Community engagement surveys – Meaningful engagement starts with you
In our latest blog, our Land Rights and Responsibilities Manager, Gemma Campbell, shares why involving communities in the land use decision-making around them is so important, and what you can do to have your say in our latest surveys.
Broad and meaningful engagement on decisions taken in relation to land and buildings is a key aspect of responsible management and use of land. It can help to build trust between landowners, land managers, communities and other stakeholders, and secure better outcomes for everyone involved. Understanding the experiences of communities and landowners when it comes to engagement can help us to identify opportunities to support better engagement.
The Scottish Government’s Guidance on Engaging Communities in Decisions Relating to Land, which was published in April 2018, sets out that communities can reasonably expect to be engaged in decisions about land that are likely to have an impact on them and their local area. People should have confidence that there is a fair and balanced system of decision-making in relation to land and should be engaged in decisions that will affect them and their local environment.
In 2019, the Scottish Land Commission carried out two surveys (one of landowners and managers, and one of community organisations and individuals), in order to build a baseline understanding of people’s involvement in and experiences of community engagement activities. The results of the first surveys gave us some figures from which progress can be measured and enabled us to identify where further support might be needed. We're now carrying out a follow-up survey to understand what progress has been made in the last few years, and what additional support or changes might now be required to encourage more effective engagement of communities in land-use decision making.
Much has changed since we last asked people to tell us about their experiences of community engagement. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into focus how important the places we live are and made people think about their connections to local areas. Access to good quality land near where we live can support our health and wellbeing. When lockdown rules required people to stay closer to home, they might have noticed things about the land and buildings around them and the ways these assets are used and managed. For landowners, they may have noticed more people accessing land, raising questions about responsible access and how communities can be engaged on these.
We also see a sharper focus on the management of land in support of climate action, with the Scottish Government working to achieve net zero by 2045. The way we manage our land is critical for reducing emissions and for sequestering carbon and it is vitally important that communities are supported to engage on long-term changes made to the way land is owned and used.
The recently revised Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement makes it clear that engagement should be meaningful as high quality engagement is important to achieving positive outcomes. The Scottish Government also introduced a new principle to the statement that recognises the need for a wide range of benefits to be considered when taking decisions about land. Effective and meaningful engagement plays an important role in making sure that when decisions are made that they recognise the economic, environmental, social and cultural impacts of that decision.
Experiences of engagement
There are many different ways that people can be engaged on land use decisions; from attending an online or in person engagement event to find out more about plan for land, to getting involved in a more collaborative and democratic process, like participatory budgeting or a citizens’ or neighbourhood panel. It is helpful for us to know how extensively different methods are used, but also to know how people would prefer to be engaged with. We know that engagement fatigue can be an issue – too many consultations and events can leave people feeling exhausted and like their views haven’t been listened to – so what is the right balance and how could engagement be better co-ordinated? If you carry out engagement, what are the barriers you face and what support could help you to carry out effective engagement?
Our surveys give people a chance to tell us about what is working or not working well in their area, what the barriers are for effective engagement, and what additional support could help.
We are carrying out two surveys – one to understand the experience of community members and community organisations on how they have been engaged on decisions relating to land, and the other for landowners and managers of land to understand their experience of carrying out engagement on land use decisions. The surveys are open to everyone in Scotland, and we are looking for as many views as possible, so we would encourage you to take ten to fifteen minutes to fill out the questionnaire and to share the links with others so that they can have their say too.