Evaluation of Scottish National Rural Network (SNRN) and Scotland Rural Development Programme (SRDP) Communication Plan

This report evaluates the implementation of the SRDP Communication Plan and the operational effectiveness of the Scottish National Rural Network (SNRN) in order to provide recommendations for the 2014 - 2020 SRDP.

2 SRDP Stakeholder Communication Plan

2.1 Introduction

The Scotland Rural Development Programme (SRDP) is a programme of economic, environmental and social measures, with an overall value of €1.2 bn; at current values it utilises some €680m of European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) funding plus domestic Scottish Government funding. The programme is designed to support rural Scotland from 2007 to 2013. The SRDP is delivered through the following schemes and mechanisms:

  • Crofting Counties Agricultural Grant Scheme (CCAGS)
  • Food Processing, Marketing and Co-operation Grant Scheme (FPMC)
  • Forestry Commission Challenge Funds (CF)
  • The LEADER initiative
  • Less Favoured Area Support Scheme (LFASS)
  • Rural Priorities (RP)
  • Land Managers Options (LMO)
  • Skills Development Scheme (SDS)

A European Commission requirement of the SRDP is that it provides information on, and publicises national strategy plans on, the programme and the contribution the European Community makes. The information provided is aimed at the general public and ensures transparency of European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD)[3] assistance.

2.2 What was intended

2.2.1 Plans

The SRDP Stakeholder Communication Plan was developed part way through the 2007-2013 programming period (circa 2010) and took more of a strategic look at communications. Information provided in previous revisions of the Operating Programme had been more descriptive of steps taken to introduce the 2007-2013 SRDP to potential applicants.

2.2.2 Aims and Objectives

The stated aims of the Communication Plan were twofold:

  • To raise awareness and understanding of the opportunities and benefits that the SRDP brings to rural Scotland and the contribution made by the Community; and
  • To encourage the submission of high quality applications for projects that deliver tangible benefits to rural Scotland.

There were no objectives stated in the communication plan. However, its success was intended to be monitored in a number of ways as follows:

  • Assessment of media coverage
  • Number and quality of applications to SRDP
  • Measurement of stakeholder relationships (qualitative)
  • Staff and delivery partner understanding of SRDP (measured through successful delivery of funding)
  • Scottish Government / Scottish National Rural network website hits
  • Scottish Government / delivery partner intranet hits
  • Twitter / Facebook hits (only applicable for the last 18 months of the SRDP programme )
  • Monthly newsletter circulation

At the start of the study, it proved difficult to obtain data relating to the monitoring criteria that were set out in the Communications Plan. On further investigation, it became clear that one of the reasons for this was that the Communication Plan was not implemented as originally envisaged. This is referenced in section 1.3.

However, had the Communication Plan been implemented, there do not appear to have been any targets set against the monitoring criteria so it would not have been possible to comment on the success or other wise of the plan. Consideration might also have been given to the definition of the monitoring criteria which in some instances are vague and very difficult to measure or attribute to communications.

At the outset of the study attempts were made to gather data to support the identified monitoring criteria in the Communications Plan. This proved to be very difficult for some criteria and some of the issues that arose are detailed below:

  • Assessment of media coverage: - the media monitoring department within the Scottish Government were not able to provide this information as it was seen to be outwith their remit and capacity. SNRN do not routinely record this either.
  • Number and quality of applications to SRDP: - this information is not gathered on a regular basis across the programme and is a very large task in itself (although RPID staff often had clear opinions). Some work was done on this and can be seen below, see Table 1.
  • Measurement of stakeholder relationships (qualitative): - Stakeholders were spoken to during the consultation process.
  • Staff and delivery partner understanding of SRDP (measured through successful delivery of funding): - It would be possible to gather these figures on the amount of funding delivered. However concerns were raised about how useful a criterion this was, as a causal link or attribution is not clearly established and good project out-turn on poor proposals with limited impacts could still be seen as 'success'.
  • Scottish Government / Scottish National Rural network website hits: - Data was provided on the SNRN website. It was not possible to get data from the Scottish Government broken down by SRDP pages beyond 2009 and it was thought by Scottish Government that without a comparative measure to previous hits this would be counterproductive.
  • Scottish Government / delivery partner intranet hits: - This indicator lacks definition and it was not possible to gather data for it.
  • Twitter / Facebook hits -Twitter/Facebook have only been in regular use as part of Scottish Government communication activities in the last 18 months of the SRDP programme. SNRN were able to provide data on hits.
  • Monthly newsletter circulation: - there are 11,021 subscribers to the Rural Issues newsletter circulated by the Scottish Government.

