Review of the Climate Challenge Fund

This report reviews the Climate Challenge Fund (CCF), a Scottish Government scheme that supports communities to take action to address climate change.

9. Perceptions of CCF3

9.1 This section describes stakeholder and case study perceptions of the strengths and weaknesses of the CCF, and in particular CCF3, and reviews their perceptions on which elements to keep and which to change in any successor scheme. It is important to note that the research found different views on the same issues presented in this chapter. However given the case study nature of this research, it is not possible to quantify the balance of opinion on each issue. As a result the issues presented here, particularly in relation to weaknesses and elements that need to be changed, are not presented in any ranking order. However all were identified in the research and should be considered in the development of any future scheme.

Strengths of CCF

Enabling and empowering

9.2 The CCF was typically commended by groups for enabling "an interesting and good combination" [CS08 P1] of projects to take place that otherwise would not have found funding and was recognised as supporting a wide variety of community groups. Many respondents (both case study and stakeholder) acknowledged that not many funders are so diverse in the aims and types of projects funded and in their support to raise awareness of climate change. A typical view was: "CCF is a fantastic fund and there definitely should be more of it - with a few modifications" [CS10]

9.3 Through encouraging a bottom-up or grassroots approach the scheme was felt to foster independence of thought and action, helping communities (including rural communities) meet their aspirations.

Finance and funding

9.4 It was commented on that the 3-year funding duration fostered stability and growth and allowed time to build trust with both CCF DOs and with the community projects (although not all projects took the opportunity of a 3-year project). The option for repeat funding of project teams (although for different projects) was commented on as providing continuity, potentially leading to the creation of lasting change.

9.5 The duration, amount, timing (e.g. payment of invoices on sight) and allocation of funds provided (e.g. paying for wages, not just materials) were regarded as CCF strengths by some case study respondents. Particular additional strengths cited included CCF's willingness to reallocate/re-profile individual budgets where overspend or, more frequently, underspend had occurred. There was general approval of the CCF refresh's removal of the restriction that forbade projects to make an income, as this was seen as an inhibiter to projects becoming sustainable.

Application & administration / Development Officers

9.6 Many project teams reported positive interactions with 'CCF' (i.e. the DOs and CASP programme) when applying for funding and/or administering their funded projects. This finding was echoed by the CCF Projects Survey where 66% of respondents indicated that they found the DO support among the most useful elements [Q15, base=163]. In particular, many case study respondents commented that DOs were noted for being supportive during the application process, generally knowledgeable when approached for guidance during project execution (despite each having a wide portfolio of projects), and readily able to offer feedback on monthly (and in some cases, final) reports. One respondent noted that they "were very nice and helpful and reassuring" [CS09 P2] while another stated that "CCF were very helpful all the way along" [CS09 P1]. However it was clear that positive feedback was not universal (see also the section on weaknesses below).

9.7 The CCF website was identified as a good initial source of information, also highlighted by the CCF Projects Survey (although additional online resources and guidance were suggested) [Q15]. Reporting requirements, although gruelling to some, were recognised as enforcing good discipline among project teams and for facilitating the compilation of the final project report.

Training & networking

9.8 Training provided by CCF to project groups was widely acknowledged as a strength of the scheme. Also, networking events were praised for providing opportunities for knowledge sharing with other CCF groups, connections to other (non-CCF-funded) groups and in helping groups to identify their contributions towards mitigating climate change. Respondents to the CCF Projects Survey indicated that networking, sharing mutual experiences and best practice with other projects, peer-to-peer networks and the CCF Gathering were also important. Signposting to, and receiving help from, other organisations was also valued.

Stakeholder perspectives

9.9 Strengths of the CCF were also noted by stakeholders. Many commented that the CCF was established, trusted and beneficial, with funding provided for diverse and "significant and substantial" projects. The CCF3 refresh themes were also commented on as positive, in particular through gaining access to hard-to-reach groups (especially those involving young people and minority ethnic communities). That the CCF now allowed projects to generate income was also viewed as a strength. As the CCF was latterly oversubscribed, it was also felt by some that this strengthened the quality of projects, as the CCF and JCCF panels could then prioritise better quality projects.

