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ECPR Futures Lab 2020

Participatory Governance in Scotland: Negotiating Processes of Power Sharing Between Community and Elected Representatives in ‘Action’ Partnerships

Local Government
Public Administration
Public Policy
Decision Making
Claire Bynner
University of Glasgow
Claire Bynner
University of Glasgow
Oliver Escobar
University of Edinburgh

The context for local decision-making in Scotland is the aspiration for a more participatory form of local governance, embodied in the Community Empowerment Act 2015. At the sub-authority level, local partnerships, public forums and other community spaces provide opportunities for engaging representatives of community groups and members of the public in decisions on local priorities and services. The size and geography of these local forums mean that they are closer to local communities and therefore are often regarded as important forums for community participation in decision-making.

What Works Scotland (WWS), a research collaboration between the Universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh, has been supporting the development of participatory governance within local partnerships in Scotland. This paper discusses a local authority area in Scotland where five ‘action partnerships’ have been established. The findings are based on the application of an analytical framework developed by WWS that translates key research findings from the programme into an analytical tool to understand effective participation in local decision-making. Methods include qualitative interviews with chairs and public participation professionals and focus groups with local elected representatives and community members.

The findings demonstrate that democratic innovations of this nature take time to become established as elected members and community members make sense of the purpose of the partnership and negotiate new processes of power sharing. The local context has an important influence on the effectiveness of the partnership and there remains a challenge in providing accessible ways for underrepresented groups to have a greater influence on local decisions.
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