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Moving Forward - Options for the NfP Landowners Network

Graham Boyd, Caledonia Centre for Social Development 10 June 2000

This paper was written as a counter challenge to one prepared by the Highlands and Islands Community Land Unit titled NfP Future Structures and Operation. In their paper HIE proposed to do away with the democratic input from participating NfP organisations and run any future activities by means of a self-appointed liaison group comprising the Public Agencies and a number of selected organisations. See also:

Phase 1 Project - How the NfP has Implemented its Main Tasks

 

Strengthening the NfP Land Owning Sector - The Next Stage [1999 to 2003]

Contents

bulletIntroduction
bulletBackground to NfP Landowners Project Group
bulletPurpose of the NfP Group
bulletPhase One Project Aims
bulletPhase One Project Tasks
bulletA Learning and Influencing Network
bulletCurrent Issues and Challenges
bulletMore than the WEP Model and Training Events
bulletMembership is Open to all NfPs
bulletThe NfP is a Different Type of Social Construct
bulletPower is Shared
bulletLoss of Income is an Issue for those not in Full Time Employment
bulletLevels of Participation in the NfP Management Committee
bulletThe Convenorship
bulletCPA and Crofting Trust Participation
bulletAttendance and Participation is a Common Problem for All Parties
bulletThe NfP Needs to be more Strategic in its Operations
bulletPartial Analysis and Failure to Assess Risk
bulletThe Need to Consult the NfP Constitution and Members
bulletBudget Concerns and Funding Issues
bulletOption 1
bulletOption 2   (More on this)
bulletConclusion

Introduction

The NfP (not-for-private-profit) land ownership sector, comprised of voluntary conservation organisations, heritage organisations, crofting trusts, community property associations (woodland, etc) and social ownership consortia, owns, manages and leases around 600,000 acres in the Highlands and Islands(1). It is a very complex and diverse sector with weak horizontal and vertical linkages. Over the last 3-years the sector has shown considerable willingness to develop stronger linkages, innovate new approaches, document and share experiences and draw lessons about good practice. However these opportunities and challenges require a clear mechanism for engagement, facilitation, documentation and dissemination.

Background to NfP Landowners Project Group

In November 1996 a loosely knit learning and good practice network of social land ownership organisations was established. Its primary purpose was to facilitate this more structured and systematic learning process. In 1997 the NfP Landowners Project Group constituted itself as an unincorporated project association and devised a two-year project to meet its learning and information needs. It received funding from HIE, SNH and Community Learning Scotland and in-kind contributions from the participating social landowners, RSPB, the John Muir Trust and the Caledonia Centre for Social Development. The project focused on five main activities: a series of 5 training events to devise a Whole Estate Plan framework linked to local field visits; a Case Study Scheme; research on the NfP sector; and a modest Information Support Services to members. This project completed in August 1999.

The project was judged by both its participating members and the funders to have been reasonably successful. However a number of areas require further development and a number of emerging issues need to be addressed in any future work. The attached sheet – Strengthening the Land Owning Sector: The Next Stage - provides an outline of the project components as agreed by both the NfP members and Management Committee. It briefly outlines the main tasks and activities that the NfP Group wishes to progress over the next couple of years.

The following 3 sections outline the original NfP Landowners Project Group objects, aims and tasks and are taken from the Constitution and the Phase 1 Project document.

Purpose of the NfP Group

The objects of the NFP Project Group are:

(a) to improve the understanding and increase awareness of the interdependent relationship between communities(2) and the land through the provision of training and other educational opportunities.

(b) to document the initiatives and experiences of the Not-for-profit Landowning organisations thereby providing a body of knowledge from which socially motivated organisations and interested individuals can benefit.

(c) to facilitate the networking between those NFP organisations, who own, lease, manage or aspire to own land and where appropriate between statutory agencies and other supportive organisations.

(d) to promote and facilitate joint action between NFP Project Group members thereby harnessing the collaborative strength of organisations, adding value to initiatives and thus avoiding duplication of effort.

