18 July 2018

Exploring community anchors, public service reform... and the wider local community sector

What Works Scotland has recently published a research report and policy and practice briefing about community anchor organisations and public service reform. But what happen next? 

In this blog post research associate James Henderson introduces some of the key learning from the research and highlights the ongoing discussion of the developing role of the community sector across society in Scotland. 

The potential role of community sector organisations – locally-led, not-for-profit organisations and groups – in public service reform is flagged up by the Christie Commission (2011: 34):

We have […] received evidence on the value and strength of independent community action, and have been particularly impressed with the recent expansion of community development trusts, which are enabling communities to make their own plans and aspirations a reality. These organisations are about local people deciding what is important to them, and then taking action.

This has influenced the direction of the What Works Scotland programme and in particular a certain focus on the role of community anchor organisations. Firstly, we published a think-piece on community anchor organisations in 2015 and this has led on to this further research report that illustrates six community anchor exemplars 'at work'.

 Central to their relevance to public service reform is the complexity of local, cross-sector 'partnerships and participation' that anchors – most usually as community development trusts and community-controlled housing associations – can generate through their local knowledge, creativity and commitment.

The complexity of partnership working and participation networks. Click to see larger version

We argue that through these networks, and where suitably-resourced, community anchors can:
  • be at the forefront of community-led place-making – coordinating local social, economic, environmental and democratic development
  • build local efforts to mitigate ('prevent') some of the worst effects of poverty and inequality
  • facilitate local participatory and deliberative democratic development and leadership 
  • work toward community resilience for local sustainable development e.g. renewables
  • sustain long-term advocacy for such social change as part of a wider movement.

Infrastructure to develop community anchors and the community sector

We point, too, towards the sorts of infrastructure that will be needed to support a step change in the local roles and actions of community anchors across Scotland, in particular by through public service partnerships and the wider state:
  • investing in their potential to lead the development of local community plans – working across the policy spectrum through bottom-up policymaking and planning
  • recognising their need for long-term investment through support for suitable forms of income-generating community ownership, e.g. property, renewables... and angled towards anchors in deprived communities.
  • recognising their potential to support public service culture change via community sector-led training initiatives.

Ongoing participatory inquiry to map the many roles of the community sector

Our research process has sought to be participatory; building dialogue with the six exemplars, an Advisory Group of community sector bodies and policymakers, and a range of other consultees. It has been influenced by the notion of 'appreciative inquiry' and takes an upbeat, future-focused approach – building from existing experience to consider how community anchors can work constructively with state towards a more equitable and sustainable society.

Yet, to make progress on the Christie agenda of reform and social change, we've recognised that both the community sector and public services will be challenged by: the need to build local democratic leadership; to focus on what can be done locally to support community resilience and, to recognise the need to advocate for wider social change.

Two further steps in this ongoing inquiry are thus emerging:

Firstly, a community anchor learning event in May sought to clarify what the current opportunities and barriers for developing partnerships between community anchors/the community sector and public services and policymakers – see more about the event on our website and an event report will follow.

Secondly, to begin the process of considering the role of the community sector more widely – so not only community anchors but other local community-led  including community social enterprises, community-led voluntary organisations, community groups, and local communities of place, interest and identity. And to imagine these as a 'whole' – making connections within and across local communities.

To support this process we've set up a What Works Scotland webpage focused on the community sector and its relevance to public service reform and will be seeking to publish reflective blog-pieces from across the community sector and other interested parties.

See the report, a summary, policy briefing and presentations from our community anchors seminar on the What Works Scotland website 

See the other blogs in the community sector inquiry series

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