We have just competed the last of our initial scoping sessions for our second Leapfrog major project that will involve working with isolated communities in the Highlands & Islands of Scotland on peer-to-peer engagement. It was as always a very interesting and insightful session, with some tough questions coming our way. Productive conversations took place about how we find ways to best support people to form lasting community led initiatives in isolated places. It was interesting and gratifying to find that as we draw to a close on scoping this project with Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Scottish Community Development Centre that all our project partners echo a key issue uncovered in our scoping work at this point.
It emerges from our initial work that for many community led initiatives, whether they are communities of place or interest, they all share the same desire to engage and communicate with a complete representation of the voices of the community at the early stages of a project. This ensures that projects are transparent and reflective of the whole communities needs. Yet the practicalities of doing this is isolated and often dispersed community is difficult, difficult because the task of reaching people in the first instance before engaging them in an idea has proven to be a big challenge. A challenge which if not resolved can have negative effects on the long-term success of what are difficult initiatives to devise, plan and manage by communities from the ground up.
What the scoping work suggests is that the challenge for Leapfrog might not just lie in the design of a physical tool, but in the places and ways engagement is conducted that will reach out to enough voices in communities. This raises the question of how we define the dimensions of our tools and whether developing an innovative, adaptable approach is one of those dimensions. Whatever we agree or disagree constitutes a tool it seems for this project we may have to focus more of our attention on the how and the where engagement can take place, and not just on the ‘thing’ we use to gather what people’s opinions and ideas.
If the traditional approach to communities engaging with themselves has been the meeting in the village hall or knocking door to door, then we will as part of this project need to rethink what the new places for engagement could be, as it appears the old ways are not working for everyone.