Local citizens' initatives

Stakeholder role in grid projects: 

In general, Local citizens’ initiatives (LCIs) or local action groups are special interest groups emerging from civil society because of a concrete issue in their immediate political, social or ecological environment that causes the group to organise for self-help. They typically aim to exert influence on public opinion, political decision-makers and other societal groups. In the context of grid development projects, LCIs are usually formed among citizens of Adjacent communities – be it at the level of individual villages or at a more regional or county-level across various affected communities that are affected by a grid project in their immediate life and environment. The formation of LCIs among locally affected citizens usually reflects a motivation to engage with other stakeholders (most importantly the project sponsors, i.e. TSOs) – often because there is a lack of information about a grid project or because the current planning is opposed. 

The role of LCIs is to participate in the local implementation of a power grid project by voicing the concerns of local communities. Their part in a successful multi-stakeholder dialogue is to contribute to the project’s implementation with high public acceptance by becoming constructively involved in the local configuration of a grid project. In this regard, LCIs are a significant source of knowledge and expertise for TSOs and other project drivers that should be tapped early on in the process, as soon as route alternatives are discussed so that local details of power lines – for example the definition of routes – are jointly identified with local communities.

 

 

 

Primary concern with grid projects: 
Topography within stakeholder group: 
Individuals within stakeholder organisations/entities: 
Usual patterns: 

One-to-one communication activities (e.g. mailings, phone calls or Closed-door meetings) that aim to start an intensive dialogue with LCIs about their project-related concerns should be directed towards their leaders as the individuals occupying formal leadership positions. Additionally, LCIs’ founders can also be important multipliers because of their capacity to shape the initiative’s identity. 

Further project-specific questions: 
  • Who are leaders, founders and spokespersons of LCIs?  

  • When and how are they appointed or elected?

     

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Project stage for engagement: 
Usual patterns: 

At this stage of the project, LCIs typically have not yet come into existence for the purpose of getting involved in a specific project that is so far insufficiently defined to determine which communities will be affected. However, LCIs may already pre-exist within the ellipse of a potential starting and end point for a new power line, because local communities have already mobilised because of other infrastructure projects. Proactive and preventive communication efforts can hence prevent the emergence of mobilised opposition in the first place, because public acceptance of the project is enhanced from the earliest stage possible onwards. Consultation procedures in very early stages of grid development projects (i.e. during the scenario planning of regulating authorities when no lines whatsoever are yet on the map) bear high potential to build up an atmosphere of trust among stakeholders – and hence LCI representatives should be invited to participate as (possible) local stakeholders. LCIs themselves sometimes give the feedback that it is difficult to involve them meaningfully at such early stages. This is based on the fact that they only represent the affected Adjacent communities and do not feel in a position to give input on a rather abstract concept such as a general grid scenario that only specifies a staring and an end point. Nevertheless, consultation and participation at the level of regulatory agencies can build consensus among citizens and project sponsors about the general need of a project to be built. If multi-stakeholder involvement facilitates consensus finding at this point, then the “why” of a project is agreed upon early – and the subsequent stakeholder dialogue can focus on the “how” of the project.

Further project-specific questions: 
  • When determining the need for a grid development project, what is the earliest possible time at which affected communities have sufficiently crystallised so that effective engagement can begin? 

  • How can representatives of existing LCIs (e.g. as they have emerged in the context of other infrastructure projects) be incentivised to participate in early stakeholder involvement activities?

     

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Usual patterns: 

In the Project preparation phase, chances grow that citizens begin to share concerns that their communities will be affected. Early, proactive engagement by TSOs, Regulators and policy makers alike becomes more important and also easier once the project starts to concretise – as it is increasingly clear what route alternatives will be debated and hence which communities might be affected. The Project preparation phase – i.e. the selection of generally possible options for “lines on the map” – tends to be the crucial stage for involving all stakeholders: it is the timing when true participation – in the sense of joint decision making – is essential for project success because routing decisions can be jointly prepared with local stakeholders in the process, e.g. existing LCIs, to avoid presenting them a fait accompli. Moreover, TSOs and Permitting authorities need to increase their efforts to explain the upcoming Spatial planning and permitting process thus clearly communicating to local communities and especially LCIs what will be discussed and decided when and where and by whom – in order to create realistic expectations. 

Further project-specific questions: 
  • What are the different routings debated at this stage? 

  • Does debate in local Media already take place?

