Engagement with the local community is a vital part of any community energy project. Without strong support from people living in the local area it is difficult for any project to be successful.
Community engagement is most effective when it starts early in the project and progresses via an on-going cumulative process. This allows relationships and trust to build as the project progresses and allows community members to genuinely participate.
This section will briefly introduce several of the areas that should be considered when thinking about community engagement and provide links to resources for more details and information.
Overall aims and objectives
A natural starting point is to decide what you want to achieve from the project. For example -
"The aim of this project is to develop a community owned solar PV installation on a community building, with part ownership of the installation by the local community group"
The next step would be to establish how and why you want to engage with the community and what outcomes you expect from an engagement plan. For example -
"The aim of the community engagement project is to raise awareness of the project and collect feedback from the community on the plans"
There is detailed guidance for communities and developers on expanding these ideas in the links provided below.
All communities are made up of a broad range of stakeholders and it is important to identify who they are and who could be positively or negatively affected by the project. It is good practice to identify these early and include them in the initial project plan. Groups may include -
- Residents of the area unaffiliated with any groups
- Existing residents groups or area based groups
- Faith based groups
- Cultural groups
- Local community or voluntary groups
- Web based or virtual groups
It is important to understand how each of these groups might be affected by the project and consider using a tailored approach for each group.
Approaches to engagement and communication
Different approaches to engagement are more suitable at different stages of the project and there are a wide range of methods used. Below are a few suggested approaches to engagement -
Local TV and radio campaigns - this method is likely to reach a large number of people quickly. This is due to the higher cost of this engagement approach. It must be carefully considered as part of a wider, more targeted campaign.
Leafleting and flyers - direct targeting of houses ensures that people in specific areas receive relevant information. Leafleting is often useful early in a project to raise awareness but does not allow two-way dialogue.
Newsletters - these can be created monthly, bi-monthly or quarterly and provided either via paper copy or e-mail.
Community surveys - these can be used to gauge the needs and views of a large number of people in the community. This can be useful for obtaining quantitative data and encouraging people to engage with a project.
Public meetings - enables large numbers of people to have their say and provides an open forum for people to receive information and gather feedback in return. Meetings can demonstrate that a project has taken into account people's views and enables participants to develop networks and discuss ideas with other members of the community.
Community mapping - maps and photographs of an area are particularly useful for renewable energy developments. It enables people to visualise the final project, explore issues, build consensus and identify areas of conflict.
Web-based engagement - social media and web based engagement is a powerful tool for community engagement. It is cost effective and can encourage a broad range of people to participate due to the lower barrier for entry.
Street stalls - street stands can be a useful tool for engagement in the local community. Stakeholders can often be reluctant to attend public meetings due to time constraints, but will feel more comfortable visiting a stand if one is located close to their home. It allows developers to provide information in a condensed format, collect views and generate further interest.
See the 'Energy Advice Surgeries' section of the Community Energy Efficiency Toolkit for specific information related to delivering energy advice in the community.
Community places have developed a community engagement toolkit which provides guidance on the issues you need to consider when planning and designing your community engagement process.
The Centre For Sustainable Energy (CSE) have written a short guide about different approaches and methods for consulting and engaging with your community. CSE also have models and demonstrator kits that community groups can borrow or hire for events.
BRE National Solar Centre have published a community engagement good practice guide for solar farms.
CSE's PlanLoCal toolkits contain a range of resources for community engagement, including guidance on how to run a community consultation, information on how to develop a strategy and approaches to community-led planning.
Fife Council have produced a resource describing the options for consultation and engagement activities, including examples of how and where they have been used in practice.
Community Energy England have produced a report about fuel poverty and what community energy is doing about it.
Community Energy England have also produced a booklet with compelling infographics taken from the 2017 State of the Sector Report focusing on the social and monetary benefits gained from community energy schemes.
British Academy have produced a research project seeking to identify opportunities that promote, and barriers that inhibit, community energy projects in the UK.