This Discussion Paper supports understanding of the key elements and options for an emerging participatory research agenda to support, inform and critically consider the development of the community economy in Scotland and more widely.

What Works Scotland logo with the organisation name and two cogwheels

It does this by offering a range of frameworks to support dialogue and participatory research on building such an economy, and builds from the What Works Scotland Community Anchors research report.

Fundamental to understanding this call for ongoing participatory research are a number of related crises:

  • Political – local democratic deficit and the rise of populism.
  • Social – stubbornly high-levels of poverty and inequality, and related demographic change.
  • Economic – lack of capacity for locally-led development and resilience.
  • Ecological – the climate emergency and other ‘over-demands’ on eco-systems.

In effect, these are the multi-headed challenges of local-to-global sustainable development as, for instance, expressed through the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

The Community Anchors research report illustrates, through a series of exemplars, the potential of these locally-led, multi-purpose bodies to facilitate a wide range of local economic, social, democratic and ecological development – or community-led place-making and local leadership focused on sustainable development. And it highlights key areas of infrastructure – policy, resources, culture change – that are required in supporting them in taking such an agenda forward. It sees Community Anchors as one key element in a wider local community sector and as part of a wider social and political debates across Scotland related to local democracy, community resilience, local sustainable development, social justice, and social and ecologically-related change.

This Discussion paper takes this further by drawing on the idea of the community economy to provide space to support discussions of the relationships, roles and aspirations within the community sector within a wider body of thought on the roles of the community economy within the workings of state, market and society and on our learning so far on infrastructure for developing the community sector.

In the current Scottish policy context, there are emerging opportunities for the community sector to engage with, and challenge, the state, including community empowerment, community ownership and land reform, social enterprise, public service reform and the ongoing Christie agenda, and sustainable development and climate change.

A graphic of tree with the trunk and branches in the abstract shapes of three people reading upwards

The paper presents a series of initial frameworks and language of emerging issues and opportunities to inform ongoing dialogue and further participatory research.

In section 2, the authors outline frameworks to support dialogue on the community economy – the networks, systems and connectivity working across local community sector bodies. This web of thinking provides a crucial backdrop to build shared understandings of the community economy, community sector and community anchors and their relationships with other sectors and systems.

  • Framework 1: a community economy within three systems of the economy
  • Framework 2: mapping a diverse locally-led community sector
  • Framework 3: the community anchor model
  • Framework 4: infrastructure for community sector development

In Section 3, they draw on discussions from a What Works Scotland cross-sector stakeholder learning event that engaged with learning from the Community Anchor research report to illustrate the potential of participatory research process to deepen dialogue on developing complex areas of policy and practice and related theories, and to present a framework of five broad areas for practitioners and policymakers to consider in supporting development of the community economy:

  • working within the community economy
  • models of working between state and community sector
  • infrastructure for the community sector
  • local democratic activity and coordination
  • social change: roles and dilemmas for the community sector

In Section 4, they outline a framework of five key themes to be used to build a suitable participatory research agenda. These include research funding and leadership; values and vision – potentially as ‘a social commons’; appreciative, action-orientated and critical research; knowledge generation relevant to all stakeholders; and the need for both urgent and credible research given the current crises we face.

The conclusion brings this learning together as four current elements for developing a participatory approach for informing development of the community economy. This must be a collective effort on many fronts and we’re keen to discuss such thinking with wider stakeholders – practitioners from the community sector and other sectors, policymakers and funders, citizens and researchers.

If you’re interested in this agenda and/or have responses to the discussion paper, please do contact James at

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This Discussion Paper was funded by What Works Scotland and published by Policy Scotland, which now manages the What Works Scotland legacy.

See also Public value governance meets social commons: community anchor organisations as catalysts for public service reform and social change?, a journal article based on the What Works Scotland research, published in Local Government Studies (subscription required).