In an attempt to test the validity of the 'number and quality of applications to SRDP' as a measure of communications performance the data shown below in Table 1 was gathered from Rural Priorities. It shows the percentage of projects approved by the Regional Proposal Assessment Committees (RPACs) on a yearly basis from 2008 to 2012 and an average of all the RPACs by year. It does not include projects that were 'on-going for approval'.

Table 1. Percentage of Projects Approved























































Northern Isles






Outer Hebrides












Average per Year






It is clear from Table 1 that the percentage of applications approved overall reduced quite considerably over the years from an average of 93% in 2008 to an average of 67% in 2012. If there was a correlation drawn between communication and the quality of projects it may have been expected that the percentage of Rural Priorities projects approved would increase over time due to increase in knowledge and experience rather than decrease. However, the decrease is likely to be due to a number of factors, including: the available budget, the experience of the RPACs in assessing projects, awareness of local priorities and progressive delivery of local priorities as well as the quality of projects submitted. This complicates linking the 'number and quality of applications to SRDP' to the way in which SRDP was communicated. Further investigation of other SRDP schemes showed that, for example, no projects had been rejected in the Skills Development Scheme (SDS) during the whole programme. Further, the Less Favoured Areas Support Scheme (LFASS) and Crofting Communities Agricultural Grants Scheme (CCAGs) are wholly or predominantly eligibility-led so there was no quality judgement to make.

2.3 Internal Communications

2.3.1 Co-ordination and Structures

There are a number of teams within the Scottish Government that have a role to play in communicating the SRDP.

  • The RPID Communications team is based at Saughton House and works closely with the RPID staff delivering schemes such as RP, LMO and LFASS on internal and stakeholder communications.
  • Scheme Managers and staff have ongoing responsibility for communicating their schemes to stakeholders using the RPID Communications team, webpages or their own meetings and joint working with stakeholders.
  • 'Communications Greener' support the work of the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment and Minister for Environment and Climate Change through Ministerial announcements and external media communications. In the past 18 months Communications Greener have also used social media alongside news releases to communicate key messages within the Greener portfolio.

2.3.2 Respondents views

In order to understand how effectively the SRDP was communicated, a series of interviews were carried out with all SRDP Scheme Managers, the Rural Development Policy Team Leader and individuals within the RPID Communications Team. These 11 interviews were undertaken instead of the internal SG workshop that was originally proposed. The reason for this change was to try to reduce the demand placed on the internal SG staff's time. Unfortunately many of the key officials of the Communications Plan were no longer in the same post and few respondents had been involved since the start of the SRDP which has made evidence collection quite challenging.

During these interviews, it became clear that there was a very low awareness of the existence of the SRDP Stakeholder Communications Plan. This suggests that the Stakeholder Communications Plan in itself was not fully implemented throughout the programme although individual elements of communication as noted above did continue.

Further investigation with current Communications staff revealed that this may have been partly due to changes mid-way through the programming period which resulted in the loss of a dedicated resource responsible for implementing the SRDP Communications Plan.

Following restructuring, a new team was created to look after Scottish Government Rural Payments and Inspections Directorate (RPID) internal and stakeholder communications. This remit was more focused on communications for RPID schemes including LFASS, LMO and Rural Priorities (RP) and did not include all eight schemes covered by SRDP. This may have been a pragmatic shift in emphasis as there are likely to be quite different communications needs depending on the scheme i.e. LFASS may have more need for compliance communications but not the same need for uptake communications. Throughout this period larger scale press relations and Ministerial announcements continued to be provided by the Greener Communications team.

Some of the Scottish Government staff interviewed think that it would be useful to have greater ability to engage with social media as it is seen as a new and less formal way of engaging with beneficiaries. Social media has only been routinely used across Government over the past 18 months but some SRDP policy and delivery areas are making full use of this tool.