9.10 The ability of the CCF to engage communities and normalise community conversations about CO2 was commented on by some stakeholders (although this was not as strongly felt by case study groups themselves). Significant value was felt to come from the realisation of tangible assets (such as neighbourhood gardens) and community activities to facilitate these discussions acted to support changes in behaviour and thinking. For some this was as, if not more, important than the CO2 savings achieved.

Weaknesses of CCF

Carbon accounting

9.11 As discussed elsewhere in this report (see chapter 8), the carbon accounting requirements of the scheme were criticised by many case study groups. Carbon reduction calculations were found to be difficult, with many requesting more, or clearer, guidance and clarity over how targets were used to assess applications. Some requested explicit direction and standardisation from CCF. More broadly, a concern was expressed that the scheme focused on carbon reductions at the expense of changing behaviours. "[there is a] danger that you become target driven which is not necessarily going to bring about long-term behaviour change" [CS13].

Start-up and continuation funding

9.12 A lack of continuity funding and excessive project administration requirements were seen as discouraging community groups from undertaking future projects. Some respondents to the CCF Projects Survey would like to have seen a greater emphasis on providing 'seed corn' funding, bridging/buffer funding and revenue funding (although other respondents stated that they had received this type of support) [Q16].

Financial processes

9.13 Although viewed as a strength for some, the CCF claim process was found to be problematic by others. Issues such as re-profiling after every claim, late payments, funding based on claims leading to cash flow problems, and quibbling over "trivial claim amounts" were criticised. This led to negative perceptions for some: "there was almost a feeling of distrust ... [you were] assessed within an inch of your life" [CS06 P1].

Application & Administration / Development Officers

9.14 Again while many viewed this as a strength of the CCF, some community groups felt the delivery of the administration and support from the CCF was a weakness. The project application process was felt to be too complex, particularly for 1-year projects. One interviewee stated that the "application process is still a nightmare ... don't know how some groups get through it" [CS18]. The need for clear and consistent guidance on applications and reapplications and on the criteria for new funding applications was highlighted by CCF Projects Survey respondents [Q16]. Some stakeholders also indicated that the application (including carbon accounting) was challenging, especially for JCCF projects, and that generally, administrative or financial requirements are "burdensome and disproportionate" [SH10].

9.15 Many groups reported a long delay between submitting a funding application and being informed of the assessment panel's decision, which limited time to prepare for project start. In particular, one project team noted that getting a DO to champion its funding application to gain funding was the key factor: "I know that the decision-making panel don't get to see the whole application, just the executive summary. The rest of the application is only seen by the grant officer and so your relationship with the grant officer is very important" [CS05 P1].

9.16 Reporting requirements were perceived as difficult (detracting from the delivery of core project activity and disincentivising future funding applications) and in need of standardisation for similar project types. Prompt notification of reporting and monitoring formats was raised as important by respondents to the CCF Projects Survey [Q16].

9.17 Changes of DOs caused continuity problems associated with bringing DOs up to speed and the different approaches they adopted. DOs were perceived by many case study respondents to have too many projects to manage (and thus not able to visit or engage with groups with sufficient regularity), reactive (rather than proactive) in giving advice, and inexperienced where projects were very specialist or highly complex (e.g. education). It was suggested that local DOs would be helpful; "It doesn't sit well with me that the project officers and everyone are all based in Stirling" [CS05 P2]. Others commented on the fact that the level of experience of their DO was a factor in the level of support offered: "A lot depends on how much time, knowledge and experience your grant officer [sic] has - we were fortunate with [a DO] who had worked with previous groups" [CS05 P1].

Training & networking

9.18 It was stated that CCF training courses focusing on the application process and on delivering outcomes had been delivered too late to be useful to some project groups. Moreover, there was an impression that less training was available under CCF3 than in previous funding rounds, and that the training that was offered tended to be delivered in the Central Belt (which was an attendance barrier for remote Highland community groups). The need for local, timely training (with more training content available online) was also emphasised by respondents to the CCF Projects Survey. Moreover, additional training topics were suggested in the CCF Projects Survey including project management, output/outcome measurement, and marketing and communications [Q16]. It was put forward that CCF should improve networking opportunities for community groups to allow these groups to help themselves through sharing knowledge and resources (and potentially reducing the support requirements of DOs). Some groups mentioned the CCF gathering (an annual conference held for CCF groups) as a particularly positive networking opportunity, although others felt that some content was not wholly relevant to them or their project.

