National Islands Plan review: consultation analysis

The report sets out the main findings of the public consultation carried out to inform a review of the National Islands Plan 2019.

7 Workshop views on governance, awareness and focus

7.1 During the consultation to review the National Islands Plan, the Scottish Government carried out 16 workshops involving 231 island residents and representatives of island communities. The workshops focused on three topics: Governance, Awareness and Focus. Participants in the workshops were invited to give their views on two questions for each topic.


Q1: How do you see yourself, as a member of an island community, having a stronger voice in the delivery of the National Islands Plan?

Q2: Are there any organisations that you think should have a greater role in the delivery of the National Islands Plan?


Q1: How might the Scottish Government Islands Team better communicate our work to island communities?

Q2: Can you give some examples of island engagement by other organisations which you think have been successful?


Q1: Would you want to see prioritisation of the Strategic Objectives in the National Islands Plan?

Q2: If so, how would like to see them prioritised and why?

7.2 This section provides a high-level summary of the main themes arising in relation to each of the six workshop questions. This analysis is based on summary reports for each workshop produced by members of the Scottish Government Islands Team (SGIT). Note that, in some cases, points may have been made multiple times across different workshops while, in other cases, points were made just once.

7.3 Detailed points made at the workshops, collated by theme, are in Annex 4.


Giving members of island communities a stronger voice in delivery (Q1)

7.4 Workshop participants offered a wide range of views on how island communities could be given a stronger voice in the delivery of the National Islands Plan. They highlighted (i) current barriers to community involvement, and (ii) what could be done to improve community involvement in delivery.

Barriers to community involvement

7.5 Workshop participants saw four main barriers to members of island communities having a stronger voice in the delivery of the National Islands Plan. These were:

  • Lack of capacity: Island residents can suffer from consultation fatigue. Not all islands have a strong voice, and this can create inequality when island communities are consulted.
  • People’s perceptions: People can feel their voices are heard, but not listened to. Consultation can feel ‘tokenistic’ because nothing changes as a result.
  • Lack of information: People are not aware of opportunities to contribute to the delivery of the plan. They do not necessarily have knowledge of islands policies and may not understand the value of giving their views.
  • Lack of opportunity: There are not enough opportunities for communities to become genuinely involved in the delivery of the National Islands Plan.

How to improve community involvement

7.6 Workshop participants offered numerous suggestions about how to improve community involvement in the delivery of the National Islands Plan. These suggestions were wide-ranging but were clustered around six main themes: (i) raising awareness and giving people more information, (ii) improving direct communication between SGIT and island communities, (iii) strengthening local democracy, (iv) enabling localised decision-making and delivery, (v) providing support and funding to build capacity for engagement, and (vi) working through existing community representative bodies or community service providers. Key points made in relation to each of these themes are summarised below.

  • Raise awareness and give people more information: Workshop participants thought people in island communities need to be given information about the National Islands Plan more often and in ways that are accessible and relevant to them. The production of user-friendly, island-specific annual reports instead of (or in addition to) a single large annual report should be considered. Feedback loops should be created to share directly with people what changes have been made as a result of consultation.
  • Improve direct communication between SGIT and island communities: It was suggested that members of SGIT should be based in the islands. This would not only make them more accessible to local communities, but also give them a greater understanding of the specific challenges local communities are facing. Participatory events were seen as useful mechanisms for engaging directly with island communities.
  • Strengthen local democracy: It was suggested that one way of enhancing local democracy is to involve local people in setting priorities and making funding decisions. At the same time, democratic structures in communities need to be strengthened to make it possible to gather and ‘collate’ individual voices. There was concern that individual voices can sometimes obscure the collective community voice, and that efforts should be made to seek out quieter voices in local communities.
  • Enable localised decision-making and delivery: Island communities will have a clearer understanding of the impact of the National Islands Plan if it is well-aligned with their local priorities. There should be more individual island plans (as there are in Cumbrae and Arran). The creation of individual island plans should feed into the overarching national plan. The Faroe Islands were seen as an example of what works well in terms of localised decision-making and delivery of island priorities.
  • Provide support and funding to build capacity for engagement: It was suggested that a network of ‘island champions’ could be created, with a specific role of engaging with communities and feeding back to SGIT. These individuals could have responsibility for an island, or a theme within the National Islands Plan, and could be employed by local development trusts or local authorities.
  • Work through existing local representative groups / agencies: Workshop participants suggested increasing and strengthening links with community councils, development trusts, community planning partnerships and local Third Sector Interfaces. The Scottish Islands Federation (SIF) and Community Land Scotland were both seen as having an important role in understanding and representing the views of island communities.

7.7 Other points, not related to any of the themes above were that: (i) a model of engagement involving representatives from all populated islands could be challenging to manage, and (ii) there is a need to involve younger people in the delivery of the National Islands Plan.

