Published on January 18, 2012

The use of public engagement in tackling climate change

By Ingrid Prikken

Ingrid Prikken is Project Manager at Involve. Her work is focused on project design and management, facilitation and research. Her research covers embedding public engagement in government and citizen participation in challenging issues.

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Today we are launching our latest briefing paper. It explores the potential for impact of public engagement on individuals’ attitudes towards climate change and potentially their behaviour to reduce it. The paper is based on a literature review we conducted last year and builds on our thinking about public engagement around complex issues such as climate change.

Drawing from compelling results and evaluation findings of a range of public dialogues around climate change, we argue there is clear evidence that engaging people in a meaningful way has the potential to change attitudes and behaviours towards tackling climate change. In this way, public engagement can complement legislative changes that force change, as well as the government’s agenda of ‘nudge’. Only by involving the public in decision-making and in the design of projects will the government be able to bring about the changes in public attitudes and behaviour of the scale that is required.

Our experience, as well as evidence of others in the field of public engagement in the UK and beyond who have been involved in similar dialogue processes, provides a solid foundation for arguing that such public engagement processes have the potential for far-reaching impacts on individuals’ perceptions, attitudes and behaviour regarding climate change, if they are suitably tailored to the circumstances.

From our experience of running public engagement processes we know that involving citizens more deeply in difficult problems has the potential to make a significant impact on individual’s attitudes and behaviours. It is a myth that ordinary citizens cannot be engaged in complex issues such as climate change. On the contrary, participants in past climate change dialogues felt able to engage with the material. On top of this, it appears that confidence in talking about the topic increased, not just at the event, but also after the events with other people. Overall participants seem to enjoy being part of these dialogue processes and commonly aspire to be involved in other engagement processes in the future.

We argue that policymakers should engage as part of their approach for changing behaviours and promoting more sustainable living. Studying the results and evaluations of a number of past engagement processes around climate change there is convincing evidence that public engagement can have a profound impact on attitudes and behaviour. We therefore advocate the scaling up of public engagement, and its evaluation, around climate change.

Distributed dialogue provides a way of engaging a significant number of people in a long-term meaningful debate about complex and interlinked issues. Building such an ongoing conversation around climate change between government and citizens can potentially have great benefits. Tailoring the process to the circumstances and the audience will maximise the impact of public engagement on attitudes and behaviour.

We are keen on collecting more evidence on public engagement with climate change. If you have any case studies or examples of well run public engagement processes around climate change that have had a significant impact on people’s attitudes towards climate change and potentially their behaviour, please get in touch.

Image by Garwee

2 Responses to “The use of public engagement in tackling climate change”

  1. January 18, 2012 at 12:16 pm

    We are part of the Scottish Government’s Public Engagement Strategy on Climate Change. They have made behaviour change central to this, concnetrating on ten key areas. Part of this is about using values as motivators. They are producing lots of research in this area currently and seem to be ahead of the game.

  2. Ingrid
    January 18, 2012 at 5:19 pm

    Gordon, thanks for pointing me to the work of the Scottish Government. Much appreciated.

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