Scottish Community Development Centre (Building Stronger Community Organisations – An Online Learning Resource)

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Lead Organisation:
Scottish Community Development Centre
Award Amount:

To develop an online capacity building resource for Refugee Community Organisations and Refugee Supporting Groups.

An online learning resource for community organisations working with refugees

The resource assists groups to consider and assess their own organisational strengths and challenges.

It provides ten core online learning modules in key aspects of community self-organisation with audio visual learning materials, participative exercises, factsheets and planning templates. These are designed to be used in different ways by committee members. In the short to medium term they are most likely to be used by staff in development roles and volunteers with varying levels of experience to support community groups.

New Scots reached

Key Information

The project sought to co-design online learning modules with Scottish Refugee Council and community groups to be capable of use independently by organisations, or with facilitation support from Scottish Refugee Council and others.

An online self-assessment checklist and other materials were produced to enable groups to consider how the resource modules could be used by them. The ten modules cover the following topics:

Module 1: Getting started (the foundations of community organisation and assessing your strengths and challenges)

Module 2: Running your organisation (governance purpose structures and skills)

Module 3: Understanding your community’s needs (community engagement and involvement)

Module 4: Planning your work effectively (making a group action plan)

Module 5: Showing you’ve made a difference (monitoring and evaluation)

Module 6: Getting the funding you need (fundraising strategy)

Module 7: Looking after your group’s money (financial accountability)

Module 8: Running events and services (risks, safety & responsibilities)

Module 9: Working together for change (participation and campaigning)

Module 10 – What next? (reviewing your progress)

The project has also sought to support Scottish Refugee Council’s Communities team and they have been involved in shaping the overall resource and module content.  Work is ongoing to map where the team’s skills could be shared and strengthened in order to deliver the resource with groups they are in contact with or in supporting other staff and volunteers to do this.

The resource aimed to assist groups to assess needs, connections and influence and help them to strengthen self-organisation.  This will assist groups to become more sustainable so that funders and service providers invest in them as partners to target and deliver services for asylum seekers and refugees in Scotland.

 This work to strengthen relevant community organisations will also increase the potential for refugees, asylum seekers and receiving community representatives to play a greater role in the direction and delivery of the New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy when it is formally reviewed in 2023.

Key Information


Scottish Refugee Council Communities Team, Scottish Community Development Centre, Refugee Led Organisations and Refugee Supporting Groups

Geographical reach



December 2021 – December 2022

Target Groups

Refugee Led Community Organisations

Refugee Supporting Groups

Workers and volunteers with Community Capacity Building aspects to their role

Project Type

Supporting Innovation


The numbers of community organisations led by refugees and by communities supporting refugees to aid local integration has grown hugely throughout the period of the New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy (2018-2022).  However, these organisations have significant community capacity building (CCB) needs which are not being fully met in many areas. This is a result of pressures on specialist teams like the Scottish Refugee Council Communities team from the pace and nature of resettlement schemes supporting individuals and families.

It is also exacerbated by the recognised shortfalls in generic community capacity building support across Scotland and the pressures on individuals running community groups. Trying to fit into monocultural modes of community organisation can be challenging for organisations trying to organise from different cultural reference points and with language barriers. This is especially acute where people have less transferrable experience from other aspects of their lives for running community groups as they are run in Scotland. This increases the need for support.

The paradox is that community-based solutions are a key resource to enable settlement and integration, but those who can bring their lived experience to this task face such pressures in their day-to-day lives that they often need more support than others. Therefore, trusted community development support is critical to enable them to establish and sustain their community groups and underpin their collective ability to participate effectively in many aspects of civil society.

Community groups working on refugee issues are less well placed to compete for scarce CCB resources and although many play a magnificent semi-formal role in local work supporting extremely vulnerable people in unique ways, they typically have less time, energy and resources to focus on their own organisation and sustainability.

The impact of this can make them seem less investment ready by funders and service partners who could help organisations grow to become more influential and sustainable.

This means that community organisations are playing less of a role than they could do in delivering New Scots aims.

Involvement of New Scots in project

Whilst the concept for this work was co-production of the resource with communities this has been challenging. Three groups have taken part in the testing to date with some capacity to involve others as the work moves towards a conclusion.

