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13th June 2018

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard speakers grandstanding at conferences, calling for ‘new ways’ to do this or that, while never revealing what that ‘new way’ actually is. It’s frustrating but in truth, original ideas are hard to come by.  Indeed, author Guy Claxton argues that so-called experts are the last people we should expect them from. He says the really clever stuff comes from those thoughts that occur in the margins of the mind – in the areas he describes as ‘hazy, poetic, or uncontrolled’. The community of Birnam and Dunkeld might well concur with that.  Embroiled in a particularly contentious and complicated aspect of Transport Scotland’s project to dual the A9, they turned to their children for inspiration and advice. Children’s Parliament, specialists in finding creative ways for children to express their ideas, simply asked local children what they thought. The results were remarkable. One 8-year-old invented a completely ‘new way’ to manage traffic flow within a narrow stretch of land – the eggabout.  Even the traffic experts were struck by the elegance of this solution.  With so many public services searching for that elusive ‘new way’, perhaps we should pay more heed to what our children have to say.


In the most recent briefing…

    • World Forum comes home

      Ten years ago, an event took place in Edinburgh calling itself the first ever Social Enterprise World Forum. Its aim was to bring together people and agencies involved in supporting and running social enterprises from around the world, and to generate a wider interest in this emerging global social movement. Ten years on, having convened in every continent on the planet, SEWF returns to Edinburgh. It’s going to be a massive event with an ambitious programme published last week. Martin Sheen, the actor and social activist, has been announced as a headline speaker. Bursaries and early bird prices still available.


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    • Act as if you own the place

      For the past year or so, a national campaign has been gradually building up a head of steam. The Act As If You Own The Place Campaign may not be the catchiest of titles but at least it has the merit of being relatively self-explanatory. All across the country communities have been holding events on the basis that they are ‘Acting as if they were the Council’ and deciding what they would do if they were in control of local decisions. Building on all that work, a mass event is being organised in Glasgow for later this month. The programme of speakers reads like a who’s who of the local democracy movement. If you’ve got a scintilla of interest in local democracy, this one is for you.


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    • Where should the power lie?

      Something is fermenting in Edinburgh and it’s not the ghost of breweries past. In very different parts of the city, communities are organising campaigns to oppose Council decisions they perceive as being made without their involvement and against their best interests. Whose interests are paramount? A cash strapped Council that needs to sell its assets to pay the bills or the communities that have to live with the consequences? These are the questions that sit at the heart of a national debate launched last week by Scottish Government. If Democracy Matters at all, where should the power to make these decisions lie?


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    • Crime and communities

      Serious organised crime is a feature of modern day life that most folk might be aware of but relatively few have to encounter head on. But a new report published by Scottish Government’s taskforce with assistance from SCDC highlights the pernicious impact that serious organised crime has on our most disadvantaged areas. It suggests how local agencies and local people themselves can take steps to build their personal and community resilience and avoid being drawn into what can become an all-pervasive downward spiral.


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    • Urban farmers

      It’s odd, how little we seem to care about where food comes from.  For those of us who are urban dwellers, our relationship with the food system is largely defined by the distorting lens of the supermarket. But change could be afoot. A collective of small-scale urban based food growers Propagate, have launched a campaign calling on urban local authorities to be much more imaginative in their disposal of vacant sites.  A whole new generation of urban farmers are ready and waiting. Their ambitious new report – Roots to Market – sets out the vision.


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    • Why step back?

      The global consensus that emerged from the Paris climate talks was dented when Trump decided to step away, but in some ways it also stiffened the resolve of all the other nations and many have actually increased their commitments. In 2009, Scotland hit the world headlines for setting the most ambitious carbon reduction targets ever seen and to an extent we’ve been riding that wave ever since. But no longer. Last month the Scottish Government’s Climate Change Bill was published to widespread dismay. Inexplicably, we’ve stepped back from doing what the climate science tells us is needed. Why?


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    • Walk the co-production talk

      When the Scottish Government launched its ten-year strategy for social enterprise, it was presented as a shared vision – co-produced with the sector itself. In the spirit of co-production, opportunities have been subsequently established for the social enterprise sector both to challenge and improve the Strategy and its Action Plan. Last month, from a different but not unrelated side of government, the continuation of the Empowering Communities Fund (£20m) was announced. Would Scottish Government be willing to create those same opportunities for the community sector to offer challenge and improvement to the Empowering Communities Fund?


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    • Community anchors coming of age

      The concept of a community anchor has been consistently promoted by this briefing for more than a decade. The premise being that meaningful community empowerment is simply not viable without the presence of local organisations of this nature.  Gradually, over the years, the significance of these organisations has become more widely recognised and is increasingly embedded in areas of government policy – albeit with levels of public investment in them falling far short of what is needed. Recent research from What Works Scotland draws important connections between community anchors and the big policy challenges of the day.


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