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Citizens, Climate Change & Open Local Government

Enfield Council came late to declaring a climate change emergency and only did so after three attempts by a persistent local Councillor. The result was that the Council set up a Climate Change Task Force to develop a strategy. But that Task Force was met with strong criticism for community groups partly because of the slow pace of their deliberations and actions and secondly because they held their meetings behind closed doors where not only were the public excluded but so where Councillors as well.

Enfield is not the only authority that operates in this way, Others do too. Dorset Council for example has been criticised because it continued to discuss its response to the declared emergency behind closed doors.

However there is a growing body of opinion that believe this is the wrong approach and that on this crucial issues of climate change that impacts on the whole community then the guiding principles should be openness and transparency

INVOLVE who are are leading experts in public participation certainly believe that openness and transparency together with community engagement are key to tackling the climate change crisis. They have produced a document that looks at how local authorities are engaging with citizens on climate change, energy futures and sustainable living. It explores how an open government approach might lead to improved governance of these complex issues.

It is interesting that they use the word “governance” rather than “government” as “governance” is about involving the whole community in decisions that effect them. Councils like Enfield still tend to think in the traditional way of “government” - decision making by the local authority only rather than through channels of participative democracy that involve the whole community.

In the document they give some good case studies from local authorities that do practice openness and transparency like Bristol and From for example and authorities like this have helped them write the paper

And in that paper they ask some important questions of all local authorities - for example on Participation

What will help councils to change their worldview of participation and embed it, sustainably, into their behaviours?

How do councils ensure they hear the diversity of citizens’ voices, including those with less power and influence?

How best to engage the interest and involvement of citizens? How can existing statutory frameworks (such as the planning system) be made to operate in much more open and deliberative ways?

And on Transparency they ask

What will incentivise councils to open up their decision making processes and to become open by default?

How can councils support their officers and councillors to become better listeners? What barriers do residents encounter when trying to find out things from, and engage with, their council?

And finally on Accountability they ask,

What practical steps can councils take to develop and nurture an organisational culture that welcomes accountability, one that focuses on solving problems with citizens?

How can citizens and councils innovate and create meaningful accountability mechanisms to improve climate change mitigation and adaptation?

This Paper by Involve is well worth reading as it gives some important signposts on how to have genuine participation in the discussions around climate change that should interest us all.

Enfield Council should definitely read it.


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