10 tips for successful community led action

28 June 2021

As part of Community Energy England’s Community Energy Fortnight, CSE developed ten components of effective community-led action.

Keith Hempshall created the list said "At the heart of this is our belief that community-led action is fundamental to tackling the climate emergency, and that there is a direct need for more diverse voices in the sector and beyond. We hope people find our selection of tips inspiring and will feel empowered to take action and create meaningful change within their communities."

What do you think of our choice? Let us know if you have any to add - tweet them to @cse_communities ...

1) Local issues matter
People are highly motivated by what happens in their local area and community-led action needs to take account of local contexts and priorities. Successful action pulls in the same direction as other local initiatives and delivers co-benefits to the community like cleaner, safer streets, local training, jobs, improved green spaces, etc.

2) Building capabilities
All communities have assets. Activities that start with what a community has or can do mobilises the strengths and abilities already present, and from here new capabilities can be developed. These could include climate literacy as well other skills such as convening, leadership, or even technical skills. Building capabilities and enabling communities to learn contributes towards sustainability at individual and collective levels.

3) Draw on external support
To enable communities to make the most of their assets and strengths, it’s often necessary to draw in external support, particularly where technical skills are required, and supportive external partners can normally be found. But external partners shouldn't bring with them preconceptions about what should happen, and should be managed in such a way that decision making and leadership remains with the community.

4) Recognise the wider ecosystem
Action happens within complex systems made up of people, informal groups, local organisations, public sector services, businesses and a wide range of formal and informal networks. The relationships between these groups are central to defining how communities work. Effective community-led action supports and builds on these relationships, recognising them as the key infrastructure.

5) Be inclusive and enabling
Activities and decision making should be as inclusive as possible and recognise different people's abilities to participate. Co-production doesn't mean that everyone has to be involved in everything, but meaningful steps are needed to ensure that community-led projects don’t replicate exclusions or barriers experienced by key groups.

6) Risk and success narratives
How a community responds to the potential for community-led action will be influenced by their previous experiences of similar initiatives. Once a successful project has been delivered, communities are more receptive to opportunities for future projects. Evidence suggests that this is partly about identity and ‘being the sort of place’ where this kind of action happens, and with this in mind it's important that successes - no matter how small they may seem - are communicated and celebrated as a project proceeds.

7) Realism and meaningful action 
The strength of community-led climate action is as much about its ability to engage, enthuse and educate as it is about reducing emissions. However, in our experience action does need to be meaningful and realistic and efforts must translate into measurable impact. Measuring carbon impact and savings is a common example of support needed by community groups; when groups get this right, they are able to communicate and validate their impact to local and national decision makers.

8) Communication
Community led action requires an understanding of the many different ways that people in a community communicate with each other. There are many different ways that communities use to stay in touch. Examples include Facebook or Next Door, the parish magazine or the notice board at the local shop, in a face to face in the community centre or in the street. The digitalisation of local communication has seen a stepchange since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, with communities needing to find safe ways to keep in touch and to help each other.

9) Work with trusted local anchors and intermediaries
Intermediaries, even informal ones, can strengthen place-based community-led action and improve the ability of initiatives to attract wide local support. Intermediary organisations need to be seen as legitimate and to have a recognised local role; they should be trusted and representative of a cross-section of the community – not only of one group.

10) Recognise climate injustice
Low-income households and communities are low emitters whose actions have only minimally contributed to the climate emergency. Yet through living in poorer housing and in areas of low air quality, they are at significantly greater risk from the impacts of climate change - both physical and economic. It is therefore critical that low-income communities’ are seen to benefit from the changes that tackling the climate emergency requires, for example changes to our energy and transport systems, and not subject to further demands to reduce their already low emissions. Community-led action needs to recognise climate injustice, but not necessarily be constrained by it.

Keith added "Using an array of skills and tools CSE continues to support communities to design, develop and bring to life their own climate projects. But most importantly we always bring a willingness to listen to communities and support them to galvanise, strengthen and lead, because - as the past few years have shown - the power lies with the people."

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