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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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?
Examples of created spaces can be a street party or community gathering to raise awareness of an issue (see module 13 for an example).
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?
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.
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.
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.
After watching the module’s video, reflect on the following questions:
FOUNDER LOW CARBON CITY
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.