This research explores how key stakeholders and potential users of the Participation Request mechanism articulate and frame the associated challenges and opportunities.
The Scottish Government introduced a new process for community engagement, known as Part 3 (Participation Requests) of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015. Participation Requests are a legal tool with a prescribed application process that public sector bodies need to understand and put in place to enable community bodies to engage in decision-making processes.
The purpose of this research is to gain a better understanding of how the different actors in public service authorities and community organisations perceive and use (or not) the PRs process and highlight key reflections regarding the early experiences around Participation Requests. This report informs policy and professional practice in implementation and evaluation of this policy tool.
- There is evidence of ongoing engagement with the Participation Request process.
- The overall perception of Part 3 of the Act (Participation Requests) is positive, however, there are some scepticisms and ambiguities about how public service authorities and community organisations perceive the proposed process.
- There are positive expectations of the PR process as encouraging community’s proactive involvement in the decision-making process on public services, and thus contributing to improving the design and delivery of public services.
- The primary concerns about Participation Requests are associated with how the process is put in place. The key challenges mentioned are that there aren’t enough resources and a lack of familiarity with the new process across all stakeholders, and sometimes a reluctance to engage with it.
- There are also references to unintended consequences – that the design of the Participation Requests process could enhance the existing inequalities between well-established community organisations and less formal community groups, and create tensions between public service authorities and community bodies.
- To address some of these concerns, research participants offered a number of suggestions. 1. Ensuring there is a positive promotion strategy, and a continuous programme of activities and events around learning and sharing experiences in the preparation and submission of PRs. 2. Development of a tailored approach within this communication strategy to reach ‘seldom heard’ community groups. 3. Creating a national community resource centre to support communities with PRs and in other processes of community engagement. 4. Learning from other processes and tools of community engagement, i.e. Asset Transfers Requests and Participatory Budgeting.
Our selected reflections from this research
There are differing views and framings of the Participation Requests in terms of a community engagement tool. There is a need to consider how best to measure and report on successful implementation in the future, which needs to go beyond looking at headline numbers of Participation Requests in localities and organisations, to a more holistic understanding of Participation Requests as one tool within a broader range of community engagement and empowerment provisions.
Development and organisation of engagement activities should take into account diverse backgrounds and types of community bodies (community councils, community anchor organisations, and more informal community groups) which may want to submit a participation request, and consider the format of events and the scale and type of support these different community bodies may need. It may also be worthwhile considering the role of more established community organisations, i.e. local equality groups and communities of identities, in developing such activities and supporting less organised community groups in the PRs process (pre- and post-application).
The ambiguity in how organisations receive PRs may reflect the ways various stakeholders protect their interests as political actors – by minimising losses and maximising returns resulting from their engagement with the new legislation. In this context the ambiguity in how organisations perceive the new legislation is inevitable to a certain extent.
The question that stakeholders need to consider is how to ensure that this ambiguity does not become the key barrier to the implementation of PRs. The question of how to address these ambiguities and unintended consequences create space for constructive dialogue and collaborative action involving all stakeholders. Importantly, this dialogue should involve the full diversity of the community sector and others working on issues of inequalities and local democracy.
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Authors: Evgeniya Plotnikova and Hayley Bennett
Date of publication: December 2018
Publication type: Research report
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