Community wealth building in Scotland: exploring ‘new’ ways to build an inclusive local economy

Dr Micaela Mazzei, Glasgow Caledonian University
RSE Small Grant awardee

Dr Micaela Mazzei. Photograph: Ian Georgeson Photography

Developed in the United States in 2005 and adopted in England in 2011 by the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES), community wealth building (CWB) is an approach to economic development that emphasises building wealth and ownership within communities. It is based on the idea that local communities should have more control over their financial destiny and that wealth should be distributed more equitably.

Previously in the UK, CWB has been implemented at a local authority level; however, the Scottish Government has been the first to seek to implement a national CWB policy. Dr Micaela Mazzei, along with colleagues Dr Gillian Murray and Dr Danielle Hutcheon at the Yunus Centre for Social Business and Health, Glasgow Caledonian University, have been awarded an RSE Small Research Grant to carry out an exploratory research project to investigate how the implementation of CWB is being approached in Scotland.

Dr Mazzei commented,

While CWB has yet to be fully implemented in Scotland, there is a commitment to developing a nationwide CWB strategy that is emblematic of Scotland’s ‘consultative and cooperative’ style of policymaking. If aligned with supportive policy levers such as the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, CWB has the potential to support the Scottish Government’s pledge to develop a ‘well-being economy’. However, the pluralistic approach required to implement CWB would require significant strategic and cultural change within Scottish local authorities that have been slow to embrace collaborative, socially innovative approaches to social policy and service delivery. There are significant gaps in knowledge and consideration of the local dynamics within Scottish contexts that will impact the successful implementation of CWB in different geographic settings.”

Dr Micaela Mazzei and Dr Gillian Murray. Photograph: Ian Georgeson Photography

CWB’s success depends on the local dynamics of place, the historical legacies and institutional structures that shape the nature of local relationships. The team’s research will therefore focus on three case study areas – Glasgow, North Ayrshire, and the Western Isles – chosen for their distinctive approaches to policy applications and historical legacies. Recorded interviews with representatives from relevant local authorities, anchor institutions and key stakeholders will explore topics including local engagement, understanding and translation of CWB in each context and identifying local dynamics that could impact CWB implementation. The interview data will then be cross-referenced with policy analysis collected from archival and desk-based research.

It is anticipated that the research findings will feed into ‘live’ policy development, both in terms of Scottish Community Empowerment and economic development, as well as the wider UK levelling-up agenda. A better understanding of how CWB is being understood and implemented across diverse contexts, how the needs of different localities can be addressed, and the challenges that remain will be crucial to knowledge in this field.

Dr Mazzei commented,

Without this RSE funding, we would have been unable to carry out the research that has included interviews with key stakeholders across three local authorities, as well as nationally and desk-based research examining emerging policy documents and debates. The RSE Small Research Grant has also allowed us to attract further funding from the Scottish Graduate School of Social Science for a PhD student and funding from the RSA to bring together key academics and stakeholders for a seminar.

The initial exploratory research that the RSE has supported, will enable us to underpin the knowledge for a future study on innovative place-based policy approaches to building inclusive economies. The increasing use of CWB within UK policy is the latest iteration of government approaches to delivering an inclusive economy through innovative territorial development and socio-economic regeneration practices. The opportunity to study CWB as it is implemented in Scotland offers the potential to lead, and be part of, a global network of researchers studying this phenomenon.”

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