Wiltshire Council has committed to being a carbon neutral organisation by 2030, such a bold ambition required an equally bold Climate Strategy. A key part of the strategy was ensuring the community weren’t just passengers but were involved in driving policy. To ensure they brought the community with them, the Council developed an engagement strategy to reach a broad demographic, with a focus on those not engaged in the climate agenda. The strategy saw them publish a Climate Strategy Discussion document, then engage the community through webinars, consultations, an electronic survey and face to face events with residents, schools and disability groups, all supported by coverage from all major local media.
The Council didn’t want their carbon neutral promises to be just words on a page or empty gestures that sounded good. That’s not going to galvanise anyone to take stock, take notice, and ultimately act.
With the above in mind, they were aware that they needed to work with the community to get them to buy in to our strategy. A key element of this was understanding how they could work with them to co-design the road map they required for their Net Zero journey. With the overall aim to ensure the community were prepared to back the strategy and commit to their roles within it.
The Council started by publishing a Climate Strategy Discussion document aimed at developing community interest, focusing on an overview of the scale of the challenge and the opportunities. This was supported through engagement webinars where attendees were encouraged to submit written input, providing flexibility for how people could choose to engage. The document created at these webinars (and summary) was published, and included what people felt the priorities should be and what they could do to support. In all, 181 people attended webinars, with 300 replay views, and 105 written responses received.
One key element of the engagement plan was to target the right people, including those harder to reach, and not simply aiming to provide statistically significant responses. Such an approach would then provide wider community feedback on potential issues, identifying themes and priorities, and helping to spot gaps, creating a draft Climate Strategy that reflected the whole community.
To capture views from as wide a demographic as possible the Council delivered webinars and face to face events with residents, schools and disability groups. To make people aware of the events they sent out notifications of the consultation to parish, town and city councils and partners including businesses, Wiltshire Wildlife Trust and Wiltshire Climate Alliance, so that they could promote it among their networks.
Ensuring the consultation was accessible to everyone in the community was vital. So, they developed an easy read summary of the strategy and worked with Wiltshire Centre for Independent Living to develop the summary. They also promoted the consultation, offered assistance in completing it, and ran a session with a group of disabled people to get their views, which were integrated into the results.
They also aimed to reach those who couldn’t access the consultation online by putting posters in libraries, leisure centres and parish notice boards, and putting a copy of the strategy in every library, including mobile libraries. Public sessions were then held at four libraries allowing passers-by opportunities to ask questions. They also worked with libraries to create book displays related to climate change, which included posters directing people to the survey.
During the consultation the Council worked with all major local media to develop positive and wide-spread coverage, with stories covering the launch and the discussion it inspired. This was supported with a social media campaign called #WiltsCanDoThis, promoting the survey and its themes to encourage people to take individual action. This included using the media attention on COP26 to promote the Council’s involvement in the conference and to push key messages and garner attention for the survey.
The consultation lasted six weeks, and the cost was kept low by delivering virtual events, using emails, and creating electronic surveys and documents. The overall cost was less than £1,000, which paid for posters, a banner, and producing an Easy Read summary, which all came from the climate budget. This was possible due to the Council having expertise internally, so at a time when finances are challenging, this project was cost-effective, especially given the outcomes.
Only one third of consultation respondents said they were members of an environmental group, and the breakdown of respondents represented the Wiltshire population in terms of proportions of people with disabilities, BME communities and gender. These results show that the Council's intensive approach to engagement enabled them to achieve our aim of reaching a broad demographic.
In terms of the actual numbers they saw engage with the programme:
- 181 people attended webinars, with 300 replay views, and 105 written responses received.
- The social media campaign had 76 posts, and these were seen by 1.1 million individuals.
- Since the start of the consultation there have been more than 8,818 unique views of the online climate and strategy consultation content.
- 1,091 survey responses were received countywide, with 957 online and 134 completed by students in local schools.