Stakeholder perspectives

9.19 Weaknesses of the CCF scheme noted by stakeholders typically focused on more strategic perspectives of the CCF. The lack of focus on an 'exit strategy' for projects was described as "wasteful" [SH10] by one stakeholder and was felt to hinder dissemination of project learnings.

9.20 Others felt that the focus on partnerships could be improved, for example, improving relationships with HES to improve collaboration on energy projects (and to ensure that there was no duplication of services) and opportunities to contribute towards projects such as Eco-Schools.

9.21 The indirect relationship with national CO2 targets was also identified as a possible weakness. As one respondent described, funding should focus on community development, capacity-building and cultural change (as these were the key strengths): "if your main aim is reducing carbon then this [CCF] is not the way to do it" [SH17]

Elements of the Fund to Keep and Change

9.22 This section of the report describes both case study respondent and stakeholder perspectives on the elements of the current CCF that are felt to be important to keep and those that require change. Perspectives differed between the two respondent groups; case study respondents tended to focus more on operational issues and stakeholders more on strategic issues. As a result these are presented separately.

9.23 The discussion focuses on many issues that are commented on, both as things to be kept, but that also require some form of change or enhancement. This suggests that the broad structure of the CCF is supported, but that the delivery of particular elements could be enhanced. Elements are not presented in any order of importance.

Keep: Community Group Perspectives

9.24 The key elements that community group respondents tended to focus on as things to keep in any future CCF or successor scheme were as follows:

  • The focus on community groups
  • Reporting
  • Support
  • Development Officers
  • Funding approach
  • Measuring of CO2 and carbon calculations

9.25 Groups felt that it was important for any future fund to continue to empower a broad range of grassroots communities to develop their own 'bottom-up' solutions to their needs - "it's a pretty unique set of projects that can be created ... [that have] an immensely positive impact" [CS08 P].

9.26 Although opinion was divided amongst groups about the reporting requirements for the CCF, some groups felt that both monthly and final reports should be retained in a future fund as they serve as a celebration of project successes and guard against groups becoming complacent. They were also felt by some to provide evidence of, and a basis from which to evolve, ideas and projects.

9.27 The DOs and their ability to provide information and guidance, one-to-one support and project visits to keep projects on track were felt to be essential. In addition to this, other support such as workshops, networking, especially local networks, application support, training days relating to overall Scottish Government aims and the knowledge bank of existing projects were all felt to be important and required in any future scheme: "I personally enjoyed the more technical refresher courses regarding climate change, such as those that deal with the 'why, how and how to speak about it to others' scenario" [CS15 R].

9.28 The 100% funding of projects was also supported along with the ability to allow expenditure on a range of costs including salaries, capital costs and overheads.

9.29 Finally the measuring of CO2 and carbon calculations, was for some, still important to retain, despite many projects' focus on achieving community outcomes. It is important to acknowledge that others felt quite strongly that this element required change (see below).

Keep: Stakeholder Perspectives

9.30 The key elements that stakeholder respondents tended to focus on as things to keep in any future CCF or successor scheme were as follows:

  • Community-led projects
  • General administration and parameters of the CCF, including the refresh themes
  • Climate change and behaviour change as a focus
  • Sharing best practice

9.31 Much like the case study respondents, stakeholders wanted any future fund to continue to be community-led and to support communities to develop their own project ideas: "The community-led focus is absolutely critical. I think that has to stay, otherwise there's no point in this" [SH17].

9.32 The general administration of the CCF, both in terms of the existing CCF processes and structure and the levels of DO support, were identified as elements to retain. In addition the strategic parameters, such as allowing projects to generate incomes (and to move towards becoming social enterprises and self-sustaining), continuing to fund the creation and development of community assets to facilitate capacity-building, and continuing the focus on the refresh themes were also identified as elements to retain.

9.33 Climate change and behaviour change as a focus were also important to stakeholders, along with establishing a sustainable legacy and making carbon reductions: "CCF probably needs to make sure that it keeps its unique selling point in terms of being about carbon and being about climate … running it around the co-benefits and social inclusion and health benefits … that's all really, really solid stuff. But I think keeping it rooted in carbon [is important]" [SH01].

9.34 Finally, sharing best practice between groups and showcasing successes were also viewed as particularly important by stakeholders: "Some of the peer-based support activities, I think, including the conference, [are] really important ... you get people to share and spread ideas" [SH17].

