How Community Engagement Advances Climate Action

Authentic community engagement is an essential part of our process to create Climate Action Plans. We wholeheartedly believe that community engagement is key to creating a better future where people can take ownership of clear strategies to combat climate change and hold leaders accountable to achieving critical sustainability targets. 

Over years of experience creating Climate Action Plans for large organizations and municipalities, we’ve honed best practices that set our strategic climate planning process apart. We prioritize creative yet realistic opportunities for residents to get involved and we never take their input for granted. It starts with listening to frontline communities who have been historically excluded and marginalized — who are also disproportionately threatened by the effects of climate change such as extreme heat, rising sea levels, flooding, and declining air and water quality. 

We also know it is a best practice to fairly compensate frontline community members who contribute their valuable time, perspectives, and ideas to any climate planning process. In addition to providing stipends, we make a number of other considerations to ensure that participation is accessible and equitable. While the ability to hold virtual meetings has erased some barriers to attending public meetings, it has created new roadblocks for those without access to computers and reliable internet. It is important to us to meet people where they are and offer transportation, meals, and childcare assistance whenever possible.

We also come to this work with the humble acknowledgement that the community — not consultants, officials, or executives — will know best what it wants and needs. We encourage our clients, especially public entities such as cities, to acknowledge the power dynamics and distrust created by historical structures that have contributed to racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination. After openly discussing these issues, we can stop them from being perpetuated by prioritizing voices from frontline communities in addition to subject matter experts as we explore possible climate action strategies together.

Lastly, we believe that public engagement is most effective when it builds upon existing structures and networks that communities know and trust. If you would like to learn more about how to successfully engage communities around climate action, Verdis Group’s engagement specialist Kate Hamel recommends a couple reliable resources: The International Association for Public Participation (known as IAP2) offers more generalized information, while the C40 Cities website is useful for building accessible communications specifically around climate action. But as Kate noted, the best resources are likely in your own community. Her advice is to seek out the organizations and leaders who are already effectively engaging your neighbors in complex issues and learn from them. 

For more, check out our latest Facebook Live discussion here and follow us on FacebookLinkedIn, and Twitter. To learn how to get started at your organization, download our free Climate Action Plan Guide.

(Photo by Brandon Jacoby on Unsplash)

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