Analysis of review of National Standards for Community

Analysis of review of National Standards for
Community Engagement 2015 survey.
1. Respondents
Response rate
There are 327 recorded responses on Survey Monkey for this survey. There is a varied response rate
to individual questions. For instance, 322 people answered “What geographic area does your work
cover?” compared to 180 who provided an answer to “Who is providing support locally or nationally
to help you and your organisation to implement the National Standards for Community
As a result of the varying response rates, percentages given refer to the proportion of responses to
the question, not to the total survey.
Q2 - Job designation
As shown in figure A, 250 respondents provided a response to this question. 46 (18.4%) were senior
managers, 67 (26.8%) were managers, 131 (52.4%) officers and 6 (2.4%) administrators.
Figure A: Job designation (total = 250)
In addition, 79 people completed the “other” option. Many of these are in addition to the 250
respondents who selected one of the provided job descriptions. However, some who selected one
of the provided options completed the ‘other’ option as well.
Some of the more frequent responses to ‘other’ included: chair, board member or secretary (9)
volunteer (8), development worker, community development worker ,community capacity building
worker or community worker (8), CLD worker or adult learning (6), co-ordinator (5), community
councillor (5), health improvement lead/practitioner (4), academic or researcher (4).
Q3 - Organisation
Organisations from a wide range of sectors are represented in the survey, although by far the largest
representation is from the public sector, particularly local authorities and the NHS. This includes
council staff, community planning, NHS boards (and special boards), health and social care
partnerships, the Scottish Government and emergency services. Outside of the public sector,
representation comes from community councils, voluntary organisations, community organisations,
Third Sector Interfaces, arms-length external organisations and housing associations.
Q4 Which geographic area does your work cover?
Shetland is the only Scottish local authority not represented in the survey and there is a wide
geographic spread of respondents. The most common responses are: Scotland wide (34 or 10.56%),
Glasgow City (27 or 8.39%), Perth and Kinross (22 or 6.83%) and West Lothian and South Lanarkshire
(both 20 or 6.21%).
2. Experience of the standards
Q5 - Does, or has, your organisation used the National Standards for
Community Engagement?
The vast majority of respondents who answered the question stated that their organisation used, or
had used, the National Standards. Figure B shows that 198 out of 244 people (81.2%) answered
“yes” compared to 46 (18.9%) who said “no”.
Figure B: Have you used the National Standards for Community Engagement? (total = 244)
Richer information is contained in respondents’ comments. The Standards were used by
respondents in a number of ways, including working with communities, developing and delivering
training, promoting good practice and developing other resources. 19 out of 80 comments
highlighted that the Standards are strongly adhered to within the organisation.
“The national Standards are embedded in our work with local communities and are
promoted with community groups.”
“The standards are the main stay of all our community engagement processes”
“The standards are pivotal to our community engagement structures”
“We adhere to the National Standards throughout the activity planning and
evaluation phases. It also ensures that we are providing services in partnership with
the community as well as working alongside our community partners.”
Others (17 in total) commented that, although the Standards were used, this was not consistent
throughout the organisation, or across different pieces of work. Some said there was a difficulty
putting policy into practice, others that individual staff used the standards but not the organisation
as a whole, while another view was that the Standards were followed informally rather than
“The Standards are adopted and promoted in various ways, but I'm not convinced
that they are universally understood and embedded across the organisation.”
“The national standards are embedded into local policies and strategies, referred to
at meetings, but the practice of actually implementing them varies”
“Individual staff, with a clear understanding of the need to engage with
communities, independently undertake learning to enable them to complete and
use effectively the National Standards”
“We do, but our use of the National Standards would be less "intentional" and more
likely to be "instinctive" because of our organization's value system. So we share the
values and ethos without viewing them as a tick-box exercise.”
Q6 - How would you describe your own familiarity with the National
Standards for Community Engagement?
Out of the 246 respondents who answered this question, 69 (28%) said they used the National
Standards to plan and monitor all of their community engagement practice (see figure C). A further
47 (19.1%) people said they used the National Standards to evaluate practice at least twice a year. A
similar number (48 or 19.5%) said they used the Standards at least once per year. A smaller number
(35 or 14.2%) had used them less than once per year. Others knew about the Standards but hadn’t
used them in practice (45 or 18.3%), knew of them but not in any detail (17 or 6.9%) or hadn’t heard
of them at all (12 or 4.9%). [note: some people ticked more than one option]
Figure C: Familiarity with the Standards? (total = 246)
The most frequent comments (11 out of 43) came from those who were familiar with using the
Standards and gave further illustrations of how they used them.
