have been a chief exec - we have no idea what to expect"[94]. An example is from islands which are described as having the " best business brains - there are lots of professionals who give their brain power to these projects. These are the people we need - those who can run business - we need business brains"[90].

Resources: Communities and stakeholders hold resources including time, energy, skills, volunteers, networks and innovations. This latent potential can be realised when groups come together and work on shared projects that bring about positive changes.

Young People: Rural communities want new initiatives to provide " younger people who wish to stay the opportunities to do so"[47] and "allow communities to develop and teach skills to younger generations to boost capacity"[47]. Engagement and empowerment also help to "develop community leaders of the future and a sense of responsibility for our own environment"[37].

Connection to the land: " The community is more connected with the land"[70], " they are more aware of its uses"[39], they also have a " close connection with the area and sense of place and commitment to it"[18]. They "understand land and natural processes"[25] and "have better knowledge of land management practices"[16]. There is "better local knowledge of issues and opportunities"[36] and people "know what they want and need"[53] and "what might not work so well"[53]. There is also an "inherent desire to get the best from the land"[36] "which is a very valuable block to build on"[41].

Favourable Policy Context: " in Scotland we have a strong policy environment supportive of community engagement and empowerment"[96].

Scale of land use and management: There are two contrasting opportunities relating to scale. At "local scale"[17], people can focus on "smaller areas"[20] and see tangible results more quickly. However, working in a rural environment also means there is the " potential for greater environmental gains because you are usually dealing with larger areas of land"[42] and can make "meaningful beneficial changes to landscape scale management prescriptions"[54].

5.3.2 Opportunities of engagement in land use and land management

A key opportunity that respondents identified for rural land use and land management is that funds are available, bringing economic benefits for communities. There is also the possibility of enhancing resilience and increasing community confidence. This leads to better management of the land and in some cases, the opportunity to repair mistakes of the past.

Funds: In rural areas " despite financial austerity - there is still a lot of money around"[90] for community projects and larger area projects involving more stakeholders . This includes funds for community buy-out. " The Community Land Fund is grossly over-subscribed but there is money around to support community buy-outs and community projects"[90]. Land management projects can also " act as a driver for attracting funding which in turn will help with management/enhancement/promotion of the land"[15].

In a forestry context, there are " more opportunities for funding community projects - central funding is limited whereas community owned woodlands are able to access a broader range of funding sources"[79].

There is also potential funding from renewable energy schemes because there " is an increased need for energy companies to give more back to communities - this is a vast opportunity. They [the communities] are very cash poor - with bad infrastructures - this could help them enormously"[88].

Economic benefits: Land based projects can " provide opportunities for communities to develop income streams to boost the local economy"[47] and "provide future employment opportunities"[61]. In addition, "money that is made from the land stays local rather than going into the pockets of shareholders and owners that don't live there"[47].

Resilience: Land management can " be a means of providing long-term resilience and stability for a fragile community"[47].

Opportunities and benefits of community buy-outs: The benefits of these schemes are increased community confidence and cohesion, and feelings of security and empowerment. There is also the " availability of funding streams" [90] which have led to " community ownership of small areas of land for recreation use"[21] and that " it is an easy to understand concept"[37].

Repairing past mistakes: Community and stakeholder engagement and empowerment provides the " opportunities to make big changes - and to repair past mistakes - because we have had such major changes in policy, land use changes have been dramatic and not always for the right reasons"[90] or leading to good outcomes.

There are also opportunities to rebuild relationships between communities, stakeholders and public bodies. " Over the years we have withdrawn from communities that we once built -we don't have a presence in the villages that we used to"[100]. When public bodies work with communities and stakeholders to support them taking on land and managing it well, it is "fulfilling the old function of land managers as it used to be"[100] and helps to rebuild trust between public bodies and others.

Better land management: Engagement can lead to " better management of the land"[15] because it enables people to share " ideas to improve land management"[65] and " encouraging people to try new techniques in land management"[95] and " improve environmental responsibility"[43]. Having a say in " land use can have a direct impact on the community - e.g. in reducing flooding or opening up access for recreation"[39] and collaborative management enables people to work across " interconnected ecosystems across landholdings"[36]. The same applies to deer management.

