3. Process of establishing and managing the pilots
Research Question: Was the process for the establishment and management of the pilot regional frameworks effective?
The Scottish Government required that the pilots should be led by local authorities, but expected that they should involve the development of robust partnerships. As part of the Scottish Government's specification for the pilots the authorities were given the option to contract out some or all of the preparatory and delivery work.
This section considers the approach of the two pilots to the establishment and management of their projects. In particular it considers the issues of project management and stakeholder engagement.
3.1.1 Approach to Project Management
As required by the Scottish Government, both of the pilots were local authority led. In both cases overall responsibility for delivery of the projects was assigned to a senior individual within each local authority, whilst dedicated project staff were appointed to lead on operational matters.
Aberdeenshire Council appointed an existing member of staff to project manage the pilot (on a part time basis circa 2 days a week) and recruited a new full time project officer to undertake the day-to-day operation of their pilot. To support project delivery and to provide technical GIS support, a partnership arrangement was agreed with the James Hutton Institute (JHI). This took advantage of the expertise within the JHI and the fact that JHI were already involved in Scottish Government research on ecosystem services. In their final report to the Scottish Government, Aberdeenshire noted that this collaboration had been an important cornerstone of their work.
Scottish Borders Council (SBC) also opted to allocate operational responsibilities to an existing member of staff (the Ecology Officer) on a part-time basis, supported (also on a part-time basis) by a member of staff from the Tweed Forum. This relationship appears to have worked well and SBC noted that they would not have volunteered to run the pilot without the presence of the Tweed Forum. Professor Chris Spray of the University of Dundee (scientific advisor) and Environment Systems (GIS support) provided additional technical support.
The Borders pilot reported only one project management issue. This emerged in the stage 3 workshop, during which all members of the project management team noted that they had invested significantly more time in the project than had initially been anticipated. This had been accommodated on the basis that the project was a pilot; however it was reported that the demands of the pilot had impacted on the ability of the SBC project manager to undertake their other duties and that this has caused some internal (to SBC) issues. SBC noted that, if starting afresh, they would have appointed a full time project manager.
3.1.2 Stakeholder Engagement in Project Governance
Diagrams showing project governance structures are provided in Appendix 1. Both pilots involved external stakeholders in the governance of their projects.
In the case of Aberdeenshire, the project management team reported to a project board. The board included representatives from Aberdeenshire Council, Cairngorms National Park Authority, ConFor, Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS), National Farmers Union Scotland (NFUS), Scottish Enterprise, Scottish Environment LINK, Scottish Land and Estates, and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH). Elected members were kept abreast of progress through regular reports to the infrastructure Services Committee.
Several other bodies were involved in the pilot as non-board affiliates. These included Historic Scotland, Scottish Water, Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) and the Scottish Government's Rural Payments and Inspectorate Division (SGRPID). During the final evaluation workshop, the project management team noted that they had found it challenging to secure the level of desired engagement from the non-board affiliates.
In the Scottish Borders, project governance was provided through a two-tier arrangement, the first of which was a small Project Team composed of staff from SBC and Tweed Forum, and Professor Chris Spray. The Project Team reported to a Project Board chaired by SBC's Project Executive and including Tweed Forum, University of Dundee, SBC's Forward Planning manager and with Scottish Government as observers. The Project Team was supported by a key stakeholder group (advisory group), whose membership included NFUS, Scottish Land and Estates, FCS, Southern Upland Partnership, RSPB, SNH, Buccleuch Estates, SEPA, Scotland's Rural College, Borders Forest Trust, the Tweed Foundation and an individual farmer member.
Over the course of the project, the key stakeholder group expanded to include representatives from the Scottish Government's Rural Payments and Inspections Division (SGRPID) and Historic Scotland. Both of these organisations had initially declined to participate in the pilot, but both reported in the final evaluation workshop that they felt that their involvement in the project had been worthwhile.
