In four Citizen Action Labs, the DIALOGUES research team joined with citizens and local partners to experiment with new forms of energy citizenship. We found that the CALs – in Germany, Italy, Norway and Switzerland – provided a space and time that encouraged people to perform new ways of engaging in social change, moving beyond the level of individual action (micro-level), to work at the level of collective action (meso-level), and interact with more structural barriers to change at the level of regimes (macro-level), in an energy transition. We provide suggestions on how communities, citizen collectives and policy makers can further support such meso-level action.
When it comes to understanding what role citizens might play in an energy transition, people are often treated as individuals who must change their behaviour, by reducing their energy usage, taking up more efficient technologies, or investing in renewable energies. This represents an individualized approach to understanding how social change might play out. In four Citizen Action Labs (in Germany, Italy, Norway, and Switzerland), the DIALOGUES research team joined with citizens and local partners to work on the energy transition collectively at a meso-level to bring about change.
We found that the meso-level is an important scale of action, which draws from knowledge and experience of micro-level individual practices, and could lead to greater capacity for action to promote macro-level change. People engaged in the CALs did become more aware of their influence, their constitutive role, and developed their own (new) ideas of how to ‘do’ energy collectively, for example, by deciding to join an energy cooperative, organize a demonstration, or propose a climate action plan to their community. They also agreed across all CALs that diversity is central to a just energy transition.
We provide recommendations for further supporting meso-level of engagement: local and regional governments could help create favourable conditions for and give support to collective forms of action by removing administrative and institutional barriers to dialogue between different actors, through town hall meetings and citizens’ assembly for example, or other spaces of exchange. We found that it is critical for citizens to have space (such as public, communal spaces that are easily accessible to all) and time for reflection, imagination, debate, and deliberation on possible and feasible energy futures. This also involves the development and cultivation of skills and competencies for active citizenship: around planning, cooperation, communication, outreach, and taking action, over the long-term.
Author: Marlyne Sahakian and Mallory Zhan, University of Geneva
University of Geneva
University of Geneva