12 August 2015

A democratic future for community planning?

Calum Irving CEO of Voluntary Action Scotland v2.jpg
Guest blogger Calum Irving, Chief Executive of Voluntary Action Scotland, explains how his organisation has been working on a new vision for third sector interfaces to build the third sector’s relationship with community planning.

It’s over 10 years since Community Planning Partnerships were formed across Scotland, indeed it is over 20 years since the concept was first piloted in Scotland. In that time it is fair to say the third sectors’ experience of community planning has been mixed. In fact for many it is either an unloved entity or an unknown entity.

For Voluntary Action Scotland (VAS) the national network body for Third Sector Interfaces (TSIs) – the local third sector support organisations charged with ‘building the third sector’s relationship with community planning’ – it often feels like an opportunity yet to be realised. And so last year with Dr Oliver Escobar of What Works Scotland we set out with our network to deliberate and shape a new vision. Not a route map or a finished article but a view to help us realise that opportunity.

And with Community Planning Partnerships now being put onto the statute books thanks to the Community Empowerment Act the timing is right to think again about how we make decisions locally. For VAS we support this vision as having the potential to put communities at the heart of decision making; to realise a democratic future for community planning.

Together with colleagues from the network and Dr Escobar we analysed what works, what doesn’t and why. And thus a vision emerges of a more open, enabling way of making decisions, more local and more accountable. In particular the vision advocates for community planning as a central hub for decision making that is locally accountable. That means creating better capacity and more equitable resources for citizens and the third sector to take part. It means much more of a focus on sharing resources - in fact planning resourcing locally across partners.

Most notably for VAS is the development of a view on the role of the third sector in community planning. This has always been contested and unclear and the TSIs themselves have been on a journey to develop their role. On the one hand the vision advocates TSIs as becoming exemplars for change themselves; sharing resources, leading the cultural change and helping new ways of providing services to happen. On the other it also advocates for better support for the diversity of voices from the third sector to meaningfully contribute: essential if community planning is to become focal in decision making.

Overall the vision is one of Community Planning Partnerships becoming spaces for collaborative and participative decision making. That means that the third sector being a key partner is vital but not enough. It also means that ‘people’ should be at the centre, supported and involved in decision making alongside the public services and third sector. 

At VAS we hope these ideas help us all to think about how we make better decisions locally but much more importantly that we take the steps now to achieve a more democratic form of planning for communities.

Download the paper ‘Reimagining Community Planning in Scotland: A Third Sector Perspective’ from the What Works Scotland website.

Views expressed by guest bloggers may not reflect the views of What Works Scotland

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