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.

7 Recommendations

This research found examples of good engagement and empowerment in Scotland around rural land use and land management. However the "pockets of enlightenment" [99] quote is apt in relation to people who understand and work this way and the projects they are involved in. There is some way to go before public bodies are consistently able to deliver effective good practice engagement and empowerment. This section presents our main recommendations for public bodies in Scotland (although much of its content may be of relevance to other environmental organisations and public bodies more widely). These are followed by practical recommendations.

Main recommendations for environmental public bodies

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

Practical Recommendations

1. Enable a transition in ethos and practice at both organisation and individual level

2. Use the Empowerment Framework and levels of influence model as review tools

3. Build understanding about key engagement concepts

4. Increase understanding and skills to deliver good practice engagement

5. Handle the transition between planning and implementation with care

6. Set up an engagement and facilitation network

Carry out further research - in particular an evaluation and live feedback during the transition process

Each of these practical recommendations is discussed in more detail below with supporting information provided in the Annex.

7.1 Recommendation 1: Enable a transition in ethos and practice

7.1.1 A transition at organisational level

Organisations that want to engage and empower people in land use and land management need the capacity and skills to design and facilitate, or to commission, best practice engagement and empowerment. Based on the interviews and surveys in this research, this will require a process of transition to embed a new ethos and new ways of working.

Our focus here is on public bodies (but the same points apply to the large third sector conservation organisations).

This transition process should include an ethos that:

  • Is respectful and positive towards people from other sectors and communities and towards their knowledge and skills
  • Recognises that people have the right to have a say directly, or via a representative, in changes that impact on their lives, livelihoods and landscapes
  • Has as high a regard for colleagues who work on engagement and empowerment as for other technical specialists
  • Is willing to let go of 'power over 'and shift to 'power with'
  • Recognises that a public body is just one stakeholder in land use and land management amongst many

The transition process should include internal procedures that:

  • Are more flexible, adaptive, experimental and open
  • Broaden the skills and knowledge looked for in recruiting
  • Reward relevant skills in promotion
  • Embed engagement and empowerment as business as usual
  • Evaluate engagement and empowerment against best practice criteria (going beyond criteria focused on the number of opportunities provided and the number who took part, to measures of power to influence and power to act)
  • Include outcome evaluation and monitoring that goes beyond natural science to include broader metrics such community confidence and action
  • Encourage sound understanding and familiarity with good practice engagement and empowerment methods and tools

The transition process should include external work that is open to:

  • Other forms of knowledge
  • Outcomes that go beyond environmental considerations to be more holistic, integrated, and long-lasting
  • New governance or project management arrangements that go beyond environmental allies
  • Innovations and practices around land use and land management

The transition process should ensure that staff are empowered:

  • Front line staff feel empowered and supported by their own organisation so they can build trust and take action with others (without having to refer up lines of management).

A project by the Welsh Government has already considered in depth the kind of ethos they think is needed to make a transition to a new ethos and practice. It is included in Annex 12 as a resource.

7.1.2 Encouraging and supporting transition at an individual level

Engagement and empowerment skills have not been typical recruiting priorities for highly scientific bodies such as SNH, FCS and SEPA and other environmental organisations. However, some public bodies are now adopting competency frameworks that value relevant skills and indicate a change in direction: for example, FCS has now adopted the Civil Service Competency Framework, which has a core competency of " working with people".

There is a tendency for environmentalists to see natural science as the exclusive source of authoritative knowledge, and to hold the view that natural science evidence should be the main determinant of what happens 16 . Holding this view makes it difficult to accept the legitimacy of others' evidence or knowledge or their role and influence in shaping what happens. To do so requires the change outlined in Table 12 below:

Table 12: Change in attitude of environmental managers 17



Focus on scientific and technical knowledge

Many forms of knowledge are needed and used

Seeing other stakeholders as the problem

Realising we are all stakeholders and all part of the problem and the solution

Seeing other stakeholders and communities as a distraction and drain on resources

Realising they are a resource - of information, ideas and endeavour

Telling others what to do

Listening with an open mind

Pushing others to change

Working with others to agree change

Behaving as experts

Behaving as partners

Formal approaches

Informal and interactive approaches

Our ideas and solutions

The best ideas and solutions are the ones that are most workable, acceptable and used

For public bodies to make a transition to this type of thinking will take time. One of the organisational change models 18 classifies individuals and the speed with which they become 'players' i.e. actively involved in new ways of functioning and delivering organisational goals. It identifies the following categories and the percentage of people who fall into each category: innovators (2.5%), early adopters (13.5%), early majority (34%), late majority (34%), and laggards (16%).

