A guest blog from Helen Steiger, Alumna of the MSc Environmental Technology at Imperial College London.
Today (31st October) is World Cities Day – a day designed to promote awareness and collaboration in order to address challenges and offer solutions concerning urbanisation. Cities offer some of the most exciting and innovative solutions to many climate-related issues. With an increasing proportion of global citizens residing within the urban landscape, decreasing the urban climate impact and becoming more resilient to climate change is a priority. The urban area is also becoming a powerful force when trialling new initiatives to mitigate and adapt to climate change, with the ability to act independently of (and often beyond) the nation-state government and implement impactful change. The city is therefore a key focus for implementing change, and can help to mainstream change throughout other national and international settings.
In order for cities to enact change, and in order for it to become ‘mainstream’ and accepted within society, citizen engagement is crucial. Key decision makers will not have the political will to act on climate issues if citizens do not demand it. Furthermore, any change enacted will not be accepted if citizens do not understand the benefit these changes can bring to their daily life.
The Research Project
As part of my Master’s thesis over summer, I sought to explore how change can be normalised within the urban environment by increasing citizen engagement. The project was in collaboration with the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, a renowned intercity network designed to encourage climate action via collaboration and sharing learnings. C40 are aware of the problems that can arise if citizen engagement is neglected. However, their knowledge is limited when considering what strategies can be employed in order to effectively engage citizens in impactful urban climate action.
The study focused on identifying effective strategies to increase positive engagement with urban climate action throughout the urban population. One of the key questions addressed was ‘How do we ensure such a diverse group of people (with multiple beliefs, values and attitudes) support large-scale change, and accept it when it is implemented?’ In order to answer this question, interviews were carried out with numerous, highly-regarded communication experts. Key strategies were then identified which could be applied across multiple urban contexts.
From analysis, numerous strategies were identified that can be of use when seeking to engage citizens in this manner. Looking across all strategies, two key themes are present that have particular relevance to the upcoming 6heads event “Unlock the Impossible – How to mainstream change through community and collaboration”.
Bringing a sense of belonging to the issues of climate change and their solutions is vital if action is to be undertaking willingly. Framing issues within the values, beliefs and motivations of urban communities can help citizens to realise their relationship with an issue that can often seem distant in both time and space. Communicating climate action by creating a unified, positive vision of the future is also vital. In short, framing action within a community’s priorities to create a community engaged in climate action is vital in order to enact large-scale, meaningful change.
Although citizen engagement is important, it will not tackle the vast, complex problems concerning climate change in isolation. In order for impactful change to be enacted, collaboration across all sectors of urban society is vital, with all actors positively involved in identifying problems and employing innovative solutions. Citizen engagement should be encouraged alongside engagement from the private sector, political sector and all other powers within the urban society. Only then can change be long-lasting and benefit all stakeholders.
Overall, findings from the research project reiterate the importance of community and collaboration as effective forces to bring about long-lasting, meaningful change. Cities are a key site for new strategies that embody these values to be trialled, and can help to mainstream change throughout the rest of the country and world.
6heads believe that positive change happens when people meet and share ideas. We’d like to invite you to join us on 20th November for an event to explore and co-create this theme – to see if together we can #unlocktheimpossible.
Places are limited – please do register here.