3. Reference Group and key informants
3.1 Introduction and background
From the outset we felt that it was important to hear the experiences of key voices across the sector from community groups, support agencies (local and national), planners and people with particular expertise in community-led planning, inclusion and engagement. In order to maximise the input of these 'key informants' to the process over a relatively short time period, we established three main methods of engagement:
- a 'Reference Group'
- a targeted online survey
- a series of interviews
Each of these methods are described in more detail below.
We are very grateful to everyone who volunteered their time, experience and knowledge to contribute to the draft Guide.
3.2 Reference Group
The formation of the Reference Group was a critical element of our engagement with the sector in the development of the Guide. The role of this group was advisory and was intended to help the Guide to reflect the needs of people who are most likely to be involved in developing Local Place Plans themselves (i.e. in communities), as well as others who might support the development of Local Place Plans.
We planned to involve the Reference Group at key stages of the process – beginning, middle and end – to ensure that the Guide is firmly grounded in the experience of people living and working in communities and reflects their needs.
Using the team's extensive contacts across the community, voluntary and public sectors, many of whom we had engaged with during previous research into Local Place Plans in 2019, we developed an invitation list. There was a very positive response from those invited, who also had suggestions of other people to include.
From this we established the Reference Group of 24 people in the following categories:
Community organisations (e.g. Community Councils, Community Development Trusts) - 8 participants
Support organisations (e.g. Local Authorities, National Parks, intermediary organisations, consultants) - 7 participants
Equalities/inclusion organisations (e.g. Inclusion Scotland, Glasgow Disability Alliance) - 3 participants
Local authority officers (e.g. planning, community planning, community learning and development) - 3 participants
National and professional bodies (e.g. Architecture and Design Scotland, Royal Town Planning Institute Scotland, Community Learning and Development Standards Council Scotland) - 3 participants
We facilitated three meetings of the Reference Group through the process - one in the early stages, one at the midpoint and one towards the end. Not all participants were able to attend all the sessions, but we created a dedicated mini-website to share materials and encourage people to contribute their thoughts and ideas by email or phone. A number of members took advantage of this opportunity. The sessions themselves took place online and were interactive in nature. A summary of the three sessions is provided below.
Session 1 - 10th November 2020
The first session focused on the key themes that should be covered in the Guide. It was generally agreed that these should include:
- The need for community capacity building support – both developmental and around specific areas (e.g. planning, design, policy, etc.).
- Involving partners and working together – the importance of collaboration.
- Establishing need and purpose, and gathering/presenting appropriate evidence for this.
- Building on or aligning with other community plansand having clear links to Local Development Plans and other local planning processes such as Local Outcome Improvement Plans and Locality Plans.
- The need for a clear and consistent process that underpins Local Place Plans.
- The need for robust community engagement in the development of Local Place Plans.
- The need to pay attention to issues of inclusion and equality.
- Clear plan structureis important.
- The accessibility of Local Place Plans is a key priority – this includes language, layout and design, and formats (e.g. online, video, audio, hard copy, etc.)
- Support for the production of plans (e.g. funding, graphic input) is a key consideration.
- The need for support to embed the delivery of Local Place Plans.This includes practical measures, funding, and strategic support from statutory authorities.
- The importance of on-going monitoring and evaluation of the implementation of Local Place Plans.
- The need to ensure on-going community involvement in Local Place Plan processes and not just view them as a one-off.
Session 2 - 8th December 2020
This session built on Session 1 and considered a draft of the structure and headline content. Participants developed their thinking about the key themes and proposed 4 main sections of the Guide as follows:
1. Getting ready - including thinking about the purpose of the Local Place Plan, the area/themes to be covered, and the stakeholders who would need to be involved.
2. Developing the Plan - including undertaking research into community needs and aspirations, wider research on demographics and existing land use plans, engaging with the wider community about their vision, consulting with them about the plan content, and setting realistic aims, outcomes and actions in the plan itself.
3. Presenting the Plan - including being clear about the audience for the plan, having clear structure and layout, and making the plan fully accessible in both language and design.
4. Delivering the Plan - including having a clear line of sight between what is planned and what is delivered, having close collaboration between community and statutory agencies to ensure best chance of delivery, having 'quick wins' and robust monitoring and review systems built in.
Session 3 - 8th February 2021
This session gave the Reference Group an opportunity to feedback on the first full draft of the Guide's content. Each section was covered in the session, with participants feeding back specifically on:
- the balance of content across all sections of the Guide - both in terms of length and in level of detail in each section
- the general flow and order of the content
- the design and accessibility of the materials
In addition, the Group considered and offered examples of good practice that could be included in the Guide and supportive quotes which would help to bring it to life.