  • Can potential predecessors to LCIs be observed anywhere along potential routings?

     

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Usual patterns: 

In many cases, LCIs are founded during the Spatial planning stage as soon as the track for a power line is up for debate in the form of different route alternatives, i.e. as soon as Adjacent communities know that they could be affected. Often, LCIs are formed very quickly after the announcement of a grid development location. For the first time, communities see official documentation that mentions them as being potentially affected if the track on which they live turns out to be chosen. Hence, engagement of newly created LCIs from the first days of their existence is crucial to hear their concerns with regards to the routing and technology in question as this will allow for local concerns to be taken into consideration as fully and efficiently as possible.

Further project-specific questions: 
  • When, how and where are potential tracks/routings for the grid project in question being announced? 

  • Which LCIs have been created in the immediate aftermath?

  • Who are the founding persons and the leaders and how can they be reached out to?

  • What specific, route-related concerns do the LCIs bring to the table?

     

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Adequate communication channels for participation/cooperation: 
Usual patterns: 

In order to engage LCIs, one-on-one channels that address their leadership individually such as Closed-door meetings and Doorstep visits tend to be more constructive in terms of discussing specific local concerns of the community – than channels for large audiences. In such encounters, representatives of TSOs, government and Permitting authorities can directly explain the project and the LCI leaders can in turn communicate as messengers within their LCI assemblies and ultimately with the larger Adjacent communities. LCIs appreciate genuine, pro-active contact from the TSOs or from authorities and prefer it to mere reaction towards any of their activities.

Further project-specific questions: 
  • Who are the leaders of LCIs that would be susceptible to direct talks and other one-on-one communication with representatives of other stakeholders?
Usual patterns: 

LCIs are an indispensable participant in any multi-stakeholder Roundtable discussions that seeks to involve a variety of stakeholders – because the fact that they represent an organised group of local stakeholders. The hosting stakeholders should ensure that all LCIs (e.g. from all Adjacent communities) are invited. Very practical considerations can help to make a Roundtable more appreciated and more successful, e.g. assuring that such events are scheduled in the evening (after close of business) or on the week-end. Moreover independent note-takers are crucial to create an atmosphere of trust where every contribution to the debate is duly noted and that the various positions are accurately and objectively captured. Ideally this note-taker should be approved by all parties before the event.

Further project-specific questions: 
  • Who are the leaders of LCIs that would be willing to participate in a roundtable?
  • Who could serve as an independent note-taker during the roundtable?
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Usual patterns: 

LCIs can participate effectively and constructively in Town hall meetings, but the events must be carefully planned and should not be used in cases where there is not yet an atmosphere of relative trust and understanding between, primarily, the TSOs and the LCIs. Town halls tend to become more challenging when opposition is strong and principled, as LCIs often use these venues as platforms to stage protests or other forms of less constructive engagement. Generally however, it is important to invite all of the Adjacent communities (i.e. entire towns/villages) to such events. This can be done, for example, via ads in local newspapers making clear that every member of the Adjacent community is welcome. It is furthermore paramount to present comprehensive and new information which makes it worthwhile for already informed people to make the effort to participate. It is moreover important to have procedures in place to collect opinions/feedback from participants in written form with “receipts” given in return so that transparency on who received what is ensured. Finally, it is crucial to schedule such events in the evening (after close of business) or on the week-end.

Further project-specific questions: 
  • Is the atmosphere surrounding the project sufficiently productive to warrant a Town hall meeting with LCIs? 

  • How can LCIs be engaged with before the meeting to ensure that their concerns and perspectives are taken into account in a productive manner?

Adequate communication formats for participation/cooperation: 
Usual patterns: 

LCIs represent members of Adjacent communities who deliberately spent time and other resources on dealings with a grid development project. They can be expected to have built up rather extensive knowledge on the project independently and thus expect engagement via content-rich formats. Consequently, any formats that are suitable to carry a significant amount of project content at a relatively high level of detail are suitable for communication with LCIs, e.g. extended project Presentation (e.g. in MS PowerPoint) or individually drafted text distributed via e-mail or mail that address specific concerns of LCIs, for example the effect of a power line development on real estate prices in adjacent neighbourhoods.

Further project-specific questions: 
  • Can standardised communication formats be sent out to multiple LCIs at the same time?
  • How must general project presentations (e.g. in MS PowerPoint) be adapted to properly cover and address the concerns of LCIs?