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Community-led design initiatives: evaluation

Findings from an evaluation of community–led design initiatives funded by the Scottish Government: the Charrette Mainstreaming Programme and the Making Places initiative.


Appendix 2 - Literature Review

Introduction

This brief review of other literature on community engagement in planning in Scotland, includes articles and publications from academic, government and professional publications.

The literature review explores some of the key themes arising and discusses these in relation to the evaluation findings.

Charrette delivery processes

The University of Strathclyde published a review of charrettes undertaken between 2011 and 2016 and this highlighted that there is no one uniform approach to delivering a charrette. The study found that charrettes vary in terms of objectives, recruitment and engagement methods, cost, duration, geographical boundaries, and whether the process is led by the local authority, the community or another client[12].

Pre-charrette engagement

An article published in Urban Realm emphasises the importance of pre-charrette engagement work in building awareness of and engagement in the charrette, particularly among people who might not normally take part in planning activities: "Part of this work involves breaking down walls that have traditionally silenced the shy, disaffected and cynical… it is about going out to the pubs, clubs, shops and bus stops to promote discussion and set the agenda before the charrette commences"[13].

Benefits of charrettes for communities

The literature review also highlighted evidence that charrettes offer communities the opportunity to take on a strong voice in the design of their local area which can

lead to improved local services, facilities and spaces, and this in turn can result in positive outcomes for residents' health and wellbeing [14],[15].

Apathy

The evaluation found that apathy among local communities can be a deterrent to participation in charrettes. A Scottish Government study provides further evidence of this, noting that apathy towards the planning system among members of the public has led to reluctance to engage in planning decisions: "At present, only a small minority appears to be motivated to engage in planning"[16].

This apathy stems from a lack of trust in the planning system, a perception that the system is not fair or equitable, and a feeling that engaging in the planning system does not make a difference. As the Scottish Government's report states, "there is a gap between the rhetoric of community empowerment and communities' experience of trying to influence the planning system… More people may be encouraged to get involved if there is evidence that engagement can make a difference"[17].

This view is confirmed in an article in Scottish Planning and Environmental Law, which notes that "there is a long-standing tendency for developers, planners and policy-makers who do not like what they are hearing to dismiss the views of planning's engaged public as belonging to a minority NIMBYist group within society that does not reflect the opinions of the 'silent majority'... This frequently leads to people's experiences being overlooked, undermined, worked around or just plain ignored"[18].

Implementing the outcomes of charrettes

The evaluation found that, even where charrettes have successfully engaged the local community, the ideas generated are not always implemented. One article noted that "how to get community-led charrettes adopted into policy by councils does seem to be the Achilles heel of the process with the risk of thwarting community enthusiasm which could descend into cynicism and distrust"[19]. This was an issue also identified by the Scottish Government-commissioned report into Barriers to Community Engagement in Planning[20], and another article commented that "the intensity of the initial sessions all too often dissipates due to a lack of follow up action"[21].

This situation contributes to a perception among community members that their views are not taken into account by decision-makers, leading to the apathy towards the planning system noted above, and this acts as a deterrent to people taking part in planning processes: "These experiences risk further eroding an already fragile trust in both planning and planners and pose the question 'why participate at all?' to local people"[22].

In one article, a professional involved in delivering charrettes suggests that "there should be a method to identify an after-care process for the charrette where nine months later we do a post-charrette review of what's working and what's not and try and help unpick any blockages"[23].

Inequalities in implementing ideas from charrettes

The evaluation found that charrettes are more likely to have led to changes in areas rich in local assets including engaged local people with the skills and knowledge to support improvements in their area.

A PhD thesis from the University of Glasgow supports this view, and asserts that the areas most likely to have these local assets are more affluent localities: "In particular, the stark differences in resources available to affluent and disadvantaged communities point to a distinct socio-economic gradient in community capacity"[24].

Another article argued that charrettes can have a greater impact in more affluent areas because people in these areas are more likely to engage with planning activity: "a chief driver of community interaction is the relative affluence of the population, with Elgin driving more active participation than down at heel Johnstone where apathy was order of the day"[25].

Managing expectations

The evaluation commented on the importance of identifying short-term 'quick wins' that could be achieved quickly and galvanise community spirit. The literature confirmed the importance of identifying realistic and achievable short-term goals: "from day one the first thing we did was have a cost consultant onboard... one of the things that emerged was the possibility for lots of short term changes"[26].

"Should a series of small 'quick win' local environment projects be prioritised against the 'big ticket' pieces of infrastructure that often top the wish lists of local people? Finding such a balance can be challenging. However, when planners are honest about what can and cannot be achieved, this is also likely to help repair trust"[27].

Contact

Email: socialresearch@scotland.gsi.gov.uk

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