(e) to commission research and analysis of the NFP Landowning sector with a view to better informing NFP organisations and their members, potential funders, policy makers and interested researchers of the scope, extent and scale of the movement.

(f) to provide NFP Project Group members with a forum for support, mutual solidarity, dialogue and information exchange.

(g) to encourage, sponsor and endorse demonstration projects and pilot studies, which harmonise and integrate economic, environmental, social and governance matters through the development and implementation of whole estate management plans, which use participatory approaches as their primary instrument of delivery.

Source: NfP Landowners Project Group Constitution, June 1997.

Phase One Project Aims

The NfP project has the following aims:

  1. To improve understanding and increase awareness of the interdependent relationship between communities and the land. This will be achieved through facilitating networking between those NFP organisations who own, lease, manage or aspire to own land and where appropriate between statutory agencies and other supportive organisations.
  2. To provide NFP Project group members with a forum for support, mutual solidarity, dialogue and information exchange.
  3. To promote and facilitate joint action between NFP Project group members thereby harnessing the collaborative strength of organisations, adding value to initiatives and thus avoiding duplication of effort.

Phase One Project Tasks

The NFP organisations have identified the following three tasks as the focus for a two year pilot project – June 1997 to August 1999:

  1. The provision of training and other learning opportunities, which harmonise and integrate economic, environmental, social and governance matters through the development and implementation of whole estate management plans which use participatory approaches as their primary instrument of delivery.
  2. To document the whole estate training initiative and establish a case study scheme to enable individual NFP organisations to share good practice as a means of providing a body of knowledge and experience from which socially motivated organisations and interested individuals can benefit.
  3. To commission research and analysis of the NFP Landowning sector with a view to better informing NFP organisations and their members, potential funders, policy makers and interested researchers of the scope, extent and scale of the movement.

Source: NfP Project Document, June 1997.

A Learning and Influencing Network

The NfP has specifically chosen not to duplicate the work of other agencies or to set itself up as a NGO service delivery organisation, campaigning group, forum or asset-owning body. It has sought instead to construct a learning and knowledge network for the NfP sector focused upon the bonding and bridging of social capital.

The bonding of social capital requires the construction of cross-cutting ties between different types of NfP groups while the bridging of social capital requires that linkages between NfP groups and differing public agencies and others be enhanced. These are necessary actions if new insights into policy design and practice are to materialise. Through creating and sustaining a process of horizontal and vertical association the NfP sector will be significantly strengthened. This is not a task that can be undertaken by one or two public agencies acting on their own account in support of selective parts of the sector. Neither will a meeting place or a forum create any significant change as they function on the basis of the lowest common denominator in which all parties accommodate each other through a display of good table manners.

It requires a co-ordinated common pool approach across a range of diverse organisations and interest groups. Such an approach must find ways of managing divergent views on governance, well being and stewardship while improving co-ordination and enhancing partnership working. This is no easy journey and there are no fail-safe navigation charts to help pilot the vessel. The NfP structure and mode of operating are positive examples of this evolving co-ordinated common pool approach. We should be endorsing and commending it but most importantly we should be building upon it.

Current Issues and Challenges

More than the WEP Model and Training Events

A learning mechanism for engagement, facilitation, documentation and influencing has evolved in the form of the NfP Land Ownership Project Association. At its core are four key strands of thinking which seek to guide the networks purpose and actions:

bulletPartnership Co-ordination and Development
bulletSharing Good Practice
bulletMeasuring Impact
bulletResearch, Dissemination and Influencing

These build upon the activities and achievements of the first NfP project (June 1997 to August 1999). The details of each of the components were revised at workshop on Eigg in September 1998 and refined at an Inverness workshop in December 1998. To-date this is what the NfP project has been all about.

Source: Strengthening the NfP Land Owning Sector – The Next Stage 1999 to 2003, January 1999.

