James Henderson, The Urban Institute, Heriot Watt University), Philip Revell, Sustaining Dunbar and Scottish Community Climate Action Network, and Oliver Escobar, Edinburgh Futures Institute, University of Edinburgh, argue for a participatory research agenda for the community economy and societal resilience given ongoing and emerging social and ecological crises (local-to-global) – inequalities, climate emergency, democratic deficits and pandemic(s) drawing from a new What Works Scotland discussion paper published by Policy Scotland.
In responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, the community sector, whilst perhaps less visible in mainstream media than other crucial sectors and services, has been indispensable on-the-ground. Recent research, for instance, by community sector networks, the Scottish Community Alliance and Locality (in England), are illustrating the depth and breadth of the commitment of community organisations, enterprises and groups and the agility and creativity with which they can use local knowledge to rapidly develop local solutions to meeting needs in this challenging context.
Social capital at the heart of a wellbeing economy and green recovery?
Now as Scotland and the UK look to move out of lockdown, attention is turning to economic recovery and reconstruction. The recent report of the Scottish Government’s independent Advisory Group on Economic Recovery is arguing that “establishing a robust, wellbeing economy matters more than ever, but we must now recognise more explicitly the essential nature of resilience” and look to a “green economic recovery (as) central to recovery overall.” They point to four economic pillars of capital: financial and physical capital, natural capital, human capital, and social capital, explaining that “…we have sought to treat each pillar as equally important; to understand their interaction; and to pursue interventions that will first protect and then progress each of them and argue that “(t)rust must lie at the heart of a robust, resilient wellbeing economy.”
The major thinkpiece by Professor Ronald MacDonald published by Policy Scotland strikes similar notes, arguing that “there will be considerable advantages to the UK and Scotland, particularly in terms of addressing the large scale unemployment that will be the inevitable result of the pandemic, were they to instigate a wellbeing fiscal stimulus, and one that has a major focus on greening the economy,…”. And highlighting, too, the role of social capital: “If the kind of collective actions that we have seen during the pandemic are continued going forward this could have important implications, in turn, for the building of social capital. At the heart of social capital building and a thriving civil society is the concept of trust. Imparting, or re-imparting, trust from local communities up to business communities, tiers of government and beyond should be a key strand of economic policymaking in the post-pandemic period.”
Emphasis on social capital within developing macro-economic thinking is refreshing, yet concerns are also being raised about the current lack of focus on the role of community social enterprise if we are to build back better and fairer: societal resilience in the face of climate and social emergencies will require economic transformation concerned for agility, creativity and commitment to solidarity (local-to-global).
An emerging community economy?
Our previous research on the community sector and public service reform through the What Works Scotland programme has highlighted the complex local leadership, development and advocacy roles that community anchor organisations such as community development trusts, community-controlled housing associations, multi-purpose community-based social enterprises and community-led health centres are already playing given suitable infrastructure. It illustrates their potential to build not only social capital and trust but to lead and facilitate local economic, social, democratic and environmental development – often through community ownership.
A scoping of the whole (not-for-profit) community sector begins to map its extraordinary current diversity:
- thousands of community enterprises, community cooperatives, credit unions, local equalities and anti-poverty organisations, and ‘infinite’ varieties of local groups and networks.
- membership networks that include local BAME bodies; community woodlands, environmental action, community transport, community arts, community food and farms, land ownership, rural and coastal, recycling and renewables and so on …
- other emerging infrastructure including Scottish Communities Finance and its development of community bonds and community-led patient investment.
It provides traction for getting complex things done locally and there is then the sense of an emerging community economy of interlinking networks and systems locally and further afield. These work within wider local economies that include public, private and wider third (social) sector organisations. Yet their grounding in local communities of place and interest offer potential for deepening democratic innovation, bottom-up planning and coordination of resources, and collective advocacy for wider policy and social change e.g. sustainable development, eradicating poverty.
These aspirations can, however, only be meaningful given well-resourced and diverse community sector infrastructure to support local organisations and people (staff, activists, volunteers). We highlight, for instance, in a recent Scottish policy supplement developed with urban practitioners in Govan through the Smart Urban Intermediaries projecthttp://www.smart-urban-intermediaries.com/, how this requires the local and central state to work with the sector, local partners and wider networks to develop cross-cutting policy-making; culture change and supporting local practitioners as champions and mentors; developing local employment and digital initiatives; and expanding locally-led infrastructure and investment. Further, the Scottish Community Alliance’s response to the Economic Advisory Group’s consultation calls for a ‘New Deal for Communities’ with £200M as the scale of initial investment now needed.
Towards a participatory research agenda for the community economy
Our discussion paper – Building the community economy in Scotland – was drafted before the arrival of COVID-19 yet puts emphasis on the urgency of ongoing social and ecological crises. It aims to support committed dialogue on developing relevant infrastructure for the community economy and to illustrate the potential for participatory research to inform and deepen such working.
We present a series frameworks of emerging issues and opportunities to support discussions:
In Section 2, we offer four frameworks to support dialogue and build understanding of the community economy; the community sector; the community anchor ‘model’; relationships with other sectors and systems (local-to-global); and questions of investment and infrastructure.
In Section 3, we use material from cross-sector stakeholder discussions at the WWS community anchor learning event to generate five themes relevant to practitioners and policymakers:
- 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, we present five themes to inform development of a relevant participatory research agenda:
- Research funding and leadership;
- Values and vision – potentially as ‘a social commons’
- Appreciative, action-orientated and critical research
- Knowledge generation relevant to all stakeholders
- Urgent and credible research given current crises and emergencies.
The concluding section emphasises the need to build and invest in this research agenda ‘now’. 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 contact James at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- This Discussion Paper was funded by What Works Scotland and has been published by Policy Scotland, which now manages the What Works Scotland legacy.
- Our journal article based on the What Works Scotland research – Public value governance meets social commons: community anchor organisations as catalysts for public service reform and social change? – is published in Local Government Studies (subscription required)
To cite this article: Henderson, James, Revell, Philip, Escobar, Oliver, The community economy in Scotland and participatory research for building back better and fairer? Policy Scotland, 29 July 2020 https://policyscotland.gla.ac.uk/community-economy-in-scotland-participatory-research-for-building-back-better-and-fairer
Written content is published under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 licence.
Image credit: stockprobe | iStockphoto