Climate Change & Online Community Engagement: 10 examples, 5 countries

We do most of our community engagement work with local government organizations. A challenge that keeps coming up is how we make meaningful contributions to the fight against climate change at a local level.

This is a difficult area for engagement on two levels:

  1. The issue has been muddied by those who have been taken in by the false narrative denying the issue. Open discussion forums around the subject are difficult because things can easily degenerate into a values-based debate. There is a risk that these discussions achieve nothing but community division.
  2. The problem is BIG and global which can often lead to a sense of helplessness at the local level.

I think these issues are best dealt with positive framing of the issue. ‘How can we contribute to a solution?’ ‘How can we act locally to minimize our impact?’ Responding to these statements make it hard to troll, argue or present false narratives and also bring the big messy global problem to a more manageable local level.

Here are some great examples of this work in action (click the links to see the projects):

Cheshire West and Chester in the UK have set the tone beautifully with a video highlighting the issue and how local action can make a difference. They are asking the community for ideas on what the Council can do and inviting questions to the cabinet. There are information sources available and although this (at the time of writing) is a relatively young engagement, the community is responding in a positive way.

Staying in the UKthe City of Kingston is holding a citizens assembly on the issue of improving air quality. While not directly addressing climate change, there are obvious connections. I like the way the City is acknowledging they cannot solve the whole problem but have a part to play, along with the open ideation process collecting ideas online ahead of the assembly.

Mississauga in Canada are taking a long term approach with a site packed with information resources and events leading up to the release of their climate action plan. They utilize the open QandA tool allowing the community to ask questions.  It’s interesting to note that many of the questions are actually ideas around what the city can do or reflect on the need people feel to be doing something themselves.

Staying in Canada, the City of Oshawa ran a project some years ago about energy conservation. I will always remember this one because of the way people offered up stories about steps they had taken to conserve energy. The steps shared were immensely practical and down to earth. This is another approach to engaging the community on Climate Change. Asking about what individuals will do. Halifax have been doing something along these lines using the Ideas tool rather than stories.

I’ve been hoping we could eventually move toward community pledges that we attempt to quantify towards some sort of overall target.

In the USA, the City of Longmont are asking the community to sign up to a Climate Emergency Taskforce and to share tips on how individuals can make a difference. This is a relatively new project and it will be interesting to watch it evolve. Meanwhile, in San Mateo California they have dedicated an entire site to getting the community ‘climate ready’.

Next, we look at Australia, where the Noosa Shire Council ran a remarkably positive discussion forum on aspects of their carbon reduction plan – proving that open discussion on this issue can, in fact, be constructive and positive. Meanwhile, Wollongong got some great feedback from the community when asked for ideas on how to reduce emissions.

Finally to New Zealand where this quite beautiful looking site from Western Bay of Plenty Regional Council engaged the community around the ‘changing tides’. The discussion around coastal erosion has clear relevance to rising sea levels but focuses directly on a very practical aspect of managing the changes coastal areas are going to experience.

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