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November 14, 2007

Government’s community empowerment paper

Communities Minister Stewart Maxwell has indicated the SNP administration’s support for community empowerment and has initiated a wide consultation on how to do it. This is the government’s consultation paper which is doing the rounds.

Scottish Government

Making Community Empowerment a Reality – Getting your Views
Scottish Government

The Scottish Government is committed to doing more to empower individuals and communities to have more control over their own lives and more choice in how their needs are met. They are particularly keen to see people living in areas of deprivation more empowered.

To turn this into a reality Ministers want to hear the views of a wide range of people. They have asked us to organise a dialogue across Scotland from now until the end of December 2007.

This paper sets out the key issues that we believe have an impact on empowerment. It also makes some suggestions about what might be done to ensure that more communities become more empowered. The paper has been shaped by early discussions with a few people with a key interest in empowerment. [DN include names if we can get agreement in time]

The questions in each section are designed to help us understand your views on our suggestions. Your views, along with the views of everyone else who will be involved in the dialogue, will help to inform the decisions Ministers take to make community empowerment a reality.

What is Community Empowerment?

Community empowerment is very complex. It can mean different things to different people. Over the years community empowerment has often proved difficult to achieve. Also, trying to achieve empowerment can lead to increased tensions in the relationships between the people involved.

Any attempt at making community empowerment a reality that does not recognise these complexities or the scale of the challenge will not succeed. However, we believe that community empowerment can be achieved with the right level of commitment, and practical skills and understanding.

Our vision of community empowerment is based on the upper levels of what is often called the ladder of participation. In the 1960s, a woman called Sherry Arnstein described these as citizen control and delegated power. Here is a description of what these two ideas can mean:

Delegated power: Citizens holding a clear majority of seats on committees with delegated powers to make decisions.
Citizen control: Public handle the entire job of planning, policy making and managing a programme.

Community empowerment should offer opportunities for everyone living in a community regardless of their background or personal circumstances. The promotion of equalities must be at the heart of any community empowerment work. An approach that empowers some people in a community at the expense of others is not community empowerment.

Question: Are the concepts of delegated power and citizen control helpful?

Why Community Empowerment? – Strategic Context

Our proposal is not to develop a stand alone community empowerment initiative with a separate grant scheme attached. Neither do we want to impose another level of bureaucracy or governance. Our suggested approach aims to recognise the long term nature of empowerment and to achieve sustained change.

We see community empowerment as part of the broader agenda of community engagement in service delivery. It should be seen as part of a wider debate on how people engage in decision making and influence what happens in their communities. It forms the community led dimension to that agenda. It is about developing models that will see people deciding for themselves what should be done to achieve positive change in their communities.

We also believe that community empowerment should be a shared agenda across Government at national and local level and across the public and voluntary and community sectors. We believe that there is currently widespread support across a range of sectors for delivering a higher degree of community empowerment. However, being serious about community empowerment will mean real culture change across a range of sectors.

Question: Is this the right context for community empowerment?

Suggested practical models

To help make a concrete reality of empowerment we believe that we need to identify possible models that could be developed locally. We have suggested three possible models here – but there may be more. We believe each of these models fits within the upper levels of ladder of participation. We know that across the country some work along these lines is already taking place and our aim is to see more of it happening.

Model One

Budgets and other resources, for example assets like land and buildings, are identified locally and devolved to local community led organisations. This model would use the concept of Community Anchor Organisations (CAOs) as the catalyst and driver for change. CAOs are described later in this paper.

Model Two

Communities would scrutinise services. Public sector service delivery agencies (and perhaps parts of the voluntary sector) would make a binding commitment that communities would assess the quality of the delivery of agreed service within an area. Careful consideration would have to be given to existing scrutiny regimes and legal accountability for service delivery.

Model Three

Devolved decision making to neighbourhood level with the community in the majority on decision making structures. This could build on existing models of governance at community level and could involve community bodies like community councils, community forums or Registered Tenant Organisations.

Question: Are these models helpful and do you know of others that might work?