From the interview respondents it also became apparent that there was still a lack of clarity amongst those involved in delivery as to the respective responsibilities of the teams involved in stakeholder Communications. Comments from those interviewed suggest that there were no clear lines of responsibility, a lack of coordination and little strategic direction. As far as web based communication was concerned, it was acknowledged that responsibility for keeping individual webpages updated lies with each business area, with advice from communications where necessary. It is understood the structure of the web site may well change moving into the new Programme. To this end a review of some of the SRDP web pages is already underway as part of a process of continuous improvement in line with developments of the Futures programme.

2.3.3 Planning

Due to the staff changes from the start of the 2007-2013 programme the current Scheme Managers' knowledge of previous communications was limited. It appears that no formal process was in place to ensure both awareness and continuity of the Communications Plan.

SRDP seems to have been communicated as more of an overarching policy at the outset of the programme and latterly become much more focused on individual schemes communicating technical information. It was suggested that the initial 'focus was too much on policy objectives, rather than operational - and then policy left the scene'.

Scheme Managers that were involved in SRDP at the start of the 2007-2013 programme were able to provide a copy of an SRDP promotional booklet that was developed and distributed to stakeholders at the outset of the programme. This booklet gave an overarching description of SRDP and laid out the policy objectives of all eight schemes included in the SRDP: Rural Priorities (RP), Land Managers Options (LMO), Crofting Counties Agricultural Grant Scheme (CCAGS), Less Favoured Area Support Scheme (LFASS), Food Processing and Marketing and Co-operation (FPMC), Skills Development Scheme (SDS), Challenge Funds and LEADER.

In addition to the booklet, a series of publicity events 'road shows' took place throughout the country. A particular effort seems to have been made to reach the more remote communities, and these events were well received. These road shows were used to disseminate information on the 2007-2013 SRDP using a centrally devised presentation which was delivered either by someone from 'HQ' or by a Senior Agricultural Officer at the Local Area Offices and/or the Chair of the RPAC. These meetings were open to the public and uptake varied across the country with most often farmers, agents and landowners attending. In more agriculturally based communities such as Orkney a wider audience often attended these road shows. One Agricultural Officer commented that some farmers attended multiple meetings to ensure that the same information was being given; this reinforcing the awareness of anxiety held by applicants regarding consistency of message.

Since these road shows, it appears that in most instances there has been very little or no formal planning by the scheme managers on how they communicate with their beneficiaries. Scheme Mangers reported that they were not proactively seeking applicants largely due to their schemes not being undersubscribed and so there was no need to proactively promote them. There were also concerns about raising expectations that could not be met. In addition, in the middle section of the programming period, for a number of schemes, the internal pressures placed upon them by audit meant that all their resources were focused on ensuring these obligations were met. Similarly, since a number of the schemes are of a competitive nature, it was considered by scheme managers that the onus was on individual applicants to choose to engage rather than be targeted.

The SDS, CCAGS and FPMC were all felt to be broadly well-known in the industry amongst potential applicants and as 'niche' schemes it was not felt that there was a significant need for wider awareness raising. Uptake was slower but nonetheless seen as adequate.

Equally, being non-competitive and eligibility based LFASS required no promotion directly to applicants for uptake, with generally high if not full awareness, and a simple application tick box in the Single Application Form (SAF). Whilst little promotion was required to ensure uptake of support the objectives sought could have been more clearly communicated particularly given the high political visibility of LFASS.

Agents were acknowledged to be important in driving a number of schemes on the ground, most commonly within forestry schemes, and to a lesser degree agri-business development and agri-environment schemes. The applicant was often the instigator in the latter two but needed the agent to work through the eligibility and scoring criteria.

LEADER was seen as being different with the majority of direct communication with beneficiaries undertaken by the LEADER Local Action Groups (LAGs) with little need or demand for it to come from a central Scottish Government source.

The SRDP website was seen very much as a way of disseminating technical information to applicants who are already involved in SRDP rather than an initial introduction to the scheme. The website had developed over time and was considered generally to be an effective tool for instant and up-to-date information, despite its complexity. The volume of information, however, was unavoidable since there were so many components of the scheme and prescriptions. It appeared that this was also the most important tool for information internally amongst core and peripheral staff working on SRDP and that the bulk of this was for information on Rural Priorities.