3.3 Key informants - survey and interviews
Recognising that the Reference Group could only give us the views of a relatively small, albeit diverse, group of people and that others would have valuable knowledge and experience to contribute, we drew up a list of key informants with whom to conduct a survey and semi-structured interviews over the course of November and December 2020.
There were 3 key questions which framed both the survey and the interviews:
- In your experience, what should communities consider when preparing Local Place Plans?
- What do you think are the key elements to be considered in the presentation of a Local Place Plan?
- What should communities and support organisations consider when they set out to deliver the Plan?
Survey and interview responses to these questions are summarised below, along with additional comments and views about Local Place Plans and their development.
The responses helpfully informed both the development of the draft Guide and this report.
The online survey was sent to 26 key contacts across the sector, some of whom further cascaded it round their own local networks. A particular example of this was in Aberdeen where our local contact circulated the survey to Community Councils in the area, many of whom responded promptly and with detailed comments.
Generally, we were pleased with the high level of return both in numbers (we received 29 responses) and in the level of detail in the responses, particularly given the proximity to the Christmas period.
The respondents ranged from community projects and Community Councils to local authorities, national intermediaries and academia. The responses are summarised below.
Q1. In your experience what should communities consider when preparing Local Place Plans?
- Communities should develop Local Place Plans with a clear understanding of what they want to do with the plan. In some cases, the Local Place Plan will replace an existing community plan and may contain themes like heritage, active travel and wellbeing.
- Good quality community engagement will be essential, and any engagement process should involve as many people in the community as possible so that the community can have a sense of ownership.
- It is important to include the local authority and other relevant public bodies in the plan development process and to keep them engaged/involved in its delivery. This hopefully will bring expertise and resources to the delivery of the plan.
- Understanding how to access expert advice and support will be important, as will understanding that delivery of the plan needs to be distributed amongst community agencies and co-ordinated via a steering group rather than individuals.
- Communities should be supported to access financial resources to help them help themselves.
- Building capacity in the community is critical, as is encouraging key community voices to come forward during the community engagement and take ownership of the preparation of the plan.
Q2. What do you think are the key elements to be considered in the presentation of a Local Place Plan?
- The Local Place Plan should be short and easy to read with plenty of graphics to make it accessible to everyone in the community.
- If budget is available, 3D models and a website can be useful to convey the spatial elements of the plan.
- Background statistics and comparisons with other areas or wider geographies are also helpful to provide context.
- When the plan is complete it should be made available to the community to comment further and to lend their support to realise the projects or themes.
- The Local Place Plan should consider and make clear what the community can influence and what organisations and agencies should be involved.
Q3. What should communities and support organisations consider when they set out to deliver the Plan?
- Think about how the delivery of the plan can be joined up with neighbouring plans, there may be themes or projects which cross boundaries e.g. transport, environment, heritage, etc.
- Where possible, the volunteers who deliver the plan should represent a cross section of the community.
- Funding to deliver the plan can come from agencies or through fundraising and sponsorship and the Local Place Plan should consider what communities can do directly.
- The plan should clearly state what communities can influence or deliver and what they can expect from local organisations (community and voluntary sector) and agencies.
- The Local Place Plan will have to be funded to realise the themes or projects. This should be considered as the plan is being developed and conversations should be taking place with local organisations and agencies so that the plan can be delivered as soon as possible when it is launched.
- Quick wins are important to keep people engaged in the relevance and practicality of the plan.
- Having an embedded working group or champion to lead on different aspects of the plan is important.
- Those leading on the delivery need to be realistic about timescales and resources to deliver different elements of the plan as not every project can or will be delivered simultaneously, so it is important to prioritise activities.
- Momentum must be maintained throughout the process which includes celebrating quick wins and supporting volunteers, organisations and agencies to be involved and learn from the process.
A total of 28 people with experience in community-led planning were interviewed, drawn from community organisations, support organisations and local government. Those approached were either involved in one or more plans that we had analysed (see section 2.1 and Annex A) or known to be involved in community-led planning. The interviews took place over the course of four weeks in November/December 2020.
The interviews were semi-structured, using the three survey questions as an initial guide (see above), and focusing on particular topics that we or the interviewee wished to raise. The interviews were particularly useful to explore particular questions on interviewees' experience, derived from our analysis of plans that they had been involved with.
The responses from interview participants largely reflected those of the survey respondents. In addition interviewees had a range of views, opinions and ideas about Local Place Plans in general and how these might build on and add value to community involvement in existing planning processes. These are captured and reflected in Section 5 of this report.