“I'm aware of the standards and use them to check any engagement work I'm
“We have an Asset-based approach to working with communities and in addition to
using reflective practice; we have our engagement evaluated externally every three
“My organisation is private sector so has to adopt such practices otherwise local
good reputation would be lost”
“The 10 national standards are printed out and stuck on my wall as a constant
reminder. I use them as guidelines.”
Others explained that they used or referred to the Standards regularly but not necessarily for
evaluation. For instance, some (8) said they used the Standards informally or as guidance and others
(3) that they used the Standards for planning engagement rather than evaluating it. Training,
promotion, assistance and signposting were also mentioned (once each).
"We refer to the Standards but don't always evaluate against them overtly.”
“As an organisation and development services team, we used these principles in all
areas of our work, although I’m not sure people are aware that there is a National
standard to align too.”
Q7 - What is your motivation for using the National Standards for Community
Respondents were asked: “what is your motivation for using the National Standards for Community
Engagement?” Figure D illustrates that by far the most frequent response amongst the 221 people
who answered this question was that it was their own practice that motivated them, with 188
people (85%) providing this answer. Less than half this number (82 or 37.1%) stated that their
motivation was managerial buy-in to the National Standards. “Demand from the community” was
stated as a reason for using the standards by 36 respondents (16.3%) and 19 people (8.6%) said
“demand from funders” was a factor.
Figure D: Motivation for using the Standards? (total = 221)
Comments around practice tended to focus on the effectiveness of the Standards at providing a
thorough, consistent set of guidelines for good practice. 19 out of 45 comments were along these
lines. Some respondents referred to the Standards as a checklist whereas others emphasised their
importance in facilitating genuine engagement
“Just to make sure we are going through the correct procedures and ensure
consistency and good practice.”
“The National Standards provide a checklist to ensure our engagement is
meaningful and two way. It help to keep focus and acts as a point of reference and
good practice.”
“It ensures that work / activity you are involved in focuses on genuine engagement
rather than tokenism.”
“Understanding of good/best practice in the field and the massive challenges facing
LAs, other agencies and communities as community empowerment develops”
In addition, a few respondents, representing voluntary organisations, public partnership forums and
community councils, saw the Standards as an effective tool to get statutory bodies such as NHS
boards and local authorities to listen to communities more.
“Hopefully, a way to get our local council to work with us a bit more”
3. Views on the Standards
Q8 - How do you view and make use of the National Standards for
Community Engagement?
There were mixed views on whether or not the National Standards are aspirational rather than
realistic (see table 1), with 89 out of 242 people (36.8%) saying “yes” compared to 117 (48.4%) who
said “no”. The rest of Q8 focused on support and use of the Standards, with the majority feeling
they were supported by their organisation when it came to understanding the value of using the
Standards. 138 out of 244 (56.6%) said “yes” to feeling supported compared to 60 (24.6%) who said
“no”. An even bigger proportion (195 out of 244 or 79.9%) said they used learning from evaluations
to influence future community engagement practice. Only 49 out of 243 respondents (20.2%) said
the Standards were used to generate information for in-house performance management tools and
54 out of 133 (22.3%) that their organisation had modified the National Standards to suit their field
or work.
Table 1: How do you view and make use of the National Standards for Community Engagement?
Answer Options
Are the 10 National Standards aspirational
rather than realistic?
Is there support and understanding within
your organisation about the value of using
the National Standards?
Do you use learning from evaluations to
influence future community engagement
Are the Standards used to generate
information to populate in-house
performance management tools?
Have you or your organisation modified the
National Standards to suit your field of
Please comment on any of the answers
answered question
skipped question
Comments to this question covered a range of issues. A small minority of people stated that they
found questions about evaluation and performance management less relevant since they used the
Standards more informally as guidelines. A few people said that the questions were relevant but to
other “in-house” frameworks for engagement. Others elaborated on their answers to the closed
questions, with some pointing out that support and understanding existed within their organisation,
but that this was inconsistent.
“There is a bit more of an ad-hoc approach than the answers above would indicate.
Overall, my use of the National Standards can be more about the approach than
following them to the letter”
“we know of them but they are not the recognised method of undertaking public
engagement, as we continue to work collaboratively across organisations this will
only be achievable by using one system.”