Scheme Managers felt that general information about the schemes and what was available was largely getting out to farmers through word of mouth and through agents. This is particularly true for updates to the technical aspects of each scheme as many applicants could not afford the time to scrutinise changes and simply required reliable, accurate and up to date knowledge, more readily available from professional agents or local offices. Farmers and land managers felt that is precisely what they pay their agent to do. A number suggested that improvements could be made in alerting beneficiaries to changes and updates relevant to their scheme.

2.3.4 Resourcing

An indicative budget of €438,000 was originally estimated to take forward the Communications Plan. However no central budget was allocated or reported on, so no information is available on how much has been spent on SRDP communication activities. Individual scheme managers reported that they did not have a budget line for communications. The Technical Assistance budget for SRDP is managed by the Rural Communities Team. However, this budget is primarily reserved for funding the Scottish National Rural Network (SNRN) and the Monitoring and Evaluation of the SRDP. A very small proportion of Technical Assistance budget has been used for stakeholder engagement, such as the annual LEADER conference.

2.3.5 Co-ordination

Corporate identity has not existed or been developed with regard to the SRDP, with generally very little steer being given to Scheme Managers on the main messages to communicate or communication objectives. While the objectives were relatively clear at the outset, as disseminated through the original booklet and the road show events, the messages since this time appear to have been lost in the administration of scheme roll out and the resolution of the difficulties that this created. Few felt that the broad objectives of what farmers and other applicants were aiming to deliver through their management were clear. Rather, it was assessed that applicants applied for what they wanted, often through the interpretation of an agent, and if by coincidence it delivered a target, then it would be deemed a success.

Technical information for applicants was the main form of communication from the Scheme, with the remainder of communications coming centrally on behalf of the Minister, usually in the form of press releases on approvals of funding or scheme administrative changes. All major publicity for schemes is through ministerial announcements following a round of approvals, payments or the introduction of a new component.

Many of the schemes have their own distinct identity due to being 'niche schemes' (FPMC & SDS) or by virtue of their long history (LFASS, CCAGS), and as a result they are not always seen as being part of the SRDP brand, even by some of the Scheme Managers. With its own brand identity LEADER stands out clearly here as it is not a 'scheme' as such, although is often seen that way.

The variety of different means of applying for respective grants within the SRDP add to the lack of corporate identity e.g. applying for LFASS, LMO options and claiming RP annual recurrent payments are made on the SAF so it may be perceived by farmers more as Pillar 1 support. The LFASS and LMO schemes are eligibility-based rather than competitive and are rarely referred to under the SRDP umbrella. LEADER is also not seen as being part of SRDP but considered as a separate funding support mechanism. This leaves Rural Priorities (RP) as the most commonly known scheme under the SRDP label, and the two acronyms are often conflated, a factor exacerbated because of RP's high profile.

2.4 External Communications

2.4.1 What were Scottish Government objectives in communicating

The overarching intentions of SRDP as set out in the original scheme booklet were that 'SRDP provides a framework to deliver European and Scottish Government funding promoting social, economic and environmental benefits. It gives a major opportunity to enhance Scotland's dynamic rapidly changing rural economy - targeting resources to the areas where they will make the most difference, encouraging positive environmental management and supporting remote rural communities.'

It was seen as an 'ambitious programme designed to serve Scotland's needs - encourage innovation, building on our strengths in five key areas'.

  • business viability and competitiveness
  • biodiversity and landscape
  • climate change
  • water quality
  • thriving rural communities

The messages communicated by the Scottish Government that were presented at the outset of the programme have changed slightly, as reflected in the section of the Scottish Government's website entitled 'What is SRDP?' where SRDP is described as being 'outcome-focused and primarily aims to deliver a Greener Scotland and to promote a Wealthier and Fairer rural Scotland. It will contribute to the Government's Healthier and Smarter objectives and will help to strengthen rural communities.'

This reflects the change in Government and its emerging policy which coincided with the point at which the SRDP was being submitted to the European Commission.