Land ownership: " Big land areas are often owned/managed by one person - so big changes are possible"[27] if they are brought on board to work with landscape scale projects and there are some " willing Estate owners keen to work in partnership with communities"[18]. Also, if a community group wants to take on a land management project " there is more access to land"[101] and it is more affordable than in urban areas 1 .

5.4 Challenges

5.4.1 Challenges of engagement in a rural context

Some of the challenges of engagement and empowerment in a rural context relate to behaviour - such as individuals with strong personalities who have the drive and determination to push a new initiative or provide their opinions in engagement activities but who risk drowning out the rest of the community. In rural communities, it can also be difficult for people to take a different view or to disagree and this can link with historic power imbalances.

Falling and aging populations and hard-to-reach groups provide challenges for engagement and finding the capacity for action. There are practical barriers to people taking part and getting involved, in particular, distances and costs of getting to workshops and finding suitable venues in rural areas. Another concern is lack of funding and lack of support from government, funders and employers.

Project drivers not letting go: To get underway, a lead person often needs to take the initiative and have the strength of character to lead, motivate others, resolve challenges and maintain momentum. However, they also need to know when to relinquish control if the community as a whole is to gain confidence: "the driver has to know when to stop driving and to allow the others in the community to come forward so that if they [the driver] ever has to step down the project will still carry on. …..if they don't, it can get bottle necked, lots of arguments develop and it collapses". They can often be "self-appointed leaders / gatekeepers: typical older white males with less self-awareness".

Community versus local individuals: " The community's challenge is capacity. Local interest begins with a few people speaking in a local community about the advantages of empowerment and ownership of"[ land. " This is not the same as the entire community having that view"[79]. " The challenge is to hear the true voice of the community and not just those that shout the loudest".

Visibility: In a rural context those " participating will feel visible" and so if they want to take a different view or disagree on sensitive topics they " may not wish to be recognised"[17].

Historic power imbalances: In some rural areas there may be historic patterns related to land ownership where " some are more powerful and well - off than others"[46].People can have " concerns over upsetting the laird, who is still looked to for leadership"[71] and a culture of " not 'rocking the boat' or speaking out against the local establishment"[17]. This has led to " historic disempowerment and disengagement"[53] which is hard to overcome. There can also be " levels of suspicion of outsiders"[39, 100].

Demographics: Many rural communities are characterised by " falling populations and an aging population, and lack of recruitment in younger people"[91] all of which makes finding " the people with the ability - and energy- to take on community projects a huge challenge"[91].

Hard - to - reach groups: In rural areas 'hard to reach' groups include people who live in " dormitory villages" [18] where people are away working during the day and " absent second home owners"[18] who are away during the winter. In addition, " farmers are difficult to engage"[70] because of the nature of their work.

Practicalities: There is a range of interconnected practical challenges to engagement including travel distances and costs, making it " difficult to bring small dispersed populations together"[70] and challenging to " organise people who live remotely"[99]. This is linked with the "lack of reliable travel links to get to meetings"[43] and, if there is no " right to claim travelling expenses to attend meetings , non-motorists are excluded"[8]. "Poor internet communication"[51] mean online engagement methods are not an alternative solution for many. Even if you can get everyone together, there is a "lack of large meeting spaces"[20].

Funding and resources: " Government policy is talking the talk but is not walking the funding walk. Resources are needed and skilled facilitators need to be developed too".

Lack of support for engagement: There is a " lack of appetite for support (from government, funders or employers) for a valuable engagement process, which often requires more time and funds to engage communities and build lasting legacy for projects".

