“We are not socially weak, we are financially weak.”

How we effectively involve people in participatory processes who have not been heard so far.

A third of the German population feels largely invisible and ignored in social debates, “More in Common” found in a study. This can be a danger for our democracy, because if people believe that their perspectives and realities of life do not play a role in politics, they have little incentive to participate. In the worst case, they lose trust in our political system, mentally disengage or even tend to radicalise. This is no different in Germany than in other EU countries.

The Fair Energy Transition for All project team has experienced over the past two years why it is particularly important to involve target groups that are otherwise difficult to reach.

How do we have to shape the energy transition in the EU – in Germany and eight other European countries – so that it is also fair for people who have little money? About 900 people from financially difficult situations dealt with this question in focus groups: Long-term unemployed people, senior citizens affected by poverty, young people without a school-leaving certificate or with difficulties in finding an apprenticeship, single parents and people with a migration background. Experts with different professional backgrounds “translated” the discussion results from these dialogues into measures. In concluding “Fair Energy Forums”, affected people came together again to examine the experts’ proposals for measures from their perspective, to comment on them and to prioritise them.

“Fair Energy Forum”: What is particularly close to the hearts of citizens in Germany?

There was also a lively discussion in Germany: On 9 July, 16 people from Dortmund, Düsseldorf, Berlin, Langenhagen and Hanover came to the Kaiserhof in Hanover for the “Fair Energy Forum”. Right from the start, the atmosphere was exceptionally good, relaxed and easy-going. Incredibly quickly, valuable comments bubbled out of the participants – these are important for shaping political measures but rarely find their way into the political debate. For example:

  • A 365 euro ticket hardly makes sense for people who don’t have much money: They can’t pay the amount all at once, and if they cycle in summer and don’t need the ticket, they have spent money for nothing. Prepaid cards or 1 euro/day options were suggested here.
  • Energy and electricity costs are often much higher than average for unemployed people, chronically ill people or early retirees because they spend much more time at home than workers who leave in the morning and come back in the evening.
  • People with little money cannot afford energy-saving devices or the replacement of their appliances, and there is only insufficient support from many landlords.

It showed that many realities of life that exist in abundance in the country and in the EU have hardly been perceived and taken into account in policy-making. Yet it is so valuable and important to include these perspectives and the people behind them.

For example, there is Michaela (all names have been changed for the article) from Hanover, who is retired early due to her chronic illness and has to live on the subsistence level. She is committed to the interests of people like her, and says: “We are not socially weak, we are financially weak.”

Peter from Dortmund is concerned about saving energy, and he worries that too little is being done. He would like to see less situational and more far-sighted politics. “It’s important to get something off your chest for once.”

Rudi from Dortmund says, “With the 9 euro ticket, I think it’s stupid that everyone only has to pay nine euros – even if you earn 3,000 euros or more a month.” 

The team from Missions Publiques, who implemented the focus groups in France, captured similar voices.

How can dialogue with financially weak target groups be successful?

From our work in the Fair Energy Transition for All project and other projects, we know how dialogue succeeds with people who otherwise participate less in political processes and are less likely to vote:

  1. We only reach people where they are in their everyday life: at a senior citizens’ breakfast, in measures of the employment agencies, in the family centre. To reach people, we need a lot of time and good cooperation with multipliers.
  2. We have to communicate in a comprehensible and accessible way. Whether by e-mail, on site or in documentation: our language is easy to understand, at eye level and relaxed. We not only listen, but also see the person. This creates closeness and togetherness.
  3. We choose methods that pick people up and involve them: Instead of long lectures, we do entertaining interviews. We work with pictures. We make sure that everyone has their say. And: We regularly take short breaks – even if it should be unscheduled, the needs of the participants are in the foreground. This makes the joint work a success for everyone!
  4. We have to make sure that the results are effective. Who should continue to work with the ideas and feedback from citizens? How do they flow into the design of political measures? As in any good citizen participation, these are key questions that need to be answered at the beginning. We also need to make sure that citizens are informed about what will happen to their results in the further process. Communication at eye level and mutual appreciation do not end with participation.

What’s next?

The results of the Fair Energy Transition for All project are now being summarised and communicated to decision-makers at the German level, as well as in the other eight countries and at the EU level. ifok is responsible for steering the overall project at the European level and implementing it in Germany. In doing so, ifok works on behalf of the King Baudouin Foundation, the Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt, the Stiftung Mercator and other European foundations.

We know from our previous communication of the results: The interest among decision-makers is huge. It sounds so simple, but we have hardly been talking to people with financially weak backgrounds in the political arena so far.

Our hope is that this will happen much more often in the future! We are ready.

Written by Jenny Rübel, Richard Steinberg and Jacob Birkenhäger

Questions? Talk to us!

Jacob Birkenhäger

Business Unit Manager | Deliberation, Open Government, Democracy

Phone+49 30 536077-45

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