2.4.2 Needs

The need for a Government-driven communications system to be in place is arguably self-evident. The Scottish Government has clearly communicated its overall purpose and it was obviously necessary to connect the SRDP to that overall purpose. The principles and approach are explained on the Scottish Government website (http://www.scotland.gov.uk/About/Performance/scotPerforms/purpose), but this material is not designed with the general public or farmer applicants to the SRDP in mind. Nevertheless, there is still a need to connect the SRDP to that wider purpose.

Given the breadth of the SRDP the complexity of the make up of the target audience for associated communications is considerable, one size cannot fit all. Different people have different communication and information needs both in terms of what is communicated and how that is done. This is acknowledged by SG who are currently exploring the design of an improved portal.

Arguably, there are three principal needs with SRDP communications to external audiences. The first relates to generating as wide an awareness of the SRDP as is possible, and through public meetings and leafleting and the cascade of information that was picked up and passed on by representative bodies, the press and others. This awareness raising might have focussed on two main issues:

  • What is in it for me as a potential applicant?
  • What do I need to do to comply with programme/scheme requirements?

The second principal need is for the vision of the programme to be communicated. The early leaflets do communicate the vision, but it would appear that the communications strategy rapidly morphed from one conveying grand vision to one determined to show the operationalisation of the programme and particularly of the more challenging measures such as RPs.

The third principal need is for the modifications to the programme to be communicated to enable effective delivery. As the programme evolved and the various schemes became semi-autonomous delivery entities, there remained a need to connect with interested external bodies including past recipients of funding in that field, to consultants, to target constituencies.

As a general principle, the longer the communications chain the greater the danger that the message becomes distorted, as in a game of 'Chinese whispers.' Further, given the dependence on consultant/agent intermediaries, there is a clear danger that the grand design principles are ignored in what became the pursuit of a funded proposal.

2.4.3 Methods and sources

The website was seen as a critical resource for all 'constituents' with farmers, foresters and rural businesses seeing it as the most important source of information. The website provides not only the technical information regarding eligibility and rules of schemes but is also the only way to apply for RP funding. It is still possible to apply for some of the other schemes on paper.

From an internal point of view the SG are keen to keep all the SRDP information in one place and this is welcomed by external stakeholders. There were concerns raised about the accessibility or 'user friendliness' of the web site and the perceived difficulties in navigating around it. However, the overwhelming concern raised time and again were the serious problems caused by the out-of-date guidance that was still on the website when it had been in practice post-dated. It was suggested that instead of adding updates to scheme guidance it should be possible to have only one guidance document for each scheme that is fully up to date and 'the gospel'. It was also suggested that notifications that changes have been made should be pro-actively publicised rather than relying on people checking the web site 'just in case there has been a change'. This information, it was suggested, could also be cascaded through stakeholder organisations such as NFU, SLE, RSPB, SNH etc.

Agents and intermediaries have played a hugely important role in communicating technical aspects and scoring criteria of the schemes within the SRDP. The Scottish Government has communicated directly with agents and due to the volume of applications they are involved with, many agents have developed a high level of understanding of the complexities of RP and how to write successful applications. There is still a huge demand for the use of agents and intermediaries in the application and claims processes for a number of schemes. This not only happens in complex schemes like RP, but also in schemes such as FPMC where applicants may see themselves as 'cash rich and time poor.' With little prior knowledge of the scheme it is cost-effective for these businesses to buy in expertise. Agents and intermediaries were also seen to be of great benefit to applicants as they are expected to be up-to-date with all the changes in the schemes. The time saving benefits for beneficiaries of picking up the phone to ask an agent far outweighed time spent searching the internet for the advice and answers. One consultee commented that farmers want to be told 'what they can apply for' (e.g. a fence or a shed) and only then will they be interested in the benefits that may take place i.e. improved water quality or better livestock health. In other words the consultant/agent argued for turning the communication process upside down to expose the direct benefits to farmers with the wider environmental and Scottish Government benefits riding pillion on this. In some ways this is the service the agents are providing, driven by an instrumental approach to getting money to land managers rather than delivering to overarching programme aspirations.

Information is still often communicated externally on a one-to-one basis either in person or on the telephone. However, feedback suggests that this has reduced over time since knowledge has grown about schemes and the information provided on the web site has grown. There is still quite a lot of one-to-one communications between Area Offices and beneficiaries, possibly more in the more remote areas where fewer beneficiaries have easy access to the requisite broadband or even a computer.

