Focus of Phase 3
As the interim report has been produced while data analysis is ongoing it has provided a snapshot of evidence for discussion of the main themes of the evaluation. This evidence demonstrates enthusiasm for revised ways of working between local authorities and communities, but for this to be realised and sustainable there needs to be an improvement in the strategic policy and resourcing commitments and framing by local councils. Local communities require clearer guidance and support to participate meaningfully and for their contribution in knowledge, time and resource to be recognised and better valued if the relationship is to shift from transactional to transformative.
Further analysis of the considerable volume of data generated in Phases 1 and 2 will continue in the first instance and will shape the focus of inquiry in Phase 3. Some of the action research activity is already underway. This will focus on the lessons to date from the evaluation, and will work with participants in the action research to consider the implications for future practice.
The two principal areas of activity in Phase 3 are:
1. Action research focusing on what effective and sustainable participation requires (what it means, what it looks like, and what it needs to make it happen) from the perspective of a range of stakeholders involved at various stages of the PB process.
Similarly, based on findings to date, Phase 3 will work with local authority elected members and officers, including finance and strategy officials, on the implications for practice of implementing participatory methods across 1% of council budgets. In particular, the qualitative process will focus on the questions on strategic engagement, with the aim of generating insight and material for future guidance and practical direction for local authorities.
2. Understanding the 1% and what are the implications for local authorities
With Scottish Government proposals for local authorities to commit to allocating at least 1% of council budgets through participatory processes, Phase 3 of the research project will explore the state of readiness of local authorities and communities to make this transition, and seek to identify levels of understanding and strategic approaches to implementing alternative approaches to budget setting through empowered community engagement.
The evidence to date suggests that there is general enthusiasm and support for improving community engagement and that PB activities, stimulated by funding from the Scottish Government, are one way of advancing this. Communities of practice are emerging, supported by Scottish Government investment in the information portal and networking opportunities. These both underpin and reflect the positive disposition to the concept of PB. Practitioners are cautious and have raised operational concerns about the resourcing capacity to support ongoing work on PB and conceptual concerns about the extent to which a new contract with communities is possible, or for some even desirable, in the current context.
However, PB is being introduced at a fast pace at a time of other organisational change and budgetary constraint. Furthermore, approaches to PB are not yet anchored in the strategic thinking and planning of many local authorities. Findings so far point to a need for greater clarity of intent and meaning of PB, strategic guidance from the Scottish Government and local authority bodies including COSLA if the implementation of the 1% is to be effective and enduring. These factors combine to raise questions and concerns about the sustainability of PB, at least in the current transactional and small scale formats.
Email: Jacqueline Rae