Picture the scene: you’ve designed the perfect community climate project. You’ve applied for the funding, you’ve got the ideas, and you’re ready to go – but your community just isn’t getting involved. What’s going on?
Climate change is not just an environmental issue; it’s a human one. To understand everything from why people choose options that they know are less ‘green’ to why they might shut down and stop listening when we tell them how bad things are, we need to understand human psychology.
Workshop on Behaviour Change – Newtown, 7th September
The Egin team was thrilled to be invited to facilitate a workshop for recipients of the Sustainable Steps Wales: Climate Action Grants (funded by Dormant Assets and administered by The National Lottery Community Fund) on the 7th of September in Hafan yr Afon, Newtown, Powys. The Climate Action Grants were grants up to £350,000 that address climate change in communities and help people live in a more sustainable way.
The workshop focused on how to encourage behaviour change in our communities. We first heard from Jasmine Dale, an Egin Facilitator and Peer Mentor who has worked on several community projects. Jasmine also lived on an off-grid community for several years and used her story to illustrate the ways in which behaviours can drastically change overnight – often in ways we might not think we were capable of.
We then had a workshop by Jessica Kleczka, a climate psychologist, educator who focuses on climate change communication, and one of our Egin Peer Mentors. Jessica talked to us about the importance of understanding human psychology, including the fight/flight/freeze response, when we talk about climate change and try to engage people in our projects. Participants had the chance to break out into small groups and compare notes on their own projects – reflecting on the main challenges for getting people involved and what they had found useful in driving behaviour change.
Through comparing experiences, it was clear that projects across Wales face the same issues – for example, it can be difficult to engage people in climate projects because they don’t have the time, energy or resources to get involved, they might not understand the issues enough or feel that it’s relevant to them, and it can also be difficult to get people to feel confident enough to try new things. It is also vital to remember that asking the most marginalised members of society to help ‘fix’ a problem that they have done little to create is very unfair – which is why it is so important to think about how we frame the issue, and what we’re asking from people.
Encouraging Behaviour Change
So how can we encourage people to change their behaviours, to get involved in climate projects, or to start something new? Here are five small tips that come from discussion on the day as well as established behaviour change and climate communication research:
- Tell positive stories: Humans are wired to respond to narratives. Sharing stories of real people making positive changes in their lives or communities can inspire others to do the same. When we hear that climate change is terrible and it’s too late to do anything, we generally shut down and want to avoid thinking about it.
- Encourage ownership: Allow the community to be part of creating and designing projects so that they feel a sense of ownership. Nobody wants to be told what to do. People are more likely to support initiatives they have a say in, and they want to feel that it’s relevant to their lives and communities.
- Offer feedback and Rewards: Provide feedback on progress and recognise and rewarding sustainable behaviours can reinforce positive change – for example, a “green challenge” rather than shaming or punishing people for “bad” behaviour.
- Use social influence: Behaviour change often happens as a ripple effect. When one person starts doing something differently, others are more likely to follow suit. Identify the people with influence in your communities – we’re not talking about social media influencers with thousands of followers, but about people that are generally well respected and liked in their communities.
- Be clear: Provide straightforward, actionable information. People are more likely to take steps toward sustainability when they understand what to do and why it matters. Avoid jargon and present information in a concise, user-friendly manner.
And one more tip – make it fun! A lot of our groups discussed the importance of bringing their communities together through food, music and general connecting. Having a sense of community is a core need for most people, but many of us don’t feel a deep sense of belonging within our communities. If we want people to care about their communities and be part of our projects, we need to make sure we help to build up that sense of community in the first place. And of course, people are more likely to want to turn up to something that feels fun and rewarding.
Connect and Share
If you want to connect with other community groups, charities and non-profit organisations who are working on climate change and sustainability across Wales, sign up to join our free Egin Online Community at http://egin.community. You’ll have access to useful resources, discussion groups and regular online meetups where you can discuss what’s happening in your own community climate projects, share ideas and advice, and get inspired by what other groups are doing. You don’t have to be receiving support through the Egin Peer Mentoring programme to join.