In LEADER, one-to-one communication is far more important as the role of the Local Action Group (LAG) Co-ordinator includes acting as an animateur . It would be seen to be normal for applicants to speak directly and often to the LAG Co-ordinator as part of the application and claims procedure. One of the valued aspects of LEADER is the 'cradle to grave' care given to project holders. However LEADER is unlikely to spread wider SRDP messages as the project holders and beneficiaries do not tend to be land-based businesses and the RPID officers could not handle this intensity of customer care.

Public meetings were seen to take place more frequently at the beginning of the Programme or when there was a very major change to the SRDP. Public meetings were valued as a very important and useful way of communicating the same information to a large number of people in an interactive and accessible way. These public meetings and their messages were obviously picked up and further communicated by the press.

Information packs, fliers and newsletters are still a valuable source of communications for SRDP. They were used more frequently at the beginning of the programme but were latterly used a lot less, primarily due to printing costs and environmental considerations. There are varying opinions on whether paper is any more effective than electronic media. Some schemes still send out paper notices at claim time; however, not all scheme managers are convinced of how successful this is.

A number of stakeholders keep in touch with their constituents via email, e-newsletters and public meetings. One stakeholder commented that it would be very helpful for the Scottish Government to pro-actively email key individuals in the industry alerting them to changes in the programme.

There is a good amount of information communicated through the national and farming press. In some areas, good use is made of the local radio, with one consultant reporting that they have a monthly 'slot' on the local radio, allowing them to keep folk up to date on current developments and as well as generating business for themselves.

Word of mouth was seen by many to be a very valuable communication method particularly within small rural communities. Although not seen as a formal communication practice, anecdotally it is seen to be reliable and often relied upon in the absence of proactive targeting of some of the schemes or certain options.

The most popular method of communicating for farmers, foresters and crofters was seen to be through the web or via agents; with rural businesses most likely to use the website or email. For LEADER, other rural organisations and agents the chosen method of communicating was one-to-one. Only a handful of stakeholders recorded any form of communication with the general public.

When consulting stakeholders it was clear that most of the information their constituents were looking for was technical information and they were clear that this was to be found on the official Scottish Government website.

2.4.4 European Union

There is a requirement placed on Member States Managing Authorities to ensure compliance with Article 76 of Regulation 1698/2005 on Information and Publicity and to report on the steps taken to do so. In essence the requirement is to provide information on and publicise national strategy plans, Rural Development Programmes and the Community contribution. Specifically the information needs to be aimed at informing potential beneficiaries, professional organisations, the economic and social partners, bodies involved in promoting equality and the NGOs concerned of the possibilities offered by the programme and the rules for gaining access to programme funding. It should further inform the beneficiaries of the Community contribution as well as informing the general public about the role played by the European Community and ensuring the transparency of EAFRD assistance. There is also a requirement to publicise the results of the Programme.

LEADER was highlighted as being very pro active in acknowledging the EU component of funding and appears to be clearly and consistently associated with the 'EU badge'.

The obligation to publicise the EU contribution with regard to the other schemes within SRDP and the Programme as a whole could be more positively and rigorously embraced. This is inconsistently referenced on key SRDP pages on the Scottish Government website e.g. being completely omitted on the 'What is the SRDP' and the scheme specific pages. European co-financing of the SRDP is sometimes not acknowledged in wider public communications including the press, leaflets and posters. There was a common view that the Cabinet Secretary's press announcements did not give the EU contribution a high profile. Certainly consultees did not consider that the EU was consistently acknowledged in communications regarding the other Schemes within the SRDP.

There was a good awareness that all projects over €50,000 are required to erect a plaque acknowledging the EU contribution to the project and that this was part of compliance checks. In the view of the consultees there was a general lack of awareness of EU publicity objectives and that that many applicants were aware of the EU involvement 'mostly due to EU being blamed for the attendant administration.'

RPAC chairs did not believe that it was their role to promote this recognition and one respondent felt that the relationship between applicant and government could better bring this out.