“The support and understanding within this Council is largely influenced by which
directorate one is in - the use of the NSs is not Council-wide and is a tad "off the
agenda" currently, although I do believe it will be addressed when we restructure
during the next 12 months.”
Other comments referred to challenges and barriers, such as management being unsupportive and
smaller organisations finding the Standards hard to achieve. There were more positive comments
than criticisms of the Standards, with some feeling they were easy to use and adapt if necessary. A
small number of people felt that, more generally, things were changing for the better with public
services increasingly engaging with communities and co-producing services. However, others voiced
concerns that there was still a lack of investment in, and commitment to, engagement among
statutory bodies.
“I have looked at the standards, and do some of it, but feel my hands are tied by
“When using the standards with community groups I sometimes modify the
language used and simplify the 10 standards further to ensure they are understood
and used effectively.”
“I have designed training for council staff to support them to plan and deliver
community engagement in line with the standards. I feel it has been difficult to get
buy-in from all sections of the council. It worries me that there are a lot of policy
documents and the empowerment bill which are underpinned by community
engagement and still the majority of the people I work with do not know what they
are or adhere to them if they do.”
Q9 - What are the barriers to using the National Standards more fully?
As displayed in figure E, the biggest barrier to using the Standards was identified as “culture” with
142 out of 223 respondents (63.7%) picking this out as an obstacle. “Resources” was the second
most selected barrier, identified as such by 106 (47.5%) respondents. Approximately one third of
respondents to this question viewed “training” and “systems” as barriers, while “management” was
seen as a barrier in less than 25% of answers.
Figure E: Main barriers to using the Standards? (total = 223)
This question stimulated a large amount of detailed comments, suggesting a degree of frustration
around the issue of improving public sector commitment to community engagement. Many
elaborated on cultural barriers, highlighting language issues, historical ways of working, a “we know
best” attitude” risk aversion, middle management, the treatment of community engagement as a
specialism and even antipathy towards community engagement as problems in this regard.
“I also think that there are still some cultural barriers throughout the Council to fully
involving communities - a 'leave it up to us, we know best' attitude.” (Officer)
“Community engagement is not seen as a mainstream activity within the NHS so lies
in the domain of a few rather than lots of staff - this leads to an understanding of
the national standards being limited to those few staff only.” (health improvement
“Despite some training there is still a lack of understanding of what assets are, how
to use them and co-production work is still not happening. In some instances we are
still trying to 'do stuff to people' rather than involve them. This is partly due to
target driven and number focussed work rather than looking at people as
individuals. Also middle management and above having a real lack of understanding
of what life is like for those who are 'hard to reach' and are living in areas of
deprivation. We are just asked to 'target' them. I'm not sure that our managers are
familiar with the standards or if they are, they do not know how to implement
them.” (Officer)
Some gave more detail on why a lack of resources was a challenge, and a large number of comments
(28 out of 131) highlighted time and work pressures as a related issue. A lack of capacity and skills,
as well as staff changes, were also mentioned, although much less frequently.
“With limited resources it is difficult to forward plan and then evaluate ahead to the
level of detail required to ensure all Standards are not just met but built on.”
“working across departments means that complete information is always late and
communities need time to receive and digest information before taking a view which would like to give but find self frustrated - lack of time is the main issue.”
An additional theme to emerge (in this and other questions) was the overlapping of different
standards, with the Participation Standard sometimes (not always) referred to as the standard of
choice in health. This was seen by a small amount of people as confusing, while others suggested
that the ongoing integration of health and social care might be an opportunity to move towards
using one standard.
Maybe the cross over of health and social care it would be better with one
integrated standard. (Officer)
“The language is one issue - in the NHS they would speak of involvement rather than
engagement. This is not insurmountable but with the integration of health and
social care it is a good opportunity to address some of this.” (Manager)
Finally, a small amount of respondents saw aspects of the National Standards as barriers to better
engagement. There were three requests to make simplified versions of the Standards available,
while one respondent questioned whether or not the Standards were too top down and needed to
be designed by communities.
