Community futures: local community planning and development  - the opportunities for community learning


Colin Roxburgh and Alan Tuffs, Small Town and Rural Development Group, Scotland


Community Futures is an approach to local community planning and sustainable community development that aims to encourage active citizenship and build local democracy.  Community Futures was designed by the Small Town and Rural Development Group and we have assisted in the development of Community Futures Programmes in Stirlingshire (Community Futures Stirling) and in the Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park.

Community Futures Stirling was originally a pilot project targeted at four rural communities. It was established in 1999 and assisted these four communities prepare plans for their future and then worked with them to develop local organisational capacity to implement priority projects and actions. CFS won the Royal Town and Planning Institute 2002 National Award for Planning’s contribution to Social Inclusion. The programme was extended throughout the Stirling Council area, and has also been a model for developing a similar programme for 25 communities in and around the new National Park.

Participatory Planning

The Community Futures process encourages widespread participation of local people in preparing a Community Action Plan for their community.  Community Action Plans contain:

Action Plans are prepared following an extensive participatory process in communities which includes:

The process is typically managed by a local Steering Group that brings together representatives from a cross section of the community.

Organisational Development and Action

Community Futures Stirling and the Community Futures programme in the National Park have gone on beyond the planning phase to help communities build organisational capacity and to implement their Community Action Plans. Out of 4 communities participating in the original Community Futures Stirling pilot phase, 3 went on to establish Community Development Trusts and raise funds for a number of priority projects. Of 25 communities participating in the National Park programme, around 18 have taken similar action. 

Priority projects and actions undertaken by communities are wide ranging but typically fall under a number of main headings:

Programme Management

The work at the community level to plan, organise and take action has been supported and encouraged by programme management groups which have brought together a number of agencies and organisations.  CFS is managed by a programme management group consisting of representatives from Stirling Council, Scottish Enterprise Forth Valley, Scottish Natural Heritage, and the communities themselves. Community Futures in the National Park is managed by a Community Partnership which brings together representatives from the Association of Community Councils, four local authorities, three local enterprise companies, Scottish Natural Heritage and the National Park Authority.  These partnerships provide a mechanism for listening and brokering the local community plans and linking bottom up and top down planning.


Following on from the preparation of local Community Action Plans communities have been encouraged to come together to look at their common needs and aspirations.  In the National Park the 25 participating communities have been assisted to form four Area Networks. The Networks have been used to share experience, identify common issues and jointly organise around common priorities.

Programme resources include a mix of agency staff, external technical assistance and local people who are trained and employed to assist in the planning process (Community Agents).   In the National Park programme 25 local people were trained in Community Action Planning and 8 were eventually employed as Community Agents.  They became the programmes’ front line staff working with the volunteer local steering groups to carry out Community Action Plans.  They are now being trained and supported to enable them to deliver organisational and project development support.   


At the heart of Community Futures are the local people who participate and volunteer. In the National Park CF Programme which covered 25 communities and a population of 12,000:

The impact of participation and involvement in the Community Futures Process

There has been a wide range of outcomes from the Community Futures process.  Some of the most pertinent in the context of Community Learning are the opportunities for local people to: 

The knock on effect of providing these opportunities within communities has been:

Making the connection

The Community Futures Programmes have provided a context that has given local people the confidence to participate in planning the future of their communities. This has created opportunities for active citizenship and community learning.  This has in turn helped to strengthen and change communities.  We would argue that programmes such as Community Futures are therefore important to support in the context of Lifelong Learning and Community Learning.  However to date this connection has not been fully explored and has not been their main source of support.  Community Futures could be greatly enhanced by such resources and more could be made of the learning opportunities that this participatory approach to the development of communities affords.