2.4.5 Stakeholder involvement

Many of the key rural organisations have taken it upon themselves to communicate SRDP to their constituents; others have been asked by clients, members or Scottish Government to take on this role. This has been done for a number of reasons, including to encourage business growth; attract better quality applicants; keeping their members informed; to help bring funding into remote rural areas and to ensure successful understanding and delivery. Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) appear to have taken the strategic decision to provide targeted communications of SRDP to specific interest groups to meet their delivery objectives.

The media used for communication by stakeholders were often similar to the Scottish Government, i.e. via their websites, through one to one meetings, newsletters, emails etc. Many of these organisations also provide an advisory service to beneficiaries or directly to agents, which again they use as a means to communicate SRDP. One consultee advised that SRDP had been made a regular topic at their local area meetings and this had been very successful.

The Enterprise Companies' main communications were with the less agriculturally focused schemes, such as LEADER and SDS. This was done either directly or by sign-posting applicants through Business Gateway. SNH and RSPB reported that a lot of their communications on SRDP were internal, rather than being aimed at the general public, while many RPAC chairs saw it as their responsibility to also communicate SRDP internally to case officers in order to gather good quality applications and best effect of funding.

Whether the communications process was done formally or informally varied between organisations. In general, the process seemed to be more formal at the outset of the Programme, becoming less so latterly. It appears that the main agriculturally focused membership organisations have built communications formally into their planning. In general, intermediaries and other rural organisations are felt to be delivering much of the communication around SRDP and a better co-ordinated and more focused approach by Scottish Government would be welcomed.

2.4.6 What has not worked

Throughout the consultation processes stakeholders perceived there to be a lack of clear and simple explanation of how an applicant can contribute as an individual or business towards the bigger picture. The objectives of the programme were seen by some as vague, generic or as broad political high-level targets, which were little understood by applicants. While the vision included integrated land management and supporting wider rural communities, this has had limited manifestation. One stakeholder considered that Scottish Government did not have a strong nor coherent rural vision. The focus, it was felt, appeared to be to ensure that the money is spent and the audit process is adhered to rather than ensure effective delivery of outcomes.

Many recognised the communications and delivery challenges that were caused by the lateness of the programme start, resulting in a pressure to roll out approvals quickly, rather than as part of a well-thought-through process of communication. A number of stakeholders felt the communication methods exacerbated the negative view that success was biased to large expenditure going to the biggest farm or rural businesses, but considered this as an unintended consequence rather than an active strategy. One interviewee noted the irony of trying to improve quality of applications with a detached 'tick-box exercise', and in particular the rollover of existing schemes without reassessment, which gave them mixed messages (business as usual vs transformational change).

By and large, despite the successful commitment of budget; few felt that the objectives of communicating the SRDP had been well achieved by Scottish Government. This was as a result of both the low visibility of any formal and coherent communication approach on objectives or outcomes, and the poor image (driven by the complexity and exclusivity of gaining access of RP) of the SRDP as a whole. It was suggested that the single banner approach employed has been too broad brush to be understood by the spread of beneficiaries and has lacked clarity of focus.

Consultees commented that there had been very little communication on where funds had been committed and minimal, if any, management information for either RPACs or the general public. From a decision making point of view, RPACs found it difficult to access commitment and spend figures in their area or at Scotland level. Consultees thought that it would have been useful to see more of a break down in commitment and spend, possibly by axis as well as scheme and area, in order to target funding to help meet SRDP objectives. As mentioned above (2.2.2) it has been very complicated to even get a feel for the number of applications that have been funded under each scheme at a Scotland level.

It was felt there was a lack of visibility of the achievements within SRDP and the sharing of best practice. There were a number of projects chosen to be 'Case Studies' as a way of showing examples of projects that had been funded through Rural Priorities. There was a feeling from some consultees that these projects appear to have been selected centrally and were not always seen as good examples locally despite the fact that these case studies were provided by local RPACs. The case studies were limited to a description of what had been funded and the intended outcomes. There was no further analysis of the projects or any reporting of the actual outcomes, as no information appears to have been gathered after the project was initially approved. It does not appear that other schemes under SRDP provide case study examples on the Scottish Government web site. In contrast, LEADER LAGs host their own websites independently of Scottish Government and the majority of them provided information about the projects funded, often including a full financial breakdown. Their project descriptions also tend to focus on the projects at their outset and do not provide information on actual achievements or outcomes.