Any organisational process seeking to create a transition in staff and their role from being professional experts telling others what is best, to becoming partners in engagement and empowerment, will need to be handled with care, sensitivity and a long term view.

This research found innovators and early adopters busy in all the agencies and partnership projects but they also expressed frustration with colleagues and with organisational barriers. As one respondent said, "very often people just don't like change - this [empowerment] can be difficult to make them understand - and that things are going to change for the better".

If innovators and early adopters understand this change model, it may help them handle their impatience towards those who have not yet made the transition in thinking.

7.2 Recommendation 2: Use the Empowerment Framework and 'levels of influence' model as tools

We recommend that the Empowerment Framework (Table 4) and the 'levels of influence' model (Table 5) are used as tools to assess current work, to explore whether further empowerment is needed, and to plan action.

The initial step to do this is to identify discrete land use and land management tasks, initiatives, programmes, plans or projects. Once this is done, the people currently holding power over planning and/or implementation decisions can be asked to carry out a self-assessment using the models.

We suggest the following sequence of tasks:

1. Depending on the stage the work is at, assess who is in the group that holds power, resources and responsibility to plan land use and land management or to implement actions.

2. Consider if this group includes only environmental professionals (from public bodies and third sector) or also other interests, sectors and/or communities of interest or place.

3. Map the result on the Empowerment Framework.

4. Use the 'levels of influence' model to assess what kind of engagement is taking place, and the level of influence it is providing other stakeholders and communities.

5. With this information, assess whether the approach to land use and land management sits in the optimum location on the Empowerment Framework.

6. If it is appropriate for empowerment to be enhanced, work out how to do this. (For example, does it mean broadening the membership of the planning and implementation group to include others sectors and interests, or increasing the influence of other stakeholders and/or communities?).

7. Work out what support other stakeholders and/or communities need to take part in planning and implementation (for tools and approaches that support empowerment see 4.6.4).

7.3 Recommendation 3: Build understanding about key engagement concepts

Key engagement concepts include:

  • Negotiating with stakeholders does not have to mean selling out. From the surveys and interviews, a few respondents expressed concern that empowering communities and stakeholders in decisions around land management might mean 'selling out' and result in weak compromises and poor land management. This is a legitimate concern if the process of planning land use and land management is poorly designed. However, engagement processes designed on consensus building principles work differently because they help people shift from adversarial negotiation tactics to cooperative ones (see Table 21) and seek to maximise win/wins.
  • It is important to use all forms of knowledge. Rural land and rural communities are dynamic and constantly changing from both internal and external influences, which interact in often unpredictable ways 19 . Robust land use and land management decisions result from capturing multiple forms of knowledge, not only from scientific and technical knowledge.
  • Shift the focus from solving problems to building on strengths. Problem solving is the typical cultural approach to change in the UK and the same applies to land use and land management. Problem solving involves identifying issues, challenges and difficulties and working out how to solve them. However, this can leave people feeling overwhelmed and disempowered. An alternative approach is to focus on what is already working well and then working out how that can be strengthened and enhanced. This builds buy-in and momentum for action.

Each of these is explored in more detail in Annex 10.

7.4 Recommendation 4: Increase understanding and skills to deliver good practice engagement

This research found people enthusiastic about engagement and empowerment, committed to doing the best possible work within available budgets, and having good intent towards working with communities and stakeholders. This is a strong foundation for developing good practice.

Clear guidance, increased understanding, and training in relevant skills, can build on this foundation and will maximise the likelihood that engagement processes achieve their goals.

As explained in Section 4.4, a common view of engagement is that it is successful if it is very inclusive and large numbers of people have been involved. However, empowerment requires a shift in emphasis from contact with large numbers of people to increasing the number and range of people who are empowered to influence the outcome.