“There is a very in-depth process to go through to ensure they are being met, which
is often done retrospectively. As the standards aren't compulsory, there isn't an
incentive to make sure they are being followed. Some simple guidelines and an
easier to adhere to structure would provide more of an incentive.” (Officer)
“We can understand Government's desire to ensure that Community Engagement is
efficient and effective and respect the good intentions behind the 10 standards. An
Outcome and Indicator driven process is helpful when dealing with measuring
progress by large or national bodies - but somehow is missing something of the
local! It would be our belief that the evaluation and reshaping, if need be, of the 10
standards needs to be driven by local voices.” (Community Development Worker)
Q10 - Awareness of the National Standards for Community Engagement
amongst different groups
Table 2 shows how respondents identified senior managers within their own organisation as the
most likely of the given groups to be aware of (89 out of 229 or 38.9%), and to have a good
awareness and understanding of (55 out of 229 or 24%), the National Standards. However, this
group was also the most well-known to respondents, as indicated by the fact that it received the
lowest number (19) of “don’t knows” for this question. This means more people felt confident
enough to assert that this group were aware of the standards, and helps to explain the contradictory
finding that senior managers were the fourth most likely group (after community groups, community
councils and voluntary organisations) to be viewed as not aware of the Standards at all.
Table 2: In your opinion, how aware of the National Standards for Community Engagement are the
following groups (please tick 'Don't know' if you have not worked with a particular group)
Don't know Good
A vague
Not aware
Answer Options
Local Councillors
Community Groups
Senior managers within my
Local development trusts
Community Councils
Voluntary organisations
Social housing providers
Local partners
Please comment on any of the responses
answered question
skipped question
idea but no
at all
Other groups seen as more likely to have an awareness or good awareness of the Standards were
voluntary organisations and local partners. The three groups who were more likely to be seen as
having no awareness than as having a high awareness were councillors, community groups and
community councils.
Amongst the 60 comments for this question, the most common theme was that there were
variations in level of awareness within the categories as well as between them. 19 out of 60
comments focused on this point, and another four respondents were keen to assert that awareness
of the standards varied at an individual as well as organisational level.
“For voluntary organisations and community groups, knowledge and understanding
is mixed, with some having good awareness & understanding, others only a vague
idea. This is also true of Local Councillors and partners.”
“It depends which service a person works within - for example, Community Capacity
Building Workers are very familiar”
“It varies within organisations, not just between organisations”
Some who felt awareness was generally low tried to explain why this was the case.
“When the National Standards were launched, more groups would have been aware
of them. I think that things have "gone quiet" and a lot of organisations would
probably not remember them (other information having pushed the Stadards aside
in people's heads) or will know them but aren't familiar or using them anymore. I
rarely hear anyone other than community development staff refer to them.”
“Only those involved within communities and who are required to work to the
standards are aware of them from my understanding and discussion undertaken
with various groups”
4. Support for using the Standards
Q11 - What support do you and/or your organisation/partnership need to
use the National Standards in the future?
Figure F highlights that 148 out of 218 people (67.9%) who answered this question identified clear
guidance for senior managers as necessary in order to support them. Other popular options were
training (62.4%), workshops on methods of engagement (62.8%) and regional seminars (56.4%).
More information and case studies were sought by 45% and 40.4% of respondents respectively and
only 29.9% said they required a national conference to share best practice.
Figure F: Support needed to using the Standards in future? (total = 218)
Comments gave more support, as well as some disapproval, for the options provided. On top of this,
there was a concern that support was designed appropriately and innovatively. For instance, one
person suggested that case studies would be more useful if they gave “concrete examples of how the
feedback generated by community engagement activities directly influenced and led to
improvements within a service”. Another called for more ‘on-site’ training which would make it
easier for staff to attend. A small number of people wanted more localised, rather than national,
conferences and events. Likewise, there was some more support expressed for Scottish
Government guidance for senior managers, but also a feeling amongst some respondents that this
would be less effective than making the Standards a statutory requirement for local authorities and
health boards.
Other ideas suggested for support included resources, more time and the use of one recognised
Q12 – Who is providing Support locally or nationally to help you and your
organisation to implement the National Standards for Community
Many respondents working in local authorities (36) and the NHS (9) stated they were supported
locally by their own organisations. Within local councils, Continuous Professional Development,
Communities, Community Development, CLD and Community Capacity Building teams were
identified as provided support. A community Engagement Practitioners Network in one local
authority was also referred to. Support within the NHS was identified as coming from Equalities
and/or Public Involvement staff.
Outside of the public sector, Third Sector Interfaces were viewed by nine respondents as supportive
locally. Other organisations mentioned less frequently were Community Planning Partnerships, a
local college and a National Park Authority.