The SRDP aims of building cooperation and collaboration between applicants and integrating business and the environment were not seen as particularly successfully achieved in communication or outcomes terms.

As in so much of the SRDP, communications issues get masked by the administrative challenges of implementing the programme. To many the lack of success in communications was blamed on administrative and practical procedures being difficult to handle.

2.4.7 Future priorities - consistent message

There is a clear call from all stakeholders that it is vital for simple, clear and consistent messages on key priorities which need to be in place from the outset of the new programme. This came through from both the individual consultations and the workshop held in Edinburgh. There is an understanding that changes do take place during the life of a Programme, but again there is a call for a simple and clear explanation of this in an easily understandable way. It is felt that even if people do not agree with all the messages, if they are clear and robust they will at least understand the reasons.

It is suggested that there needs to be a clear statement of the overall aims, objectives and key priorities of the SRDP as a whole; this necessarily is likely to be policy focused, but should be framed in language that is accessible to a wide audience.

There was also a call for consistency of messages within individual schemes, whilst at the same time acknowledging the difference between them. Rural Priorities is the most complicated scheme and it is challenging to ensure consistency when each RPAC area has its own priorities. It is seen to be important to tailor the programme to local conditions, whilst maintaining basic standards across the board.

LEADER was highlighted as having struggled with consistency of message within the scheme, in particular with regard to guidance which has changed frequently during the programme. There is a feeling that the 'goal posts' keep being moved, suggesting to applicants that the objectives of the programme are unclear as well as causing serious delivery issues. Moving forward to the new Programme, Scottish Government are encouraged to listen to stakeholders and take their views into account. They are urged to have a simple and coherent plan from the outset which clearly articulates the main messages. In the words of one consultee: 'don't pussy foot - be blunt and brave'.

As part of this, Scottish Government should become more aware of their target audience and not underestimate the breadth of this audience. A better understanding of the people they are working with would help in this aim. There should be a stronger justification on what is done and why to the general public and more attempts to explain private vs public benefit.

It is suggested that there should be clearer differentiation between national objectives and regional objectives and better communications between agencies involved in delivery, taking advantage of these agencies to cascade information in a more structured and planned way.

Production of a communications manual to help increase 'corporate' identity was suggested by one consultee. One point that was raised consistently throughout the consultation was the benefits that would accrue of developing a procedure that would be followed each time there was a change in rules or an update to a scheme to avoid haphazard or random acts taking place. The website was seen to be fundamental to this.

2.4.8 Coherence

The communication of SRDP at the outset of the Programming period appears to have been planned and considerable effort was put into travelling to rural communities and explaining the new programme through a series of road shows and information booklets. When communications became more difficult ('unstuck') during the early stages of implementing SRDP this is when communications appear to have shifted from being 'corporate SRDP' to having a greater 'individual scheme' focus. The evidence from the consultations suggests that the main reason for this was the focus on the need to encourage uptake and spend due to the late start of the Programme and the difficulties encountered in Rural Priorities due to its complexity.

Summary of Chapter 2: SRDP Stakeholder Communication Plan

  • A Communications Plan was prepared for the 2007-2013 SRDP. The public meetings and leaflets associated with the SRDP launch and early communications followed what might have been expected of a plan. Most officials involved in SRDP delivery were unaware of the plan or who was responsible for its implementation. Communications during SRDP delivery therefore became rather ad-hoc and lacking in co-ordination.
  • The communications associated with delivery of the SRDP mostly became scheme/measure-specific. Certain schemes such as LFASS were not even perceived by stakeholders as part of the SRDP, which was seen instead as revolving around Rural Priorities.
  • Because of the complexity of the SRDP and the requirement for broadband to access it, consultants and agents rapidly emerged as pivotal gatekeepers, both in helping land managers apply and in conveying information to them on scheme requirements.
  • The SRDP website was an important source of advice, but some stakeholders asserted that it was not always up-to-date. They argued understandably that there was an absolute necessity for having a single unambiguous source of information.
  • The early vision of an SRDP supporting a more transformational approach to rural development was clouded by implementation challenges and by a much more instrumental approach to scheme delivery.


Email: Angela Morgan

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