Designing your project concept

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When deciding on your project concept, it is important to try to tailor your objectives and project type to your community. If there is a particular local interest, need or priority you can tap into or address, it can be easier to build local support and generate local enthusiasm in becoming involved with the project. At this initial stage it can therefore be useful to carry out research and scoping exercises to ensure your project concept will appeal to the community.

You may also want to consider how to consult the community when choosing a project concept.

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

Scoping and visioning

Choosing a project with the community’s needs, wants and priorities in mind will help to ensure you maximise support for and interest in your project. There may be topical local debates that your project could tie into or members of the community who are interested in particular aspects of energy transition, such as energy generation, food or transport. Incorporating scoping and visioning exercises into a public meeting, along with a means for people to be consulted and involved in decision making can help to make the process as well as the outcome of these exercises more representative and involving.

Some useful scoping and visioning exercises are outlined below. Many of these can be aided by tapping into existing knowledge within your group, talking to local people, going on ‘walk arounds’ or carrying out more formal surveys and questionnaires. Establishing a relevant baseline and defining success for your project are also important considerations at this stage.

Brainstorming. To kick off a brainstorming session, you could start out with key headings, questions or themes to guide discussions and contributions. These could be based on some of the topics outlined below. Outcomes could be a number of potential projects to research from a technical, social, economic and environmental standpoint, which can be allocated to particular people to carry out further research.

Profiling your local community. Local demographics and skillsets are the fundamental context in which your project sits. This may lead to you identifying key community leaders to contact to join the group, local experts who you could invite to talk at an event or run a workshop or hard to reach groups you may wish to target. The profile of your community will determine local needs, preferences and priorities, and in turn what types of projects they are most likely to support and engage with.

Profiling your local area. The physical and natural characteristics of your local area will affect what types of projects are likely to be most feasible and successful. PlanLoCaL has a series of resources that can aid this process – see the guides on their website for ‘Understanding your local area’ and the participatory exercise ‘Setting the scene: discussing the energy use of our community’.

Market research. Market research into existing supply and demand, including the quality, quantity and price offered by competitors, can help to identify the potential market for a product or service you are considering providing through your project. This will help you to determine the likelihood of your project concept being viable and therefore worth taking forward to the design stage.

Understanding local concerns. Your community are more likely to support a project if it involves something they care about and which affects them. You can gain an understanding of local needs, interests and concerns through surveys or questionnaires, chatting to friends, family and neighbours, or simply reading the local newspaper. While some people may have a particular project in mind which they would like to engage with, others may be motivated by factors other than project type, such as the opportunity to meet new people and connect with the community. PlanLoCaL’s participatory exercise on ‘Identifying synergies between your project and wider community concerns’ can aid this process.

Identifying stakeholders, existing groups and projects. Do your research and consider what projects are already running or have previously run in your community, as well as other groups, organisations and individuals who could be interested in or affected by a particular project idea. This will not only prevent you duplicating efforts, but can help you to identify possible partnerships, synergies and experiences you could learn from.

To aid this process, you could carry out a group mapping exercise to illustrate local stakeholders and existing and potential relationships:

  1. Start by writing the name of your group or project (or something resembling it) in the centre of a large piece of paper. Around this central point, write down all the local projects, groups, individuals and organisations which have some existing or potential relation to the project (whether positive or negative).

  2. Draw a circle of appropriate colour and size around each stakeholder identified. The colour of the circle can represent a type of stakeholder (e.g. project/group/individual/organisation) and the size of the circle can represent the extent of their existing or potential significance to the project or their level of local influence.

  3. Draw a line of appropriate colour and thickness between your central group and each stakeholder. Where a relationship already exists between your group and the stakeholder, connect the two with a green line, with the thickness representing the strength or importance of that relationship. Where a relationship does not yet exist, connect your central group and the stakeholder with a red line, with the thickness representing the potential strength or importance of that relationship.

  4. For each stakeholder connected by a red line or a thin line, discuss ways by which the relationship with each stakeholder could be formed or strengthened, adding ideas next to each line on Post-it notes, prioritising those likely to be of most significance to the project. For each stakeholder connected by a green line or a thick line, discuss ideas for building and strengthening those relationships.

  5. Discuss the finished ‘map’ and highlight and prioritise possible actions for taking forward ideas generated.

Case Studies
Country: UK

Sustainable Charlbury’s proposed solar park sits adjacent to Cornbury Park, between the communities of Charlbury, Fawler and Finstock and within the Cotswolds AONB. From these facts alone, they were able to identify a wide range of key stakeholders who would be in some way affected or connected with the project. Stakeholders included the communities and Town and Parish Councils of Charlbury, Fawler, Finstock, Cornbury and Wychwood, as well as West Oxfordshire District Council, English Heritage, Council for the Protection of Rural England and Cotswolds AONB.

Country: UK

The Big Lemon initiated their community bus service after identifying local transport problems that needed addressing. They tried to identify who within the community was feeling the ‘pain’ and how much they would be willing to pay to make the ‘pain’ go away. There were over 1600 students at the Universities of Brighton and Sussex who were feeling pain from bus fare rises.  Students had organised a petition against the fare increases, and for many of them the pain was enough to warrant a one day on-the-bus protest. They bought day tickets, filled a number of double-deck buses and stayed on the bus all day.  The buses had to keep running their scheduled timetable, but they could not take any other passengers and consequently spent the day turning people away, losing money and generating customer complaints. This rather extreme action did not, however, have any effect on bus fares in the short term, but it provided fertile ground for The Big Lemon to start building a relationship with the student population, and as a result the two universities now have a cheaper, more sustainable bus service run for and by the community. 

Country: UK

Transition Town Totnes colour code their Post-it notes to correspond with topics people can contribute ideas on. Upon arrival, they give people four different coloured Post-it notes without initially explaining what they are for in order to build a sense of anticipation. Pink Post-it notes are for ideas on “one thing I can do”, yellow for “one thing Totnes can do”, orange for “one thing Government can do” and green for “one other thought”. After the event, they type up the contributions and email them out to everyone who attended. This helps to demonstrate that everyone’s thoughts are being taken on board and are part of something bigger, while keeping ideas fresh in people’s minds.

Country: Netherlands

Loenen Energie Neutraal (Loenen Energy Neutral) won the municipality of Apeldoorn’s “Energetic Villages” competition and was awarded funding to invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency measures to help them become an energy neutral village. The competition required them to have a plan for how they would use the funding to pursue energy neutrality and inspired the Loenen community to think creatively about possible energy projects. When Apeldoorn announced the “Energetic Villages” competition, the village council organised an information evening. This process brought together members of the village with business, finance and organisational skills who helped to develop the plan and were committed to delivering it. The evening was also used to identify an individual from within the community with the skills, knowledge, experience, vision and network to drive forward the plan and who could lead as chairman of Loenen Energie Neutraal. Read more about Loenen Energie Neutraal here.