The aim of CASCADE (Coupar Angus Social Capital Audit & Democracy Experiment) is to bring people together to assess how well their local community meets their needs, and put together an action plan so it can do so more effectively in the future.
Filling in questionnaires at a CASCADE coffee morning
It is now generally accepted that Scotland's communities need more of a say over their social, economic and environmental development, via a process known as community empowerment. The Community Empowerment Act of 2015 is an example of this.
However, before a community can be truly empowered, it must first carry out research into the needs and aspirations of its people. It must also be aware of opportunities for improvement, as well as possible threats to its wellbeing. With this deep understanding, it can then put together a plan for its social, economic and environmental improvement.
Hiring professional social research companies is often seen as a the only way to produce community plans. Such companies will come into the area for several weeks, carry out a series of public meetings and focus groups and then produce a plan that allots tasks to specific groups.
However there are some problems with this approach. Firstly, it is expensive, typically costing upwards of £10,000. Secondly, the resulting plan 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.
Stage 1, the questionnaire
The first stage is a questionnaire which asks people how well their community meets their social, economic and environmental needs. This includes a numerical scoring system, enabling communities to see at a glance how they compare with each other, and then help each other to improve things. They don't even have to be neighbouring. In these days of electronic communication, communities at opposite ends of the globe can help and advise each other, breaking down barriers of fear and prejudice.
Stage 2, establishment of research groups
Soon we hope to set up research groups where people can discuss survey results and other data, and develop an action plan based on the hopes and aspirations of the community. The plan will also suggest which is the most appropriate organisation to carry out each of the actions in the plan, for example some tasks might be best suited to a public body such as Perth & Kinross Council, Scottish Water or the police. Others might be best done by community groups.
N.B. A key principle of Cascade is that community members should have an equitable share of responsibility for each other's well-being. Particular emphasis is placed on the most vulnerable and marginalised, not merely as the objects of charitable assistance, but as active citizens who, in turn, can play a meaningful role in the wellbeing and governance of their community.
The groups will continue to meet in order to discuss progress in implementing the plan, and modify it if necessary - but always checking that any changes have the backing of the community. When we feel confident that the process is working well in Coupar Angus, we will share our experiences with other communities, so they might try a similar approach to local community planning. They may also have their own ideas about how research groups should operate, which, hopefully, they will share with other communities.
We believe the CASCADE method will be of great benefit to local authorities in meeting their obligations under the Community Empowerment Act 2015, especially with regard to developing effective Local Outcomes Improvement Plans (sections 6-8) and helping deprived areas via locality planning (sections 9-12).
Lastly, our very great thanks to Dr Terry Barber and Dr Fernando Fernandes for their invaluable help and advice in developing the CASCADE method.
Michael Gallagher, Co-Director Dr Bob Talbot, Co-Director
Coupar Angus Social Capital Audit + Democracy Experiment (CASCADE), Scottish Charity number SC047065. 2022