Communities in North East Victoria have been participating in a trial of community engagement activities designed by ISF researchers to develop awareness, capacity and resilience to climate change and related water issues within these communities.
The Institute was engaged by the North East Greenhouse Alliance (NEGHA), a group of six local governments and associated partners, to develop a Community Engagement Program on climate change adaptation for the region. The aim specified by NEGHA is to plan and build resilience and capacity for communities to respond to climate change through the development and delivery of practical solutions and tools.
The feasibility of three community change initiatives was evaluated. Each involved different vulnerable community groups and was located in different local government areas and each used a different community engagement technique, suited to the target group and location. The first involved ‘brains trust’ workshops for community elders in Wodonga and Tallangatta. The second initiative explored ways to support community leadership through workshops in Harrietville and Yackandandah. The third initiative evaluated the use of mobile outreach activities on climate change adaptation in conjunction with Wangaratta Council’s eco-living trailer.
The Institute has a strong track record in community engagement projects and was well placed to review best practice in community engagement on climate change adaptation and propose additional initiatives that are consistent with best practice. The initiatives were evaluated against a set of community engagement principles to draw out lessons and identify improvements. These included raising awareness of climate change to overcome the key barriers to climate change adaptation of misinformation, uncertainty and skepticism. The programs also need to be positive, inspiring and fun and to be grounded in practical actions, to overcome negative messages about climate change that often highlight personal vulnerability. Ultimately, the actions taken in the engagement programs need to build the resilience and capacity of the community to adapt to long-term climate trends and unpredictable climate shocks, such as fires, floods and heatwaves. The programs also need to recognise that human behavior is influenced not only by the knowledge, values, attitudes and habits of the individual but also the infrastructure they operate within and the influences of family, friends, peers, the media and social norms. The most successful community change initiatives are community led, flexible and adaptable. They need to recognize the importance of local context and to use a variety of engagement techniques because people learn in different ways.
The researchers are now developing a menu of community engagement initiatives that Councils can adopt in their communities in the future. A workshop for councils and other project stakeholders will be held to present the Community Engagement Plan and provide advice on how to implement it.