Fighting climate change through online community engagement

If ever a case could be made to “think globally and act locally”, it would be for climate change. The topic and associated actions and solutions are mind-numbingly vast and daunting, leaving the average resident wondering what they themselves can do to make a difference.

A study by Pew Research Center in October 2019 found that 62% of US adults say climate change is having at least ‘some’ effect on their community, and 22% say it’s having a ‘great deal’ of effect.

People want to be a part of the solution. They have ideas and opinions about those solutions. It’s up to local government leaders to not only take climate change seriously based on the very real risks that face every local community but also to provide a platform for the collective stakeholder voice.

Bringing a varied audience together for meaningful conversation

Climate change causes visceral, and varied, reactions in many. It brings up anger and sorrow; yet inspires passion and hope. Local government agencies who are embarking upon climate change-related projects in their community should aim to hear all of the perspectives of their citizens because more people working together results in potentially viable solutions.

Many agencies are engaging their residents in climate and sustainability action plans on their digital engagement sites and reaping the benefit of effective and efficient public involvement. Find out how you can do the same with your key projects.

Tips for tackling local climate change projects through digital engagement

It’s estimated that around 75% of people don’t like speaking in public meetings. Digital engagement creates inclusion that you wouldn’t otherwise get.

The following are tips and EngagementHQ tools that will aid your agency in building your climate-related local projects into your engagement platform.

  1. Allow space for members to socialize. The social side enhances the experience for the participants and can also improve deliberation and engagement.
  2. Share an opening statement on your platform that states what the space is for, the rules of engagement, and the call-to-action for participants. Set the tone with a positive and encouraging message about what can be accomplished there.
  3. Use open dialogue wording such as “let’s have a conversation”.
  4. Offer different methods of participation through tools that allow people to share stories, post their ideas like a sticky note, take a poll, submit a question, or drop a pin on an interactive map.
  5. Include a list of organizations in your community that are taking action against climate change.
  6. Share tips on how residents can save energy, money, and reduce carbon.
  7. Use the EngagementHQ Places interactive mapping tool for climate-related projects, for example, participants could drop pins to indicate where they would like trees planted.

Examples of Online Engagement Around Climate Issues

Below we’ll dive into real-life examples of how communities like yours are using EngagementHQ to activate key conversations around climate in their cities.

Residents choose level of involvement

The City of Boulder, CO uses their site, Be Heard Boulder, to discuss their Climate Mobilization Action Plan with residents. Online engagement is about bringing many people to the table and giving them a variety of ways to engage.

Following this concept, the City offers a call-to-action that states: “Tell us how you would like to participate in the Climate Mobilization Action Plan process”, and links to a form with multiple topic categories. For example, one of the categories is ‘Ecosystems’ and the multiple-choice options are for the resident to have ‘no engagement’, or to ‘be informed’, ‘be consulted’, or ‘be involved’. The level of engagement for each choice ranges from simple email updates to participating in pop-up education efforts. This gives the participant full control over how they engage with the topics that they care about most.

Clear timeline provides understanding of process

For their Climate Action Plan, the City of Burlington, Ontario, Canada, created a page on their EngagementHQ site, Get Involved Burlington, dedicated to involving the community in the Plan. They provide a timeline that is always visible on the page outlining the process, what stage they are currently in, key dates, as well as links to relevant reports and documents that have been finalized and released. It provides residents with an easy way to see the progress of the Plan.

Q&A for all

The City of Cupertino, CA uses their digital engagement platform called Engage Cupertino! to communicate about their Climate Action Plan Update. They encourage citizens to ask questions, and the answers from City staff are visible to everyone on the platform. Some of the topics that participants have asked questions about include the City’s plan to reduce plastic usage, the creation/expansion of their carbon sinks, and the City’s carbon neutrality goal.

Going beyond the traditional survey

The City of Chicago started a three-year planning initiative and launched an engagement site, We Will Chicago, to host the conversations in one place. The Environment, Climate, and Energy portion of the site encourages participants to take a survey about shaping future design policies.

The questions dig much deeper than is typical of traditional surveys. Each question allows for long, written responses as opposed to surface-level multiple-choice options. One question asks: “How do we incorporate environmental justice principles and resource distribution to reverse historic disinvestment and environmental degradation in underserved communities?” By giving residents the opportunity to share their in-depth ideas and perspectives, the City receives valuable and actionable ideas.

Educational video content

If content is king, then video content is queen. Many people prefer to watch videos to learn about new things. When the Town of Halton Hills in Ontario, Canada developed a low-carbon transition strategy for their area they communicated about the initiative on their site, Let’s Talk Halton Hills. On the main page, they share a video about the strategy and suggest that participants watch the video before completing the survey. Additionally, they make recordings of virtual open houses available, allowing citizens to engage with the information, when it’s convenient for them.

Digital engagement listens to many voices

When you engage with the support activist, the scientist, and the policymakers, these diverse opinions and perspectives help to bring about effective change for climate-related issues. The critical conversations are already happening online, however social media algorithms create micro-tribes and propaganda bubbles. Rational and productive debate is greatly affected.

By providing an alternative for productive debate, a digital engagement platform, you create a hub for the public to come together, build consensus, bring about change, and strengthen society.

“I appreciate the City’s recognition that at this point our climate response must be more radical, and take the form of enabling residents to do radical things, as well as civic programs. We need a vision to move toward, not just an apocalypse to move away from.”

Resident comment from Be Heard Boulder

Reach out to us if you want to learn more about how EngagementHQ can help fight climate change locally.

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