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August 11, 2020

Researching the community economy

We’re all guilty, to some extent, of sitting in silos and assuming that everyone else understands the acronyms and jargon we throw around as we discuss whatever policy area or specialism we inhabit. It’s a laziness that could well trip us up as the contribution of communities comes to be relied upon as a central strand in Covid recovery. It also suggests that there’s a need for more robust academic research into our sector which would bring a sharper focus and a better understanding of what we do. A welcome contribution from the team at What Works Scotland.

James Henderson, University of Edinburgh. Philip Revell, Sustaining Dunbar. Oliver Escobar, University of Edinburgh

Introduction  (The full summary paper is here)

This Summary Discussion Paper supports understanding of the key elements and options for an emerging participatory research agenda to support, inform and critically consider the development of the community economy in Scotland and more widely. It does this by offering a range of frameworks to support dialogue and participatory research on building such an economy, and builds from our earlier Community Anchor research report

Fundamental to understanding this call for ongoing participatory research are a number of related crises:

  • Political: local democratic deficit and the rise of populism.
  • Social: stubbornly high-levels of poverty and inequality – and related demographic change.
  • Economic: lack of capacity for locally-led development and resilience.
  • Ecological: the climate emergency and other ‘over-demands’ on eco-systems.

In effect, the multi-headed challenges of local-to-global sustainable development as, for instance,expressed as the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

The Community Anchor Research Report illustrates, through a series of exemplars, the potential of these locally-led, multi-purpose bodies to facilitate a wide range of local economic, social, democratic and ecological development – or community-led place-making – and so local leadership focused on change – that are required in supporting them in taking such an agenda forward.

The Report, however, puts the emphasis not solely on community anchor organisations as central to

such a research process but sees them as one key element in a wider local community sector and as part of a wider social and political debates across Scotland related to local democracy, community resilience, local sustainable development, social justice, and social and ecologically-related change.

In this paper, we take this further by drawing on the notion of the community economy to provide

‘space’ to support discussions of the relationships, roles and aspirations within that community sector.

We explore this notion of the community economy as a system of local (not-for-profit) community

sector organisations and networks. And we position this thinking as part of a wider body of thought on the roles of the community economy within the workings of state, market and society3 and on our learning so far on infrastructure for developing the community sector.

We tease out what such participatory research needs to involve and consider given the complexity of:

  • the opportunities, challenges and dilemmas that these multi-faceted crises present
  • the roles of community anchors and the community sector can offer to lead and support change
  • the scale of urgent social, societal and global change – ‘social transformation’ would seem appropriate – now required.

We position these discussions in the current Scottish policy context and the emerging opportunities for the community sector to engage with and – where relevant – challenge the state, including: community empowerment, community ownership and land reform, social enterprise, public service reform and the ongoing Christie agenda, and sustainable development and climate change.

What we present is a series of initial frameworks and ‘language’ of emerging issues and opportunities to inform ongoing dialogue and further research. This is not then a research proposal – this must be fashioned through such ongoing discussions.

The full summary paper is here