Publication - Minutes

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Public Engagement Expert Advisory Group: 4 August 2020

Published: 24 Aug 2020
Date of meeting: 4 Aug 2020

Workshop notes from Covid Public Engagement Expert Advisory Group meeting held on 4 August 2020.

24 Aug 2020
Coronavirus (COVID-19) Public Engagement Expert Advisory Group: 4 August 2020

Attendees and apologies


Members of the Expert Advisory Group:

  • John Beaton - Inclusion Scotland
  • Simon Burall - Involve
  • Oliver Escobar – What Works Scotland
  • Fiona Garvan - Scottish Community Development Centre
  • Angus Hardie - Scottish Community Alliance
  • Diarmaid Lawlor - Scottish Futures Trust
  • Erica Reid - Independent expert
  • Talat Yaqoob - Independent expert
  • Anthony Zacharzewski - Democratic Society

Scottish Government policy leads:

  • Katie McCafferty – Scottish Government, Climate Change
  • Gita Sharkey – SG, Children and Families  
  • Malcolm Summers – SG, Health
  •  Gregory Symons – SG, Climate Change
  • Paul Tyrer – SG, Social Renewal
  • Annalena Winslow – SG, Health

Public Engagement Team:

  • Chris Connolly – SG – Digital Communications
  •    Zoe Ferguson – SG – Strategic Insights
  •  Nuala Gormley (NG) – SG – Public engagement and dialogue
  •   Doreen Grove (DG) – SG – Open Government
  •   Madeleine Fleming  – SG – Open Government
  •  Sophie Lock – SG – Digital Engagement
  •   Kelly McBride – Democratic Society
  •   Nicola McDonagh – SG – Covid Exit Strategy Team
  •  Eleftheria Maravlaki – SG – Strategic Insights
  •  Kaela Scott – Involve

Items and actions

The purpose of this meeting was to inform public engagement on post Covid renewal.  The Group were invited to offer their thoughts and suggestions to the following questions:

  • who we engage with and how – particularly thinking about how we achieve less segregated engagement and overcome current challenges in talking to people;
  • integration across policy issues – with the aim of identifying policies which achieve more across a range of outcomes and address trade-offs when they exist;
  • achieving meaningful engagement with influential results between September and December;
  • beyond the immediate context and constraints, exploring how we use that experience to articulate the case for a longer term  approach to involving people in the  work of government.

Zoe Ferguson set out the context of the Renew Programme, including its aims and what public engagement is already planned in this area. She outlined the aims for this meeting, as detailed in the purpose above.

The key issues and ideas for the period between September to December 2020 and for the longer term that were raised during the workshop are outlined below.

1. Key issues – September to December 2020

The group were divided into smaller chat rooms, with a number of expert group members and Scottish Government colleagues from Renew programmes in each group. The groups were asked to identify practical and feasible opportunity to widen and deepen the engagement with a diverse group of the population in the Sept-Dec period. Notes from these discussions can be seen below.

On the engagement participants felt that :

  • There is a balance to be achieved between targeted consultations and wider citizens engagement. Targeted engagement is better suited to the tight timescales until December, but it needs to involve critical sets of people: decision makers and members of the public (citizens and stakeholders).
  • While stakeholders have prior knowledge of the issues to be discussed,  their views are already known. Involving citizens who are new to participatory processes requires support and resources to help them meaningfully contribute to the engagement. Also the engagement questions need to be matched to the participants’ capacity to answer them, and we have to build this capability.
  • For participants to remain engaged and contribute in the long term, officials need to frame the policy questions now as stepping stones towards a longer term outcome. Participants should know which decisions they are able to influence and the points where their input is integral to the decision making process.

On the engagement questions:

  • We need to ask questions that can be realistically tackled in the 3 months to December. The questions prioritised should also be about the more important cross cutting issues that affect communities in Scotland. 
  • Asking questions that have been asked before and ignoring answers that have been given already through various channels creates mistrust and consultation fatigue. Revisiting previously harvested data should create a shared ground for further engagement.

On the engagement process:

  • Civil society participants raised that it is not realistic to embark on a new, full engagement programme within the timeframe if it’s legitimate and authentic
  • Local authorities have their own processes for engagement, and these do not always align with the government approach. Participants may not be empowered to influence decisions at a local level and choose not to be involved.
  • While the resources and knowledge of community groups can be the starting point for engagement on issues that are of interest to them, a geo-spatial approach to participation can miss disaggregated data, and affect the results.
  • We need participation in accountability and evaluation on what has happened following people's participation.
    • There are numerous examples of relevant consultation that have come before. They include Democracy Matters, Fairer Scotland, citizens’ assemblies, social renewal - risk of consultation fatigue.
    • Need to hold accountable rather than asking questions on the same theme.

