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Participation requests 3 years down the road

April 28, 2020

In April 2017, a new way for community groups to have their voice heard in improving public services came into effect - participation requests. Three years down the road the Scottish Government-commisioned evaluation of participation requests reports a mixed picture with how they are helping to empower communities and address inequalities - key aims of the Empowerment Act.

By making a participation request under part 3 of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act, a community body can request to have a formal discussion with public bodies about how to improve local outcomes. Public bodies must agree to the request or give good reason why not. If the request is agreed to the community group is invited into an 'outcome improvement process' which can take various forms but is essentially the way that the public body works with the community group to explore how to improve the service.

Participation Requests: Evaluation of Part 3 of the Community Empowerment Act - coverThe evaluation

The evaluation, by researchers at Glasgow Caledonian University gives some basic figures, such as that between 2017 and 2019, public service authorities recieved 46 participation requests, 27 of which were accepted, and that most participation requests were received by local authorities (95% in 2017-2018 and 100% in 2018-2019) and made by community councils  (68% in 2017-2018 and 52% in 2018-2019).

Key findings 

  • Examples are starting to emerge of participation requests that have led to service changes and that have strengthened the participation of community groups in service design and improvement.

  • A range of people who have been involved in participation requests, including both those in community groups and in public bodies, view participation requests positively as a way to initiate constructive dialogue between public services and communities.

  • Some public bodies and community groups see participation requests less positively. For instance, some interviewees from public bodies said that receiving participation requests was a sign that exisiting ways for groups to participate had failed. Some community groups who had made participation requests were frustrated that they had not led to meaningful involvement.

  • Promotion of, and support for, participation requests by public bodies varies across Scotland with many limiting information to websites, and some not reporting any activity in their annual reports. There are examples of good practice but, given that most participation requests are received by local authorities, other types of public bodies (e.g. health boards and regional transport authorities) should be doing more to promote and support participation requests.

  • There are ongoing questions about the extent to which participation requests are reducing inequality, with a low number of participation requests being made by community groups representing disadvantaged commmunities and equality groups.

Recommendations (shortened)

  • That the Scottish Government continues to monitor the impact of Part 3 of the Act.

  • More support for public bodies to better understand the intention of the act and for them to encourage the participation of marginalised and disadvantaged groups.

  • Exploring the introduction of an appeals mechanism for participation requests

  • That public bodies identify key contacts responsible for participation requests and promote participation requests more widely.

Read the Full report

More information

  • For more on participation requests and other parts of the Community Empowerment Act visit the Policy Low-down section of Communities Channel Scotland.

  • Scottish Community Development Centre has been working with a range of community groups and practitioners across Scotland to develop accessible resources to help community groups to make participation requests, particularly those from marginalised and disadvantaged communities. Sign up to SCDC's mailing list to hear more about these in future.

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