Welcome to the CASCADE method of democratic community planning
There is now a widespread recognition that communities need more control over their own development. In 2015 the Scottish Parliament passed the Community Empowerment Act, which is intended to help communities (for example) to acquire underused land and buildings and to get involved in public service provision.
However, in order to make best use of such opportunities, a community must first have a clear idea of how it wants to develop. To that end, its first task must be to carry out a self-assessment to determine how well it meets the social, economic and environmental needs of its members. It must also find out about people's hopes for the future, and identify any opportunities and threats. Only when a community has this deep level of self-knowledge can it produce a plan that truly represents local needs and aspirations.
Many communities hire professional social research companies to produce community plans for them. These companies will come into the area for several weeks, carry out a series of public meetings and focus groups and then produce a community plan that allots specific tasks to local groups.
This is often seen as an attractive option, because it saves a lot of work. However there are some problems with this approach. Firstly, it is expensive, typically costing around £10,000. Secondly, the plan itself will be static, unable to adapt to changing circumstances and new ideas. Thirdly, can we really say that the community has been empowered if the process has been organised and carried out by an external agency?
CASCADE aims to develop a highly democratic and inclusive system of local community planning that communities can carry out themselves at very little cost (we can provide a tailor-made questionnaire for your community at no cost). The first stage is a questionnaire which asks you how well your community meets your social, economic and environmental needs. Next, several research groups are established to analyse completed questionnaires, carry out further research as required and prepare a local community plan.
The process is a not one that sets goals in concrete. Rather, it is an ongoing process whereby a community is constantly reviewing progress in the implementation of its plan, and updating it in light of changing circumstances and new ideas.
The CASCADE approach includes calculators for measuring a community's social, economic and environmental capital (well-being) in numerical format. This means that other communities using the same method can see at a glance how they compare with each other, and then help each other to increase their levels of capital. They don't even have to be neighbouring. In these days of electronic communication, communities at opposite ends of the globe can help each other.
We believe the CASCADE method will be of great benefit to local authorities in meeting their obligations under the Community Empowerment Act, especially with regard to developing effective local outcomes improvement plans (sections 6-8) and helping deprived areas via locality planning (sections 9-12),
For further information, click here. Alternatively you can go straight to the online version of our questionnaire.
N.B. The Scottish Government has put together a community engagement guide on its website - http://www.gov.scot/Topics/People/engage/HowToGuide. This lists a range of useful engagement methods that could be used in conjunction with the approach we describe.