Greenovate Boston: A case study in stakeholder engagement

Greenovate Boston: A case study in stakeholder engagement

Stakeholder engagement is an important tool for involving people in the design and implementation of decisions that affect them. This is especially true in the field of climate planning, which requires extensive action from public and private sector leaders to overcome organizational silos and build support for solutions.  This year, international sustainability firm Meister Consultants Group assisted the City of Boston to design and implement the Greenovate Boston Community Climate Summit, a community-driven movement to get all Bostonians involved in reducing the city’s greenhouse gas emissions. MCG’s Neil Veilleux, Christina Becker-Birck and Kathryn Wright talked to Climate Access about the event, and how they build successful stakeholder engagement events.

Can you describe the framework you use when developing stakeholder engagement strategies with your clients?

We work with clients at the outset of a project to define what success will look like at the end of the stakeholder engagement process. This could include the total number or range of participants, as well as the quality or quantity of feedback collected. Because the needs of clients and communities are always different, the model is dynamic; however, there are some key components of a successful engagement process that are common in our work:

Implementing a transparent process that actively engages stakeholders.
Ensuring that the process is flexible, so that we can respond to new findings and realities as they arise. 
Clarifying facts so that discussions can proceed from a point of mutual understanding.
Leveraging input from subject-matter experts, so that stakeholders can clarify points of differences.
Getting buy-in from local community leaders who can help drive the process forward.

Because every community is different, we often adapt the process or emphasize some elements over another to address the unique needs of our clients. 

What was the purpose of Greenovate Boston Community Climate Summit in terms of reaching the city’s climate goals?

To develop the 2014 update to its climate action plan, the City of Boston wanted to engage a broad range of stakeholders, moving beyond the usual suspects typically engaged in climate planning. In support of this goal, MCG provided the City with technical assistance to design and implement the Greenovate Boston Community Climate Summit.

The summit was structured around a series of Innovation Sessions, which were highly interactive, 60-minute workshops developed and selected by conference participants themselves in advance of the summit. Innovation Sessions
allowed community members to provide direct input into the plan’s content. Conference participants voted online to determine what climate topics were most relevant to their neighborhoods. Innovation Session workshops were then led by local community leaders and covered a wide range of topics – including community solar, food planning, zoning and tax policies for resiliency, zero waste strategies and climate activism, among others.

In parallel to the summit, four working groups were established that included a range of local leaders and experts in Boston: those working in disadvantaged neighborhoods, experts on future scenario planning, elected officials, climate and water experts – all of whom worked together to further develop recommended action items for inclusion in the climate action plan.

Who was your target audience/stakeholders?

The event sought to engage many individuals and groups that typically aren’t involved in local climate planning processes, including high school students, health and environmental officials, local neighborhood community groups, businesses, residents and state policymakers. There was a wide range in attendees in terms of age and expertise. All participants received a briefing from the Chief of Environment and Energy as well as local community leaders on the latest climate impacts in the city, as well as ongoing initiatives. The event also featured activities for children and families.

Was the event largely discussion-based, or were there other activities or events that allowed people to engage and share ideas?

The event featured three interactive keynotes from leaders in climate, sustainability and energy in Boston. The audience had the ability to ask questions and respond to the speakers through a smart phone-enabled digital engagement tool. Attendees could also submit their ideas via pen and paper or post them on an idea wall.

In the afternoon, attendees participated in small group discussions at the Innovation Sessions. Additionally, there was a Marketplace of Ideas that featured local, innovative businesses and community groups that were active in addressing climate issues in the city. For example, this included energy efficiency businesses, utilities, food planning groups, recycling organizations and many others.

Outside of the event, residents of Boston could participate in four strategy committees, which continued to refine strategies for the climate action plan after the summit. Attendees were also engaged through social media as well as focused neighborhood workshops. The city plans to release a draft plan for public comment in the late fall.

In what ways was the Greenovate Boston Community Summit a success?

The summit met and exceeded attendance goals, attracting over 500 people throughout the day and engaging many more through online voting and social media. A truly diverse group of people actively engaged city leaders on climate planning issues.

The real measure of success is how participant feedback is being integrated into the plan and influencing next steps. The city is actively working with suggestions from the Summit and the strategy committees in its climate action plan draft. We expect to see some great initiatives emerge from the city that have strong support and commitment from key business, non-profit and policy organizations around the state.

-Climate planning is multi-disciplinary, and thus requires active participation from a variety of stakeholders and disciplines, such as economic development, public health and energy policy to name a few.

-Joint-fact finding and education are important to develop a robust dialogue process. Stakeholders must have a clear understanding of the issues and how they interact to develop a meaningful climate plan.

-Understanding community drivers is necessary to frame compelling messages, create meaningful solutions, and create the political and institutional support to succeed. For example, it is often necessary to connect climate change with health, energy and economic development issues in order to develop broad coalition of support.


image via (cc) flickr Werner Kunz