Community and stakeholder engagement translates into empowerment and collective action through well-designed and delivered deliberative engagement processes which: enable a change from adversarial to co-operative negotiation behaviour, increase the range of information used, and engender ownership of decisions. These outcomes will help to increase the likelihood that robust land use and land management decisions are made.

The following sections describe some keys to success and are supported by further information and resources in the Annex 9.

7.4.1 Understand and deliver good practice

There is an international consensus amongst researchers and practitioners about what constitutes good or best practice (see 4.5.2). In the context of this research, some respondents clearly believed that certain projects were on the cutting edge of best practice, however closer inquiry suggested this was not the case. The risk here is that if people mistake adequate practice for good practice, others will copy it or organisations will roll it out as the best way to do things, without realising that there are better, more robust alternatives.

We have provided guidance on the key steps in a good practice engagement process in Annex 11 and provided links to good practice guides in Annex 9.

7.4.2 Enhance understanding of the role of engagement designer-facilitators

For larger area projects, respondents pointed to the role and importance of trained and skilled facilitators.

For an engagement process to be fair and impartial, the process designer and facilitator must be neutral and free to work on behalf of everyone. If the commissioning body directs or steers the facilitator, they cannot function as an independent third party and would have to compromise their professional ethics and standards. In this context, employing an independent facilitator is an act of releasing control, and as such can be an uncomfortable experience. It represents a radical shift in the organisational culture of public bodies and other institutions 20 .

Facilitators vary in the amount of design and preparation they do. At one end of the spectrum are 'drop in' facilitators. They turn up and facilitate individual meetings within a process designed by the commissioning body. The facilitator can run the meeting in a fairer way and at lower cost, but this is a false economy. If the commissioning body holds power over the process, they control the outputs and outcomes - which is not genuine empowerment at work.

Designer/facilitators work at the other end of the spectrum. They scope the context and then hold responsibility for a fair and equitable process that they tailor to the situation. The commissioning body releases control on the process and takes on the role of secretariat, coordinator and host to the process that the third party designs.

During the research, respondents described engagement processes where the facilitators were trained external professionals, and processes where the facilitators were project officers from within the organisation or the project behind the engagement. It was unclear what criteria, if any, were used to decide who would be responsible for facilitating the processes. The pros and cons of using either project officers or professional facilitators are outlined in Table 13 and Table 14 below.

In principle, the greater the complexity, levels of tension, and difference of views, the more an independent facilitator is required.

Table 13: Advantages and disadvantages of a project officer functioning as a facilitator 21



  • It can be more cost effective
  • It helps to embed engagement and empowerment as business as usual
  • They have in-depth knowledge of issues and participants
  • They know the history of the project
  • They know about venues and other logistics
  • Stakeholders may raise questions around trust, impartiality and neutrality (especially if there is pre-existing tension and suspicion)
  • The person may struggle to stay impartial
  • They may be vulnerable to influence by senior colleagues or high status participants
  • They may not be able to design and facilitate complex and multi-interest processes
  • The work is demanding and if this is not their main role it will have negative consequences on their day job
  • They may not be able to facilitate diverse, tense or large groups

Table 14: Advantages and disadvantages of using a professional facilitator 22



  • They know how to scope a situation and design the optimum process within time frames and budgets
  • They know how to tackle complexity and tension
  • They behave impartially
  • The can facilitate more in a group - up to 60 people
  • They cost more
  • The commissioning body has to let go of control of the process
  • The resources required mean that professionally facilitated processes are often not feasible at local and community level

7.4.3 Ensure engagement is cohesive and integrated

One of the research findings was that a lot of engagement activities are taking place but they appeared to be organised in a somewhat ad hoc and disconnected way. This is less of an issue when the engagement is to gather information at the lower levels of influence. However it really matters if there is a core deliberative decision-making process supported by wider engagement (such as drop-in events or surveys).

When there is more than one element to the engagement, it is vital for clear, functional links to carry information and priorities between different activities. These links might be individuals who can carry the views of a particular interest group from one forum to another, or could be presented in the form of documents, maps, or presentations.

If these critical paths are not designed into the process, and genuinely functional (not mere lines on a diagram), the most immediate effect is on power. For example, broader engagement ends up having no meaningful influence on the core deliberations, or there is an imbalance in the types of knowledge or networks that are influencing the process.

