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Community: Scottish Community Empowerment Action Plan - Celebrating Success: Inspiring Change



Often the very things that create disadvantage - poverty, lack of educational opportunity, poor health, and poor transport links - also create barriers to bringing about the empowerment that is one of the key ingredients for bringing about real change. Many of our communities, particularly those facing high levels of disadvantage in both urban and rural areas, will need support to help them build the skills, confidence, networks and resources they require on the journey towards becoming more empowered.

We call that range of support community capacity building and it can be a critical step in laying the foundations for community empowerment. Partners need to invest time, money and skills into work that supports community capacity building, if they are serious about community empowerment.

This means investing in highly skilled support for what is a complex process. Activities to help build confidence will contribute to community empowerment only if they are linked to support for building effective organisations. These will only have a longer term impact if people are enabled to learn from their experiences. Developing local leadership needs to be combined with widening involvement and participatory processes. These processes build communities' capacity to engage effectively with public bodies, develop services, and ultimately improve community life.

Specialist staff who form a relationship with communities and groups, and support them over a period of time and through different stages of their development, play an important role in community capacity building. Other staff, working in a range of settings and providing an input to community capacity building as one part of their role, also contribute significantly (and also need specific skills in order to be able to do so effectively). The most effective capacity building is usually embedded into the process of helping communities take action towards their goals.

In Scotland, work to build community capacity building is often developed under the umbrella of community learning and development. This puts it in a strong context where it is linked to a range of other non-formal learning and social development work with individuals, groups and communities. 1 Community learning and development is delivered by a wide range of organisations, often working in partnership, including local authorities, third sector organisations and a range of other partners like health boards, colleges and others.

The Scottish Government has set out clear expectations of the outcomes community capacity building should deliver. 2 Community capacity building in CLD focuses on achieving:

  • Confident, skilled, active and influential communities.
  • Effective and inclusive community organisations.
  • Effective relationships between community organisations and other organisations and services.

Staff providing community capacity building support can face challenging issues of accountability and may be working with communities on issues that are politically sensitive. It is therefore important that their work is informed by commitment to a widely-understood set of principles. Working and Learning Together sets out the following principles as those on which community learning and development practice should be based:

  • Empowerment;
  • Participation;
  • Inclusion, equality of opportunity and anti-discrimination;
  • Self-determination; and
  • Partnership.

These principles should be embedded in work to promote Community Empowerment, in evaluations of its effectiveness and in assessments of its quality.

Our evidence is that communities that receive high quality community capacity building support can become more active, influential and more able to work together to achieve change that matters to them. 3

It is therefore important that the full range of partners with an interest in community empowerment also pay attention to support for community capacity building. Structures to develop strategic partnership approaches to building community capacity often exist as part of partnership working for community learning and development, under the umbrella of Community Planning. Partners should take advantage of and build on these structures to make the most of the available resources to support community capacity building.

The Scottish Government and COSLA have also agreed a joint statement on community learning and development, building on "Working and Learning Together to Build Stronger Communities", which was launched on 28 November 2008. This will mutually reinforce the messages sent out in this action plan about the important contribution that community learning and development, and community capacity building within that, can make to the empowerment of all our communities.