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Citizens forums - Scotland

Citizens’ forums, and attitudes to agriculture, environment and rural priorities

Scottish Government commissioned research to explore public attitudes to agriculture, environment and rural priorities in Scotland, to develop replacements to the Common Agricultural Policy. The research involved a number of strands of data collection, with each element building on the other, and culminating in citizens' forums to develop a detailed understanding of public priorities. The research is being used by policymakers as a new Scottish Bill is in the process of being developed.

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The Scottish Government commissioned a study into Scottish public attitudes to the environment, agriculture and rural development.
In 2017, the Scottish Government appointed four Agricultural Champions to develop an agriculture strategy to guide the long-term sustainable future for Scottish agriculture.

The research study stemmed from the following recommendation from a report delivered by the Agricultural Champions :
“The public must be better informed about Scottish farming and what it delivers, and policies must be guided by real evidence about what the public values. A civic conversation, both informing and listening to the public, must start now.”

It is important to note, that an impetus to conduct public consultation in this area is driven by the requirement to develop replacements to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) as the UK prepares to leave the European Union.

The aims of the study were threefold:

• to explore public priorities, values, and attitudes of food consumption, diets, agriculture, environment and rural development priorities.

• to explore knowledge and awareness of the Common Agricultural Policy and views on the three areas of CAP (agriculture, environment, and rural development).

• to deliberate on priorities for future agri-policy, considering the extent to which the three areas of CAP should feature and be weighted within future policy.

Given the deliberative methods used within the research, the study also explored the extent to which attitudes change as a result of being exposed to new information.

The research comprised the following strands of data collection:

Strand 1: A literature and evidence review of existing research on attitudes towards agriculture, food, environment and rural policies.
Strand 2 (a): 15 in-depth qualitative interviews. The interviews were designed to explore the perspectives of groups, such as those with specific dietary requirements, whose perspectives may not otherwise be represented. This includes those with specific dietary requirements (covering halal, kosher, vegan, vegetarian, gluten free, dairy free and sugar free diets), those on low incomes, a range of age groups and urbanity/rurality.
Strand 2 (b): A nationally representative online survey of 2,345 Scottish adults (16+) to gather baseline data on attitudes towards a range of environmental, agricultural and rural community issues.
Strand 3: Two Citizens’ Forums, each lasting two days, in a rural (Montrose, Scotland) and mainly urban (Motherwell, Scotland) location to deliberate on the topics in scope; to present expert information and views on agricultural, environment and rural community issues in Scotland.

Overall, 49 participants took part in the Forums, at Motherwell and Montrose. The participants were recruited to match the Scottish population profile; thus, constituted a representative “mini-public”. Each Citizens’ Forum was a 2-day intensive, residential process dedicating 14.5 hours on discussing and deliberating on the issues. The Citizens’ Forums were designed to take participants through a process of learning, developing dialogue and deliberation. To this end:

• Participants spent most of the time working in small facilitated groups.
• There was a balance of hearing from and questioning ‘experts’ and group discussions.
• Work in plenary throughout the day was used to build the sense of a ‘whole room’ task and highlight differences and commonalities
in the discussions at each table.
• Each exercise built on the other (both in terms of the learning and the depth of deliberation asked of the participants).

The research identified 7 principles that should guide the development of future policy. Importantly, the research identified support for the reallocation of financial assistance to the agricultural sector, both in terms of the allocation of funding to farmers but also in terms of the funding split among the three key priority areas of the Common Agricultural Policy.

Support for the current system of funding allocation to farmers remained low throughout the various data points of the research, suggesting that participants were generally interested in seeing change. Post-deliberation, however, there was an increase in preference for funding to be allocated based on advancing environmental goals.

The evidence from the research is being used by a number of stakeholders, and policymakers as a new Scottish Bill to replace the Common Agricultural Policy, is in the process of being developed. The research methodology also shows the potential of using participatory techniques to guide the design of future policy, allowing citizens to learn about an issue in-depth, take time to discuss and deliberate before coming to an informed position on the topic. The learning from this approach can be taken on a larger scale as Scotland considers a Citizens' Assembly on the future of the nation.

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