Membership is Open to all NfPs

Membership is open to all non-profit distributing property associations (NfPs) in the Highlands who aspire, own or lease land. It has to my knowledge not excluded any group that meets this inclusive NfP definition and wishes to join the project association. Having the time, inclination, motivation and resources to engage with the process are a differing set of issues. The extent to which NGOs, Public agencies and interested individuals are able to participate in the NfP project is a separate issue and has been the subject of debate within the association.

One of the unique aspects of the NfP project is its membership arrangement. It is for me one of its enduring strengthens in that it specifically lacks the formalities of rigid membership, unnecessary hierarchy or an elaborate rulebook. However for others this looseness or networking informality has been perceived as a weaknesses in that the NfP does not operate as a true membership organisation in strictly governance terms.

The NfP is a Different Type of Social Construct

A learning network based on a project association is a very different type of social construct than say a mutual association, club, trade union or a representative body such as a community council in which governance issues come before learning and knowledge. The participation arrangement that has evolved in the NfP is very open, fluctuating and flexible. NfP membership criteria have never been fully tested and the Management Committee has turned down no organisation but equally no organisation has formally applied in writing to be a member of the project association. All those who meet the non-profit distributing property association criteria have been warmly welcomed. While other types of organisations have been subject to discussion – HIF, Rural Forum, Crofters Union, etc and along with the Public Agencies have been accredited with non-voting associate member’s status.

The NfP project records(3) show an increase in the number of organisations participating in NfP activities during the life span of the first phase of the project. This increase has been primarily within the community property association (CPAs) category rather than CARTS or Crofting Trusts and Common Grazings Committees(4).

The issue of an annual fee was introduced by the NfP Management Committee and discussed at a number of NfP workshops. It was devised not as part of any membership criteria but as a contribution to offset the cost of NfP documents - workshop reports, case study booklet (at reduced cost), etc. In other words it was to help offset the secretariat's postage and photocopying costs and reduce wastage. It has no relationship to establishing whether an organisation is a member and thus has voting rights. All those NfP organisations that turn up at an event comprise the quorum and are in my view eligible to vote on the business of the project association. The NfP has to-date worked by consensus decision-making and so the issue of voting has not been fully tested.

Power is Shared

The role of CPAs and Crofting Trusts in the running of the organisation needs to be separated out from their role in decision-making and influencing the direction of the NfP. In the last two roles the CPAs and Crofting Trusts have been able to play an active role through the residential training events where workshops, topic sessions and annual general meetings of the project have been held. CPAs, Crofting Trusts, CARTS, Public Agencies, etc have all been able to contribute and influence how the project has been executed. See chart on page 10 for details – Phase 1 Project: How the NfP Implemented its Main Tasks. This has been done in a cost-effective manner rather than by governance and rulebook regulation. It has been done in a style, frequency and format that most NfPs have found to be satisfactory (See NfP Evaluation Survey Report, 1999). Why change what is working reasonably well?

Loss of Income is an Issue for those not in Full Time Employment

For some individuals in CPAs and Crofting Trusts the loss or need to forego income to attend training events and NfP Management Committee meetings is a real issue. The NfP Management Committee discussed the matter but was unable to come to a consensus. The Committee was divided between those who favoured the payment of a small honorarium (20 - 40 per day) and those who did not wish to go down this route. It was left to HIE's Community Land Unit to decide if it wished to address the issue of loss of income through its community agent/animator or small grant schemes. (See CLU Action Framework, HIE, September 1998 for further details.)

Levels of Participation in the NfP Management Committee

The other issues that are of concern to a number of organisations is the participation of CPAs and Crofting Trusts in the NfP Management Committee and the desire that a CPA or Crofting Trust holds the convenorship of the project association. These issues could be overcome in a number of ways.

The Convenorship

The present convenor has undertaken the work on an entirely voluntary basis. This could be changed to an honorarium basis if the circumstances required. However this should only be done on the basis of getting the right candidate for the job. The existing committee needs to draw up a list of potential candidates and approach them to see if any of them are willing to take on the job. Any candidate should be put to a special general meeting of the project association. (See NfP Constitution).

