A community participation body may make a request to a public service authority to permit the body to participate in an outcome improvement process. Having a Community Place Plan helps communities to be clear about what they want from services delivered by public bodies and means that they can use participation requests as part of the implementation of their plan.
Participation requests under the Community Empowerment Act, is not the only way for communities to engage and participate with public bodies. In general terms participation requests are intended to provide opportunities for communities to pro-actively be involved in improving outcomes.
As such they are designed to help groups highlight community needs and issues, and become involved in change or improvement. They are not intended to replace good quality existing community engagement or participation processes but are rather designed to complement and enhance them. Similarly, Participation Requests are not intended to be an extension of complaints procedures but should rather be viewed as an opportunity for communities to establish formal dialogue with public service authorities.
There are a range of possible uses of Participation Requests which can be broadly divided into four categories as follows:
To help people start a dialogue about something that matters to their community, through highlighting needs, issues or opportunities for improvement.
- Example: a group of fathers/grandads have identified a lack of opportunities for support for men and their children within their local area. They are not a constituted group, but have informally come together to provide play activities for their children and have established an informal network. They have identified that there are many men living in the area who are unemployed and who care for their children/grandchildren, and that they struggle to access free or affordable play activities and support. The group want to improve access to existing parents’ groups for men locally, and to work with service providers to establish a father’s group. They have made a participation request to their health board around positive parenting.
To help people have their voice heard in policy and service development, through contributing to decision-making processes.
- Example: A tenants’ organisation which represents a neighbourhood wishes to influence how decisions are made in relation to community safety. They have identified a community safety issue which is specific to their neighbourhood, but which they believe has not been prioritised within wider community safety planning. They feel that their voices have not been heard within the process, and have made a participation request to their local authority to be involved in community safety planning structures.
To help people to participate in the design, delivery, monitoring or review of service provision, through contributing to service change or improvement.
- Example: A network of refugees and asylum seekers from across Scotland have carried out a survey which shows a range of experiences in relation to accessing English language courses. They wish to work with statutory providers to ensure that all refugees and asylum seekers have equal opportunity to access English language tuition, and in particular to address the issue of cost and timing/availability of transport which was reported as barrier for those living in more rural communities. They have made a participation request to a regional transport provider around equality of access to transport.
- Example: A local Development Trust wants to take over the running of a local care service and makes a participation request to the local authority to start a dialogue on the issue . People in the community feel strongly that there is a need for such a care service to be delivered locally as it enables many older people to continue to live in their own homes.
To help people challenge decisions and seek support for alternatives which improve outcomes.
- Example: A community development trust is seeking to challenge a decision about a woodland area which is well used by the local community for outdoor activities such as biking, walking and woodland education. The woodland is owned and managed privately and the owner has endeavoured to restrict access to the site claiming that this is due to the discovery of a protected species. The community development trust has made a participation request to the National Park Authority to become involved in finding a suitable resolution.
The most common definitions describe participation as “the act of taking part in, or sharing in something”. The term is one which implies an active rather than a passive process and it is the intention of the Act to enable the active participation of communities in addressing the issues and opportunities which are of greatest importance to them.
When done well, the process of community engagement should lead to improved community participation so that communities can have more influence over the services and decisions that affect their lives. Some of the benefits of good community engagement and better participation include:
- The way in which public services are planned, developed and delivered is influenced by, and responds to, community need.
- People who find it difficult to get involved (for example, because of language barriers, disability, poverty or discrimination) help to influence the decisions that affect their lives.
- The various strengths and assets in communities and across public and private sector agencies are used effectively to deal with the issues communities face.
- New relationships are developed between communities and public sector bodies which build trust and make joint action possible.
The National Standards for Community Engagement are a framework for public service authorities, support organisations and community participation bodies when planning and undertaking community engagement processes.