2. Ideas – September to December 2020

The second breakout discussion looked at how, in the short term, Scottish Government can most effectively undertake engagement with is integrated across policy issues – with the aim of using engagement activities to inform multiple outcomes and address trade-offs. Points suggested are below.

On the participants:

  • Invite people with prior experience of participation, “veterans of engagement”, to join in the discussions we want to have as co-designers and also as advocates and trainers for the process, to address the tight timescales.
  • Map audiences and questions and engage smaller groups, such as citizens’ panels that have looked at diversity issues, in discussions on targeted questions.
  • Work with / provide a small budget to community groups/ organisations that have the experience to conduct the conversations we want to have at a local level.  

On the engagement questions:

  • Use data which is already collected by communities to reduce the number of questions we want to ask. Then work with people inside and out of government to create a shared set of questions on a broad range of issues which affect communities and mine the responses for data that can be used by different policy areas.
  • Collect the public’s ideas on a range of issues, cluster them, and then invite the public to discuss them with experts, so that the ideas are developed into viable proposals for policy development.

On the engagement process

  • Connect the lived experience narratives to the systems conversations. For example: Use the opportunity of schools re-opening to hear the young people’s voices directly, and engage young people and parents in the discussions we want to have.

3. Beyond December 2020

The third breakout session looked at the longer term. The group discussed how the Scottish Government can best involve citizens in the longer term planning for Renewal in ways that build upon this early engagement and builds a new social contract for citizens.

Key issues – beyond December 2020

  • It is not clear whether this is a conversation about power, whether the current power dynamics are negotiable, and whether we want to discuss how power/ decisions should be distributed in a better Scotland. The longer term ambition should be around knowledge sharing and integration of policy engagements in a context of shifting power. Local authorities need to be a part of this.
  • We are looking to deliver a system change and a policy result at the same time. This implies a long term focus and narrative around the actions required.
  • Commitment to reform and investment in the public engagement process will support the process itself.
  • Resources are needed to put longer term mechanisms for dialogue in place.

Ideas – beyond December 2020

  • Most helpful thing we can do to start is to ask questions about the extent to which participation has actually impacted the vast majority of Scots.
  • People need to see why it matters, what is the ultimate aim, and coproduce a theory of change. Articulate a vision for where Scotland will be in 5 - 10 years in the PfG and explore the steps to get there; the points where blocks need to be removed; who needs buy in at different points in the trajectory; key places to input; and the success criteria.
  • Three principles for the public engagement in the longer term: have meaningful engagements considering the who/ what/ how relating to the questions asked by politicians and officials; recognise that there are more than one methods of engagement, with good examples of digital and physical being available; and provide a clear link between the engagement and the decision making so that people know they are influencing.
  • For larger, longer term engagements: Have a citizens assembly process at their core and supplement it with ideas from individuals and small groups collected in physical format at community touchpoints, and online. Smaller groups could replicate the citizens’ assembly process and deliberate the same questions that the citizens assembly is discussing using a downloadable online kit. The structure can include assessors who verify that the charter of the process is adhered to and ensure that multiple voices, representing a wide spread of society are heard.
  • Ask veterans of engagement about the results of their efforts. Use the feedback to build evaluation criteria in the engagement process, to learn from the engagements and inform subsequent participation, and achieve better outcomes in the communities.
  • Frame live policy questions in longer timescales and create an information strategy to help build better quality conversations.
  • At a local level: Create a network of places where engagement happens to emphasise the place-based approach in a systemic way. Build the capacity for meaningful engagement by supporting communities that are already organised. Communities support other communities - horizontal rather than vertical. Peer to peer, horizontal and transferable learning. Shifting community participation and public engagement.  
  • Invest more in the local governance review and continuing participatory initiatives, as well as the need to rethink our system of power, finance and governance.
  • Local authorities need the budget and resourcing both to do participation and have participation impact on the ways in which local budgets are spent. 
  • There’s opportunity to build into local place plans. We should invest in communities developing their own statement of place. This can incorporate a range of topics including community wealth building, climate, etc.

Next Steps

Zoe Ferguson said she was grateful for the insight from the experts and that this would feed into the development of the plans for renewal in the short and medium term.

Doreen Grove agreed that a note of the meeting would be circulated and then published,  In addition we would look for a date for the next meeting, which will focus on the long term changes we need to make – right through our system – to make participation effective for the participants, government and stakeholders.

If you feel anything you said was not properly represented or would like to see any amendments please get in touch.