Face-to-face

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Often nothing beats face-to-face communication when engaging your community. Meeting and talking with people in person enables more personal engagement which can tap into and address individual concerns and motivations, as well as provision of more information and explanations to increase understanding. It can also leave people associating your group with a friendly face and a fun experience, which can have a longer lasting impact and make it more likely that they go on to spread your message by word of mouth.

Click on the ideas below for practical suggestions and detailed case studies.

Local events

Local events are likely to be your primary avenue for face-to-face engagement. Having a stand or giving a presentation at events such as local fairs, festivals, farmers’ markets and other community events can enable you to engage with people who may not otherwise come into contact with your group, extending your reach into the community. This can allow you to engage with new and different audiences without having to invest the time, energy and resources involved with running your own event.


Information and resources. Be prepared and take a range of written material with you for people who might want to read more about your cause, group or projects. This could include a flyer about your group, with details of where to find more information and how to get involved, case studies from your project, or tips or guides for actions people can take.


Make stands interactive. While written material is useful, having an interactive element will make you stand out and more memorable. Hands-on activities, competitions or samples that can be tested or taken away will make a stall look more active and spark people’s curiosity. It is possible to hire equipment from various suppliers, such as a cycle powered smoothie makers – check out what is available locally to liven up your stall. If you have limited resources, simply having an area for people to write down and display their ideas or hopes for a sustainable future can be enough to get people interested.


Presentation of stands. How you and your stall are presented will affect who is and how many people are drawn to your stall. Banners or posters can attract attention, and a big smile and welcoming body language will encourage people to talk to you. Try to ensure you have a mixture of people of different ages, genders and backgrounds on your stall to avoid looking like you are representing a certain section of the community, but instead are a group for everyone.


Talks. Try contacting other local community groups, NGOs or residential organisations to ask if they would like a talk from your group. It is likely that they will be happy to hear from you and can enable you to access new and different audiences who could become supporters of your project. Sometimes this can seem like hard work, but it can pay off in unexpected ways.


Collect contact details. Have a means for people you meet to stay in touch if they are interested in your project. A sign-up sheet for your mailing list is a great start.

Case Studies
Country: UK

Sustainable Wantage held a stall at the local Dickensian evening during the Christmas period. They found that having demo mini solar panels and insulation made out of plastic bottles were good talking points, alongside a game: people had to pay money – they hid £5 in the occasional low energy light bulb box, got people to pay £1 and pick a box. This worked really well; it got people to the stall and they then were more likely to engage and look at other materials.

Country: UK

Sustainable Charlbury try to have a presence at all the regular events in Charlbury such as the Farmers' Market, Riverside Festival and the Beer Festival. At the Beer Festival in 2013, they ran a competition for people to guess the top temperature that would be reached by a solar panel during the course of the day. Their first entrant was David Cameron MP, who actually guessed most accurately!

Country: UK

Brighton Energy Co-operative emailed many local organisations and offered to give a presentation about their community owned solar PV project. Often groups were receptive: the idea of something new, local and progressive is an innovative addition to a list of meetings and events. Over the course of a year or so this became a vital avenue for building local support, even in instances where it felt like futile hard work. One presentation was given at a meeting at which five people attended. Two nodded off during the slideshow. Two years later, however, the three who stayed awake that night invested £45,000 into the project. You just never know!

Source: Community-Led Photovoltaic Initiatives action pack

Door knocking

Going door knocking to engage with local residents can be an effective way to ensure you have engaged the whole of your target community.


What’s in it for them? Door knocking is likely to work best if you can offer something to the householder, such as a survey linked to a prize draw, tips and advice, or an invitation to become involved in an event, project or meeting.


Use a trusted communicator. You are more likely to receive a positive response on the doorstep if the person going door knocking is a trusted communicator who is somewhat recognised in the area, for example if they are a nearby neighbour or well-known local figure.


Information and resources. Take written material with you, such as leaflets or flyers, for people who might want to read more about your cause, group or projects. This could include a flyer about your group, with details of where to find more information and how to get involved, case studies from your project, or tips or guides for actions people can take. Alternatively, you could distribute leaflets or questionnaires in advance and go door knocking as a follow up activity to collect responses and register interests.


Prepare for questions or negative responses. Try to anticipate possible questions or negative responses that you might encounter on the doorstep to ensure you have a comeback. It is sensible to avoid places where you are aware that you will receive a negative reception, as this can have a detrimental effect on morale for volunteers carrying out the door knocking and can be a waste of time.


Targeting particular households and hard to reach groups. Door knocking can be used in a targeted way to ensure you have engaged a representative demographic and have reached out to more isolated groups, such as those who are elderly or have limited mobility.


Collect contact details. Have a means for people you meet to stay in touch if they are interested in your project. A sign-up sheet for your mailing list is a great start.

Case Studies
Country: Netherlands

In 2012 the village council of ‘s-Heer Hendrikskinderen initiated the development of a complete village plan to combine the preservation of quality of life and sustainable development. In 2014 a new and far-reaching plan was formulated to make the village energy neutral by 2020. To help to deliver this vision, door-to-door surveys were offered to local homeowners which provided an insight into the energy performance of homes and bespoke guidance on how to make homes more energy efficient and ‘life-cycle-proof’. Students from Zeeland University of Applied Science were involved with giving tailor made advice on insulation, installations and life-cycle resistance. Uptake of the surveys by homeowners was high at 76 percent.

Country: UK

Low Carbon West Oxford carried out active doorstep canvassing to target specific groups in their community, following the delivery of leaflets to every household. While they recognise that engaging high-income groups with the largest CO2 emissions, or people who are already ‘green’, could offer a relatively quick short-term route to cutting CO2, they seek to engage a mix of people of different tenures, ethnicities and ages in order to share the benefits from their projects more equally. They believe this will help to better mainstream low carbon living and make their projects more replicable and relevant in different contexts, maximising the potential for dissemination. After initial concerns that going door-to-door could be disturbing or imposing, the programme was a great success and they received very positive responses. Where they identified households that could be reluctant to sign up or get involved due to language barriers, shyness or lack of confidence they also offered help with translation, home visits, or to accompany them to meetings if they didn’t know other people.

Source: Low Carbon West Oxford and West Oxford Community Renewables (2010), Low Carbon Living: Power to make it possible

Meetings

For ideas for a range of public meeting formats, see the Holding Meetings section.