Organisations that should have a greater role in delivering the plan (Q2)

7.8 There were several recurring themes in the discussion about whether certain organisations should have a greater role in the delivery of the National Islands Plan. The views of workshop participants focused on the roles of (i) development trusts, (ii) local authorities and their community planning partners, (iii) community councils, (iv) the Scottish Islands Federation, (v) other local community forums or groups, (vi) other local third sector organisations, and (vii) private sector organisations. Each of these is discussed briefly.

  • Development trusts: Workshop participants often said that development trusts and other community anchor organisations could (or should) have a greater role in delivering the National Islands Plan at a local level. However, participants cautioned against relying on unpaid volunteers which they saw as unsustainable.
  • Local authorities and their community planning partners: Some workshop participants thought local authorities were in the best position to deliver positive outcomes for local communities. However, others (in areas where the local authority had responsibility for both mainland and island communities) thought the delivery role should not be limited to local authorities and said that their own local authority needed to focus more on the islands.
  • Community councils: Some participants saw community councils as the best organisations to be involved because they are the ‘direct representatives of the local communities’. However, not everyone agreed, with some thinking that the community council model needed to be reviewed and properly resourced before community councils are given significant additional responsibility.
  • Scottish Islands Federation (SIF): SIF was seen to be a helpful organisation, and SIF’s housing group was seen as a positive force in the islands. Participants in one workshop thought SIF needed to engage with all community councils and development trusts to ensure a greater community role in delivering the plan. Participants in another workshop thought SIF should be given greater support and funding to enable it to grow and become more agile.
  • Other local community forums or groups: Workshop participants saw ‘grassroots partnerships’ as key to securing the voice and participation of communities. There was also a preference for ‘direct engagement’ with communities, rather than engagement through organisations such as Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Scottish Futures Trust, or even local authorities.
  • Other local third sector organisations: Workshop participants highlighted the potential for representatives of local social enterprises and local Third Sector Interfaces to have a greater role in local delivery of the National Islands Plan. It was also suggested that local churches could have a greater role in extending the reach of information-sharing and awareness-raising activities.
  • Private sector organisations (local and national): Some participants thought there was a need to engage local businesses in delivery, as these organisations were seen to be the backbone of communities. Respondents specifically mentioned: (i) major employers and island industries (fishing, farming, etc.), (ii) utilities companies, (iii) communications companies, and (iv) local and regional press.

7.9 A more general point was also made that the organisations that should (or could) have a greater role in delivery might be different across the different islands. However, any organisation or individuals involved in supporting delivery of the plan would need to be properly funded / resourced. It is seen to be unsustainable to rely on volunteers to do this.


How might SGIT better communicate their work to island communities? (Q1)

7.10 Workshop participants repeatedly said that few members of their local communities were aware of the National Islands Plan or SGIT. People think nothing is being done through the National Islands Plan because of a lack of communication. SGIT needs to think more about how to raise community awareness of the investments being made through the plan.

7.11 Participants made a wide range of specific suggestions about how SGIT could improve communications with island communities. Some of these were general in nature. For example, it was suggested that:

  • The National Islands Plan could be divided into smaller, more accessible sections and written in plain English (no jargon).
  • Summaries, short snippets, videos, animations, and infographics could be used more often to communicate with island communities.
  • Communications should be tailored to each island. People are more likely to engage on local issues rather than national issues.
  • Communication should be ongoing and two-way – consultation once every four years is not a good model.

7.12 Specific suggestions focused on: (i) direct face-to-face engagement, (ii) the use of print and broadcast media, (iii) digital engagement, (iv) disseminating information through community groups, and (v) establishing a communications team (or officer) within SGIT. Each of these is discussed briefly below.

  • Direct face-to-face engagement: Workshop participants thought SGIT should go beyond meetings with local authorities to engage directly with island communities more often. Suggestions for how / where to engage with communities included: holding local engagement events, with adequate notice given to allow people to attend; attending scheduled community meetings; having a table / stall at local events such as agricultural shows; and using libraries, health centres, village halls and schools to meet local communities.
  • Print and broadcast media engagement: It was noted that not everyone is able to engage through digital media. Thus, there were suggestions that SGIT should make use of community newsletters, local newspapers (print and online), radio stations, posters on local notice boards and in shop windows, and leaflets to households. SGIT could also produce (and distribute widely) a regular newsletter / bulletin, proving updates on projects funded under the National Islands Plan. Workshop participants thought that any projects funded under the plan should display the SGIT (or National Islands Plan) logo prominently.
  • Digital engagement: Ideas for digital communications included creating a National Islands Plan (or SGIT) website and / or discussion forum; making more use of Facebook; and holding regular (online) meetings with island communities. However, it was noted that this type of engagement depends on people in island communities having good digital connectivity.
  • Dissemination of information through local organisations, community groups and forums: Participants suggested that information could also be distributed through local authorities, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the Scottish Islands Federation, community councils, development trusts, village hall committees, lunch clubs, youth groups, or other local forums.
  • Establishment of a communications team (or communications officer) within SGIT: A suggestion made relatively frequently across multiple workshops was for SGIT to create a communications plan, and establish their own communications and marketing team, or simply hire a communications officer.

