When I’m confronted with a big decision in my life, whether it’s about my career, a relationship, housing, or money, I go to my trusted circle for advice. I know that my parents, sisters, friends, and colleagues will all have valuable perspectives and wisdom that can help me make my decision. We invest in relationships to maintain a support network of people we trust and value, who will give us their insights and feedback so that hard decisions are easier to make.

It might not seem like it at first, but the same thing is key for planning community engagement in energy efficiency work. Building trusted relationships, especially with community organizations and individuals who have been underrepresented in energy planning, will help make hard energy decisions easier. Calling only on people with specific education or experience in energy efficiency will discount a lot of valuable perspective and insight.

It is critical for local governments, organizations, nonprofits, and others to understand the people they serve and impact. It is also critical to understand the systemic ways that our implicit biases may affect how we serve and impact our communities. One of the first critical steps in community engagement is getting to know the people in the community and listening deeply to their lived experiences, priorities, and challenges.

Historically, people with low incomes, racial and ethnic minorities, youth, elderly people, people with disabilities, single-parent households, people who are displaced, and immigrants have been underrepresented or left out of decision-making processes. To achieve climate justice and equity, those who are most impacted need to have power and influence in envisioning and planning climate mitigation. This will lead to more lasting, just, and sustainable outcomes.

Further, it’s not enough to just want to engage marginalized groups. Because marginalized groups have historically been overlooked or omitted during engagement plans, it takes resources, time, and a lot of consideration to have meaningful turnout and participation.

Spectrum of Community Engagement to Ownership by Rosa Gonzalez
Rosa González of Facilitating Power created the Spectrum of Community Engagement to Ownership


If you want to hear people’s priorities, concerns, and insights, you’ll need to think about what times and venues are convenient for them, what kind of media they consume and how you might reach them, whether English is their first language or if you’ll need interpreters, whether they’ll need childcare support, and more.

To help towns, cities, and organizations meaningfully engage community members around climate mitigation/energy efficiency planning, we have created a new module for our Community Action Planning for Energy Efficiency (CAPEE) tool. This tool will help local governments and organizations decide what type of engagement is necessary, clarify and communicate the decision-making process, market and plan engagement events to get the highest turnout, and center equity throughout the whole process.

Here are some suggestions to consider when planning an inclusive event:

  • Multilingual outreach (and offering interpreters, if necessary)
  • Using community-based venues that are familiar to residents, physically accessible, and near public transportation
  • Using a combination of virtual and in-person tools, following inclusive practices for virtual engagement
  • Considering reimbursements for travel, compensation for involvement, on-site childcare, or food if your event is during a meal time
  • Making all events, outreach materials, presentations, and forms accessible to those with physical disabilities

We hope that this tool will help local governments and organizations realize some of their equity goals, starting with rethinking networks of experience and perspective as well as the process of engaging people.

To read more about this topic or to learn more about CAPEE, sign up for the tool here.

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