‘What do local communities know and understand that policy folk maybe don’t?’
University of the West of Scotland, Paisley Campus, Wednesday 24 June 2015 (1.30-4.00pm, Rooms D128 and D130)
The second UWS-Oxfam Partnership Policy Forum of 2015 will take place on Wednesday 24th June 2015 (1.30pm-4.00pm) at the Paisley Campus of the University of the West of Scotland. Against the backdrop of the wider discussion of ‘community empowerment’ in contemporary Scotland, the question which will be the focus for the discussion is: ‘What do local communities know and understand that policy folk maybe don’t?’
The discussion will be supported by presentations reporting on the experiences of communities which have been linked to Oxfam and the UWS-Oxfam Partnership, as follows (further background to the discussion and speakers’ details are below).
• John Connolly will present research conducted in two Ayrshire communities on austerity and health – research which indicates an appreciation within the communities of the ‘social determination of health’ which is perhaps beyond that demonstrated by much of the relevant ‘policy community’ in Scotland.
• Maria Feeney will present on her research with Govan-based women’s support group, Tea in the Pot. This is research which, amongst other things, challenges the appropriateness of policy thinking focused around the language of ‘social capital’, and suggests that ’empowering’ approaches need to connect better with the actual history and experiences of local communities.
• Jim Boyle will speak about the conclusions which local communities in Beith and in Linwood have drawn from the experience of ‘regeneration’ and ‘anti-poverty’ initiatives of the past, and the implications for how they are now seeking to do things for themselves.
Please confirm wish to attend by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org no later than Friday 12 June.
Background to the Event
Our discussion takes place as the Scottish Parliament legislates for ‘community empowerment’. This is the culmination of much longer-standing discussions around ‘participation’, ‘engagement’ and ’empowerment’ of local communities which extend back almost 50 years – to the ‘community action’ movement of the 1960s – and which have been particularly intense since the later 1980s. An aspect of all of these discussions has been the suggestion that local communities themselves, because of their ‘lived experience’ of the problems and challenges they face, have special insights and understandings which need to be ‘captured’ in order to inform the development of both local ‘solutions’ and wider policy agendas aiming to bring about change.
Yet, at the same time, local communities have often been reported as feeling disempowered as a result of interventions by various agencies, and as seeing their own insights and understandings devalued, judged as ‘parochial’, ‘political’ or otherwise out of keeping with the agendas pursued by government at both local and national level. The impression has often been that community level insights and understandings are not always as valued or as welcome as the rhetoric has suggested.
Our discussion will be supported by presentations which draw on the experiences of communities which have been linked to Oxfam and the UWS-Oxfam Partnership. The aim is not to suggest that local communities are the fonts of all wisdom and understand all matters better than others, or vice versa. Rather it is to explore how knowledge and understanding which can do justice to local communities and help to bring about social change can be accessed, developed and shared, and to think about the kinds of collaborative relationships between people and organisations which can achieve that, and how to project it into the world and into the policy imagination.
Jim Boyle is currently working with Linwood Community Development Trust. He is also associated with The Grow Trust, Beith Community Development Trust, The Leamey Foundation, Acorn Enterprises, Barra and Vatersay Development Trust and Romano Lav. He was previously Programme Coordinator for Oxfam Scotland for eight years. Jim has had many other jobs, ranging from a security guard in the Holy City (not Clydebank, the actual Holy City) to a novice monk in London.
John Connolly is Lecturer in Public Policy at UWS. After receiving a PhD from the University of Strathclyde, he worked as Policy and Evaluation Adviser with NHS Health Scotland. He is currently researching public sector reform, and the management of public health crises. John was part of the team whose research on health and austerity in Ayrshire, conducted with the support of the UWS-Oxfam Partnership, will shortly be reported in a prominent academic journal.
Maria Feeney is Lecturer in Sociology in the School of Media, Culture and Society at UWS. Her main interests lie in the study of ‘third place’, community participation and social justice. Maria led the recent UWS-Oxfam Partnership research collaboration with Tea in the Pot, published in the Partnership’s Collaborative Research Report Series as Tea in the Pot: Building ‘social capital’ or a ‘great good place’ in Govan.