CPA and Crofting Trust Participation

Dalnavert and Highland Renewal were the 2 original CPAs on the Management Committee. Both were agreed at the Skye and Strathspey workshops respectively. The Highland Renewal member received a travel and subsistence payment to attend the meetings while the Dalnavert member chose to attend at his own expense. When the Highland Renewal member had to withdraw from the committee for personal reasons an Earthshare member replaced them. This was agreed at the Eigg workshop. I am uncertain if the Earthshare member was paid a travel allowance or reimbursed only travel costs. The NfP Management Committee has already accepted that there are in some instances financial barriers to the full participation of CPAs and Crofting Trusts in aspects of the association’s work.

Attendance and Participation is a Common Problem for All Parties

The issues surrounding attendance and participation that have arisen in the NfP are not as simple as suggested in the HIE draft paper – NfP Future Structures and Operation (June 2000), namely that CPA and Crofting Trust folk are too busy at the local level. The issue of attendance has a number of dimensions: Highland Council, the Crofters Union and the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) have all experienced difficulties in participating. The Crofters Union withdrew because it was unable to sustain its attendance due to other commitments. On the other hand Highland Council, NTS and the John Muir Trust have experienced difficulties in attending both meetings and other events for various reasons. Even HIE has in the past experienced difficulties in maintaining continuity in attendance and has at differing times allocated the role to three different persons.

During the life span of the Phase 1 Project - 18 Management Committee meetings and 2 AGMs have been held. Ten organisations have participated in the Management Committee of which five have played an active part – 1 CPA, 2 CARTS and 2 Public agencies. Others who have partially contributed to its work are: 2 CPAs, 1 CART, 1NGO and 1 Public agency. What this indicates is that the way in which the NfP Management Committee operates needs to be reviewed.

The NfP Needs to be more Strategic in its Operations

This matter was assessed in late 1998 early 1999. It was agreed by the Committee to reduce the number and frequency of NfP Management Committee meetings from 6 or 7 per year to 2 or 3. It was agreed that the NfP Management meeting would only address issues of a strategic project nature and not the details of organising and managing project activities. To oversee the activities side of the project it was agreed to establish Working or Task Groups. These Groups would be mandated to carry out the detailed planning and supervision of out-sourced work. The Task Groups would regularly liase with the office bearers and others (convenor, treasurer and secretary, freelance workers, contractors, etc) and report to the NfP Management Committee. The twice-yearly residential training events would continue to be used as the means for reporting to and interacting with NfP organisations. The open topic sessions and the annual general meeting of the project association would remain the main fora for steering a sector-wide approach.

In my view this is still the best way forward. Perhaps the HIE CLU could step in to assist in overcoming the barrier that loss of income places on some CPA and Crofting Trust folk. It could set the criteria for a modest honorarium scheme – attendance allowance - for Management Committee, Task Group and Training Events. It could then negotiate with the NfP to administer the scheme. If the NfP is unwilling to do undertake the task then the administration could be contracted out. No big deal and a significant hurdle to community involvement would have been removed from the CPAs and Crofting Trusts.

This revised structure and new mode of operating are in my view the first set in a series of changes that need to be addressed by the Management Committee. These have been presented to the NfP project association but not yet implemented. The next step would be for the CLU to devise a modest honorarium scheme based upon its community agent/animator proposals. This aspect of the CLU action programme remains to my knowledge unimplemented. Perhaps this could provide HIE with an opportunity to pilot a scheme. This way of working is not new to the region and the Inverness and Nairn LEADER II project operated just such as scheme for its Community Agent Network, Agent Support Team and 16 Community Agents over a 4-year period. Nothing new or difficult here.

