February 24, 2016
We need to understand better
It’s one of those unexplained phenomena – that surge of energy, creativity and collective entrepreneurialism when a community takes ownership of its land. Knowing it occurs is one thing but understanding why and how it might be harnessed would be something else altogether. One of the babies thrown out with the bath water when Communities Scotland was disbanded, was a highly popular programme of action research led by local people – SCARF. Given the explosion in community empowerment activity that’s just around the corner, perhaps it’s time to revive it.
Scottish Community Action Research Fund (SCARF) in a nutshell
The Scottish Community Action Research Fund (SCARF) ran from 2002 -2009 and provided support to community groups to carry out research in their community into issues of concern to them. The purpose was to provide communities with the support they needed to evidence the need for change.
With over 100 community groups benefiting from SCARF the issues researched were wide and varied ranging from Community Land buy outs in Assynt through to the need for community premises in Drummore, Mull of Galloway. Common to all groups was the desire not to rely on anecdotal evidence but to carry out research and provide clear evidence of the need for change.
The approach to the issues
Groups who successfully applied for SCARF were supported by a mentor, who acted as a friendly critic and supported them, to develop their research plan, carry out their research, analyse findings and present their findings to decision makers in ways which would influence their support for change. Groups also received small scale funding to support the research process and to help them publish their findings.
Evidence of success
Three evaluations of SCARF and discussions with SCARF projects confirmed that:
· individuals reported increased skills and confidence
· groups reported greater confidence and a higher degree of focus and connection to their own communities
· several groups successfully used the evidence they gathered to achieve changes in the services provided to them, or obtained funding to provide better services or facilities for their community.
· many groups used their research and findings to support funding applications to carry on or extend their work
Key lessons emanating from the experience of running SCARF were as follows
There is considerable demand from communities to be able to carry out research for themselves and provide clear evidence of the need for changes to services or facilities available to their community.
The provision of mentor support is crucial for many groups, giving them a single point of contact for support, advice and encouragement.
The ability to evidence the need for change by communities, through research, is a major factor in actually achieving change.
One great thing
The unique aspect of SCARF is that it provided a single point of contact where community groups could obtain financial and ongoing support from an experienced mentor to help them develop and carry out research which provided them with evidence of the need for change, and a locus for working together to share learning and experience.