Any community project needs good liaison between the various different individuals, organisations and groups which are typically involved – and community-based energy schemes are certainly no different. One of the key factors in their success lies in keeping all the interested parties informed, involved and focused on the same issues.
These days whenever any new initiative is being discussed we often hear a lot about “stakeholders” and “ownership”, but when it comes to energy saving, they are more that simply buzz-words. Identifying who your stakeholders are, and ensuring that they feel that they really do “own” the project can make all the difference.
Who Are Your Stakeholders?
It is important to remember at the outset that everyone in your community is a stakeholder – even if they choose not to get directly involved. However, it is not only about the people who live in your area. Anyone – whether a person or organisation – who may be affected by the project can be seen as a stakeholder.
This can be a surprisingly broad group and as well as those who will be affected directly, includes people who have an opinion on how things should develop, or represent some other interest group or point of view.
Obviously, the likes of shops, schools, the local church and other community groups should all feature. When you’re drawing up your stakeholder list, try to be as inclusive as you can.
For one thing, a “community” project really ought to be as representative of that community as possible and in addition, bringing these kinds of schemes to fruition usually calls for a lot of local support. Stakeholders are much less likely to help out if they feel they have been forgotten or unfairly excluded.
Community stakeholders need to be motivated to participate – particularly if the project isn’t something that holds particular personal interest for them. However passionate you are about the whole idea, there’s no escaping the fact that getting involved can take a great deal of time and effort – and nine times out of ten, the work is going to be unpaid.
Getting everyone together and keeping them informed is one of the single most important parts of ensuring that the scheme will be well supported – and being able to liaise well between various stakeholders is vital to maintaining that support over the lifetime of the project.
The most successful community energy initiatives are the ones which are “stakeholder-friendly” – so it’s certainly worthwhile to go out of your way to engage as many parts of the wider community as you can. Improving the benefits that people feel they will get from being involved – even if that simply means having their voices heard – strengthens the project, and keeps everyone happy.
The easier you make it for stakeholders to participate, the more you’ll find they will. Taking into account the competing demands almost everyone has on their time these days, and accommodating the special needs of particular groups or sectors in the community – such as young people, the elderly or the disabled – will all help boost the number of people able to join in.
Something as obvious as making information readily available through a range of channels can make a huge difference – nobody can participate if they don’t know what’s going on!
Although effective liaison often involves meetings with one or all of the local community stakeholders, it can also be done less formally particularly by telephone or online. However, while this can increase participation for some, do be sensitive to the fact that others may not have internet access or be sufficiently computer-literate to benefit from this approach, so simply posting information on a project website may not be enough.
It is also worth remembering that not everyone feels comfortable speaking in public, so some members of the community may not voice their opinions in big meetings. Try to organise smaller informal stakeholder gatherings, energy surgeries and exhibitions if you can, to give as many people as possible the chance to make their feelings known.
Liaising with the community stakeholders has to be viewed from the outset as one of the single most important aspects of the overall venture – and it is one which can make such a difference. In the long run, the more stakeholders feel involved in “their” project, the more likely the whole thing is to succeed.