We defined community engagement as the method of involving people in decisions that affect them and allows matters of individual or wider public concern or priorities to become known. This enables organisations to focus on what customer's needs are and how to respond to these. This input can then be reflected in policy, strategy and practice and can help to increase awareness of and confidence in services provided.
We were well aware that community engagement was a very broad term and could take many forms. The Office of Government Commerce described community engagement as "communicating with everyone in the local area".
More simply it is the process of involving people in decisions that affect them.
Community engagement has a particular significance for the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service. Its first published aim is "to serve the public interest" and the Prosecution Code states that "in considering reports the prosecutor must consider what action is in the public interest". Assessment of the public interest often includes consideration of competing interests including the interest of the victim, the accused and the wider community.
We took the view that community engagement although including diversity issues was wider than that and the methodology used included consultation with a wide range of key leaders and also the holding of focus groups throughout various parts of the country.
The main finding of our report was that the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service was deeply committed to ensuring that communities and the wider general public are engaged.
We did find some duplication and overlap between the roles held by portfolio leaders in community engagement and 'diversity'.
We recognised the very wide geographical spread of the organisation from large centres such as Glasgow to remote island communities and that therefore different approaches to community engagement would be necessary.
We did find that some Fiscal Areas were more proactive than others and common methods of contact included working groups, multi-agency events, contact with individual groups and communities, raising funds for charity, involvement in various initiatives targeted at specific groups, participation in court open days, speaking at conferences, liaison with schools and offering work placements etc.
The results from our focus groups were particularly interesting and reflected previous evidence from other inspections that the public although very interested in the work of the Procurator Fiscal Service was quite ignorant of what the organisation actually did. This was despite efforts by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service to ensure the services available were advertised through the media and the use of websites including a newly launched customer feedback policy. One of our suggestions was that the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service should give consideration to introducing social media such as Twitter.
Another aspect of feedback from the focus groups was that communities like feedback on outcomes and achievements and that greater use of the media could be used to get this information across.
We anticipated pressure on community engagement as a result of the tightening of budgets and the redeployment of staff to core business which could easily result in engagement with communities taking a back seat. We do, however, argue that in such times it is important to make sure that the right services
are being delivered and there may be opportunities to save money through partnership working and by reducing duplication of work. We also acknowledge the fact that much of this work was done on staff's own free time.
Feedback on some staff was excellent and, as ever, reflected the dedication of the individuals involved. We did find, however, some gaps especially in relation to community groups which support women, gender and learning disabilities.
A commitment was made in the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service's Strategic Plan 2009-12 that:
"Procurators Fiscal will know their community and be known in the community."
And a priority for the 2010-11 Business Plan was to:
"Engage further with local communities and to work with and influence local partners in order to increase understanding of the role of the public prosecutor and to improve public perception of Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service."
The results of this review have shown that the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service is committed to engaging with the communities. Work was being carried out both corporately and in each Fiscal Area to address the points above.
However, we do recommend that some adjustments and responsibilities in process should be made along with the introduction of new methods of engagement and improved recording, measurement and assessment of outcomes.
We felt that with these changes the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service would take steps closer to meeting the Scottish Government National Outcomes in particular: 'Improved Life Chances'; 'Making us Safer'; 'Creating stronger and more supportive communities' and 'Ensuring better public services'.
In total we make 14 detailed recommendations as an aid to improvement.
The report was welcomed by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and the terms and recommendations accepted.
This document is also available on the Scottish Government website: www.scotland.gov.uk