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.

3. Design event processes

There was variation in the ways in which design events were organised across the sample projects examined during the evaluation. This chapter describes how this was undertaken in the sample project areas and explores preparation and set-up of design events; recruitment of participants; role of the community in producing outputs and outcomes; engagement of local authorities and local politicians; costs of facilitation; and compares community-led processes and local authority-led processes.

3.1 Preparation and set-up of design events

All areas examined used their funding to appoint external facilitators to organise and run their community-led design events. Lead facilitators tended to be architectural practices with experience of running design events.

These facilitators were involved in a range of tasks including:

  • advertising the design events
  • engaging with local community representatives and organisations to seek their participation
  • engaging with members of the local community to encourage their participation
  • preparing materials for the design event
  • developing design options for discussion at the events
  • facilitating the design event events; and producing the final report, which was submitted to Scottish Government.

These tasks were not usually conducted by the facilitators on their own, but also involved local volunteers and staff from the local authority or other local organisations.

Having external facilitators was considered by all of the research participants interviewed to be important for a number of reasons:

  • it gave additional capacity
  • independence
  • credibility
  • expertise/knowledge
  • enabled expectations of outputs to be managed
  • enabled constructive challenge

Facilitation in the 10 sample projects was reported to have been of a high standard. The lead facilitators were experienced organisations with good track records in this type of work.

Research participants seemed to particularly value facilitators' independence; their ability to stimulate discussion and encourage participation; their ability to challenge; their role in defining parameters and managing expectations; and their creative approaches to engaging the community prior to and during the design events.

Effective pre-design event engagement activity seemed to be highly valuable, preparing the community for the design conversations which lay ahead. Creative arts and theatre-based activities were reported to be particularly successful, creating energy and interest. Essentially, this activity provided an early understanding of the ambition of the event.

The use of the word "charrette" was a source of concern and some stakeholders believed that this may have dissuaded some people from attending. Some areas, in identifying this issue, adapted language for their local community to address this challenge – often billing the design events in a completely different way. Subsequently, the use of the word "charrette" has been widely avoided, with reference now being made to "design events" in recognition of these concerns.

"Imagine setting out on a supposedly meaningful, open community engagement process, using a title which none of them can understand?" (Stakeholder)

All of the research participants were positive about their experiences of taking part in the design event process. There was a sense across the sample projects that the design events had been professionally run, were engaging, and encouraged enthusiasm.

Key features of successful design events included:

  • accessible information suited to different age-groups
  • lots of visuals which brought ideas to life
  • interactive activities
  • a wide range of mechanisms to feedback progress to the community

Research participants reported that having a structured, organised and professional event gave them confidence that things were being taken seriously. There was a sense that having external facilitators added weight and credibility to the process and gave participating members of the community confidence that they were being seriously engaged.

However, some of the stakeholders interviewed during this evaluation had also taken part in design events in other local areas, some of which they reported had been more poorly facilitated, and they believed that there had been a direct effect on the quality of outcomes as a result. This highlights the importance of good facilitation in these processes.

3.2 Recruitment of participants/analysis of reach

All of the projects studied emphasised the importance of ensuring that as many members of the community as possible were given the opportunity to take part in the design event. In addition, in some areas there was a desire to particularly encourage certain groups to engage (for example, young people).

Facilitators were heavily involved in supporting areas with recruitment, and across the projects there was good use of social media and more traditional recruitment methods.

Community participation in the design process, Portobello charrette

Community participation in the design process, Portobello charrette

Photo credit: Action Westbank Team

There was good use of traditional newspaper editorial and advertising sections, as well as newsletters produced during and following the design event activity. Social media provided passive outreach through high levels of chatter on local sites.

"Prior to the charrette, the community had many individuals with low self-esteem. These folk embraced the process, distributing leaflets, participating in community barbeques and moving in to new units in the Centre." (Local authority)

Creative methods included advertising and event sign-up on an island ferry, and the use of a special high profile advertising vehicle. Primary school children in one area were engaged very early through an exciting arts programme, disseminating their ideas to the wider community including parents, grandparents and siblings.

Turnout at design events was affected by many different factors – interest and motivation; levels of awareness; and poor weather were amongst those most commonly cited. Other reasons included area-specific issues such as a ferry strike and a general election.

Efforts were made to reach beyond the usual suspects but the extent to which areas did so successfully varied.

