Overcoming barriers to community land-based activities: gudiance

Guidance on good practice in overcoming barriers to community land-based activities.

2. Theoretical background to the project: resolving barriers through collaborative planning and engagement

An increasing emphasis is being placed on 'community engagement' by practitioners and academics, building on lessons of best practice and developing contemporary 'participatory governance' (see Reed, 2008; Sarkissian et al., 2009; SCDC, 2011). The term 'engagement' is taken to represent different types of participatory processes and information flows, in particular reflecting the higher 'rungs' of Arnstein's 'ladder of participation' (1969; see Figure 1). It is defined within the 'National Standards for Community Engagement' as:

"Developing and sustaining a working relationship between one or more public body and one or more community group, to help them both to understand and act on the needs or issues that the community experiences" (Communities Scotland, 2005: 4).

Figure 1 The eight-rung 'ladder of citizen participation' after Arnstein (1969)

Figure 1 The eight-rung 'ladder of citizen participation' after Arnstein (1969)

There is consensus within the academic literature that community engagement processes can lead to community empowerment in decision-making (Carr and Halvorsen, 2001; Mohan and Stokke, 2000; Habermas, 1973; Habermas, 1981; McKee, 2015). The literature on participatory governance highlights further benefits to community engagement processes, including:

  • better decision-making due to the inclusion of a wider range of perspectives and expertise and local knowledge (Reed, 2008; Irvine et al., 2009);
  • increasing the potential for innovation (Brandenburg et al., 1995 in Carr and Halvorsen, 2001);
  • greater support for land management practices and land use change through increased public understanding and 'social learning' (Reed et al., 2010);
  • providing support for the implementation of policy;
  • reducing the potential for conflict (Warren, 2009; Dandy et al., 2014);
  • building trusting and respectful relationships (Richards et al., 2004; Sarkissian et al., 2009; Walker et al., 2010); and
  • offering financial and time-saving benefits (Pretty, 2003 in Dandy et al., 2014).

Key thinkers in spatial and urban planning have considered the potential for communicative or collaborative processes to improve public participation and achieve consensus between diverse communities. Healey and colleagues advocate the change in governance 'culture' necessary to improve the management of co-existence in 'shared spaces' through deliberative processes and 'collaborative, inclusionary planning processes' (Healey, 2006:297; see also Healey et al., 2003). Such planning processes may include the ' Charretteplus®' model designed and utilised by PAS, involving a series of intense, collaborative workshops, informed by local community aspirations and concerns, and integrating both spatial and community planning ( PAS, 2014). Participatory mapping techniques have also been used by researchers to bring together community perspectives, for example, to resolve marine planning conflicts, or to resolve water quality issues within the implementation of the Water Framework Directive (Martin-Ortega et al., 2015). Healey explains that through social interaction and debate, collective action can be achieved, contributing to mutual understanding and in turn building relational resources. These relational bonds rely on trust and generate intellectual, political and social capital, as well as institutional capacity (Healey, 2006:297; see also Healey et al., 2003).

Similarly, Allmendinger (2009) supports the shift to communicative and collaborative planning approaches to allow disparate communities to reach agreement and formulate plans, in particular advocating the following principles: (i) to undertake constant reflection to ensure transparency; (ii) to expose and challenge existing power relations; and (iii) to adopt a more 'active and creative' role in the development of new processes and structures, leading to 'planner reflexivity' regarding current roles and existing power relations (Allmendinger, 2001 in Allmendinger, 2009: 10).

As MacGregor (1993) asserts, private landowners in Scotland play a central (if informal) role in rural planning. It follows that the principles derived from Allmendinger may be applicable in the context of rural land use planning, for example with regard to increasing landowner accountability and allowing for traditional power structures in rural areas. A knowledge gap exists with regard to urban landowners, although Adams (2013) highlights the necessity to promote a 'discourse of property responsibility' in urban areas. Nonetheless, greater community involvement in land management may be facilitated through the encouragement and/or requirement for private landowners to adopt the principles advocated by Healey and Allmendinger, amongst others.

Even after adopting these principles, several barriers may exist that inhibit resolution strategies. For example, private landowners may be limited by a lack of practical facilitation skills or may lack confidence to engage with communities. Incorporating a wide range of viewpoints into a decision-making or development process takes time and can result in costs. Identifying the 'community' and community representatives with which to engage is similarly reported as a common challenge for landowners (cf. McKee, 2015; Glass et al., 2012). Further challenges include issues around managing community expectations, and the constraints of 'non-negotiables,' or where community involvement in the decision-making process is not an option (Richards et al., 2004). A further critical challenge is capacity, on the part of the landowner (see Skerratt, 2010) and the level of community capacity, either collective or individual (Baker, 2006; Middlemiss and Parish, 2010; Fischer and McKee, under review).

The design of successful engagement processes in order to achieve mutual understanding can be derived from the Theory of Communicative Action, devised by the social theorist Jürgen Habermas (Habermas, 1973; 1981). Habermas argues that mutual understanding (and thus 'Communicative Action') is supported through the creation of a so-called 'ideal speech situation'. The ideal speech situation ensures that all participants have the opportunity to express their views and contribute to democratic decision-making (Harvey Brown and Goodman, 2001; Allmendinger, 2009). A summary of indicators of ideal speech are presented in Table 1.

Table 1 Summary of indices of an 'ideal speech situation' according to Habermas (after Duckett et al., Under Review).

Summary 'ideal speech' indices


(1) Domination-free

  • Voices are heard equally;
  • Absence of hierarchy;
  • Authority based on 'good argument';
  • Allows for criticism and reply.

(2) Free from strategizing

  • Rationally motivated agreements end disputes;
  • Implicit knowledge is theoretically explicit ('all cards on the table');
  • Universality: principles transcend specific locations and situations.

(3) Deception-free

  • Absence of deception through participation;
  • Trust implicit through assumption of consensus.

(4) Egalitarian

  • Power relations between participants play no role in the situation.

(5) Promotes intersubjective validity claims

  • Encourages exchange and acceptance of diverse viewpoints.

(6) Recognises different kinds of evidence

  • An open, respectful environment allows a variety of knowledge claims, different grounds or ways of backing claims to be brought to the table including anecdotal evidence.

(7) Constraint-free

  • No limits on participation ( i.e. in terms of numbers, knowledge types, etc.);
  • No force (or exertion of power), except the force of better argument;
  • Better arguments to stand, nothing ruled-out or ruled-in.

(8) Inclusive

  • Includes all those who are affected by its decisions.

Research findings based on six ethnographic case studies by McKee (2015) sought to identify the opportunities and threats of partnership working between estates and communities, including the importance of positive engagement processes. Incorporating a Habermasian perspective highlights the importance of the principles of Communicative Action for landowner legitimacy and sustainable estate community development (McKee, 2015).

Based on this theoretical background and building on previous studies in the area, this report explores the range of resolution strategies adopted to overcome barriers to community land-based activities, the challenges and opportunities associated with their adoption, and the types of incentive and support required to ensure successful resolutions to barriers to community land-based activities on privately-owned land.


Email: Graeme Beale, socialresearch@gov.scot

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