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.
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.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
The project is innovative in the following ways:
1) It is the first Scottish Government commissioned citizens' forums, obtaining support across a range of policy portfolios from agriculture, environment, rural development, and Brexit policy.
2) The study used a mixed methodology with each element of the research building on the other to enhance the exploration of the issues in scope.
3) There was a triangulation of the data collection as similar questions/discuss points were explored at various stages of the primary research to explore whether views change as a result of the deliberative process and time to learn and discuss issues before coming to an opinion.
Collaborations & Partnerships
Government officials and stakeholders were involved in the design of the research as there was a research advisory group that was set up to oversee the study, this included feeding into the design of research materials. This helped to enhance the quality of the research materials in terms of content and detail of the policy issues.
Members of the research advisory group attended the citizens' forums as observers to build confidence in the independence and quality of the process.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
All citizens that took part in the citizens' forum were sent a copy of the research report.
A final presentation was delivered to government officials, including the Minister of Rural Affairs, and a wide array of stakeholders across Scotland to share the research findings and discuss how these may be used to develop future policy.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
The results of the research will help to inform future agriculture policy in Scotland, as well as the new Scottish Bill for Agriculture and Rural Support.
There is a sustained commitment to ensuring that future policy in this area is guided by real evidence of what the public values. The research methodology that we have designed and implemented for this study can be replicated when exploring public opinion on future for agricultural policy, but also for other policy domains. In particular, the triangulation of the research methods helps to build confidence among policymakers of the strength of the research findings.
The research methodology has helped to raise the profile of participatory and deliberative research methods among government social researchers.
Challenges and Failures
The main challenge was around securing expert witnesses for the citizens' forums, as there is a significant time commitment required from expert witnesses to contribute to the forums. It is useful to have continuity among some expert witnesses who can remain throughout the process as a source of knowledge, but also someone, with whom participants have established rapport. We were able to secure expert witnesses to the citizens' forums by widening our search and utilising our contacts at the research advisory group.
Conditions for Success
Government buy-in to the study so there is an assurance that the results or recommendations developed through the process are considered by policy-makers.
Recruitment of a representative mini-public, ensuring a diversity of groups are represented. Providing an honorarium to participants can help ensure a broad cross-section of the public can participate in the forums.
Neutral and expert facilitators to help enable participation and provide an overall framework to the forums. A variety of activities including group, plenary and individual tasks.
Expert witnesses that can provide information and answer questions to allow participants to learn about an issue in-depth.
Time for the process.
Researchers to analyse and report on the results in an objective manner, without distortion or bias.
The First Minister of Scotland has announced a Citizens' Assembly for Scotland to explore the challenges facing the country, including those presented by the withdrawal from the European Union; this process of deliberative engagement is taking place on a larger scale than the forums. There is recognition, however, that the citizens' forums on agriculture are the first government commissioned research using similar approaches and principles to the Assembly.
Time, commitment and resources are required to ensure deliberative engagement processes such as forums, assemblies, are done properly.
High quality recruitment is essential to ensure a random selection process, and a representative group of participants are selected to take part. To enhance equality of opportunity an honorarium or childcare provision can help to ensure a range of different groups can participate.
The inclusion of expert witnesses are needed to present a range of different information on the issue and allow for deep learning ti take place; if there are opposing schools of thought on an issue it is crucial to ensure that the spectrum of expert opinion is presented to participants.
Neutral and expert facilitators are required to ensure that the process works for everyone and that all participants have an equal opportunity to ask questions, contribute, learn and share their perspectives.
Analysis and reporting of the results of the engagement should be done in line with best practice, avoiding distortion or bias. One way of helping with this is to ensure aspects of the discussion are recorded through participant generated material throughout the process e.g. ballot papers, flipchart sheets, post-it notes, online polling results.
Finally, commitment from policy-makers, local, regional or central government, stakeholders is needed so that the process has weight, and the outcomes or recommendations from the engagement are considered or implemented.