"For the first time it got beyond barriers in the community, e.g. community councillors and development trusts driving the agenda." (Member of the community)

"It avoided a certain demographic driving the agenda – young people were really involved for the first time." (Member of the community)

There were some good examples of facilitators working hard to engage with harder-to-reach groups. For example, in one area facilitators visited a local group for recovering addicts and invited them to participate in the design event – in response to local people referring to a heroin issue in an area close to the town centre. However, some projects reported not reaching as broad an audience as they would have liked to.

Recruitment was more successful in some areas than others and numbers attending varied significantly. Turn-out in one area, for example, was over 1000 people over a weekend despite weather challenges (it took place during the extreme cold weather spell in spring 2018, 'the Beast from the East'). In another area, on-street consultation was made more difficult by winter weather and this was felt to have impacted on how many people then took part in the design event.

Lead-in time also affected how successful recruitment was in some areas and the facilitators interviewed emphasised the importance of having sufficient lead-in time to ensure that harder-to-reach groups in particular could be engaged.

"A three-month plan of engagement would have been good." (Stakeholder)

Apathy was a further challenge identified in some areas and one that some found difficult to overcome:

"We reached the usual suspects but not much beyond that, there is lots of apathy in our area." (Community organisation)

Several reasons were cited for apathy. Some stakeholders suggested that it was likely that while some people were aware of the events they simply chose not to attend due to a lack of interest. However, they also noted that non-attendance is not necessarily an indication of a lack of interest. In one of the areas visited, stakeholders described some residents as on the fringes of society, through poverty, health and lifestyle issues. Stakeholders in that area felt that some of them may not have had the confidence to attend. There was a recognition that they may need more support and encouragement to take part than others.

Some facilitators consulted with local representatives ahead of reaching out to the community. In one area, for example, facilitators ran a briefing session with all of the ward councillors and local authority officers at the outset. This gave them the opportunity to "de-mystify" the process, gain buy-in, and encourage people to act as ambassadors. It also gave them insight into challenges or difficult issues that were likely to be raised during the design event. They, and stakeholders in these areas, considered this to be an important part of the preparation ahead of the design event.

All sample projects recognised the value of involving young people. Some areas managed to involve young people better than others. This was often done through schools (with mixed success across the sample projects), and through local groups supporting young people.

"Old people talk about the past…the young talk about the future." (Community organisation)

The views of school pupils were widely welcomed, and in one area, for example, the first design event event took place at the local high school. The views of the Sea Scouts in another area were also sought, as they were regarded as significant stakeholders in the waterfront re-development ideas.

Workshop with Rothesay Academy pupils

Workshop with Rothesay Academy pupils

Photo credit: IceCream Architecture

In one area, young people's involvement was co-ordinated by the local Development Youth Trust, which set up a youth committee and involved sub-groups of children from the local schools. During the design event they were allocated their own space and the main design event was streamed to them via a video link which enabled them to be involved in their own environment. Their input became central to many of the outputs. One young person suggested a new bridge because it would shorten his walking route to school, and the proposed bridge became one of the central outputs from the design event. Stakeholders who organised the events received feedback that the young people really felt that their voice had been heard – unlike other processes that they had experienced. One stakeholder in that area described their challenge – "We had been asking young people the wrong questions in the wrong places up until the design event". Another person described how involving young people completely shifted the agenda.

"It broke down barriers to future development, which older people had put up." (Member of the community)

3.3 Role of the community in delivery of the design event

Although paid facilitators were a key component of the sample projects, local people were also heavily involved in preparing for and delivering the design event. Many emphasised the significant role of volunteers in implementation.

Local skills and knowledge were a key factor in the communities' ability to be involved in delivery – this was more present in some areas than others, and this issue is re-visited later in the report (see 4.8 and 5.4).

"We had good people with mixed skills available to us – finance, communications, politics, architecture…" (Facilitator)

"We have a wealthy community in terms of skills and people willing to contribute." (Member of the community)

However, it is also important to note that whilst considerable talent and skillsets were available within communities, community-led design is a dynamic process. Some research participants gradually found their voice during the design event process. As a result of their views being heard and acknowledged, these reticent participants sometimes grew in confidence, to become highly valued contributors.

"Brilliant to see how empowered the community became." (Local authority)

"This place sometimes gets a very bad press. I'm a resident of the town and I want to do everything I can to make it as good as it can be." (Member of the community)

Local people's role in supporting design events is discussed further in 3.5.

3.4 Engagement of local authorities and politicians

All of the sample projects involved local politicians in some capacity. The extent of their involvement varied between areas. Sometimes, their role was integral to the process, and in other cases their role was more peripheral.

