National Standards for Community Engagement (NSCE)
Extract from Evaluation by Clear Plan (UK) Ltd.
9 Learning points from the study
9.1 The National Standards provide a shared language and consistent understanding of the nature and elements of effective community engagement which did not exist before. This has had the effect of enhancing communication between community engagement specialists and non-specialists.
9.2 The National Standards have given Community Planning Partnerships and Community Planning Partners a framework and language with which to describe their community engagement practice and their plans for improving that practices.
9.3 Community Planning Partners with limited expertise and experience in community engagement require support from community engagement specialists to interpret the National Standards’ relevance to their practice. Locally produced and discipline specific resources which are more explicitly focused on the practical implementation of community engagement are valuable complements to the National Standards.
9.4 The National Standards are applicable as a framework for review of the ‘fitness for purpose’ of community engagement in a diverse range of situations including Community Planning Partnership structures, Community Planning Partner strengths and weaknesses, community consultation exercises and individual practitioner reflection.
9.5 The National Standards have assisted Community Planning Partnerships and Community Planning Partners to identify specific areas for improvement of community engagement processes. The Feedback Standard in particular has contributed to a significantly enhanced awareness of the importance of investing in providing feedback to communities from engagement and consultation exercises.
9.6 Some practitioners have a misplaced confidence in the quality of their community engagement practice which the National Standards have not been effective in challenging. This misplaced confidence has the potential to limit the impact of the National Standards on improving community engagement.
9.7 The National Standards are not always immediately relevant to Community Planning Partners. They can become relevant in situations where Community Planning Partners are required to undertake or evidence community engagement or consultation as part of service/strategic planning and review processes.
9.8 The National Standards have provided a resource for practitioners to consider the nature of community engagement outcomes and how to evidence them. They are however insufficient as a tool to provide evidence of community engagement outcomes.
9.9 The National Standards are contributing to a ‘culture change’ in how community engagement is perceived. In the long term the status and impact of the National Standards will change as commitment to high quality community engagement becomes more embedded in the culture of public service provision.
9.10 The absence of significant requirements for Community Planning Partners to report on the quality of community engagement processes or the outcomes arising from these processes limits the potential of the National Standards to become embedded in mainstream service planning.
9.11 The introduction of Outcome Agreements for public services may provide an opportunity to further embed community engagement processes and to develop systems to capture and evidence outcomes from community engagement.
Community Empowerment Action Plan – National Standards for Community Engagement
The Scottish Government and COSLA remain committed to ensuring that local people have opportunities to shape the way public services are delivered by making them more responsive to their needs. Engaging effectively with communities is a key element in the ongoing development of Single Outcome Agreements and sits within the strategic context of the development of the joint community empowerment action plan that was announced by Stewart Maxwell and Cllr Harry McGuigan in April this year.
You will be aware that the National Standards for Community Engagement, published in May 2005, are designed as a key tool to help improve community engagement practice. Over the last three years the Standards have been used by a wide range of organisations in a wide variety of settings. You may also remember that Audit Scotland recommended that Community Planning Partnerships should champion the National Standards as good practice in their initial review of Community Planning in 2006. Audit Scotland are currently developing their approach to the next round of Best Value Audit and will be consulting on their approach later in the year. The National Standards are likely to form part of a key line of enquiry in terms of evaluating progress on community engagement. They will also be working closely with Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education in the development of their approach, drawing on their experience in Community Learning and Development inspection.
The Scottish Government has now evaluated the impact of the National Standards and the findings of that evaluation are generally very positive. The evaluation found that the Standards are helping to bring about a culture change in the way communities are involved in improving public services. They have helped to develop a shared understanding of what community engagement is and there is also emerging evidence that positive change in the way public services are delivered can be attributed to improved community engagement The report of the evaluation can be found at http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2008/07/16085900/0
The evaluation also found however, that more help was needed to allow partners to better plan and co-ordinate community engagement activity. Colleagues involved in frontline work, with Scottish Government support through the Scottish Centre for Community Development (SCDC), developed a new database tool to respond to these findings. The “Visioning Outcomes in Community Engagement” (VOiCE) tool was launched in May 2008 and has been warmly welcomed by those who have seen it.
As part of the community empowerment action plan, the Scottish Government will invest in raising awareness of VOiCE and helping partnerships understand how best to use it to further improve practice. SCDC will be in touch with Community Planning Partnerships in the coming months to agree how to deploy that support. Further information on VOiCE can be found at http://www.scdc.org.uk/voice/
We will keep you updated with further developments of the community empowerment action plan over the next few months.
If you would like more information on VOiCE prior to SCDC making contact with you, please contact Fiona Garven on firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have any queries about the National Standards for Community Engagement please contact Alasdair McKinlay, head of the community engagement team in this Division on email@example.com
Deputy Director for Regeneration