5.4.2 Challenge of engagement in land use and land management

In this section, before describing what those responding to this research said, we first describe widely recognised challenges:

  • The objectives of landowners, managers and local communities vary from person to person, from place to place, and from generation to generation.
  • The objectives of public bodies must reflect public interest, and this sometimes comes into conflict with the interests of private individuals and local communities. More challenging however, is when local and national public interest clashes, for example in the siting of national infrastructure projects
  • Rural land needs to meet multiple " needs and wants" including: resources such as food, wood, energy, and clean water; enjoyment of the outdoors through walking, riding, cycling, hunting and fishing; our need for enrichment, learning, inspiration and wellbeing; and care for nature, wildlife and landscapes for their own sakes 2 . This typically leads to conflicts of interest, around for example, the location of onshore wind farms and other developments, 3 4 5 6 or debates between those in favour of re-wilding versus those in favour of maintaining working, cultural rural landscapes 7 .
  • Environmental policy is complex and sometimes contains contradictory drivers, which can give rise to goal conflicts. For example, tension between renewable energy and landscapes, or timber production and wildlife priorities.
  • There are also landownership challenges such as complex overlapping land uses and complicated land tenure arrangements, with crofting and communally managed areas representing unique challenges for decision-making 8 9 .

Additional challenges identified by those working in this context include:

Managing polarized views: Communities and stakeholders often have conflicting positions and different views to those of public bodies, so the " challenges are in dealing with polarised views - if one or other side is satisfied, you have gone too far one way"[74]. In addition, "stakeholders can hold tightly protected views on land management practices ingrained through generations which are difficult to change"[42].

Resistance to changing land management practice: " People may have traditional views of land/nature and find it hard to imagine change"[17], " land management practices are often ingrained over generations, it will take generations to change these"[42]. In addition, there is a " distrust of outsiders (or external experts) coming in to tell local communities what to do and how to do it"[41].

Funding: There are challenges in " getting hold of funding"[79] and the " difficulty of finding matching funding"[91]. In addition, " long-term revenue funding is quite a challenge for communities, and community councils and other community groups are starved of funding"[96].

Overlapping protected area designations and objectives: Adding to the complexity, there are myriad overlapping designations. " One plot of land could be a SSSI, SAC, SPA, part of a National Park, part of a river catchment, part of a forest, in a deer management zone, and so on and so on"[87].

Land ownership: one respondent said " Unwilling Estate owners" are a challenge, whilst another described " stubborn landowners not wanting the local community to go near their land" and a third said there is " fear rocking the boat due to reliance on landowners".

Challenges for community buy-outs: These include land values being " driven by subsidy and development potential"[71] and issues of land availability and access. There are concerns that " finances of community buyouts are not disclosed"[10] and " there needs to be disclosure of the financial input"[10].There is a perceived lack of funding available for community buyout " both for capital costs and for capacity building"[53]. A negative outcome is that Community Trusts can " result in less employment than under private ownership"[10].

5.5 Engagement tools and approaches

A task for this research was to scope and describe the range of tools and approaches already in use, the advantages and disadvantages of each for different circumstances, and the practical lessons learned.

From a total of 74 responses (14 semi structured interviews and 61 responses to one or other of the surveys), there was very little mention of specific tools and approaches and it was not possible to establish any link between particular approaches and their usefulness in different circumstances.

A broad generalisation is that people working at larger scales focused on engagement and empowerment during the planning stage and those working at local level focused on empowerment during land acquisition and local management.

The following text explores the results in more detail.

5.5.1 Tools and Approaches in Engagement

The majority of people described the form of engagement through which people were involved ( e.g. workshop, drop in, one to one), but not specific methods, approaches or techniques. We have listed the forms of engagement against the levels of influence in Table 9 below.

Table 9: Form of engagement mentioned at least once in the interviews/surveys mapped against the roles or power holders and level of influence other have

Role of power holders

Level of influence others have

Form of engagement

Share decision making

The group holds sign off

Share making all key decision

Deliberative workshops

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

1:1 meetings, workshops, focus groups. Open events, charrettes

Gather information to develop decision makers' understanding

Provide information to decision makers

Semi-structured interviews, drop in meetings, and online questionnaires

Give information to raise awareness and persuade others

Receive information

Walks, talks, farm visits, events, conferences, festivals, social media, newsletters


Receive skills or learning

Training, working with schools

Without naming specific methods, it is difficult to be sure, what respondents were referring to when they said ' we held workshops', or what level of influence participants had on the outcomes. Workshops could mean anything from a round table meeting with a few allies, to a professionally designed and facilitated multi-stakeholder event within a designed dialogue and consensus-building process.