In one area, for example, all four councillors from different parties sat down with local representatives to discuss and agree how the process could be taken forward. This unity gave them a strong voice within the local authority.

Local authority roles were varied and included them being the applicant organisation with overall responsibility for the community design event, active participants in a process led by the community, and less active participants. In some of the sample areas, research participants noted they would have liked more active engagement from the local authority. In other areas, research participants felt that the local authority had been supportive and engaged.

In one area, for example, the local authority played a highly significant role in the process, starting with pre-design event engagement with the community via the community development team. This built a picture of the local need and established a strong position of trust and working relationships between parties. This was not regarded as 'another tick box exercise', but as a genuine exercise to provide an evidence base for the local authority to present to the political leadership within the council. The local authority participated within the design event process, with contributions from all key departments. The outcomes of the design event provided a mandate for change within the community. Post-design event, the local authority has continued its involvement, investing in critical Legal /Estates/Housing issues, which will be used to follow through a compulsory purchase order, and the political leadership of the Council has sanctioned a £1.5m capital budget to allow the a significant redevelopment project to be progressed – a key output of the design event.

3.5 Facilitation costs

As shown in Chapter 2, funding awards varied considerably across the programme, as did the percentage of the contribution by Scottish Government to total project costs. These also varied across the 10 sample projects – with total project costs ranging from £15,000 to £58,000. Even the highest of these costs is relatively small for the scale of activity that happened, and this is largely due to the significant amount of volunteer and local authority staff time which was contributed.

A full assessment of value for money did not form part of the evaluation, but costs related to facilitation were raised a number of times throughout the research. Many of the facilitators who participated in the research emphasised the small amount of funding that had been included in the bid for the project and made available to them for the facilitation element of the design event, and how challenging they found it to deliver on budget. This seemed to be particularly the case in relation to community-led (rather than local authority-led) processes.

"You have to throw away the idea of a set number of days – budgets are small. You spend much more time than is billed for." (Facilitator)

Facilitators often engaged with the design event processes as a "loss leader" which could lead to other opportunities, or as an opportunity for staff to gain experience of working with communities. Some were also involved simply because they enjoyed the process and it gave them design inspiration. However, the level of funding available to facilitators created challenges for most. One architect's view was that design events are unsustainable work for practices to undertake regularly.

"We had stayed away from design events – there's not enough funding to do them well and it can be unclear where the work goes and the extent to which they inform planning in a meaningful way. But this one felt right, it was a well-structured tender and I live in the area. It was intense, all-consuming and a very positive experience but we could not do more than one a year and function as a practice because it requires you to embed yourself within the community in a way they hadn't before in order to establish that dynamic relationship." (Facilitator)

Another observed that:

"Commercially this has been a huge disappointment. A big investment in time and effort which goes nowhere." (Facilitator)

One person reflected that small budgets for facilitators necessitated more local input:

"Small budgets for facilitators may be a good thing – it forces the community to do lots for itself." (Community organisation)

Certainly, volunteers played a key role in boosting capacity to deliver the design events effectively – and areas without a high level of volunteer contributions at their disposal would almost certainly have been more limited in what could be achieved. Across the sample projects, volunteers were involved in a wide range of roles including recruitment, facilitation, design of materials for the design events, engaging with policy makers, and follow-up work following the design event.

"In our area, the level of quality and what was achieved for the money was phenomenal. Volunteers were central to this." (Community organisation)

However, where a substantive level of volunteer input is not available locally, the role of the facilitator then becomes even more crucial. Significant expertise has been built up across the organisations involved in facilitation. Recompensing facilitators adequately is important to ensuring an ongoing supply of experts is available to support these processes.

3.6 Community lead partner versus Local Authority lead partner design processes

The sample projects were led by a mix of both community groups/organisations and local authorities, and the effect of this variation in relation to delivery was examined as part of the research.

3.6.1 Community-led processes

Communities usually had specific motivations for applying for community-led design grants. In one area, the motivation was a decision taken by the local authority regarding the use of a site which the community was opposed to. They used the design event as an opportunity to develop alternative proposals that could inform the council's decision-making processes.

In another area, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation carried out research on the impact of the 2008 financial crash on communities. They then commissioned the Scottish Urban Regeneration Forum (SURF) to research this further in other areas. SURF applied to Scottish Government for 'Alliance for Action' project funding which was extended to include the sample project area. The feasibility study identified many established community groups, but these were working in isolation and required co-ordination. There was a strong grass roots desire to improve the town, and SURF supported the establishment of a local group to co-ordinate regeneration work and hired a project co-ordinator. Crucially, local interest and ambition were already there. Charitable foundation and SURF input led to Scottish Government support, which in turn strengthened the community's desire and awareness of the need to support regeneration – this was a clear and natural progression.

