Although many learnings were shared between the six CNI islands, each island’s story and experience is unique. This is influenced by the varying size, natural resources, culture, and location of these communities. Existing projects and networks, before CNI, also played a significant role in community engagement.
Focus on community needs
Decarbonisation projects and efforts need to target issues that communities care about, rather than solely carbon-reduction goals. Focusing on the needs and priorities of the local community is key, for example improved access to public transport or reduced fuel poverty. Presenting decarbonisation as an opportunity to address these issues is likely to be more beneficial, effective, and popular. On one island, positive social and environmental outcomes were achieved by delivering home energy monitors, helping households to reduce electricity consumption (and therefore carbon emissions) and save money.
Use local data
It is important to produce local datasets, by going out and talking to people. Where possible, door-to-door household surveys gather specific data and additionally raise awareness of the project, resulting in greater community buy-in. Local data, particularly regarding islands, will be more accurate and valuable than
scaled regional or national data. This data can then be used multiple times including in grant applications and in communications.
Adapt communication to the local context
The best method of communication will vary depending on the demographics in the community. Social media can be valuable but printed communications can be more accessible to some individuals. Most of the time, a combined approach of using different channels to communicate information is preferred. It is often a good idea to make use of existing media outlets such as local newspapers and community social media pages, which already have an audience.
In-person engagement: a key to community support
In-person engagement and public events are extremely important to create good relationships with community members. Where third parties are involved, it was noted that there was greater community support when individuals met local people in person, compared to online meetings as this demonstrated commitment from external parties. Collaborating with partners and other organisations in the local area can help ensure greater turn out at events, get more people involved and forge new relationships.
Public presence, an enabler for further engagement
Having a public presence, for example having an office space in a public building, can create casual engagement and allows people to easily approach the project officer to share ideas and feedback. However, it is necessary to find a balance between being accessible and making sure that topics raised remain relevant to the project.
Use local expertise
Some island communities had existing groups and projects which had a decarbonisation element. It is important to have a clear understanding of these, as well as local knowledge and skills to avoid duplication and ensure alignment. Getting involved with existing projects and utilising existing capacity saves resources, ensures that the best interests of the community are being represented and helps gain trust. For example, if using contractors, prioritising local companies and tradespeople is preferable when possible.
Carbon Neutral Barra & Vatersay