Our Land Master of European Design Thesis: Exploring the role of design in empowering communities who own and govern land in rural Scotland


I conducted ethnographic research with key stakeholders from across Scotland to understand the systemic causes and political issues underlying the desire to purchase land. Interviewees included: Community landowners, lairds, third sector organisations, councillors, journalists and land rights activists to name a few examples.

Communities were often motivated to buyout local land due to a strong sense of disempowerment and a desire for localised decision-making power. I utilised research tools during 11 sight visits to eight local authority regions in Scotland, from Lanarkshire to the Outer Hebrides. This helped me analyse the systemic or “dark matter” challenges faced by community landowners, such as legislation and overwhelming bureaucracy.

Above image: This visualisation reveals the dark matter of land reform. There is a large amount of agitation directed at Scottish Land and Estates, the representatives of private Landowners. Decisions being made about whether to accept a community body registration of interest in land is done by MSP's who might also be lairds. This is a similar issue that rural tenants and tenant farmers face, some are afraid to speak against their laird for fear of being evicted.

Decision making paradigm for pre purchase community bodies applying for the right to buy local land.
Post purchase paradigm shift in the social contract and local decision making dynamic around land use at a local level.



Once the land has been purchased, the community needs to develop an economically sustainable business model for how the land is used.

I developed a participatory design game, tailored to support community landowners with idea generation, network mapping and strategic thinking. By understanding potential partners and funding opportunities, communities can plan clear steps towards their future vision. The design game also supports empathetic governance.