Participation Requests in Scotland: Empowering communities?
Aims and objectives or research questions
This research project formed part of the What Works Scotland (WWS) research and knowledge exchange centre (2014-2019).
This project specifically researched Participation Requests. These are a new legislative tool to enable a community group or body to request to be part of decision-making processes that seek to make improvements to public services.
As part of the Community Empowerment Act (2015), participation requests give a group of people in a community, or a community body, the right to start a discussion with organisations such as local councils and health boards about their role in improving public services.
The purpose of the research was to gain a better understanding of how the different actors in public service authorities and community organisations perceive and use (or not) the participation requests process and highlight key reflections regarding early experiences. We asked:
How do key stakeholders and potential users of the Participation Request mechanism articulate and frame the challenges and opportunities associated with the process?
The research report informs policy and professional practice in future implementation and evaluation of this policy tool.
Research methods and activities
Analysis of public consultation
We analysed 102 responses to the public consultation on Participation Requests (PRs) that took place between 21 March 2016 and 22 June 2016.
The aim of this analysis was to identify the crosscutting themes and also distinctive topics that emerged in the consultation responses before the introduction of PRs, i.e. respondents’ perceptions of the mechanism, and what concerns and opportunities were associated with its future implementation.
Community Planning network event
We analysed meeting notes from the Community Planning network event in April 2017, involving 61 community planning officials (managers and officers), who provided comments regarding what they considered to be the opportunities, challenges and potential solutions.
Community planning survey
We added to and investigated the survey of community planning officials undertaken by What Works Scotland researchers in 2018 (Weakley and Escobar 2018).
The main purpose of this survey was to examine the views of community planning officials on issues around community engagement and community planning.
We added an additional section on Participation Requests (PRs). Overall, 74 participants of this survey engaged with PRs questions
Finally, to obtain more detailed accounts on PRs, between December 2017 and January 2018, we conducted eight in-depth telephone and face-to-face interviews with stakeholders in:
- the Scottish Government
- local authorities
- the third sector
- community organisations - including national community development agencies, community sector membership and local bodies.
The aim was to identify expectations, initial experiences, and practice development around implementation of this new mechanism.
We found evidence of ongoing engagement with and interest in Participation Requests. However, it is still too early to say how Participation Requests contribute to community empowerment.
There are a number of positive expectations as well as concerns. This mechanism is seen as encouraging proactive community involvement in the decision-making process around public services, i.e. how these services are designed and delivered. Concerns are primarily associated with its implementation.
The key challenges are scarce resources and lack of familiarity with the new mechanism across all stakeholders. An indication of reluctance to engage with this new process was also evident in some responses.
Enhancing existing inequalities between well-established community organisations and less formal community groups, and creating tensions between public service authorities and community bodies were noted as unintended consequences which could possibly arise in the course of implementation.