3.1.3 Wider Stakeholder Engagement
Both pilots provided opportunities for wider stakeholder engagement, although there were marked differences in the scale of activity and the role that it played in shaping the projects.
The approach to stakeholder engagement in Aberdeenshire was shaped by an awareness of the time intensive nature of engagement work; the project management team were keen to ensure that the overall project ran to schedule and therefore developed and ran a tightly defined programme of stakeholder engagement. This commenced with an introductory stakeholder event attended by 38 people in June 2013. Subsequent activity involved:
1. A series of three wider stakeholder workshops; one following each key work stage (baseline mapping, identification of constraints and opportunities and production of the framework). During these workshops JHI presented pre-prepared materials which were then reviewed by workshop participants.
2. Six additional workshops were run in two local focus areas (LFAs) namely Huntly and Upper Deeside. The LFA workshops differed from the review workshops in that participants were asked to focus on broad sets of questions (rather than to consider outputs from the pilots). Insight from the LFA workshops was then fed back into the pilot development process.
A review of the lists of workshop participants shows that the review workshops were almost exclusively attended by representative bodies (as opposed to individuals representing individual commercial enterprises or communities) with public sector representatives being numerically dominant. Many of the same representative individuals / organisations also participated in the LFA workshops, but these also included some individuals representing local business and community interests, particularly in the Huntly LFA.
The pilot's approach to stakeholder engagement attracted some criticism from the participants in the first wider stakeholder workshop, where it was noted that:
'There needs to be a greater engagement with a wider range of stakeholders in this early stage of work, particularly with local communities and landowners/managers.'
The validity of this point was acknowledged by the pilot at the time and is also reported within the lessons learned section of their final report, where it was noted:
'With hindsight, stakeholders should have been involved to a greater extent in decisions to focus work.'
In the Scottish Borders the decision was made to appoint a dedicated staff resource (via Tweed Forum) to develop and lead a project specific stakeholder engagement programme. This was guided by a stakeholder facilitation and action plan, developed by the Tweed Forum in November 2013.
A programme of workshops was central to the engagement plan. These focused on 6 sub-catchment communities, it having been considered impractical to undertake detailed community engagement across the whole of the Scottish Borders. The 6 study areas were selected to represent a variety of the key land uses within the Scottish Borders - from intensive lowland arable systems through to upland sheep farming and forestry.
During the period from September to March 2014, two sets of workshops were run in each priority sub-catchment area (four in the Ettrick and Yarrow sub-catchment). The aim of the first set of workshops was to introduce people to the pilot and to focus on key land use issues within each priority area and consider baseline ecosystem services. The second set of workshops used a series of 'opportunity maps' to facilitate stakeholder discussion on land use change and the opportunities, and constraints, for delivering ecosystem services. A third set of maps enabled discussion between stakeholders on the interaction between different land uses and ecosystem services
In total the pilot reported that 205 people participated in the workshops and that they had involved a representative cross section of society. Attendance numbers were however described as disappointing, as was the level of engagement with the farming community. It was also noted that there was a need to target the business, tourism and renewable energy sectors.
In addition, to the sub-catchment workshops the pilot ran four expert 'key stakeholder' workshops between June 2013 and March 2014. Project team members also attended a range of meetings (13 in total) run by external groups based in the pilot area, where they made presentations on the pilot and its aims and objectives. In a conversation with project staff from the Tweed Forum, it was noted that this approach was felt to be the most resource efficient method of engagement. Finally, pilot project staff participated in 23 one-to-one meetings with a wide range of key stakeholders.
Overall, the pilot reported that they felt that they had been successful in engaging the wider community (in the sub-catchment areas), NGOs, forestry and agricultural representative bodies. The approach, however, proved far more resource intensive than anticipated with the Tweed Forum noting that:
'One half of one full time staff post was estimated at the beginning of the process. The actual amount of Tweed Forum staff time dedicated was more than twice that.'
