What is Community Engagement?
Community engagement is the method of involving people in decisions that affect them and allows matters of individual or wider public concerns or priorities to become known. It allows organisations to focus on what customers needs are and how to respond to these. This in turn can then be considered and taken account of in policy, strategy and practice. It can also help to increase awareness of and confidence in services provided, improve reputation, build trust, promote better relations, help improve quality of work along with providing communities with a sense of ownership and empowerment.
Community engagement can take many forms. It can involve taking part in local events, representation on local working groups, asking people to fill in a survey, sponsorship, or supporting groups to encourage them to be involved. Messages can also be put across through media, websites, posters, newsletters and local radio. There is a need to ensure that communication is available to all and that consideration is given to the diverse nature of our communities today. Whatever method is used, communication needs to be clear, relevant, sufficient, customer focused and accessible.
The Office for Government Commerce describe community engagement as 'communicating with everyone in the local area'. This should be aligned with a customer focus approach where customers are listened to and understood, relationships are maintained and feedback is accepted.
Being customer focussed and engaging with communities helps organisations to focus on providing services that meet needs and should allow them to manage this with resources available.
Community Engagement has a particular significance for the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service. Its first published aim is to serve the public interest etc and the published 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 interests of the victim, the accused and the wider community".
One factor informing this decision is "in assessing the public interest the prosecutor will take account of general public concerns as well as local community interests. Arrangements can be made to enable local community representatives to discuss general matters of concern with the Procurator Fiscal although the final decision is the responsibility of the prosecutor".
We consider that the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service is deeply committed to ensuring that communities and the wider general public are engaged. In relation to how this is organised we found there to be duplication of responsibilities as a result of an overlap between the 'community engagement' and 'diversity' roles.
We found that each Fiscal Area 1 takes steps to address the objectives of the organisation's community engagement strategy although evidence suggests that some are more proactive than others. We found many examples of engagements from attending working groups, involvement in 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.
We acknowledge the wide geographical spread of the organisation and are aware that there are differences in demographics in each Fiscal Area therefore different approaches to engagement may be necessary. However, we believe that there should be some form of guidance and standards available that can be adapted to meet needs.
Community Engagement Planners are used to record work done and to monitor activity. Our review of the planners showed that not all engagement work had been formally recorded. We believe that by recording such work and introducing further monitoring procedures management should find it easier to assess achievement of objectives. We make a suggestion that consideration should be given to investing in a software package to formalise the process to analyse, plan, monitor, evaluate and record engagement, however, this needs to be considered against budget and resource availability and other priorities.
Results from our focus groups indicate that in general the public and some agencies are not familiar with the role of the Procurator Fiscal or where its responsibilities lie within the whole legal system. Our review showed that efforts are made by Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service to ensure that services available are advertised through media, use of websites and the newly launched customer feedback policy. However, we suggest that in order to improve on this consideration should be given to introducing social media eg Twitter and that increased use could be made of the media. This should further promote the work of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.
We were also advised at our focus groups that communities would like feedback on outcomes and achievements. Again greater use should be made of media etc to get this information across.
We discuss that due to tighter budgets it is expected that staff will need to be redeployed to core business thus activities relating to engaging with communities may take a back seat. However, we argue that in such times it is important to make sure that the right services are being delivered and that there may be opportunities to save money through partnership working and by reducing duplication of work.
We acknowledge that staff are committed to community engagement and some do so in their own time. Providing feedback and recognition through awards helps motivate them to do a good job. If need is identified we consider it may be of benefit investing in specific community engagement training.
Feedback from our focus groups indicated that liaison and engagement is worthwhile and well received. Some comments on staff were excellent and as a result of work done a member of staff was made an honorary member of an Association. There are some gaps however that can be acted upon especially in relation to community groups supporting women, gender and learning disabilities.
Through representation on working groups and community planning partnerships we found that all Fiscal Areas play a key role in working with partners to engage the wider public to address priorities and concerns. Feedback from our focus groups in this respect was very good.
We feel that more could be done to monitor and analyse results and outcomes of engagement activities to allow management to determine success and effectiveness. This should ultimately lead to improvement.
It is clear that through various practices, for example, the introduction of the accessible information policy, the links with diverse groups and the involvement of the Equality Advisory Group in providing advice on policy and practice that diversity within communities is recognised by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service. However, there will always remain a need to continue to be mindful of how best to engage with different communities with different needs.
Throughout the review we found good practice that could be replicated throughout the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service. For example, working jointly with partners to identify customer needs and priorities and offering training/talks/liaison at organised events such as 'Diversity Weeks'. Finally we consider it good practice to examine outcomes to identify benefits, lessons learned and future action required.
A commitment was made in the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service Strategic Plan 2009/12 under 'Justice in the Community' that:
' Procurators Fiscal will know their community and be known in the community'
and a priority for 2010/11 as stated in the 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'
Results of this review have shown that the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service is committed to engaging with communities. Work is carried out both corporately and in each Fiscal Area to address the points above.
However, we consider that in order to fully meet the commitments and ultimately to improve the services being delivered some adjustments in responsibilities and process should made along with introduction of new methods of engagement, for example, social networking and improved recording, measurement and assessment of outcomes.
We consider that with these changes the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service will 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'.