Of the 74 responses, just five indicated there had been deliberate design and choice of methods with only the first two naming specific techniques:

  • A case example (from outside Scotland) said they used a " Stakeholder Dialogue" to take a Co-production Approach' for management of a protected landscape.
  • Another interviewee mentioned the use of design ' charrettes'(a type of intense facilitated workshop where participants work over a series of days with architects, planners and designers working 10 ).
  • A landscape project reported they had used a "consultant... an independent facilitator" who had " developed methodology based on a literature review of best practice".
  • Another project carried out a " major stakeholder mapping exercise at the outset" and had developed and followed a " major strategy for stakeholder engagement".
  • One interviewee said their project had " deliberative workshops which were independently facilitated".

A few projects used the Ecosystem Approach, which is not specifically an approach to participation but a framework for ' integrated and equitable management'. 11 It is guided by 12 principles, four of which relate to engagement and empowerment (see Figure 1).

Two projects reported their experience of using the ' ecosystem services approach". This is a framework that involves identifying what people need and enjoy from nature and natural systems. It typically quantifies synergies and trade-offs between ecosystem services under different scenarios and considers their relative or economic value. The focus is then to optimise those benefits. It is a way of framing the discussion and a variety of participatory tools have been developed to do this. One environmental professional responding to this research found this way of framing the environment helpful but the other experience was not positive. It came from someone who had extensive experience of participation approaches and was able to make comparisons: " the ecosystems services approach is a complex way of looking at things - and with a tricky stakeholder engagement profile, it made it trickier. We could have got to positive outcomes and a gelling of interests much quicker by using other tools than the ecosystem services tools. There were too many different interest groups to cope with ecosystems services tools. Groups that are already coherent - perhaps that is a different thing".

The fact that so few engagement and participatory methods are mentioned suggests those who responded were unaware of them. This in turn suggests that most projects and initiatives are not able to assess their situation, evaluate alternative approaches, or deliberately design engagement processes selecting the optimum methods for their context. Lack of knowledge of the range of existing methods or accepted good/best practice principles is also likely to lead to:

  • Failure to integrate processes, and thereby outcomes (or worse, the potential to trigger new tensions)
  • Greater costs in delivering complex and unweildy ad hoc engagement which might involve large numbers of people but not at the levels that are having a meaningful influence on the decisions that matter - so cannot count as empowerment
  • Disempowerment by taking up time and capacity with no real influence (a concern about participation explored in Section 4.5.3)
  • Delays and ineffiencies in making progress

5.5.2 The role of facilitators, intermediaries and enablers

The role of engagment designers and facilitators was mentioned as a key to success in several surveys and interviews. One respondent said " engaging an experienced third party facilitator was key. We were happy for them to deliver a well-conceived and structured engagement process using the co-production ethos. A third party allowed the stakeholders to overcome scepticism and distrust across the groups"[82].

For projects engaging people from local communities, one person suggested that involving a " trusted intermediary" was a key to "enable action on the ground"[16].

A third role is where someone works with a community to enable action such as securing grants or helping the community establish a new enterprise.

5.5.3 Supporting people to engage in the planning stage

Of the 14 success stories, 12 said they supported communities and stakeholders during the stage of planning land use and land management.

The results show the main types of support centred on communication in particular supporting participants to communicate with their networks. Only one project said they helped cover people's expenses and provided an allowance to attend workshops. This is surprising given that distance to travel and cost of attending workshops featured as one of the main challenges for engagement in rural Scotland (see section 5.4.1).

Detailed breakdown of different kinds of support and the number of projects that provided each type can be found in 0, Table 18.

5.5.4 Supporting people during the implementation stage

Of the ten projects that had reached or completed the implementation stage, six responded to the question asking them how they supported communities or other stakeholders to implement action. (Full results are in 0 Table 19).

The main support provided was technical land management advice ( e.g. about habitats, animal husbandry, tree management, flood resilience) and organisational development and capacity building ( e.g. developing sound governance, legal support, insurance, accountancy, staff recruitment and management).