Change: Community group perspectives

9.35 The key elements that community group respondents focused on as things to change in any future fund were as follows:

  • Development Officers
  • Support, workshops and networking
  • Carbon measurement
  • Application process
  • Reporting

9.36 As described above, this list echoes elements that groups and stakeholders want to keep, suggesting enhancement rather than change. Suggested changes therefore focus on how these things could be offered. For example, the focus on change in the DO support related to an increase in the number and consistency of experienced DOs offering support; smoother transitions when changing DOs, and more proactive support to provide updates on changes. There were also some calls for regional DOs to be in place to enhance group access to this knowledge (typically from more rural groups).

9.37 Case study respondents wanted to see more peer-to-peer support, evidence of best practice and the promotion of final reports, along with the establishment of a more effective support network for project groups to facilitate the sharing of other groups' processes, methods and forms rather than 'reinventing the wheel'. In addition groups wanted enhanced (and more local) workshops and networking events, and the provision of training on marketing, promotion and evaluation. "They're a carbon-saving organisation and they make you travel to the central belt all the time" [CS17].

9.38 Related to the need for more support, a desire to streamline and simplify carbon measurement and calculations was requested (as described in chapter 8). This related to more information, templates, best practice examples and support for target setting and recording changes and how this information is used, both at application stage (for assessment) and at end of project. Others wanted less focus on CO2 reductions in general and more on community benefits.

9.39 Despite the support for the reporting described above, others felt the reporting too onerous and wanted less repetitive reporting, clearer guidance and to confirm the need for such detailed reporting. Indeed some were concerned about how and if the data is being used by the CCF. Others wanted simpler budget administration, an end to the requirement to spend the entire allocated budget before the year end and increased speed in the claims process.

Change: Stakeholder Perspectives

9.40 The key elements that stakeholder respondents focused on as things to change in any future CCF or successor scheme were as follows:

  • Establishing better links across Scottish Government policy areas, targets and legislation
  • Reducing focus on CO2 reduction
  • Enhanced support
  • Longer-term funding options
  • Increasing focus on hard-to-reach audiences:

9.41 There were a number of comments from stakeholders that highlighted a need and desire for a future fund to be more closely aligned to, and to better support, wider climate change-related policy objectives. As one stakeholder commented: "[the CCF] does need to be more firmly embedded in the broader, kind of, what else is going on with ... the Scottish Government ...,[the] world of targets and legislation and so ... we need to find a way to make a bridge between those two things" [SH01]. This issue is discussed further in chapter 10.

9.42 In order to facilitate enhanced delivery and focus more on engagement, others suggested reducing (but not removing) the focus on CO2 reduction. This was felt to be important as many of the benefits of CCF projects go beyond simply carbon savings, and given the misunderstanding about the relationship between CCF data and the Scottish Government's climate change targets (see footnote 13).

9.43 Similar to the case studies, stakeholders acknowledged the need for greater support in particular to provide direction to groups based on what has worked well and delivered value in past projects. In addition it was also felt by some that there should be more focus on publicising final reports and lessons: "The more people that you have working together, coming forward on a joint, collective vision, would be better" [SH12].

9.44 Other stakeholders focused on the need for longer-term projects (i.e. greater than three years) to embed behaviour change (although for some the three year funding period was felt to be enough). There were also calls to enhance and clarify the way the scheme engaged with younger people and to build from the current success in this area.

Summary: Perceptions of CCF3

9.45 It is clear that CCF3 has many strengths and successful elements. In general the CCF and its approach is strongly supported, particularly, its community basis and ability to empower communities to support climate change-related activities.

9.46 The views of CCF groups and stakeholders highlight that there is a need for more support and specific guidance for groups and projects to ensure that they are learning and building from the experience of previous projects. There would also be some benefits in providing more templates or best practice guidance for a range of project elements

9.47 The focus on carbon-saving and its purpose for CCF projects needs to be reviewed. The high importance of carbon means that it is used as one tool to assess the merits of projects at panel stage, but the research suggests that other ways to measure success for a community-based climate change project may need to be developed, alongside carbon.

9.48 There may also be scope to assess the extent to which the projects are supporting other Scottish Government policies and local activities.


Email: Debbie Sagar

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