Scottish Refugee Council Communities team have had considerable involvement in commenting on the details of the learning materials bringing their experience of working with refugee community and supporting organisations to the process. This has been extremely useful.

However, its recommended that the work should continue to further test and embed the resource beyond this first phase as a source of knowledge and set of leaning modules that can be used and developed for years to come.

Lessons were learnt in phase one in relation to the challenges of engaging groups in a process that may have felt rather abstract when they were under pressure to deliver for vulnerable new arrivals.

The extension of the project, whilst continuing to directly involve refugee and receiving communities in finessing the tools, will have a greater emphasis on supporting specialist, and mainstream staff in community development roles, to refresh and strengthen their ability to deliver capacity building with refugee groups and receiving communities in the longer term to deliver the objectives of the New Scots Strategy and increase their profile in other community development and place based initiatives in Scotland to help secure successful long term integration.

We are confident that more groups will engage at that point and have a role in a process of iterative shaping of the final resource and also benefit from the knowledge and skills shared during the testing.

We are confident that the final resource will be able impact positively on larger numbers by strengthening organisations, thus supporting them significantly to support their members and communities.  It is difficult to estimate the ultimate impact but a credible metric would be as follows.

Assuming the resource is used by around 15 groups per year we estimate that around ten 6-10 committee members per group could directly benefit amounting to a range of between 90-150 of those running community groups.

If we assume that each group may have around 25-40 regular beneficiaries then we can extrapolate that the project could indirectly benefit between 375 and 600 people a year with further social impact on households and communities as whole as a result of increased services and support delivered by stronger community orgs.


  • Exploration of the strengths and challenges of organisations engaging with the work has taken place
  • This has shaped the development of accessible self-evaluation tools built into modules 1 & 10 will encourage groups to consciously focus on their organisational effectiveness
  • Engagement with the groups has significantly shaped the content of the 10 learning modules based providing practical knowledge and skills will be produced.
  • The approach of the modules has been tested with two groups in some depth and to a lesser degree with one more suggesting constructive development which have strengthened the material overall.
  • Scottish Refugee Council’s Communities team were able to comment on the content of the other modules and will continue to do so.
  • The team’s own skill base for delivery of the modules has been explored via an online survey and a number of development session.

Challenges encountered

  • The intention to build the modules largely from the testing process has proven to be difficult. The initial launch event attracted mainly groups from refugee support groups rather than Refugee Community Organisations but they have not followed through in participating. If the project is extended a different approach to engaging and recruiting these groups will be needed.
  • Refugee-led groups who were identified as testing partners took a long time to fully engage with the process delaying progress in the work as whole. These groups were undoubtedly providing very valuable services but on a semi-structured basis making them vulnerable to unexpected circumstances or turnover in membership. This confirmed the existence of significant capacity building needs to help to make them as effective as they could be they could be. It appeared that there were significant gaps in their organisational structures with some groups having quite limited functional committee structures or division of labour to office bearers.
  • Some participants in the testing cohorts tended to be newer volunteers to committees largely suggesting that the churn of membership in leadership roles is an ongoing issue, even for well-established groups. This is placing more pressure on established volunteers and project staff which the resource will help groups think about and plan for.
  • The approach to engaging communities in the co-design of the tools has therefore not developed as envisaged. Through the testing process, we learned that groups did not feel comfortable in engaging with our online self-assessment tool, known as an Organisational Health Check, and we have revised this to make it more accessible and will test this more fully in the project extension phase.
  • The pressures on groups to deliver their aims and support their members is often not leaving sufficient space for essential organisational development.
  • Working independently online is not a natural process for many groups who respond much better in facilitated online or face-to-face face sessions using the modules.
  • This has quite profound implications for CCB support services in the refugee sector and mainstream sectors as ways to support more face-to-face support will need to be found to address the issues.


Engagement in testing – The testing sessions utilised draft module content tools and presentations with an emphasis on seeking views about the content. This was to facilitate the co-design of the content and also avoid the work involved in full design of materials that were almost certainly going to required adaptation.  Where there has been feedback from groups on the proposed this has been positive but quite limited. This is partly because groups have few expectations of this kind of support at all.

Our approach is to develop the resource as an interactive process that can be developed as users’ feedback on experience of using it in practice. We therefore propose a development of the testing outcomes should be used if the projects is extended.