Integrated processes are more empowering to more people, and as a result are more likely to result in the integrated and equitable use and management of land

7.4.4 Know about the pros and cons of different approaches and methods

An important part of designing a good practice engagement process is assessing the situation and working out which of the existing methods and approaches will work best for that context, or if a new approach needs to be designed or developed.

Being able to do this first requires a working knowledge of well-established methods, and how they function in relation to inclusion, deliberation and their ability to handle the complexity and tensions of land use and land management. To help with this Annex 6 presents a summary table of approaches and their strengths and weaknesses.

7.4.5 Know how to build agreement across dispersed communities and groups

The research shows that in some parts of Scotland, a key challenge for engagement is that workshops are not an option. Remote and dispersed communities, lack of suitable venues, and costly or poor transport connections were all mentioned as barriers (see Section 5.4.1). Respondents also said that internet connection could be poor and, as a result, in some locations online engagement methods are not an option. This report does not go into detailed solutions for other contexts, however respondents working in this context seemed particularly stuck so we have addressed this here.

The clear requirement is to design a consensus approach for integrated action without bringing everyone together in one place. The key to solving this is to think about the elements of a workshop and how to do them remotely.

Briefing presentations are videoed and made available (online if that works or a DVD sent by post if not). The equivalent of breakout sessions happen by using a sequence of discussion packs that broaden out and narrow down the discussion (as illustrated in Figure 6 page 115). People meet in groups of about 10 people (using offices, pubs, community spaces, or homes) and work through a pack before reporting back. The pack includes how to host and run the meeting (including a timetable, the sequence of tasks and questions, how to record what people say, and how to report back). The facilitator then collates the outputs, just as they would from a workshop, before sending it back out to everyone so they can see what everyone else is saying. If this can't be done by the internet it is entirely feasible to do it by post.

7.5 Recommendation 5: Handle the transition from the planning stage to implementation stage with care

Following the planning stage, projects may need to make a transition to new working arrangements for the implementation stage. This is a vulnerable time for maintaining buy-in and trust and needs to be approached with care. The approach will also differ depending on whether the project is focusing on a large area (such as a landscape or catchment) or a project working at a local level. These are explored more below.

7.5.1 Integrated area projects

To increase empowerment at this stage, projects and initiatives may need to broaden the group (who hold responsibility for implementation) to go beyond professional public bodies and environmental allies.

One project that responded to the survey (from outside Scotland) is developing new governance arrangements. They described how during the deliberations about land use and land management, 45 participants built consensus about the numbers and mix of interests they wanted in the group overseeing implementation. They also worked up guidance on the group's roles and responsibilities including that: they were accountable to the wider group of stakeholders, should keep them informed of progress, and hold review workshops (perhaps annually), so the broader group could get together and continue to influence land management and use. The project is also exploring how the governance group is set up and considering whether it should be a social enterprise, cooperative or straightforward charity.

When integrated processes take place in this way, everyone can get on with what they are good at knowing their contribution is part of an integrated and complementary package of actions, and these are set within broad overarching goals for the area.

A key to on-going success is on-going engagement, including progress review workshops to help the project keep on track and responding to new pressures and opportunities.

7.5.2 Local area and community projects

The arrangements for a transition of local or community projects require particular care at this stage. Larger projects have the advantage of professional organisations forming part of an overseeing group. Local projects and community projects may only have this input through the planning stage, if at all.

These local projects need support in taking on land use or management as tenants or owners of land. This includes appropriate legal structures, governance arrangements, communication, financial management, human resources, and insurance.

They may also need support to develop the ability to sell goods or services, which require business planning, tendering and bidding, establishing supply chains, marketing, sales, and managing cash flow.

For a list of community capacity-building resources, please see Annex 9.

7.6 Recommendation 6: Harness assets for change

A key barrier in a time of shrinking public finance is finding the resources for engagement and empowerment and for land management itself.

When working in isolation, organisations and communities have too few resources or funds to meet their aspirations around both engagement activities and integrated land use and land management. Projects have threshold costs that no organisation alone could hope to meet. However, when the different organisations pool resources, they can not only meet the threshold costs, but as a partnership, have sufficient funds to achieve wider aspirations and deliver multiple benefits. As a result, the partners achieve more with their money or can make savings.

