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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.


5. Key factors influencing successful delivery and impact

As discussed in Chapter 4 the extent of impact varied across the sample projects examined, and this is likely to be reflected across the wider group of 78 projects funded between 2011 and 2018.

This chapter discusses the key factors that influence whether design events are successfully delivered, and whether they have longer term impact. These factors are listed in the diagram below and discussed further throughout the chapter. The factors listed in the overlapping section relate to both delivery and impact.

Figure 5.1: Key factors that influence successful delivery and impact

5.1 Enablers and barriers to delivery of design events

5.1.1 Preparation and lead-in

Facilitators, lead partners and volunteers all emphasised the importance of good preparation and sufficient lead-in time (described as at least three months) for design events. Research participants highlighted this as particularly important in relation to recruitment, but also in relation to other aspects of delivery. In some areas, preparation for the design events included "warming up" the community ahead of the charrette taking place.

"One of the successful aspects was briefing the community ahead of the charrette. It provided clarity about the actual situation." (Stakeholder)

"Pre-engagement did not take place. In hindsight, we should have engaged an artist in pre-engagement warm-up events (used successfully elsewhere)." (Stakeholder)

Others noted that it could be useful to consider what issues that were likely to be raised ahead of the design events and to consider what some of the practical implications of addressing these might be so that expectations could be managed reasonably at the design event itself.

"We should have looked forward more before the events and anticipated what might have come up and what the implications of these were. It might have helped to manage expectations." (Local authority)

5.2 Format of design events

Traditionally, design events have taken place in a consolidated format – usually running on a number of consecutive days, although more recently Scottish Government has encouraged projects to deliver these more flexibly. Feedback suggests that iterative processes are most effective - where events are held at intervals with time in between for reflection and further development of ideas and materials. Research participants, and facilitators in particular, reported greater impact where this was the process followed.

Some also felt that it was too demanding to ask local people to participate in a design event over a number of consecutive days, and some believed that it impacted on attendance numbers and how representative those attending were of the wider community.

Research participants also noted that a more compressed format did not give the design teams in some areas time to reflect, to consult on policy or technical issues, or to check the feasibility of some of the proposals. It also put them under pressure to produce an output within a short timeframe which did not enable the best quality output to be produced. However, some of the lead partners and facilitators also highlighted the tension of costs versus time required for a more protracted process.

5.3 Focus and clarity of purpose

In many areas, the design events were used as an opportunity to create a future vision for an area or develop a town plan or similar. While many of those involved welcomed the opportunity, some also reflected that it led to a lack of focus:

"There wasn't enough clarity about what we wanted from it in our area. It wasn't clear enough what people were being asked to contribute towards." (Local authority)

"Our charrette was too general. There was no specific output in mind." (Member of the community

In some areas, however, the focus of the design event was narrower – in one area, for example, the focus was on developing alternative design options for a specific site for the local authority to consider instead of a design they had intended to approve. A narrower focus seems to have been helpful to the success of driving forward progress – it enabled those involved to be equally focused in relation to prioritising actions and pursuing these.

"To make progress we set narrow parameters. We had a clearly defined purpose – to design a mixed-use development for the site." (Community organisation)

"The extensive geographic subject area was actually a benefit. This allowed us to take a bigger picture and examine a number of interlocking themes and to explore how the canal fitted in so significantly from a variety of different perspectives." (Stakeholder)

5.4 Skills and knowledge

Having local people with the skills and knowledge to support the design event process stood out as a key factor influencing success. Having a key contact with the skills and abilities to engage the community and harness local enthusiasm and commitment was a further strength. Where these were present, progress was far more substantive than in areas that relied on local authority staff or other local staff to take action forward.

"Awareness and knowledge of opportunities like participation orders and community buy-outs is not as high in all areas." (Community organisation)

"People need to know what levers and opportunities are available. There is also a need for more awareness amongst elected representatives of these. They are the link between the 'body' and the 'people'." (Community organisation)

"It's difficult to get the right people involved in taking actions forward. We don't have a bank of professionals like architects or lawyers in the town." (Member of the community)

5.5 Good facilitation

As noted earlier in this report, good facilitation was key to successful delivery of the design events. A good facilitator crucially brought credibility and independence to the process. Strong facilitators were also able to offer substantive support in reaching out to a wide audience within the community, and creating a design event that engaged people of all ages.

Research participants also emphasised the importance of information and materials provided at the design event suiting a wide range of ages, being engaging and fully accessible.