It was also reported that, despite the level of resource investment, some groups had remained difficult to access, most notably the tourism and rural business sectors. Most stakeholders (in the final evaluation workshop, Scottish Borders) reported that they felt that farmers had not really engaged with the pilot process, the project management team noted (also in final workshop) that they would have liked to have seen greater farmer engagement, but observed that 297 of the 845 people who attended open meetings were farmers.
Both local authorities noted the key role of the expert project partners (Tweed Forum and JHI) in project development and delivery. They were seen as bringing technical expertise and capacity, credibility and (in the case of the Tweed Forum) an invaluable network of local contacts and potential partners.
There was significant overlap in the range of organisations involved in project governance in the two pilots. One noticeable point of difference is that there was greater evidence of local stakeholder engagement in the Scottish Borders pilot.
In comparison to the Scottish Borders, the Aberdeenshire pilot involved a smaller number of stakeholders representing a narrower range of interests. This reflects the fact that Aberdeenshire ran fewer stakeholder events and undertook less outreach work than the Scottish Borders pilot.
One suggested reason for this is that the Scottish Borders area hosts several active locally based initiatives, as well as the Tweed Forum itself. It was also reported (final evaluation workshop) that there is a strong tradition of partnership working in the Borders. The benefits of having a strong existing base on which to build the Borders pilot was reported by various stakeholders in each stage of the evaluation, and was reiterated by both SBC and members of the key stakeholder group in the stage 3 evaluation workshop. In contrast, the Aberdeenshire pilot area was reported as largely lacking this supporting infrastructure. It was therefore necessary to create a new partnership, the first step being engagement with the JHI.
One of the requirements of the Scottish Government was that a wide range of stakeholders be involved in the pilots. Whilst there is a clear record of external engagement, given the focus on pursuing an ecosystem approach, it might be argued that there are some noteable absentees from the project board/key stakeholder groups; for example, dedicated representatives from tourism, recreation/leisure (non-traditional) and health. The pilots were aware of the potential value of including representatives from these areas and in some cases had attempted (albeit unsuccessfully) or had elected to involve them through their wider stakeholder engagement programmes.
Stakeholder engagement generated challenges for both pilot projects and their experiences offer some useful lessons for the future. The Scottish Borders pilot demonstrated the feasibility of engaging a wide range of stakeholders in the development of a local framework, and their cataloguing of the approach taken may prove useful to future projects. However, their approach was greatly enabled by the existence of strong local networks and carried a high resource cost.
In contrast, the light touch approach adopted by the Aberdeenshire pilot successfully allowed for a more rapid deployment of resources, but was criticised by some stakeholders, primarily for not allowing early engagement and influence in the shaping of the project - a criticism that was accepted by the pilot.
Both pilots reported difficulties in engaging some stakeholder groups. The reasons for this were not always provided, but some views were expressed in relation to farmers, a group that was identified as challenging by both pilots. A lack of clear tangible impacts/benefits was put forward (by two commercial land manager respondents) as a reason for the limited engagement of farmers with the Borders pilot. It was also noted that land owner / agricultural interests may have chosen to prioritise engagement in other policy consultations (e.g. CAP reform) over involvement in the pilots.
An additional suggestion, also put forward by one of these respondents, was that the language of ecosystems services might represent a barrier, with commercial land managers seen as potentially dismissing the concept as 'woolly' or failing to appreciate how it might be relevant to their interests. The issue of language was also noted as an issue by stakeholders in the Aberdeenshire final evaluation workshop, who noted that they felt the terminology of ecosystems services made it difficult to engage with the health and recreation sectors.
A related suggestion made by some other stakeholders (Scottish Borders) was that they felt it had been difficult to engage wider stakeholders with the concept of ecosystem services. The project management team for the Aberdeenshire pilot expressed the view that
'Some stakeholders were not motivated to engage because the output of the pilot was not clear (felt to be theoretical).'
This observation was echoed by stakeholders who participated in the stage 3 evaluation workshop.
Email: Linda Gateley
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