Whilst engagement and empowerment processes are resource intense, they harness untapped and previously unknown resources. One of the cases (a landscape project outside Scotland) reported that the process they used (a Stakeholder Dialogue facilitating co-production) resulted in participants making a long list of offers towards the project goals. The resulting "Directory of Offers" includes:

  • People: staff time, volunteers
  • Communication: website design, help developing a brand, use of their own media, use of their own networks to promote and disseminate what was happening
  • Funds: Corporate Social Responsibility ( CSR) funding from business, offers to help set up a new trust fund, donations, and a one company potentially offered a percentage of business profits
  • Information: data, surveys and maps
  • Practical work and technical skills: management of footpaths and habitats, technical and business skills or advice
  • Learning opportunities: formal and informal education and interpretation
  • Venues and refreshments: for meetings and different types of events

7.7 Recommendation 7. Set up an engagement and facilitation network

Some people who responded to the research said that they already network informally with others working on engagement and empowerment. There is scope to expand on this and to establish an engagement, empowerment and facilitation network across the agencies and partnerships. This would provide the support needed by people working on engagement and empowerment.

Dedicated networks for facilitators have been set up (by us) in the UK and elsewhere. They tend to start with a core group who receive in-depth training. Groups may then go on to:

  • Develop time exchange arrangements where members swap time to help with designing engagement process and workshops, or helping to facilitate each other's events. Depending on the context, this team may then work under the guidance of more experienced members, of if the situation demands it, professional facilitators. Each workshop will then have enough skilled small group facilitators. The benefits of this approach are that it is more affordable than a full professional team; workshops are more equitable and interesting because a greater range of techniques can be used; and most importantly, participants feel their time has been well spent and the process is equitable.
  • Host speakers and further training courses to help new members to develop relevant skills, or to expand the skillsets of existing members.
  • Provide a 'critical friend' function to review each other's processes against good practice and provide feedback.

7.8 Recommendation 8: Carry out further research

Earlier recommendations focus on the transition needed within environmental public bodies to embed an ethos, capacity and skills to enhance engagement and empowerment. We recommend this is done with ongoing evaluation and feedback to help public bodies carry this into practice. This would avoid change being imposed from the top down (which would be in contradiction to the ethos of empowerment). A transition process with evaluation and feedback could include:

  • Setting attitudinal baselines at the outset (and repeating these at various points during the process)
  • Designing a process of dialogue that empowers all staff to be involved in planning and implementing action
  • Mapping the organisation's work onto the Empowerment Framework to see where each type of work currently sits, and then considering whether or not empowerment could be increased and if so how
  • Carrying out a formative evaluation to assess progress, overcome barriers, capture learning, and feedback into the transition process. Different questions could be asked at each stage of change, as outlined in Table 15 below.

Table 15: Possible stages of an evaluation and feedback process


Example questions

Understanding of empowerment

  • To what extent have people understood empowerment?
  • What do they think of the transition plan?

Implementation of empowerment ethos and projects

  • What difference has this made to how people work?
  • How many new projects have been set up using this ethos?
  • What is working and how can it be enhanced?

Effect of empowerment activities

  • What effect do people think this change has had?
  • What difference do external people perceive?
  • What has changed on the ground?
  • What can be learnt for the next round of initiatives?

This approach would help staff in public bodies to be reflective and reflexive about their progress through culture change. It would mean staff feel they have more control over their own action learning and are not having 'experts' or seniors, impose things on them. This may help to reduce barriers to change.

Other research could include:

  • In-depth analysis of particular projects to explore the power dynamics within engagement processes and the levels of community empowerment achieved
  • Looking at the extent that engagement with low levels of influence (as undertaken by many of the projects we heard about) still builds social capital and buy-in
  • Exploring how organisations can best embed the ethos and ethics of empowerment in their working culture
  • In relation to community projects and concerns about strong local leaders becoming door keepers and blocking wider community empowerment: what are the optimum ways to support strong local leaders who need the determination and drive to initiate projects but then need to shift to a different skills set to manage community projects and community empowerment processes in an inclusive way.
  • Examining potential differences and similarities between different areas of rural Scotland.


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