Partial Analysis and Failure to Assess Risk

The sweeping changes proposed in the HIE draft paper NfP Future Structures and Operation are in my view unnecessary and driven by a very partial and selective analysis of the issues. Furthermore in my opinion there is a sizeable risk element that has not been adequately assessed. The proposed changes may in fact lead to a withdrawal of voluntary effort, a reduction of in-kind contributions, and a weakening of project accountability. See chart on page 10 for details – Phase 1 Project: How the NfP Implemented its Main Tasks. The proposed new arrangements may actually have a negative impact on areas of activity, which NfPs view as being important. The Management Committee needs to take account of the divergent and changing interests of all those who participate in the Network. To-date the NfP has had a reasonably good track record of listening and accommodating the learning and informational needs of the sector. The new arrangements significantly reduces the ability of NfPs to actively participate, influence and inform future work.

The proposed changes would in my view mean a fundamental shift from an inclusive networking structure to an exclusive one. And like it or not it will be viewed by land reform activists and CPA folk as a hi-jacking of the NfP association by the Public bodies and large CARTS(5). You will have an image and perception problem to contend with in addition to maintaining agency credibility for doing things in more sensitive ways. These are real risks and the NfP has been through these stormy waters in its formative stage when it was accused of being the handmaiden of the Public agencies (SNH in particular) and a front for progressing the environmental aspirations of the large CARTS. By working in a more open way the NfP has been able to allay these concerns if not to fully dispel them.

These in-built tensions come with the territory and you are being somewhat nave to assume that the Management Committee’s good intentions of trying to progress the project through re-structuring the NfP will not be viewed with concern, suspicion and disagreement. You need to consult, listen and negotiate these changes with the wider NfP constituency. Your success to date has been built upon having done things in a more participatory and inclusive style. The NfP has gained respect, confidence and vitality by working in this way. Why undermine these achievements and the store of goodwill that has been created in the region and further afield.

Quick fixes to obtain narrow project goals and outputs invariably in the longer-term end up destroying local social capital through undermining trust, eroding confidence, diminishing co-operation and fragmenting fragile social relationships. They work in the short term because they mine these core norms of social capital but due to the dominant, inflexible and unequal relationships inherent in the approach they wither and die. The history of community development is littered with the debris of failed development agency initiatives that have taken this route.

The Need to Consult the NfP Constitution and Members

The NfP Management Committee appears to be being driven by the desire to progress the WEP and other tasks proposed in the Burns/Westbrook project document; the need to find a new convenor; and the need to raise project funds. Is this a sound way to go?

Setting aside the NfP Constitution, deciding that the NfP project association will not have a discrete identity, appointing yourselves as a liaison forum for short term project delivery and proposing to herd the wider NfP constituency through the portals of your new order gateway does not strike me as a very inclusive, participatory or a particularly enlightened way of either building or strengthening the social land sector. It appears to be a plan for demolition and big agency entombment. Should you not be starting in a more open and consultative way by:

bulletDrawing up a list of candidates to fill the convenor’s post,
bulletRecruiting a number of new CPAs and Crofting Trusts to become involved either in a more strategic Management Committee or in Task Groups,
bulletDevising a Range of Options for the way forward for both the NfP Association and the NfP Phase 2 Project, and
bulletHolding a NfP Special General Meeting to get the blessing of the wider NfP constituency for your proposals.

I have already in other parts of this paper alluded to the direction in which the NfP association should be heading. However to re-cap these are as follows:

bulletPromote a Learning and Influencing Network
bulletIncreasing horizontal and vertical association both between NfPs and with Government and other civil society organisations
bulletDevelop a co-ordinated common pool approach that builds upon the first NfP phase
bulletImprove co-ordination and partnership working
bulletUse the four core Strengthening Strands to progress work

You can always find ways of doing the job and raising funds once you have agreed a mission, strategy and overall structure. The NfP has done this. Why unpick it? No one disagrees that parts of the NfP structure needs to be altered and made more strategic but you do not renovate a building by blowing it up.

