Section two - Community Engagement

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What we need to know

This section covers the core knowledge and understanding practitioners require to enable them to effectively identify and apply community engagement approaches and techniques. It covers the background policies and theories and supports practitioners both to consider why they are undertaking community engagement and the role that they play. It sets out a range of approaches which can be adopted when undertaking community engagement. It also encourages practitioners to approach the task in a reflective manner and one which is grounded in the principles of community learning and development.

This forms the basis for the approaches, materials and methods included in the framework as well as any other resources that are referenced or signposted.


Community Engagement is increasingly at the forefront of public policy. It is seen as means both of developing better services and better use of resources, and of encouraging more productive relationships between communities and public bodies.

There are many definitions of community engagement, but one which is commonly used and referred to in Scotland comes from the National Standards for Community Engagement (2005) which defines community engagement as:

"Developing and sustaining a working relationship between one or more public body and one or more community group, to help them both to understand and act on the needs or issues that the community experiences."

"Always a process that involves purposeful dialogue between public agencies and communities aimed at improving understanding between them and taking more effective action to achieve beneficial change."

There are various words used at times to describe community engagement and it is important that practitioners are familiar with them and how they are used. For example - in the Better Community Engagement Guide the word ‘participation' is used and defined as follows:

"The word ‘participation' implies that local people and groups will be involved in the decision making about priorities and the allocation of funding, in the management of the programmes and services devised for their areas, in the delivery of projects and activities in their communities, and in the design of the structures and processes which enable change to come about. Traditionally, local people were involved as users and beneficiaries of initiatives devised on their behalf. Enlightened service providers consulted their users on the shape and scope of their services. ‘Participation' implies that local people and groups will have far more status and influence than this within the system."

Community engagement is founded on the belief that local people know their area, know the issues which affect their lives, and are able to work with service providers to shape change within their community. The benefits of community engagement therefore are many and widespread. There is likely to be an increased ownership of solutions within communities, solutions which are locally appropriate and therefore more sustainable, an increased sense of worth, self-esteem and resilience within communities and communities with an increased capacity to act.

However, the benefits of community engagement do not just flow to communities. Service providers also benefit from community engagement as it brings improved information and understanding of community issues, joined up thinking across services, more effective service delivery and more flexible use of resources. Therefore ultimately, good quality community engagement should lead to improvements in the quality of community life.

The Scottish Government has built the principle of community engagement into policy and guidance to public services. This is most notable for Community Planning through which the Local Government Scotland Act 2003 requires all public services to work together. The guidance on the act states: "Community Planning is essentially a process to secure greater engagement from communities in the planning and delivery of services".

This was reinforced in the Review of Community Planning and SOAs: Statement of Ambition, 2012 "Communities have high expectations of public services and have a key role to play in helping to shape and coproduce better outcomes within their communities. If CPPs are to unlock that potential, their foundations must be built on a strong understanding of their communities, and provide genuine opportunities to consult, engage and involve them."

The Christie Commission explicitly stated that any reforms to public services ‘must aim to empower individuals and communities receiving public services by involving them in the design and delivery of the services they use'

The Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill is the most explicit statement of the Scottish Government's commitment to greater involvement of local people in the design and delivery of the services and issues which affect the communities they live in. This was set out in the early consultation: "Services should be built around and with people and communities ... having the right procedures, practices and organisations in place will help deliver effective community engagement."