  • As the resource webpages have now been developed are therefore more tangible to participants, it is recommended that the approach should shift to further testing and refinement of the resource through the promotion of community development training support co-delivered with the Scottish Refugee Communities
  • Enhanced session evaluations will provide the interactive testing and learning to develop the materials as an ongoing project.
  • We also suggest some structured sessions with participants from groups taking part and also staff delivering the resource to reflect on its strengths and develop it further as required.

Foundations of governance – Some of the basic information on committee skills, roles and responsibilities and governance options reflects significant gaps in how these are operating in practice for some groups.

  • It is recommended that the modules are used to engage groups in a supportive conversation about the need to address these gaps where they exist and assist groups to resolve them

Churn of members – The resource modules involve groups members in thinking about and recording key actions they need to take. We think this will help develop the organisational memory of groups which can support succession planning and help groups cope with the churn in membership which places too much pressure on small numbers of individuals.

  • We recommend that groups should be regularly supported to take stock, fill vacancies in the governance arrangements and ensure their committees are supported to make groups more sustainable.

Alleviating pressure on groups from refugee experience – This project cannot alleviate the pressures on groups members arising from circumstances in the asylum system, although many achieve remarkable things while faced with these challenges. We hope that the resource can address the resulting organisational fragility by encouraging groups to be mindful of their own collective wellbeing and encourage development of leadership with a balance of those with that lived experience and those whose lives are more stable.  As one group put it they can’t focus on our funding bids or committee procedures when we fear the prospect of being removed after a claim is rejected.

Also achieving refugee status does not make people immune to the other huge life transitions associated with settlement and integration or from the impact of other issues that disproportionately affected refugees such as finding work, the impact of the pandemic or the cost of living crisis.

  • We recommend that building organisations that are strong enough to support committees and members through these challenges remains the long-term focus of the resource. Getting this right will require explicit recognition in of this issue in resource and the conversations that it is designed to help groups have.

Role of online resources and future CCB support – The resource will be at its most effective when it is used in person as a facilitated experience, backed up by self-directed -learning online using the modules by groups and individuals within them. The resource will be a high-quality resource that will support staff and volunteers taking on these support roles.  But it must also be seen as a part of a more strategic response to community capacity building challenges in Scotland and in support of refugees and receiving communities in particular.

This requires issues of the availability and access to capacity building support to be addressed as part of the next New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy in 2023.

As the New Scots strategy is reviewed this year, supporting capacity builders will need to be a greater priority.   The resource should therefore be seen as part of a process to create conditions where support for communities is underpinned by strengthening the knowledge of staff within Scottish Refugee Council building on their existing relationships and expertise and by enabling them to cascade this capacity to other organisations to enhance the support available to communities.

  • We recommend that training for trainers’ support to Scottish Refugee Council staff in using this tool is the focus of an extension to the project to increase the range and depth of organisational development knowledge and skills they can bring to bear in supporting communities.

  We also recommend that part if the support in the extension phase is focused on promoting and sharing the resource with other capacity builders in order to increase access to such support overall across Scotland.


  • With the benefit of hindsight, co-developing an online resource that could be used extensively by groups in Scotland independently of other kinds of capacity building support was not achievable within a single year – especially at the rate at which more prosaic needs of communities arising from resettlement programmes have developed.
  • The development of online tools for New Scots partners in communities to use themselves is still a valid approach which will help to underpin future work to support communities to share the implementation of New Scots outcomes.
  • However, development in some organisations requires a more direct facilitated approach, face to face if possible.
  • The impact of the pandemic on the ability to do this is difficult to gauge but is likely to have been a significant factor. This suggests that many organisations who have developed during the last few years may be working flat out to support their members and communities without the benefit of more fundamental organisation building support with all that this entails.
  • The resource offers a suite of curated learning materials that can be augmented and adjusted responsively in future and help unify the organisational development inputs from a range of providers across the country if they are supported to use it.
  • The lack of sufficient specialist and generic CCB support resources is an ongoing challenge but the use of the resource offers a way to provide support to those who are helping, or could help, by enhancing the quality and ultimately the experience of that support.
  • In time, the existence of the online resource should be able to support a growing number of organisations, their members and communities, to benefit directly from its content by using the planning templates and tools it contains independently on an ongoing basis, even where initially use may need to be delivered with facilitation support in place.

Project Partners