Community Empowerment and Landscape Decision Making frameworks in Scotland: improving outcomes for people and nature

Lead Research Organisation: Newcastle University
Department Name: Sch of History, Classics and Archaeology


This network will develop the distinctive and vital contributions that arts and humanities researchers can make to the formation of resilient and democratic decision-making frameworks for managing land assets and landscapes in Scotland, set within the wider UK, European and global contexts. The network will focus on cultures of decision-making through the lenses of human rights and community empowerment. These concepts provide a vocabulary for framing the often invisible or intangible goods associated with land, and moreover, provide a structure for balancing and distributing the many benefits (economic, social, cultural, environmental, spiritual) derived from landscapes. These benefits may manifest in improved outcomes for the rights to health, cultural life, food, housing, work, education (in human rights terms) or in improved agency, autonomy, ownership and participatory decision-making (in community empowerment terms), and are intrinsically linked to the health and well-being. A critical but rarely interrogated aspect of the ways decisions are made is the influence of governance, planning, institutional, professional, disciplinary and other cultures. Many of the principles and goals now promoted by public policy - sustainability, development, participation, empowerment - are undermined by deeply-embedded habits of thought and ways of doing things derived from longer-standing and contested underpinning values. This matters because it affects the ability of communities, public bodies and other stakeholders to achieve positive outcomes. By focusing sustained attention on the issue of how in this context decision-making is influenced by the cultures of those with power this project will make a significant future contribution to new decision-making frameworks. This is an under-investigated area where research can support structured and evidence-based debate in the public and political arenas. Arts and humanities researchers are well positioned to contribute critical insights because the issue under investigation is a matter of culture. The network is an equal partnership between academics from a wide range of disciplines and a diverse range of policy makers and practitioners engaged in the often-contested management of land assets and landscapes in Scotland. The network will have real-world and measurable policy impacts by investigating cultures of decision making and by producing and promoting recommendations for change that will help to deliver holistic, integrated and place-based decision-making in the future. There are many organisations and agencies involved in landscapes and land assets in Scotland and this network will offer a forum to share and compare experiences between them in an open and respectful way, crucial in such a contested political field. How can such research help to create more robust frameworks for decision-making that impacts upon the fundamental issues facing our society such as the ownership, use and management of the finite resource that is land? Each of the network members have been considering that question from their own disciplinary and practitioner perspectives, and collectively, we wish to make a contribution to a lively and important debate, and find consensus on new landscape decision-making frameworks.

Planned Impact

We envisage academic, policy and practice impact outcomes from this project, all of which will allow us to share best practice, to raise awareness and contribute to the 'normalisation' of the principles of community empowerment and human rights in relation to cultures of decision-making on landscapes and land assets in the Scottish and European context. Community empowerment and the progressive fulfillment of a range of human rights are explicit goals in Scottish (and international) law and policy. However, embedded decision-making cultures are proving to be a barrier to the achievement of these goals, and new decision-making cultures need to be defined, promoted and established. By placing decision-making cultures in the foreground for systematic interrogation, this project is driven by a desire to make an informed impact on both policy and practice in relation to community empowerment and incorporates co-productive and collaborative methodologies to achieve this. The impact of the network can be summarized according to two critical groups of stakeholders: (a) Communities (and community land owners) in Scotland: the legislative and policy contexts of community empowerment and land ownership in Scotland have undergone accelerated reform since devolution in 1999, with - in a European context - radical changes in emphasis from private to community models. Much of this change is yet to be worked through, including impacts on democratic processes and expectations, participation, heritage and collective memory, environmental and developmental concerns. Land owners of all types have been reacting to these changes according to their differing capacities, but this network and its activities will generate a space where collectively and in collaboration - rather than in conflict - they can critically reflect on and co-produce future decision-making frameworks within which they have agency.
(b) Public policy-makers: the Scottish Government's National Performance Outcomes and the UN's Sustainable Development Goals ( are at the intellectual and practice-based heart of this network, and as such, its processes, outcomes and impact will have significant relevance for civil servants, policy makers and politicians. The network's activities will also suggest a model of interaction and co-production in its exploration of current and future cultures of decision making which could be applied to multiple other policy and geographical contexts.


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Description The project was been significantly delayed due to COVID but we were able to hold a series (3) of workshops, and drew from those significant input into the design of the rest of the events, setting up a COVID stories repository, which shows how rural communities have been dealing with COVID and a series of co-produced a podcast series 'in conversation with'. We also designed and ran a survey and workshopped the findings with the network participants.
Exploitation Route We hope it will have a positive impact on cultures of decision making around community empowerment and land use in Scotland.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description Our findings are being disseminated to key stakeholders including: government, community landowners, charitable landowners, landscape and agricultural agencies. We are actively tracking the impact of this work.
First Year Of Impact 2022
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Policy & public services

Description Community Land Scotland 
Organisation Community Land Scotland
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Co-writing outputs Designing and delivering the podcast series Co-producing and delivering the workshops A CLS members survey
Collaborator Contribution Access to members and networks Co-writing and designing events Co-writing outputs
Impact Network activities: workshops co-designed Podcast series Policy briefing Project report and recommendations
Start Year 2020
Description National Trust for Scotland 
Organisation National Trust for Scotland
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution The network has generated a substantial collaboration with the policy director for the NTS, including co-writing of the outputs.
Collaborator Contribution Attendance at workshops Co-writing outputs Podcast interview
Impact Podcast episode Policy briefing
Start Year 2021
Description CLS member's survey 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact We co-designed and delivered a survey for Community Land Scotland member (approx 350) to understand better their experiences of decision-making around landscapes.
We used the data returned to run a workshop to flesh out the findings with further context and how they could be used to design recommendations for the future.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
Description Workshops 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact We ran a series of linked workshops (three in total: one in person, two online due to the pandemic)
Each workshop had approx 45-50 participants
The first workshop helped us explore the network parameters and agree with participants what our priorities should be. Three days later we went into the first lockdown, so our second workshop was online and again we used that to re-assess the network purpose and outcomes and we moved it to a focus on lived experiences and capturing hard to reach / marginalised voices.
The final workshop we presented the survey data, the podcast themes and data and agreed on the structure of the final outputs.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020,2021,2022