Few provided support in the shape of start-up grants or funds and none provided help in the ability to sell goods or services ( e.g. business advice, establishing supply chains, marketing, selling, cash flow, tendering/bidding). The low response suggests there is a strong need to increase these types of support if stakeholders and communities are to take on land management and viable self-sustaining enterprises.

5.6 Definitions of success

Different organisations and officers typically have different perceptions of what success in an engagement/empowerment context looks like. From previous research and direct experience, 12 13 14 we have found that organisations' motivations for participation (see Annex 8), and what organisations regard as success, are closely linked and include:

  • Compliance with relevant policy and legal instruments
  • Getting to implementable decisions quicker and in a cost-effective way
  • Improving the quality of the decision because it is well-informed from multiple perspectives
  • Enhancing buy-in and minimising resistance
  • Generating on-going action and legacy
  • Since the recession, the desire to create synergies with communities, third sector and business has come to the fore because pooling resources in the face of shrinking public funding can enable good outcomes to be achieved

People who took part in the interviews and surveys described other types of success:

Community sense of security and pride: Securing the management and land use the community wants: for example, an area of forest was being sold to large commercial interests but a tiny "community, who were keenly interested in their forest didn't want it to disappear. Under the National Forest Land Scheme their application has been approved and they will manage the forest as it always has been managed - no change really just big security and peace of mind for the residents that it won't be taken away from them"[79]. It " gives an increasing feeling of security to a community to know that they are having influence"[79].

" Local people feel proud that they own a chunk of their surrounding landscape"[47].

Action: Effective functional partnerships that can work together to achieve real benefits for all (examples included forests, tourism enterprise, new long distance trails, community energy, community gardens, protected landscape management and woodland crofts).

Communities (and/or stakeholders) securing agreement and funding to take on land management.

Communities and stakeholders working together to achieve things "that we [a public body] couldn't hope to achieve on our own"[82].

Business benefits: " Business communities being able to increase revenue from the way that land is managed, for example, we have a number of habitats and species and we have built a project for nature-based tourism"[88].

Changed relationships through co-production: One respondent said " the use of a co-production approach … has changed the relationship between [our organisation] and stakeholders. As a shared endeavour, all stakeholders do genuinely feel that they have a voice and can deliver in a consensual manner ". " From [our organisation's] point of view, employing a method like co-production can make you feel somewhat vulnerable to the outcomes but if you truly believe that shared delivery will be the best outcome then this is the process for you"[82].

5.7 Progress and improvement in engagement and empowerment

This section is based on respondents' views and suggestions. (For our recommendations, please see Section 7).

5.7.1 What is working well already?

Positive answers to this question are limited to those with experience of successful projects, whilst many responders indicated there is not yet sufficient progress to say. Those who answered positively described a sense of increased confidence, greater community cohesion and the development of successful partnerships. Several people said that a third party facilitator is a key to success, and that social media is helpful for remote communities.

An increasing feeling of confidence: " People are increasingly aware of their right to have their say"[17] and they " are beginning to get more confident in taking land use and land management decisions and taking ownership as a community, collectively"[15]. This especially occurs when a community feels threatened, " a community often gets interested when a "crisis" looms or change is threatened"[39].

Increased community cohesion: Engagement " has helped bring some disparate elements of the community together - young and old and different income brackets"[99].

Successful partnerships: " Communities and organisations working in partnership"[53] have resulted in " lots of successful projects"[15] including Landscape Partnerships. " Communities of interest - tend to work well because the workload can be shared"[39].

Working with a third party: " The use of a trusted intermediary enables action on the ground"[16]. " Engaging an experienced third party facilitator to design and facilitate the process was key. We were happy for them to deliver a well-conceived and structured engagement process using a co-production ethos. They allowed the stakeholders to overcome scepticism and distrust across groups"[82]. In addition, " long-term facilitation certainly helps community cohesion"[39].

Social Media: " Social media helps with the engagement process, it allows 'isolated' residents to participate in discussions - if they have broadband and a PC, or can get to their library"[17].