Role of the Scottish Government

Our proposal is that the key role for Scottish Government is to provide leadership at National level to encourage and promote community empowerment. This is in line with the Government’s determination to avoid duplication at local level and to take a strategic approach to supporting change in communities. This role could involve leading discussions with other key sectors, for example Local Authorities and other public bodies, to ensure there is explicit, strategic level buy in to community empowerment.

The Scottish Government could also develop and resource a national support programme for community empowerment. This might include support for skills development, for evaluating the impact of empowerment and to help networking across Scotland to make sure people learn from each other about what is working. Any programme along these lines would be developed in partnership with people involved in community empowerment.

Question What do you think the role of the Scottish Government should be?

Role of Local Authorities

Communities can’t be empowered by someone else. Communities must empower themselves. However they will often need help and support to achieve their goals. In each of our proposed models we see Local Authorities as having a key role to play to create the conditions where communities can empower themselves. This will be true of both elected members and officials.

We want to encourage Local Authorities to make firm commitments or pledges about what they will do to help local communities empower themselves. In doing this we would expect Authorities to think very carefully about the complexities involved and how empowering communities fits with their overarching strategies on community engagement and service planning and delivery. In particular we would see Local Authorities having a key role in co-ordinating the Community Capacity Building that underpins empowerment and in identifying resources which could be devolved to local community led groups.

However, Local Authorities should not be seen amongst the public sector as responsible for community empowerment As we said earlier this should be an agenda shared across the public sector. Local Authorities in turn need the support and commitment of the wider public and voluntary sectors. We believe that the key mechanism for co-ordinating public sector support for community empowerment should be Community Planning.

Question What do you think the role of Local Authorities and Community Planning should be?

Role of Community Anchor Organisations

One key element which could make a lasting, long term difference to community empowerment, is the role played by locally based, community led organisations.

These strong community led groups are sometimes referred to as Community Anchor Organisations. We think this could be a helpful term to identify a particular kind of local community led group. The attached draft definition is being adopted by the Local People Leading campaign and is based on an existing definition produced in England.

Community Anchor Organisations could play a number of key roles on a day to day basis in community empowerment. They could ensure that local people have a say in identifying the priorities for change in their neighbourhoods; they may deliver services directly themselves; and they might influence the public sector on behalf of local people.

In particular, in the first of our proposed models they would be the bodies who control devolved resources.

The type of organisation that would play the role of a Community Anchor Organisation would vary from place to place across Scotland, but crucially they would have a fairly high level of existing capacity to work on behalf of the wider community. We think models might include Housing Associations, Development Trusts, Community Councils, Registered Tenant Organisations, Community Forums, and other forms of locally based social enterprises.

Question: What do you think about the potential role of Community Anchor Organisations?

Outcomes and evaluation

We obviously want to see community empowerment making a difference to communities. From previous research the kinds of outcomes we would expect to see from community empowerment would include:

More innovative and responsive solutions to local problems;
Increased confidence and skills amongst local people;
Higher numbers of people volunteering in their communities;
A greater sense of pride in a neighbourhood; and
Higher levels of quality of life in a local neighbourhood.

Some of these would be more immediate outcomes related to the process of community empowerment and some would be longer term outcomes.

The issue of measuring empowerment and the change that is brought about in communities because of empowerment is tricky. There are issues around establishing baselines, identifying indicators and the process of monitoring and reporting on progress that need to be resolved. We are interested in people’s initial views on the challenges of measuring progress in community empowerment and any experience they have which may be helpful.

Question What do you see as the main challenges in measuring progress and do you have any experience that might help?

Making Community empowerment a reality – How to make it happen?

As we said earlier, communities cannot be empowered by other people. But others have a clear role in developing the right conditions for empowerment and in supporting communities. This suggest that to move forward to a Scotland where more communities are more empowered, the first step will be a process of local negotiation between communities, often led by Community Anchor Organisations and the local statutory bodies through Community Planning Partnerships.

As a catalyst and framework for those local negotiations, it would be possible to build on the outcomes of this dialogue to develop jointly owned guidance on what we would expect to see from community empowerment.

Question Do you think that issuing jointly owned guidance is a helpful step in starting the process of community empowerment? Are there other ways you could see the process working?