Social innovation should accompany environmental policymaking. Policies will have little effect without the acceptance and understanding of the people directly affected by the changes. Much of the climate change discourse centers on wide-scale economic, social and cultural change – this rhetoric gives people little agency, leaving many feeling alienated.
Policies will have little effect without the acceptance and understanding of the people directly affected by the changes.
Social innovation in the context of the energy transition is a process of change in social interaction and the sharing of knowledge leading to – or based on – new environmentally sustainable ways of producing, managing, and consuming energy that address social challenges. There are many pioneering European cities applying socially innovative approached in local energy transitions with replicable approaches. Based on studies in such cities – the following nine practical recommendations are a red thread for any policy maker to follow when planning and implementing novel energy policies.
Recommendation 1: Build on existing engagement. Pro-environmental dispositions have been found to be important drivers of social innovations in the energy sector. This is the case irrespective of the actor involved, whether a citizen or a NGO. Connecting with individuals or groups with existing environmental engagement or taking a step further and develop environmental engagement in stakeholders is good way to build support.
Recommendation 2: Welcome resistance. People often demonstrate resistance when faced with ambiguity, such as the financial ramifications of a new energy policy. It is important to acknowledge these concerns as valid and to be transparent about associated risks and costs. Identifying hesitant groups and involving them in trial periods and planning, can help alleviate concerns.
Recommendation 3: Be trustworthy. Trust in the abilities and good intentions of stakeholders and decision-makers is a key factor for the acceptability of new policies. A recent study in France indicated very few people deny climate change (irrespective of their social status), but they do not trust institutions to be able to fix it. Participatory processes are a good way to strengthen trust, especially with disadvantaged groups suffering from energy poverty. Giving people opportunities to express concerns and fostering wider dialogue in order to avoid polarisation of opposing groups is important.
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