Although there is no statutory requirement in Scotland for landowners and managers to develop a community engagement strategy, community engagement is one of the six principles of the Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement which the Scottish Land Commission is looking to embed across land ownership and management.
The good news is, thinking about a community engagement strategy is an excellent opportunity to take a step back and consider the status of your existing relationships and the way you currently engage with your local community and other key stakeholders.
A proactive approach to community engagement can have huge benefits for all involved, creating a positive and constructive environment to discuss the challenges and opportunities that each party may face. Community engagement should not be daunting; it is a chance to create a two-way dialogue with others who also have an interest in the land and the value it can bring. It is crucial it is treated as a conversation and not solely as one party imparting information on the other.
There are so many benefits to investing time and resource in community engagement, not only when there is a substantial land-use change in the pipeline but also during the status quo. Let’s face it; it is always easier to have a conversation with someone you know than with someone you don’t. That is why I believe time should be spent building positive relationships in the quiet times and not just the periods of significant change.
So often landowners and managers, don’t feel they are viewed as community members, and community members don’t feel their views are valued. Committing time to relationship building can have long-term benefits.
Positive relationships provide great opportunities to work together towards local economic, social and environmental improvements.
Luckily a community engagement plan doesn’t have to be War and Peace; it should clearly outline the steps you intend to take to build an ongoing dialogue with your community. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your community and find out how they might like to engage. Some people will be comfortable with you only attending existing platforms like community council meetings; some may prefer digital engagement, newsletters, annual open days or community forums with representatives from across the community. Once you understand who your community consists of, you will have a better idea of how to engage, but please consider reaching out and asking how people want to hear from you and what they want to hear.
Key Considerations for your Community Engagement strategy:
There is no particular format required, and you can develop whatever you think will work for your business, so why not start by answering these questions.
Through my Non-Exec role at Scottish Land and Estates, I have been lucky enough to hear about some of the incredible ways land owners and managers are engaging with their communities. These vary hugely in scale and complexity, but I am excited to see the way the sector has embraced this opportunity and look forward to seeing more great examples of community engagement best practice.
If you would like to discuss your approach to community engagement and how I can help you to create a realistic and impactful approach for you, your business and your community then please get in touch.