"Don't expect people to take in vast amounts of technical information." (Facilitator)

"Some of the designs shown in the publication of the charrette report have been turned into reality. The pictures gave people a much more tangible sense of how things could look if we delivered on the priorities set through the charrette." (Local authority)

Good facilitation ensured that local people felt their voices were being heard and led to clarity about the outputs that would be produced from the design event.

5.6 Managing expectations

The most effective facilitators were also able to manage expectations, ensuring that participating members of the community understood what was viable and what was unrealistic. The discussion in one area around the viability of changing a dual carriageway to a single carriageway was a good example of this judgement being applied effectively – a less experienced facilitator may have shut down this option as unviable. This was important in relation to ensuring longer-term buy-in from communities. Local partners also played an important role in managing the communities' expectations.

"Communities have expectations that things can happen quickly but sometimes they take 10 years. Managing expectations is important." (Local authority)

"We also need to manage expectations about who can take action – it's not just about the local authority doing things." (Local authority)

"There is frustration in the community about slowness of process. Maybe there is not an understanding about the level of justification required for things to happen – or of the cost involved." (Member of the community)

5.7 Community commitment

Local commitment to driving forward change was another key factor influencing success. Where there was pride in a local area, and local people willing to commit substantive time and energy to support the process, the impact of the design events was often more significant. This level of commitment was usually evident before the design event process had begun.

A strong sense of community and local pride provided a strong foundation to build the discussion and to take forward the priorities identified in the event report.

"The work from the charrette has rested on the significant voluntary contribution by an army of individuals who have a passion for their place" (Member of the community)

"We need to get all interested parties together to agree the best way forward. That should be the role of the our local organisation but it doesn't have the motivation or the support." (Community member)

"It was clear to us that the charrettes could not be seen to be a council thing. It was also about what the community and partners could do." (Local authority)

5.8 Strong leadership

Many research participants emphasised the importance of strong local leadership, from local politicians, local authority staff, and leadership in other local organisations, to support the design event process, as well as encourage and support local people to take forward priority actions arising from it.

"Getting the right people to lead on issues helps to move the community away from dependency on the local authority. They need help to think in a different way, and it takes time, but it is essential." (Community organisation)

"We got good leadership from some local organisations, but we didn't get the same buy-in from the council. There were lots of changes of chief executive and a vacuum in the way they engaged." (Member of the community)

"Under-resourced, over-worked workers won't engage if it's not a leadership priority." (Community organisation)

Strong leadership from national bodies to support local design events was also considered to be important. Research participants were able to identify some national bodies that had provided good support, but others were seen to be inflexible and unresponsive. Some suggested that the mindset in some national organisations needed to change to better respond to communities' priorities.

"Rather than saying no, because that's the way it has always been done, these organisations need to grasp the nettle and see the design events as an opportunity to change the way they do things." (Member of the communtiy)

"They contributed to the vision but when it came to diverting funding, there was more resistance." (Member of the community)

"There is a role for Scottish Government in encouraging these national bodies to engage differently and more flexibly." (Stakeholder)

Numerous research participants also noted a challenge in getting key people involved to cascade to others – highlighting that when they leave there is often a gap in knowledge and progress stalls as a result.

5.9 Local authority commitment

Research participants reported varying levels of commitment from local authorities to the design event process. Some were highly engaged and able to release staff to support the design event process, but local authorities in some other areas were far less supportive and their input was seen as tokenistic.

"The local authority doesn't have a real vision for our area. They have not helped us to take forward actions." (Member of the community)

"The Locality Planning Officers that are pending need to get more engaged and be more strategically involved." (Community organisation)

There was widespread agreement that local authorities needed to be supportive and enabling, but many recognised that some local authorities have been under-resourced and unable to provide an appropriate level of support in recent years. They also emphasised the inability or slow pace of some local authorities to change how they work in response to communities' priorities:

"The council just wants to do things the way it always has – it is an oil tanker that is hard to turn. There is genuine willing to change, but it is very slow to happen." (Stakeholder)

However, many also recognised the need for collective responsibility and that implementation of actions coming out of the design event should not be left to local authorities alone to deliver.

5.10 Feedback mechanisms

Feedback and ongoing awareness-raising in relation to progress on delivering priorities from the design events was an important part of keeping the community engaged beyond the lifetime of the design event itself. Feedback mechanisms were varied, and the extent of feedback to the community also varied considerably between projects.

Some areas had robust feedback mechanisms in place. For example, in one area a Facebook page that was set up for the design event has been kept live and is updated to inform local people of progress with actions since the events; and in another area a local group (funded by the local authority) remains a key mechanism for feeding back to the community about progress on outcomes. However, in many of the projects examined, feedback mechanisms were reported to be lacking in structure, ad hoc, or in some cases non-existent.

