Community Organizing for Results

Yes, there are lots of projects you can do with limited involvement of your community – from funding EV charging stations to changing out street lights. Still, your biggest and most critical goals can only be met with the community’s active involvement. Marketing new energy technologies and conservation practices to homeowners is an obvious example. Being able to inspire and engage the public is the key to seeing real changes in household use of resources, and in civic participation to support strong local energy policy.

Consider the key elements of a successful outreach campaign:

  • understanding the ways people make behavioral choices and the conditions they need in order to change;
  • targeting and communicating with those people who are most likely to be receptive;
  • turning those “early adopters” into champions who can inspire change in others; and
  • overall organizational structure for people, events, materials, communication, and data.

Information is not always power – at least not by itself. There are boatloads of studies showing that more informed people don’t always take action more swiftly or strongly than others. From this fact, a new psychology of behavior change has emerged, with a focus on removing barriers to change and strengthening the pull of opportunities. It has a clumsy name, “community based social marketing”. But it is a point of entry to a potent approach to voluntary behavior change to embrace conservation and renewables. It uses marketing principles combined with the social psychology of bringing people together to inspire and support new ways of living – so “community based social marketing” (CBSM) is jargon worth remembering.

Look at successful CBSM campaigns, and you will almost always see two primary strategies in play:

  • Reducing hassle and risk for new behaviors; and
  • Helping people to care a little more and step up to act.

As McKenzie-Mohr explains in his readable guide, the strongest campaigns come from clear understanding of the barriers and opportunities in a specific situation, not from random combination of the ingredients. Begin by getting clear on the specific behavior changes you want to see – HES visits, building upgrades, specific lighting or appliance replacements, less idling in town. Then understand the barriers to those changes – lack of awareness, inertia, technical confusion, and so on. This allows you to target your outreach messages and services to overcome the barriers and capture opportunities.

See: http://www.cbsm.com/pages/guide/preface/

The risks and inconveniences connected with any change can be reduced by a variety of tactics:

  • When the barrier is simply inattention, prompts are a great tool – for example, reminder decals at light switches or water faucets.
  • When the barrier is not knowing where to start in energy conservation, there is value in organized programs for bringing simple steps right to the consumer, as Connecticut’s Home Energy Solutions program does with low-cost home assessment visits where initial upgrades such as lighting and air sealing are done on the spot;
  • direct marketing such as door-to-door canvassing with trusted partner organizations, perhaps using local residents to knock on their neighbors’ doors;
  • the barriers of confusion and mistrust can be addressed by pre-selecting services such as contractors or financing products;
  • documenting case studies of homeowner-driven change such as do-it-yourself energy upgrades, to guide others;
  • reducing costs of energy upgrades, for example, with Energize-CT’s buy-down program for efficient lighting and other home products, or Solarize-CT’s brokering of installation services and group discounts to reduce “soft costs” of solar.

Removing barriers makes action easier. But convenience alone does not motivate people to take steps that are not personally meaningful. If you have the luxury of market research to understand major motivators for energy choices in your community, fabulous; if you don’t, spending a few days asking fellow citizens for their thoughts can help a great deal. Remember both outside motivations like incentives and rewards, and the intrinsic motivation some people feel to contribute to community well-being.

The motivational side of behavioral campaigns can be the most creative and fun part. What gets people to try new things?

  • Examples of people they admire or see as kindred spirits, which is why it is so useful to see local officials, soccer coaches or popular business leaders going solar
  • free samples and discounts when the product or service has some appeal
  • challenge campaigns that appeal to their values
  • rewards, not only for themselves but for causes they believe in (like the home energy contractor’s contribution to the local low-income energy bank).

Along with motivational strategies and tactics, you need to identify the people and groups that are most receptive to the new behaviors you are encouraging. Energy security may be attractive to people on fixed incomes. Anti-idling campaigns may attract parents who care about childrens’ health. Solar power can be exciting not only to energy consumers wanting stable prices and reliable supply, but to curious people who appreciate the technology itself. Clicking with receptive market segments is a key to advancing your campaign.

Not only do you need to target people who are receptive to your specific message; you need to reach to people who are action-oriented and generally open to change. One of the bedrock principles of marketing, social diffusion theory, is based on reaching market segments in order of their receptivity to innovations generally. Early adopters of new behaviors and technologies are those who will try anything that isn’t obviously crazy. These are the people who bought solar panels twenty years ago and are installing energy storage systems today. Early majority customers are willing to try new things as soon as they see a significant number of other people on board. These are the people who respond to their early adopter neighbors as ambassadors and take the plunge to go solar in a Solarize campaign. Late majority customers will wait until an innovation is thoroughly mainstreamed – like people just now stepping into social media. Finally, for any innovation, you have a slice of the population that will just never try it out, the laggards in marketing jargon. It is worthwhile to have an understanding of who these people are, and work around them in your campaigns.

Pulling these elements together is community organizing, a complex and valuable practice. Community organizing brings people together, educates and inspires them, invites specific changes and further encourages leadership. Community workshops, pledge drives, competitions and challenge campaigns are some useful elements of community organizing. But the art of organizing is using these elements so that they inspire waves of people to take action and then to influence others.

Campaign management is the final element to master – and use. This starts with a written campaign plan tying goals to strategy, then tactics, then program and timeline. Evaluating progress against goals gives you the advantage of intelligence you can use to course-correct. Doing this periodically as a team creates the opportunity for more detailed discussion of methods that worked, others that misfired, and lessons learned. And at a finer level, software that tracks transactions and results – doors knocked on, home energy assessments done – gives you the granular detail you need to see patterns in the impacts of your efforts. Organizational detail may not bring the excitement you crave – but well organized campaigns probably will!



Community Updates


For those concerned about the climate crisis…

Small info cards, about 3”x4”, are available in quantities of 100 and more; if interested, please contact Patrice Gillespie .


… 2018 has been named the Year of Local Action. And the Eastern CT Green Action group is leading the way. ECGA was formed by several people from towns in eastern Connecticut. Initially most people were from Mansfield; as of now, people from Andover, Ashford, Chaplin, Coventry, Eastford, Hampton, Lebanon, Pomfret, Scotland, Tolland, Willington and Windham are members.

With the publication of his excellent weekly newsletter CT Green News, ECGA co-founder Peter Millman is helping us Nutmeggers stay up to date on issues, events and opportunities for concerned citizens to connect with their elected officials. He has published over 50 editions of his newsletter, and would love to broaden his every Friday distribution. Just contact Peter via info@easternctgreenaction.com and benefit from his convenient digest of important news and environmentally-focused online postings.


Calendar Highlights


HIGHLIGHTS OF CT’s FALL GATHERING of clean energy task forces can be found here in our Knowledge Center’s Program Archives pages. Diane Duva (the Director of Energy Demand at DEEP’s Bureau of Energy and Technology Policy is pictured here) facilitating the shaping of our state’s energy future.

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Clean Energy Communities Listening Session Letter of Thanks and Follow-up

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