5.7.2 How can engagement and empowerment be improved?

In response to this question, respondents included the need for flexible and responsive policy and structures, and for the landowners (private and public) to be open to change and to share power. People also emphasised that before a project is underway, there is a need for better preparation and expectation management and use of skilled third party facilitators to design and facilitate engagement processes or community projects. At a local level enhanced education and understanding is necessary so communities are able to take on land management safely and well. Respondents suggested greater use of social media as a good way of engaging younger generations.

Changed policy and structures: " National policy/businesses have to be prepared to change in response - too often it is just expected that the communities will do more within the same structures. Empowerment means someone might lose power too! ".

Landowners: " Private and public landowners should be encouraged to directly involve local communities in the management of their land when suitable, to help reduce feelings of alienation and resentment". Another person thought there should be a " requirement for landowners to consult community when considering change of use".

Preparation for engagement: " Be more prepared for a community approach to take longer"[27] and have an " understanding of the nuances, conflicts and power dynamics within and between communities of place/interests" [17].

Facilitators: The use of facilitators is a way of improving community and stakeholder engagement. One respondent said there is a need to " support long term facilitation" and another that there is a need to develop " government- funded facilitators - the structure already exists in some organisations…..but it's constantly being eroded by cuts in funding. Pay for it, get it, don't pay for it, don't get it. Quite simple really! ". A third said this is a way to " facilitate rather than dictate".

Managing expectations: Expectations must be managed carefully " clarify the extent to which changes desired by the community can be achieved and where it is not possible, or at least not possible at present or without more funding" [17] - " you need to be absolutely clear about what you are doing and why are you doing it" [2].

Understanding and education: For local projects, "education at a basic level is required. You wouldn't expect communities to suddenly start successfully running their local engineering firm without any understanding or experience. It's no different in rural industry. It is an often dangerous environment to work in with the risk of serious environmental damage. So those involved really need to learn the basics of what they're dealing with and this can only come through well-funded education".

Social Media. " Could there be more use of social media? - it is a good way to engage people and get the 'younger generation' involved in projects"[15].

5.8 Public Bodies

In all interviews and surveys, we asked respondents what they thought the environmental public bodies were already doing well and what they could do better.

Respondents suggested that environmental public bodies are doing the following well:

  • Providing some of the funding needed for development officers and engagement projects
  • Employing dedicated staff
  • Contributing to partnership projects
  • Supporting Living Landscape projects
  • Providing policy supportive of engagement and empowerment
  • Providing best practice guidance
  • Being pro-active and supportive of local communities
  • Increasing the numbers of people they want to involve in site, woodland, water and species management

This research found successful projects and individuals with a strong understanding and ethos around engagement and empowerment - but as one respondent said, these are 'pockets of enlightenment'[99].

A number of respondents wrote that in their experience they didn't think public bodies were doing very well yet, with formal consultation as the only form of engagement that takes place, or that they had not managed to get public bodies to engage with them at all.

Section 7 contains recommendations provided by the research team. In the text below are suggestions from the surveys and interviews.

5.8.1 A transition within the organisational culture

The transition to enhanced engagement and empowerment includes the need to embed and empowerment ethos and for relevant skills to be valued. It also means being open to ideas from outside, thinking collectively between the agencies, and learning from experience.

Due to the nature of some of these comments, the quotes in this section have not been coded but are from 10 different people responding via the interviews or surveys.

Embed a pro-empowerment ethos: Public bodies need to continue the transition to a new ethos and attitude including that land managers "begin to see that they do have an obligation to the communities" affected by land management. Although there is evidence that some staff in a public body have already changed their view: "we have a level of trust in their [communities] capacity for management, we were very sceptical of communities and their ability to manage" at the outset.

Value engagement and empowerment skills: Currently some respondents feel " It's just not recognised that there is a need for these important skills". " Those of us who do any work on engagement are seen as a bit wacky. Corporately we are not well supported". " It has always been seen as a bit of a practice on the side - I can't see how it will ever be mainstreamed - people don't recognise that it requires a very different skillset to that we already have within the organisations". " It is generally true that people who are involved with stakeholder engagement in my organisation operate under the radar - then the ones who are outward-facing are replaced with inward-facing people over time".