"Our local authority doesn't ever feedback enough. They are not creating the conditions to sit down and discuss and review key issues." (Community member)

"People put a lot of effort in – they gave up their whole weekend to do it. They need to see tangible results. At our Community Council so far, the report has been that there is nothing to report." (Community member)

5.11 Flexibility and pragmatism

A number of research participants recognised the value of a measured and pragmatic approach to decision-making and influencing in relation to the design event process. In one area, local stakeholders recognised the ability of the volunteers involved in the project to approach a set of sensitive issues with real pragmatism which many involved believed was key to their success in making progress:

"The reasoned and flexible approach of the local volunteers helped to take it forward." (Facilitator)

"In our area, the technical constraints provided by the Trunk roads infrastructure meant that a pragmatic approach was required." (Member of the community)

"In our area, the key local volunteers understood that the local authority has huge financial pressures, and they were willing to engage in a realistic way." (Facilitator)

5.12 Funding for delivering outcomes

A dominant theme in the research was lack of funding to support the design event process and for implementation of outputs. Many research participants noted the challenge in identifying funding for taking forward priorities, and the impact of local authority cuts in particular.

"There is no funding to create additional capacity. The local authority has the burden of this. It limits how many of these processes can happen and the quality of the outcomes." (Local authority)

"Reducing resources is a key issue – the timings of the charrettes was unfortunate. Ten years ago it would have been easier." (Local authority)

"The charrette process didn't include the detailed financial plan for priorities set. The charrette reports need to look carefully at deliverability, ownerships of actions, and funding available. A 5-year development plan would be good." (Community organisation)

A number of research participants suggested that local authorities or Scottish Government should consider providing a small annual pot of funds as seed funding to help communities get going with implementation – as it did at one point through the Activating Ideas Fund.

5.13 Complementarity with other local action

Many of the research participants, particularly local stakeholders, noted the importance of aligning design event outputs with other local action to maximise impact. Integrating the design event priorities with other local priorities was seen to give them credibility, and funders could then have greater clarity about how priorities fitted with the wider picture in an area. A number of examples of this happening were given:

"In our area, Locality Plans were directly informed by the outcomes of the charrette process and partners on our local body set up to take forward short-term actions from the charrette) were asked to join the locality partnership." (Local authority)

"The community still refers back to the charrette at community meetings. The charrette outcomes are still used to put pressure on the local authority and National Park Authority to deliver outcomes." (Local stakeholder)

"The Charrette Report produced at the end of our design process was owned and implemented by the local community planning partnership with realistic project outcomes embedded within the local community plan. This not only provided a direction and focus but formed the basis for future funding applications." (Local stakeholder)

Some local stakeholders interviewed also emphasised the importance of the design event work being better joined up with other local mechanisms such as participatory budgeting, locality planning, local development plans and Local Outcomes Improvement Plans.

5.14 Follow-up

The evaluation examined the extent to which formal or structure processes for follow-up were in place in the sample project areas. The picture was mixed, with some research participants reporting some formal processes for follow-up in place in their area, but from others there was a strong sense that areas have been left to get on with it themselves since the design events took place.

Many of the research participants recognised the importance of local ownership, however many also felt that some form of aftercare support would improve the current process and would minimise the risk that the time and resource invested would not yield impact.

Some research participants noted serious concerns about design event follow-up.

"The circle doesn't close. The design event provides an excellent vehicle for people to express their dreams for their community. The process then sifts and prioritise the ideas presented. The missing link is the economic development support required to convert the ideas into reality." (Community organisation)

"The charrette is not an end in itself. A structured follow up is essential – a process of baton handling, with someone identified in the role of project champion." (Community organisation)

"The outcomes need to be embedded in local authority action plans. They need to resource next steps, or simply confirm that no further action is being taken – muddling along is not an option." (Stakeholder)

Some suggested that Scottish Government has a role to play in aftercare, for example that Scottish Government could fund follow-up support at regular intervals (for example, after 6 months, one year, and 5 years) following an event.

"There should be an after-care package provided by independent brokers, which would enable local areas to explore blockages, re-ignite good conversations etc." (Stakeholder)

Local authorities were also seen as key to the follow-up process. The extent of their involvement in this varied across the sample projects. In one area, despite cuts to local authority budgets, the council has continued to fund staff to provide support to communities to develop their capacity. Individual staff members have responsibility for a locality and a theme. They are now moving towards a fully locality-based approach.

Contact

Email: socialresearch@scotland.gsi.gov.uk

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