Why bother with co-production?
22nd June 2022
Suzanne Wilson is the Chief Executive at Lockleaze Neighbourhood Trust who are one of six community partners involved in the Community Climate Action project. In this blog she outlines how vital it is to involve communities in creating change.
Each community climate action plan is unique based on the community that has produced it. They have considered networks and solutions that fit with the assets, opportunities and challenges in their community. However, climate change is driven by transport, energy consumption (particularly heat), the stuff that we consume and waste, food and other things we spend our money on. At a high level the six Community Climate Action plans look very similar, and arguably we could have written them without all the messy and time-consuming co-production stuff. So why bother?
Creating meaningful change
At Lockleaze Neighborhood Trust our mission is to ‘support residents to achieve positive change for themselves and their community’.
We know that if change is to be meaningful and lasting then it needs to involve the people experiencing the change in creating it. We know that if you do things to or for people you are teaching them helplessness and creating a culture of dependency on others for solutions and action. If you are doing things with them, or supporting them to do things for themselves, then you are teaching them problem solving and resilience and creating conditions for successful community action, which will be sustained long beyond the lifetime of any project funding. With a topic as complex and challenging as climate change we need agents for change at all levels, and we have to help people unlearn helplessness by encouraging them to participate, design and lead local solutions that form part of a patchwork of action to create lasting change.
At the beginning of our climate action journey, when the Council and Bristol Green Capital Partnership were setting up a process of supporting communities to co-produce climate action plans, many expert individuals and organisations from across Bristol wondered why instead of six communities having conversations and action about energy, or transport – did we not just have a session about each of those things centrally and get people to come to it? But those of us from community organisations knew that to successfully engage ‘hard to reach’ communities, you need to meet people where they are at, not in the centre where some people are both geographically and financially excluded. Trusted local community organisations can successfully facilitate brokering conversations with experts.
There is clearly a role for experts to support any climate action, to effectively target action, to determine its efficacy and to learn from existing approaches. That said, nothing can kill creativity and enthusiasm faster than someone who tells you your ideas are wrong, won’t work, and they know better. If that’s the case, people will leave it to the experts and we’ll all miss out on the creative and resourceful ideas and solutions that communities come up with. What was most helpful in co-producing our climate action plan was the combination of our carbon footprint report provided by the Centre for Sustainable Energy, which gave us a sense of scale and opportunity, along with opportunities for small scale action and bringing people together to get them talking about what they could do and what next. For example, it was at our clothes swap that residents said we could host a toy swap before Christmas and set about planning it amongst themselves.
After the first draft of our climate action plan, Bristol Green Capital Partnership organised a gathering of experts from different themes to review and give feedback on our proposals. This was a really helpful way to encourage ideas we had come up with, tell us where we could look for good examples and further support, and where we could think more ambitiously than presently described. We needed the incubation in our communities before we felt confident for this scrutiny, but when it came it was invaluable in providing focus and colour to our ideas, particularly our demonstrator project on nature and rewilding Lockleaze which we are keen to take forward with Avon Wildlife Trust and Bristol City Council.
Lockleaze Neighbourhood Trust are one of six community organisations who have been co-producing Community Climate Action plans over the past year. Come along to our event on Wednesday 15 June 1.30-3pm to find out how to apply their learning in your own community.