7 principles for climate engagement

Earlier this year, members of the Climate Access team (through our consulting wing Social Capital Strategies) partnered with the Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA) to identify and evaluate climate engagement models that could help advance municipal climate action in Canada's largest city. TEA's Dusha Sritharan shares insights from the project, including a tip sheet on best practices in climate engagement. 

Without public support, green policies aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. In recent years, a number of low carbon policies have been eroded because they’ve lacked strong public support.

For example, the Transit City Plan was scrapped when policy-makers failed to communicate the benefits of light rail transit and engage Toronto residents. Now, as the City looks to develop a new climate change plan and the province introduces a cap and trade program, we urgently need to build public support to ensure their success.

This has led TEA to learn more about how we can effectively engage people on climate change in the city. Thanks to a grant from the Toronto Atmospheric Fund, TEA worked in partnership with Social Capital Strategies (SCS) to develop a number of case studies that looked at some of the most effective approaches to engaging people on climate change. TEA conducted interviews with campaigners from eleven different organizations across North America to gain insights that could be applied in the Toronto context.

Based on our research, TEA worked with SCS to distill these research findings into seven climate engagement design principles that act as best practices for engaging the public to build support for a low carbon future. Each principle highlights the importance of various methods and tools for engaging people including participatory design and values-based messaging.

These principles have helped generate successful campaign outcomes for the organizations that have been applying them. While these design principles showcase best practices, it is important to recognize that they must be adapted to the specific organization or community where they will be tested.

Through TEA’s work, we have already learned a great deal about engaging people on environmental issues. Using the design principles, TEA will test and evaluate some of these practices to help build greater support for action on climate change in Toronto. In part, these principles will help inform how to engage a more diverse base of support for climate change issues.

Over the next few months, TEA will be working with community partners across Toronto to test the design principles through three smaller pilot projects. Our work will directly focus on creating dialogues in the community to think about the impacts of climate change on our City. Through these projects we hope to build greater support for action, and also share what we learn.

We know that for transformative actions to take place, we need to bring together residents, community groups and community leaders. By sharing these principles, we hope that the insights we have gained will also be helpful for the many groups that are working to create a low carbon future.

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