Budget Concerns and Funding Issues

Option 1

The Burns/Westbrook project budget does not adequately take into account all the potential contributions that the NfP project draws upon. I calculate that some 23k has not been budgeted. For instance only the in-kind contributions of RSPB are identified. It is possible to factor in the following:

NfP member contributions in-kind (176 days at 80 per day)
[Training Events - 20 NfPs participating x 2 days x 2 events x 2 years = 160 days. Case studies – 8 authors x 2 days of work = 16 days]
14k
Community Learning Scotland
[Case study dtp and printing]
6k
Caledonia Centre for Social Development
[Case study technical assistance – donation in-kind]
3k

Total

23k

The NfP in-kind member contributions are greater than the 10k funding of either HIE or SNH. While the total in-kind contributions of case study authors, Community Learning Scotland and Caledonia also exceeds the HIE and SNH’s funding.

Put bluntly the Public bodies need to be asked to increase their funding stake to around 15k each. In addition HIE and SNH and the NfP Management Committee should be approaching the Scottish Enterprise Land Unit to come on board with around 10k to cover the Highland area outside HIE’s boundary. Another possible avenue would be to approach the 10 Local Enterprise Companies in the HIE network and seek contributions of 3k from each. If half the LECs agreed to fund then 15k would be raised.

Option 2  (more on this)

Another option would be to experiment with project execution through an autonomous network structure based on the 4 key strands: Partnership Co-ordination and Influencing; Sharing Good Practice; Research and Dissemination; and Measuring Impact, and seek project funders and implementing agents.

Partnership Co-ordination and Influencing

This could be led up and executed by the NfP organisations themselves through a combination of in-kind contributions, member fees and grant assistance.

Sharing Good Practice -WEP

This could be executed as outlined in the NfP Future Structures and Operation Paper but would require to be re-jigged to include the workbook and other co-ordinated Whole Estate Plan learning outcomes as detailed in the Burns/Westbrook project document. It would need a revised budget but it is essentially what SNH and HIE wish to purchase with their grant assistance. Other interested parties could be brought into a WEP Steering group. It would be led up by HIE and SNH.

Research and Dissemination

This could be executed through a consortium of interested NfPs, the Caledonia Centre for Social Development and Community Learning Scotland. It could be funded by expanding the existing arrangements.

Measuring Impact

This component could be put on hold for a year until the other project components are seen to be functioning satisfactorily.

This is my preferred option, as it does not seek to exclude, is action led, decentralised, has the potential to draw in new interests and creates space for innovation. It to some degree builds upon what has in fact been happening with the case study scheme.

Conclusion

Should these avenues not be explored before deciding that sweeping changes are needed to the NfP structure? In addition the NfP Management Committee needs to refer to the NfP Constitution, as this is the framework in which you have all been empowered to act by the annual general meeting of the project association. No mention is made in the HIE NfP Future Structures and Operation Paper about consulting the constitution or the wider NfP constituency on the changes that are being proposed. Any changes to the constitution or changes to the name, etc will require support from two thirds of the members.

The NfP as a participatory learning network has much greater potential than being downgraded to a self-appointed forum whose main purpose appears to be to co-ordinate aspects of rolling out the WEP in the region on behalf of the larger agencies.

Footnotes

  1. The Highlands and Island are defined as land north of the Highland Line - Stonehaven to Helensburgh (extending to the Mull of Kintyre) - and comprising around 10 million acres.
  2. A broad and inclusive civil society definition of community has been adopted covering the following three categories of interest: the community of place; the community of interest (or common bond) and the community of attachment.
  3. "Summary of Participation at NfP Training Events (1996-1999), Graham Boyd, Caledonia Centre for Social Development, May 1999
  4. During the period 1997 to 1999 the involvement of CPAs rose from 8 to 16 while for CARTS it rose from 6 to 7. Crofting Trusts and Consortium remained static at 2 each while NGOs rose from 3 to 4 and Public Agencies rose from 4 to 8.
  5. CARTS - conservation, amenity and recreational trusts