Community participation, Rothesay charrette

Community participation, Rothesay charrette

Photo credit: IceCream Architecture

In another sample project, the main trigger was the planned closure of a local power station. There was huge community concern for the future of their area. The Coalfield Regeneration Partnership developed a five-year action plan through the Community Futures Programme. As this was coming to an end, an application was made to Scottish Government for the Charrette Fund. The key driver was the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, but with very strong commitment from the community.

Community members participating in the research seemed to have more confidence in the design process if it had been led by a community organisation. The best examples of these involved processes led by a well-respected local person or organisation, in partnership with a broad spectrum of local stakeholders with visible local authority support. However, if a process is community-led, research participants highlighted that the key players must have the right skills to build capacity, make strong connections within the community and effectively and regularly communicate progress.

"This needs individuals and teams who have the skills to take things forward and make them a reality". (Community organisation)

If it is community-led and there are clashes of personalities or a less inclusive approach then disengagement can result, as was reported in one of the sample projects.

"When community-led there needs to be a system that doesn't rely on personalities and the delivery of the design event initiatives cannot be 'owned' by any one group or handful of individuals". (Community organisation)

Facilitators involved in the evaluation also spoke of the different role that they had to play in volunteer-led projects – more time was required to support volunteers, and that time had to be used more flexibly. Others noted that key parts of the process could require more lead-in time as volunteers got up to speed with the task.

"We worked for a number of months in helping the group to decide on the best process for consultation which resulted in development briefs for the site to give to the council." (Facilitator)

They also spoke warmly of the inspiration that this can bring to their role as a facilitator and reflected on how volunteers' enthusiasm can inspire others.

"Working with volunteers is a more liberating and inspiring way of working. Volunteers are on a high and really want to achieve something." (Facilitator)

"Paid people wanted to match the ambition and aspiration of the volunteers." (Facilitator)

3.6.2 Local authority-led processes

Community-led design events can be effective vehicles for enabling local authorities to strengthen relationships with local communities, create opportunities for more open dialogue and to gather views from a wide range of people. A number of the sample projects examined were local authority led and the local authorities' motivations for applying for funding to run these were mixed.

In one area, the design event was a response to a lack of consensus between the community and public bodies about the best options for the town.

"We had various attempts at community engagement in our town, but not very successfully. It gave us an opportunity to put the community at the heart of it." (Member of the community)

"We wanted to get everyone on the same page, that's why the design event process was so appealing." (Local authority)

In another area, the local authority hoped that the design event would enable them to re-engage with the community positively, following a challenging process of engagement in relation to the proposed closure of a local sports facility.

In another sample project it stemmed from a council committee seeking to actively pursue the approach identified in the Christie Commission report, which highlighted the need for local authorities to move from service delivery to enabling community. This was coupled with the continued reduction in available funding and a bank of competent and inspired volunteers actively seeking opportunities to lever in funding to shape and inform the area. The Scottish Government funding was considered an excellent way to harness interest and formulate actions led by the community.

In one sample project, the design event process was initiated through a very strong collaborative partnership between the council's community development team and the community. The local authority awarded a £10K community participative budget, which was spent working together using the Place Standard Tool – this was very successful in raising levels of community ambition. The council then applied to Scottish Government for funding for a design event.

A further example is a design process that began with a long-standing successful working relationship between Scottish Canals and a local authority on themes such as economic growth, leisure and tourism. Scottish Canals initiated the application to Scottish Government for design event funding. While there was some community interest already, this was only piecemeal due to the huge geographical scale of the project. This community interest was harnessed as the design event process began. The key in this case was the ambition and commitment of Scottish Canals, with strong local authority support – it was not community-led, but local communities were critically involved in the process.

Community participation, Rothesay charrette

Community participation, Rothesay charrette

Photo credit: IceCream Architecture

In another area, there was a desire on the part of the local authority to use the design event process as a vehicle for improving their engagement with the community and they decided to keep the design events based on town centres. The design events fed directly into local development plans but the local authority was clear that the design event process should not be seen as belonging to the local authority. They recognised the importance of ensuring that there was local ownership and that the focus was on what the community and partners could do to deliver on priorities set.

Compared with community-led projects, projects led by local authorities have had the advantage of more resources being available to them – in the form of expertise and staff time.



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