- The webinars generated 105 questions and the Council published them all with responses on their website.
In terms of what they learnt from such a detailed piece of engagement: Every strategic objective received strong support, with 86 per cent and 95 per cent of respondents agreeing or strongly agreeing with every objective. The community want to understand the targets they set in more detail and the role they must play in making Wiltshire carbon neutral, which they highlighted as vital in securing their support for the strategy. This included understanding how the Council has reduced our emissions, how they can use our powers to reduce housing/transport emissions, and how they intend to work with others on the journey to Net Zero. They also wanted the Council to embed climate change into decision making and communicate the urgency of action to everyone.
The Council received an excellent rating in Climate Emergency UK's Council Climate Plan scorecards, securing the fifth best score in the UK and the top score for a rural unitary authority. The scorecards are an independent assessment of the plans and strategies of councils, with each rated against nine categories, including governance; engagement/communications; setting targets. They were also the top performer in engagement/commutation and ecology, which is a glowing endorsement of what they are trying to achieve, and the way they are going about it. Wiltshire scored an overall rating of 81 per cent, which is well above the 50 per cent average of other unitaries.
How is the new approach being sustained?
The consultation feedback has led to significant changes being made to the Council's climate strategy, which was adopted in February 2022.
The first change saw the #WiltsCanDoThis social media campaign being refreshed for 2022 with a focus on the cost-of-living crisis, and what people can do to save money which is also good for the environment. The most viewed posts included those promoting grants to improve home energy efficiency and cost of living advice like washing clothes at a lower temperature and using the microwave instead of a conventional oven where appropriate.
The consultation made people aware of the work they Council are undertaking and enabled them to recruit thirty-three people from across Wiltshire, to take part in a Climate and Environment Forum to be held online two to four times a year. The forum is a reference group for Wiltshire Council’s Environment directorate to enable a regular two-way dialogue and ideas sharing with a representative group of Wiltshire residents. The first informal meeting was held in July 2022 and the inaugural formal meeting took place in October 2022.
The Council present twice yearly updates to the Cabinet and issue press releases and promote on social media the highlights of their climate action. The latest one is here: Council continues to lead from the front on climate change - Wiltshire Council.
they are also continuing to work in partnership with their community and stakeholders to progress the climate agenda. For example:
- A webinar for town and parish councils and village hall committees was held on 14 September 2022 to communicate the council’s approach to electric vehicle charging infrastructure, including plans for a longer-term EV infrastructure strategy and sharing information on grants from the Office of Low Emissions Vehicles (OLEV). Over 80 participants registered to attend, representing more than 60 organisations across the county.
- In February 2022, the Council, in association with Community First, held an online event for members of the Wiltshire Village Hall network with a focus on village hall buildings and their path to net zero. The event was attended by 28 people from a range of village halls. Information was shared on the ‘Fabric First’ approach and low carbon technologies, with a focus on providing further information for village halls to take away and consider. Two thirds of the halls had already had some improvement measures to their existing buildings. Village Halls that were already on their low carbon journey shared their experience of undertaking measures, and how they were funded.
The Council have learnt that having a mix of online and face to face engagement is key to being able to ensure the public are aware of the work they are undertaking and plan to undertake. Examples of this in action is when they used a poster campaign in their leisure centres, libraries and on parish council notice boards as well as social media.
It is important to think creatively about how to engage with groups who are less likely to respond to council consultations and plan this into the project early on. An example of one of these groups is schools, who can be particularly challenging to find time to engage with when the consultation window is short. This makes working around their constraints and being flexible extremely important.
Analysis of free-text comments on a survey is time consuming, but essential to enable respondents to provide meaningful input. Such analysis enabled them to find the recurring themes and see where respondents had identified gaps in our strategy.
The overall key lesson they learnt was that it is important to act on the consultation feedback, making sure your community, partners and stakeholders can see you are not just listening to them, but also acting on their advice and feedback.