Go with the grain
1. Design your project around existing passions, networks and schedules
Groups and networks within the village are powerful routes into your community. They take time and effort to build, so make the most of those that already exist. The local WI group, the village council, or even something as informal as a gardening group can be excellent vehicles for your project. At Cambo’s local school, for instance, keeping pigs and chickens provides the children with learning opportunities, and food too, while supportive local vets provide free or low-cost treatment to the animals.
People with full-time jobs can probably only make evening or weekend meetings, but a morning coffee meet-up may suit those with children at home or older members of the community. And tune into the cycles of community life. People meet up less in the cold dark winter months, especially in rural areas, but they might be tempted out by a mulled wine evening. In the summer, try a BBQ or tree-planting day.
Open meetings don’t have to be held behind closed doors. If you arrange something in the local pub, for instance, people feel more relaxed and can easily eavesdrop at the bar. That means there’s a good chance of involving them passively (at first), and so drawing in some of the more ‘unusual suspects’.
Find your advocates
Some people are always keener than others to take up new ideas. A ‘pass-it-on’ approach can help tap into the power of peer-to-peer communication.
2. Make the most of those who want to get stuck in
In any group there will be some people who are keener than others to take up new ideas. Make the most of them, whether they’re ‘keen greens’, technology buffs or just the kind who like getting stuck into new stuff.
Use their stories and their experiences to help others understand what you’re trying to do. A ‘pass-it-on’ approach can help tap into the power of peer-to-peer communication. Can you create opportunities for others to tell the story of the project and pass on information?
People who’ve got used to using an energy monitor themselves, for example, may be best placed to pass them on to their neighbours and get them to give it a try. Understanding who trusts whom is a great help when trying to reach across communities.
Be collaborative, not prescriptive
It's important that people in your community feel they can take ownership of a project.
3. Share ownership and tap into passions
From the outset, it’s important that the people in your community feel they are contributing to the direction of the project. Let them, with your help, call the shots. Run sessions to gather their ideas about what they would like to do and try to build a project that cuts across different motivations.
Some people are driven by saving money, while for others it may be the opportunity to do something new, fun or fulfilling, such as beekeeping or growing food. You may be surprised by people’s ideas, but go with it; it’s really important to build up enthusiasm and excitement for the project.
Beware of getting stuck on tricky subjects. People can be very sensitive if you try to tackle car use in a rural community, for instance. If you feel this is the case, build up trust by focusing first on areas where people are more ready to take action. You can return to some of the tougher issues once you’ve got a bit of momentum.
Remember, too, that it may be something you hadn’t expected that puts people off – like fear of the mess the builders might make outweighing the financial attractions of loft insulation.
Communicate and share
Keeping the community up to date with news and progress can help maintain enthusiasm for a project.
4. Keep in touch and bring it to life
Keep your community up to date with news and progress by using a mix of the different channels at your disposal. Some people read newsletters, others keep an eye on noticeboards or the village website, and others prefer a chat on the doorstep. A local email list may work well – and don’t forget opportunities like Facebook and Twitter.
But don’t just broadcast information to your community – encourage conversation and debate. Respond to issues as the project develops and work with your community to deal with them together.
Bring things to life by making them visual. Whatever you are trying to explain or suggest, use images and film wherever possible. Thermal imaging, for instance, is a great way to dramatise how homes leak heat. And seeking help from people with an interest in photography or film could be a way of getting them involved.
Bring things to life by telling real stories. They are usually the most powerful way to bring home what can be done. ‘Did you know Sally saved £200 by switching off her towel rail?’ is a much more persuasive message than simply ‘Switch off your towel rail.’
Sell the solution, not the product. Not everyone loves new technology, and not everyone loves change, but more people will embrace new ideas if they can see the solution they offer. Take loft insulation, for example. It’s fairly boring in itself – but making an old house cosy for Christmas is something that people really do desire.
It can take time to set up a new project - especially if you are new to the community.
5. Be patient - change takes time
If you are already a trusted member of the community, you are likely to find it easier to set up a project like this. If you are new to a community, it will take more time. But either way, people don’t change overnight. Be patient, keep going and keep being collaborative.
Be patient for those who take a little longer than others, and don’t be disheartened if there are some in your community who don’t want to get involved at all. Work with what you’ve got, be positive, and the others will start to prick up their ears and get interested.
People & Places Stories from two low carbon villages (PDF / 1.9MB) download