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Exploring the landscapes of governance for rural community empowerment in Aberdeenshire

Despite the emerging emphasis on the roles that (local) communities can play in public service reform and attempts to ‘empower’ communities (or allow them to ‘empower themselves’) in rural areas, the tensions or synergies created by co-existing Governance structures are poorly understood. This study investigates the responsibilities and activities of ‘top down’ and ‘bottom up’ governance structures and its facets of parallel – and potentially competing – governance.

Project aim

This project is funded by the Scottish Government RESAS Strategic Research Programme Theme 8 which looks at Vibrant Rural Communities within workpackage 8.2 on governance and decision-making for community empowerment in rural communities. It aims to explores issues of representativeness and effectiveness using the example of community councils in Aberdeenshire.

Research questions

  • Who is (not) involved in decision making? How? To what effect? Where are the linkages and disjunctures in dialogue and influence?
  • What is the nature of the links between local authorities, community councils and other community entities? Do we find synergies or competition?
  • What are the strengths and apparent challenges of community councils, and what is their position in relation to other, more grassroots, community initiatives?

Methodology

Semi-structured interviews with various community council members and participant observation at community council meetings, community council forum and other relevant events.

Findings

In October 2015, we produced a report that summarises the findings on achievements of Community Councils (CCs), the challenges they face and how they are connected to the wider community. 

  • Achievements vary between CCs, and activity levels range from ‘quiet’ to ‘energetic’
  • CCs face difficulties recruiting members and office bearers
  • It is challenging for CCs to gain and retain particular skills that allowed them to pursue activities requiring specialist expertise
  • Views on funding differed - some CCs view the grants received as tokenistic, others find them adequate and emphasise that "empowerment is not just about the money"
  • Some CCs are well linked to their communities, while others struggle to keep in touch with the wider community
  • Crucial support can come from elected councillors and responsive Local Authority offices
  • More needs to be done to publicise the achievements of CCs, also 'intangible' achievements

CCs should be given a choice of whether they want to take on more responsibility. Where they accept more responsibility, this must be coupled with genuine sharing of decision making power and an appropriate budget.

A short overview is provided in this research note.

Staff involved

Katrin Prager, Kirsty Holstead

Project Information
Project Type: 
Archived Project

Research

Areas of Interest


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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.