Published on April 11, 2013

Countering the myths of engagement: focus on the positives

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.

image blog 2In my previous post I highlighted a few common myths around engaging citizens.  In this post I’ll give a few of my thoughts on how to overcome these myths in engaging citizens with transition to a low carbon society.

Traditionally, we’re used to seeing a ‘top-down’ approach in which those with the institutional power and its representatives decide what is best for the population, without worrying too much about asking the views of the population outside of election time. This is changing. There’s a growing realisation that these complex issues need a different approach. As I pointed out in an earlier post about engaging citizens with energy transition, citizen involvement can be a powerful means for agreeing and delivering local objectives. The key is to find that space where citizens are empowered to engage and where those in power demonstrate strong leadership and have the courage to step back and let things happen.

In overcoming negative myths of engagement, I’d like to bring up two positive ways of thinking about engagement:

Focus on what unites citizens, not what divides them. Start framing with what you have in common and map the strengths. Make it relevant to citizens, but do not assume that the incentives that work for one group can automatically be transferred to another. Find out what the ‘entry’ point is for different types of people, who will have different attitudes and behaviours towards engaging with energy.

Inspire citizens to engage. A powerful way of engaging citizens with transitioning to a low carbon future is to bring positive messages. Looking at what ‘grass roots initiatives’ are doing might be valuable; they are probably more likely to get this ‘right’, as they are building on enthusiasm from the initiators, rather than a process that is ‘imposed’ from above. Show the difference people are making, whether that is through ‘storytelling’, challenge prizes, or celebrating good practice… And make it fun!

I wrote this post as a companion piece for a short article published in Energy Cities info magazine (no. 41, Spring 2013); a publication with lots of inspiring stories from local authorities across Europe inventing their energy future.

Image by twinxamot

One Response to “Countering the myths of engagement: focus on the positives”

  1. June 11, 2013 at 5:09 pm

    Hi Ingrid,

    Your point about identifying strengths chimes with a discussion I had yesterday about the 12 permaculture principles. One of these principles is about working with nature, not against it. Because you can waste a lot of energy trying to create change. So – as you suggest – it is far better to work with the positives.

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