Nationally, the organisation cited most frequently as providing support was SCDC (22), and CHEX
was also mentioned. Within some in health, the Scottish Health Council was seen as helpful,
sometimes with regard to the Participation Standards rather than the National Standards for
Community Engagement (8). Other organisations seen as offering support at a national level were
the CLD Standards Council, the Improvement Service, the Joint Improvement Team, What Works
Scotland, the Consultation Institute and the SQA.
There was also a high number of people who either felt they weren’t supported by anyone (36) or
didn’t know what support was on offer (22). Furthermore, a number of respondents depicted
themselves as local or organisational champions of community engagement and the Standards. This
is not surprising given the targeted nature of the survey, and may also help to explain why so many
people stated they were not supported (since they were the ‘experts’).
5. Evidence
Q13. Do you have any evidence of the impact of using the National Standards
for Community Engagement within your area?
As shown in figure G, 62 out of 217 respondents (28.6%) to q13 said they evidence of the impact of
using the National Standards. Comments provided illustrated the different types of evidence people
had. Several respondents said that they used VOiCE to capture evidence of the impact of their use
of the National Standards and/or community engagement more generally. Other evidence
mentioned included consultations, case studies, community action plans, annual reports and
personal testament.
Figure G: Do you have evidence of impact? (total = 217)
Many respondents elaborated on the impact their evidence captured. Mostly, participation and
involvement were seen to have increased. Relatedly, a few people pointed to improved
engagement and partnership work by their organisation. Further benefits highlighted included
increases in influence, funding successes and the number of community groups being formed.
Finally, some respondents thought the best illustration of the impact of using the National Standards
was the success of programmes/projects which had applied them.
“Projects which we have used NSCE and VOiCE in tend to be more successful and
clearer about what they are trying to achieve in the first place.”
There were also some comments from the 155 (71.4%) of respondents who did not have any
evidence of the impact of using the Standards. Some felt it wasn’t easy to attribute any impact to
using the Standards since they were tied in with other work, and a small number of people said it
was too early to say, since they had only started using the Standards.
Q14 Do you think that the National Standards for Community Engagement
have helped to develop and support better working relationships between
communities and agencies?
Figure H indicates that 99 out of 229 respondents (43.2%) were positive about the impact the
Standards have had on working relationships between communities and agencies. Only 25 (10.9%)
felt that the Standards had not helped in this regard, and 105 (45.9%) said they didn’t know.
Figure H: Have the Standards helped to develop and support better working relationships?
(total = 229)
Although some who provided comments said they found the question difficult to answer due to lack
of evidence, others gave reasons for why the Standards have improved engagement. This ranged
from helping organisations to focus on engagement to giving practitioners and communities some
backing in this area.
“In that the Standards have provided a focus for agencies as they try to respond and
adapt to the challenges of working with the communities they serve”
“They've helped us to raise our standards of community engagement by being able
to refer managers to them and justify the time/ resources spent on community
“I am aware of a community group quoting the standards to elected members as
the group did not see any evidence of applying the standards despite the Council
and CPP being signed up to adopt said standards!”
One common theme to emerge was that, although the Standards may have helped to improve
engagement, this was patchy in terms of consistency, geography and type of service. Others felt
that change was slow, with barriers hard to break down. A small number of people said that change
depended on the willingness of individuals and organisations to work with others in the community,
and also on the willingness of communities to engage. Two respondents complained that
organisations were guilty of “hiding behind” the Standards.
“While we use the standards in CLD, other colleagues may not plan their
engagement in this way and their working relationships with communities are
possibly not as strong as ours.”
“In a few selective cases they probably have, but, in general the difficulties and
barriers to good effective partnerships between communities (of influence and
place) still exist.”
“It will have helped in some areas. Our real concern however is that organizations
and agencies can hide behind the standards, appear to follow them, but in realty
drive forward an agenda that does not meet the aspirations of local folk. Until local
folk take ownership of the standards, setting outcomes and indicators that are real
to them; the process of engagement may become less effective and therefore less
efficient or more tokenistic.”
Another theme that arose was the need to drive the Standards forward, either through a revisiting
and re-launch, or through some kind of statutory backing.
“In some instances, helped give groups something to challenge organisations on,
but no monitoring or penalties if groups organisations aren’t following the
standards - so they have no real clout - The standards are an opportunity that have
not been fully realised. - in some instances”
“think that a revision or relaying the message of the importance of engagement is
always helpful.”
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