CITIZEN-LED SOLUTIONS

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INTRODUCTION

This module discusses citizen participation and includes some methodologies that are important to follow to properly and successfully engage with community members and stakeholders. We will feature the example of Low Carbon City, an organization that was started by citizens to put climate change in the public agenda.

OBJECTIVE

The content of this module will help you identify motivations, ideas and formats in which you can actively participate in the co-creation of solutions and the decision-making process of your community or city.

SUMMARY

Citizen Participation

Citizen participation plays a key role in achieving sustainable development and environmental justice, whether as individuals or as part of our community.

As a member of a community, you can support your government, businesses, and organizations in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by transferring local knowledge from your own community to support and improve decision making in your context and the prioritization of projects. Seek out areas where you can support current efforts by volunteering your time, attending public meetings, or offering to help mobilize, unite, and co-create solutions.

As an individual, reflect on your behaviours and habits that have either a positive or a negative footprint on the environment. Are there behaviours that can help you create a more sustainable lifestyle? What simple habits can you begin to change in your daily routine to lessen your impact? A good place to start is to think about what you eat, how much waste is produced in your household, the level of your water and energy consumption, and how you move around. Begin by making small changes and you’ll start seeing big impacts!

Opportunities

There are broadly two kinds of opportunities to influence decision-makers – ‘invited spaces’ and ‘created spaces’. Invited spaces are the opportunities provided by decision-makers for the public to feed in their views. They are created by the government (often in response to popular demand) and allow for constructive two-way conversations with decision-makers. Created spaces refer to events and campaigns organised by the public to convey their views to those in power when they are being ignored or deprioritised.

Invited spaces

Examples of invited spaces can be consultations on budget allocation for local improvements. This is a mechanism called participatory budgeting, a democratic process in which community members decide how to spend part of a public budget.

  • Pros: Guaranteed attendance and attention from decision-makers
  • Cons: Agenda and format is set by decision-makers, and might invite thoughts on a limited range or options that don’t reflect your priorities.

Tip: Go to your local authority, council or national government’s website to see if they have opened any opportunities to engage.

What can you do?

  • Send your position in advance to try and influence the agenda of the meeting Raise awareness of the opportunity to influence in your community, encourage attendance, and provide information to inspire and equip other attendees to argue for the same priorities (eg a simple one-page hand-out with a problem statement, your suggested actions, and instructions for conveying these to decision-makers)
  • Make a note of any commitments made by decision-makers, raise awareness of these after the meeting, and follow up to find out about their progress. This helps build pressure and keeps them accountable for what they promised!

Created Spaces

Examples of created spaces can be a street party or community gathering to raise awareness of an issue (see module 13 for an example).

  • Pros: You’re in charge of the agenda - you decide who speaks and what topics you want to shout about.
  • Cons: You’ll need to work harder to get decision-makers to attend or to listen to what you have to say.

Tip: Do some research to find out about other people-powered campaigns or actions in your region, what did they do to create space for their voice?

What can you do?

  • Find your team - start within your own sphere of influence, e.g. friends of family and invite them to join you. Ask them to reach out to their spheres of influence - you’ll soon start to see a snowball effect!
  • Plan an event to bring people together. Think about the following: what do you want people to know? How will you get them to listen? What logistics do you need to consider, e.g. time/location/cost?
  • Promote your event - think about your audience, how do they receive their information? What do you want them to do? Communicate in a style that suits them - this could be social media, knocking door-to-door or getting your event promoted in the local newspaper.
  • Shout about it! Whatever you choose to do, make sure you celebrate your action and get as many people as possible to share what you’re doing. Reach out directly to the decision-maker you are trying to influence, show them that lots of people care and want the same change you do.

Other created spaces:

  • Consultation events: To build support for the changes you want to see it is important that you can make a case that is convincing not only to you but to those who do not already share your views. An event that brings together experts and influencers from different areas of society or your community can be very useful to help understand competing points of view, and to find out if your suggested changes work for everyone. If the change you eventually call for has diverse and influential people supporting the campaign then it is much more convincing for other people who might support, and for decision-makers.

  • Citizen science: Citizens can get involved in scientific research regardless of their technical and professional background. You can contribute to data collection, monitoring, and analysis for projects in your neighborhood or across the globe, which all leads to more transparent research with higher social relevance and citizen empowerment.

A very interesting example of citizen science and crowdsourcing is to conduct a BioBlitz using the Seek app, developed by iNaturalist and WWF. You can get outdoors, explore the natural world, and have fun while interacting with nature by downloading this toolkit.

  • Public awareness: To raise awareness regarding a certain issue or to promote behavior change, you can use your creativity to develop tactical urbanism actions, creative interventions or public campaigns by using social media, fliers, and contacting other people in your community that might be interested in supporting your cause. Check this Handbook for tactical Urbanism actions by Low Carbon City with some ideas.

Low Carbon City, for example, developed an intervention in the center of a city where the air quality is really low. They placed facemasks on the city’s statues to show policy-makers that the air they were breathing was not healthy for humans and that measures needed to be taken.

  • Constructive dialogue: This format aims to organize open, peaceful spaces where different actors and stakeholders can engage, learn, discuss and propose solutions for the community.

  • Project development: If you have identified an issue that is causing a negative impact in the environment or contributing to the global damage of the planetary boundaries, you can arrange a group of community leaders, students and other stakeholders, to co-create social innovation solutions for your local context. For this you will find more answers in Module 17.

Find examples of young changemakers that are developing projects together with their communities to improve their environment that are part of networks such as Youth For Our Planet or Ashoka Young Changemakers.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

To ensure effective action towards environmental protection and the Sustainable Development Goals, a collaboration between the public sector and the community is needed to increase the legitimacy of decisions and citizen mobilization. Knowledge of local context and territories is crucial to develop projects and solutions to build a better environment.

A multi-stakeholder vision can harness and foment social innovation in a community.

Creativity is a great tool to promote change. Think outside the box! Change is a process. Start with your daily routine, improve your patterns and lead by example.

CHANGEMAKER CHALLENGE

  • Beginner: Take a look to the #30Days4theClimate campaign, select 5 challenges that you want to commit to for the next month, and share it with your friends and family. You can submit your commitments at Count Us In and track your progress.
  • Intermediate: Take a look at ISeeChange or OPENAQ, two citizen science platforms. How can these tools help you engage more deeply in your community, reconnect with the nature that surrounds you, or support you in promoting citizen participation?
  • Advanced: Think about a situation that can be improved at a place you frequent often: your school, place of work, household, etc. What individual and collective actions could you take to implement a more sustainable lifestyle and a better connection to nature? Can you identify who could be your potential partners? Contact them and find a chance to co-create!

OPTIONAL MATERIALS

REFLECTION CORNER

After watching the module’s video, reflect on the following questions:

  • What social and/or environmental causes and solutions do you know of that have been led by citizens? How did they start? What have they achieved?
  • You probably are not the only one in your community that wants change. Can you think of neighbors/friends/family to join you in your journey?

FACILITATOR

JULIANA GUTIERREZ
FOUNDER LOW CARBON CITY
COLOMBIA

Juliana Gutierrez is co-founder and director of Low Carbon City, a citizen-led global movement working to tackle climate change in cities. She has focused her career in international cooperation for development and sustainability. She is an Echoing Green Climate Change Fellow, and an Ashoka fellow. Juliana loves cycling around the city and karaoke.