7.13 Finally, workshop respondents suggested things that should not be done if SGIT wants to improve communication with island communities. These included:

  • NOT arranging meetings with island communities at short notice
  • NOT using QR codes to communicate important information
  • NOT using jargon and buzz words
  • NOT making written communications too long and complex
  • NOT relying solely on social media for communication.

Examples of successful island engagement by other organisations (Q2)

7.14 Workshop participants provided numerous examples of organisations which they thought were successful in engaging with island communities, together with details of what those organisations do (or did) well. Those mentioned most frequently were:

  • Highlands and Islands Enterprise: This organisation was referred to by some participants as offering a model of good practice in engaging with communities. Participants highlighted two specific things that HIE do well: (i) they have local area officers who work directly with individuals and businesses in the local community, and (ii) they produce a good quality regular newsletter.
  • Local development trusts, community development companies and other community partnerships: Some participants mentioned specific development trusts by name, including Colonsay Community Development Company and Point and Sandwick Trust. Others referred to work on developing local plans or tackling local concerns which was said to have been positive. Examples given by participants included the development of the Visit Arran local plan, community involvement in developments on the Isle of Eigg, work on the development and delivery of the Harris Plan and the community of Cumbrae’s work to object to plans for a solar farm. Some of the things that workshop participants thought development trusts / community partnerships do well were: (i) engaging with their communities on a regular basis, (ii) working with communities to identify problems and develop their own solutions, (iii) sharing knowledge with other development trusts / community partnerships, and (iv) providing refreshments to encourage attendance at consultation events.

7.15 Workshop participants identified a wide range of other organisations or other types of engagement that they saw as positive. These are listed in Annex 3. In most cases, these were mentioned at just one workshop.

7.16 More generally, the positive aspects of good engagement by other organisations were seen to involve:

  • Group sessions
  • Community participation
  • Accessibility and approachability
  • Acting on what has been said.

7.17 By contrast, forms of engagement that were not seen in a positive light involved (i) a lack of direct contact with the community, (ii) a lack of feedback after consultation, and (iii) not acting on what has been said.


Views on the need for prioritisation of the Strategic Objectives in the National Islands Plan (Q1)

7.18 There was no definitive view across the workshops about whether the plan’s current strategic objectives should be prioritised, although there was more of a consensus at some individual workshops. Broadly speaking, participants said all the strategic objectives were important and linked to each other, while ALSO often suggesting that it would be helpful to focus on a more limited set of objectives. Across most of the workshops, therefore, there were two main views: that some form of prioritisation might be acceptable (‘while they are all important, some are more important’) OR that all the current strategic objectives should be retained but ‘grouped’ or ‘clustered’ in some way. However, at other workshops, participants either did not support or did not suggest a prioritisation of objectives.

How should the strategic objectives be prioritised – and why? (Q2)

7.19 Across the workshops, there was a repeated view that priorities are likely to be different for every island and that, even within specific island groups, there may be different priorities. Therefore, each island should be able to identify their own priorities, rather than having a national prioritisation.

7.20 At the same time, discussions suggested that certain strategic objectives would be at the top of the list of priorities in most island communities. These were Transport (Objective 3), Housing (Objective 4) and Population (Objective 1). These three objectives were described as ‘absolutely key’ and ‘critical for island existence’. In some islands, the situation in relation to each of these was said to have reached a ‘crisis’.

7.21 Beyond these, there were differences in opinion about which of the other strategic objectives should be prioritised. Education (Objective 12), Sustainable Economic Development (Objective 2), Digital Connectivity (Objective 6), Health, Social Care and Wellbeing (Objective 7), Empowered Communities (Objective 10), Energy (part of Objective 9), and Fuel Poverty (Objective 5) were all mentioned as priorities at different workshops. The reasons given for prioritising these objectives are presented in Annex 3.

7.22 The remaining current strategic objectives – Environment and Biodiversity (Objective 8), Climate Change (part of Objective 9), Arts, Culture, and Language (Objective 11) and Implementation (Objective 13) were not proposed for prioritisation by any of the workshops.

7.23 In addition to discussion about existing objectives, two different workshops suggested agriculture, fishing and tourism should be explicitly included within the plan’s strategic objectives.

7.24 Finally, the point was made that most of the strategic objectives involve expenditure. It was suggested that there should be more focus in the National Islands Plan on ‘income generating’ objectives.



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