In 2021, Involve embarked on a three-year project to work with a coalition of public engagement experts to build the capacity of local authorities in England to embed widespread, high quality, inclusive public engagement on climate change in local communities. The Foundation will contribute with a £250,000 grant.
This project will establish sustainable infrastructure for public engagement to ensure that the UK can reach its climate goals, including the commitment to achieve net zero carbon by 2050, and that it does so in a way that is fair and that empowers communities to fulfil their potential. Moreover, this project will be a prototype for such a model with the potential to scale internationally, supporting public engagement at the local government level in other countries. Building capacity and infrastructure for public engagement at a local authority level has been identified as a key priority for the Citizen Engagement on Climate programme, therefore this grant is intended to be a flagship project for the programme.
We believe that local authorities are ideally placed to engage the full diversity of local populations, ensuring that they are heard and that transitions to a net zero future are both fair, and tackle existing inequities and injustices. They have a key role to play in helping to create the empowered and vibrant net zero communities of the future. To date in England, nearly 300 of 343 councils have declared climate emergencies. Several of those have gone on to experiment with citizens’ assemblies or other deliberative and participatory methods to engage their local populations in the change that needs to happen – some are still working out their approach. There is an immediate opportunity to build on this momentum to embed public engagement on climate change in English local government – an essential step to achieving the UK’s climate target, and doing so in a way that is fair and that empowers communities to fulfil their potential.
Alongside this opportunity, there is also an immediate need to manage some of the risks presented by the rapid increase in local authority-led public engagement on climate change, including around quality, capacity and skills, and ensuring engagement is truly inclusive. There is an opportunity to tackle a root cause of injustice, by ensuring local authorities hear from, understand and work with those most at risk to shape their strategies, policies and practice.
Involve’s project will include working with a national network of local authorities to communicate the importance of public engagement in embedding climate action, and building the capacity of local authority organisations to employ deliberative and participatory methods effectively, such as World Cafes, Future Search, Citizens’ Assemblies, Citizens’ Juries, Community Organising and Crowdsourcing. The engagement could be about any aspect of the path to net zero, or climate change adaptation. The project will also help local authorities complement these initiatives with wider communications work to increase their reach and impact.