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August 27, 2008

National Standards for Community Engagement

In the last Briefings we suggested that Scotland’s National Standards for Community Engagement (NSCE) dose not set the bar high enough. Stuart Hashagen, director of the Scottish Community Development Centre (which developed the standards) has written to defend them. Reader’s comments welcomed.

Letter from Stuart Hashagen, Director - Scottish Community Development Centre

Dear LPL

As a supporter of LPL and its overall aims, can I please comment on the piece about the National Standards for Community Engagement in your most recent Briefing – copied below.

‘LPL’s opinion of the NSCE is that they don’t set the bar high enough. The independent evaluation of the NSCE, by Clear Plan (UK) Ltd, gives them only a lukewarm endorsement. A letter last week from Scottish Government’s Regeneration people makes it clear that their use is to be promoted to Community Planning Partnerships.’

I think that to summarise a thorough evaluation of the impact of the Standards as saying that it gives a ‘lukewarm’ endorsement, and that they ‘don’t set the bar high enough’ is both dismissive and misleading. It is dismissive in so far as even the extract from the report that is quoted gives a much more sophisticated and useful assessment of their impact, and misleading because it confuses the Standards with the way they are applied.

Given that the LPL summary position statement on community empowerment endorses the Standards as: ‘the benchmark against which progress by all public bodies on community engagement should be assessed’ it seems perverse to criticise them as you do. The real conclusion from the evaluation is that the Standards do set a high bar, but in many cases community planning partnerships have some way to go in working with communities in the way that the Standards recommend. This is why Scottish Government is continuing to encourage and support their application and use.

The bar that the Standards sets is in fact one set largely by the local people involved in community planning and other partnership structures in Scotland. When we at the Scottish Community Development Centre led the ‘Working together: learning together’ programme for the Social Inclusion Partnerships we quickly learned that local people felt disempowered, ill-informed, uninvolved and poorly supported in their relationship with public bodies. It is exactly these issues that the Standards were designed to address, and a large cross section of local people worked in partnership with public bodies to debate, draft, consult on, and finally publish and endorse the Standards. SCDC has subsequently worked with all community planning partnerships across Scotland to raise awareness of the Standards, support their application, and to help embed the learning. The new VOiCE tool has been designed to help both public bodies and communities to ask critical questions about their engagement plans and to develop policies and practice accordingly.

Finally, criticising the Standards, rather than the culture and practice of partnerships, gives the officers accountable at a local level for effective engagement with communities an excuse – by saying that it’s the Government’s fault and that it’s the Standards that are to blame – doesn’t this alleviate them of all responsibility?

If LPL has a mechanism for publishing responses to its views perhaps you would consider these points?


Stuart Hashagen