Be open to ideas: Public bodies "need to shift to a more open and inclusive culture. We need to be creative and open to ideas from outside", though for at least one public body that is already happening with one person reporting " We think very broadly - we don't just have active involvement in areas that we think will progress our agenda".

Overcome "silo mentality": There is a need " to break down barriers between government agencies and enable them to think more collectively. Everything is interconnected - we need to break away from tight sectors". " We need to get people to think more holistically. You can't have all these things as separate entities". For example, one respondent said, " foresters don't talk to the conservationists". When the relevant public bodies do not plan land management in an integrated way it can lead to unintended consequences where one agency's actions are counter to the interests of another. There is also the need to develop " better joined-up planning and working - reducing consultation fatigue and increased effectiveness and efficiencies".

Learn from experience and from each other: " We reflect on our performance and how we deal with on-going interest. This leads to a slight change in what we do".

There is a "growing network of community projects on the ground now where experience can be shared". " Networking is very effective between organisations - it's the same people time and time again - a good way of networking".

5.8.2 Foster good practice engagement and empowerment

A number of suggestions focused on fostering good practice. Respondents emphasised the need to design integrated and tailored engagement processes. There is also a need for enhanced understanding of the difference between engagement and empowerment, with the agencies really listening to the communities and stakeholders and together developing a shared vision.

Design integrated engagement processes: There is a need to " integrate what is at the moment opportunistic and ad hoc, with a more overarching, longer term strategy for engagement and empowerment"[99] and to "get away from project based and opportunistic thinking and think about the longer term"[99].

Use professional facilitators: For larger projects, "We need to engage professional facilitators"[36] and " support independent facilitation"[36]. " Where there is a consistently funded facilitator, who is trusted by the community, it is possible to build momentum because the ebb/flow thing isn't such a determining factor"[35].

Use tailored approaches: At a local level, public bodies need to "be adaptive"[74] because "the implications for small groups with low capacity is often not foreseen - 'one size fits all' approach does not always work in small communities"[96]. " We need to s trengthen self-sustaining dialogue and action - rather than us just parachuting in and getting people involved"[99]. The use of a " trusted intermediary"[16] is key to " enable action on the ground"[16].

Recognise the difference between consultation, engagement and empowerment: " Carrying out formal consultations is not the same as community engagement and empowerment"[64]. Public bodies need to give "communities more power in final decisions - and in implementation of projects. We tend to ask them their views but then we take final decisions rather than them making decisions"[94]. Going further, one respondent suggested there was a need to "Move towards co-production. We have collaboration but not true co-production. There is definitely a place for it"[99].

Develop a shared vision with communities and stakeholders: " Ensure that the regulatory authorities ( SEPA, SNH, FCS, etc.) realise what local communities want and do not just promote their own (statutory) agendas"[16] and " Consider suggestions and ideas from the 'bottom-up' rather than 'top-down"[54], being " prepared to listen" "[54].

5.8.3 Support stakeholders and communities

As the interest in land use and land management grows, public bodies will need skills and capacity to respond. Stakeholders and communities need easier access to data and information, and easier, more open funding application processes.

Find ways to meet the demand: The challenge for public bodies will be to have the capacity to respond and "match and resource an increased amount of interest"[79] in land management and land use, including in the direct management of land.

Provide access to environmental and social data: Public bodies need to " provide easier accessing of government data. We are required to use data as much as we can but it is a massive challenge to get hold of the data"[93].

Simplify the funding application process: " Funding applications should be accessible (language and physically), broad in scope and realistic, so that communities don't feel they are having to shoehorn their projects into their [the agency's] criteria"[47].

5.9 Summary

To think about rural land use and land management is to think about complexity, uncertainty, contested evidence and a myriad of overlapping needs and wants 15 . However, there are also great opportunities associated with working at large and local scales and with people who have a connection to the land and to each other in a way not found in urban areas.

Respondents regarded successful engagement as being the inclusion of lots of different people in a wide variety of activities (open days, questionnaires, education activities, newsletters, volunteer tasks and so on). Inclusion is beneficial because it increases understanding and a sense of connection, but from an empowerment perspective, it is only when people have influence that they have genuine power.


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