Education, awareness, and outreach – The spiral staircase toward an energy aware electorate

Typically, the creation of a Community Energy Plan (CEP) will include community engagement efforts with a defined start and end. However, the Guelph experience has demonstrated that, over time, the realities of CEP implementation can diverge dramatically from the public perception of the same. To prevent this drift, community engagement must be a permanent fixture. The Community Vision Survey underscored the importance of this, with the term “Raise Awareness” being the most common specific action that respondents named.

Our Energy Guelph (OEG) community engagement efforts illustrate how this concept of ongoing community engagement might take shape. The first two community engagement events that OEG held were at a local faith community and at a seniors’ centre. The venue was split into a drop-in area with infographic displays, and a “town hall” format with live presenters and a slide show followed by Q&A. These events were poorly attended, and it was determined that this was because OEG was asking the community to come to them; it was recognized that OEG needed to go to the community.

The approach was changed to exhibiting at local events and festivals, with volunteers on hand to guide visitors through the displays, answer questions, and encourage participation by completing a survey. In addition, lunch-and-learn events were held at local businesses and other organizations, using the same presentation and slide show that was used for the town hall portion of the initial events. This combination of piggybacking on existing events and holding lunch-and-learn outreach was quite successful.

In addition, community engagement was taken online through a comprehensive social media campaign. With the assistance of a social media consultancy, this campaign achieved the following:

  • From zero to 500 Facebook followers in 2 months
  • Ad reach of 90,303 people (compared to Guelph population of 130,000)
  • 245,566 ad impressions
  • Engagement rate of 2.3%
  • Click-through rate of 1.44%
  • Survey conversion rate of 12.93%

It is proposed to revise and expand this approach and make it a permanent feature in Guelph. The purpose of this effort would be as follows:

  1. Build support for community energy management
  2. Understand public sentiment regarding broad matters related to energy and climate change, as well as specific program elements
  3. Close gaps between public sentiment and marketplace realities
  4. Build awareness of, and support for, specific program elements
  5. Build awareness of personal action that can increase energy efficiency, save money, and reduce emissions
  6. Share local success stories

This would include the following:

  1. Guest lectures/presentations at educational institutions
  2. Participation in community events
  3. “Lunch and Learn” events
  4. Permanent public space/storefront (possibly)
  5. Online engagement

The City of Guelph has already had some success with engaging with educational institutions, but largely on a reactive and by-invitation basis. This has included guest lectures at the University of Guelph, as well as York University and Ryerson University. It has also included guest presentations to:


Planet Protector Academy:

A case study in collaboration

Several City of Guelph departments have collaborated along with the Upper Grand District School Board and the Wellington Catholic District School Board to deliver an innovative twist on environmental education. Planet Protector Academy is a superhero-themed, multimedia program aimed at students in Grades 3-6. The program encourages participants to use less water by taking shorter showers; turn off lights when they aren’t being used; encourage parents not to idle their vehicle; and find ways to get to school without driving.

  • Junior high school geography students at Guelph Collegiate Vocational Institute
  • Participants in the Community Environmental Leadership Program (CELP) and Headwaters program
  • Grade 6 students at Edward Johnson Public School
  • Guelph Resilience Festival

An exception to this reactive approach has been Planet Protector Academy (see sidebar).

It is proposed to create a comprehensive program to engage with primary, secondary, and post-secondary students, including guest presentations, development of curriculum content, and fostering ongoing clubs/teams in these institutions that would remain linked to OEG.

Participation in community events would include:

  • Ongoing monitoring of upcoming festivals and other similar events
  • Registering for those events
  • Managing setup, tending, and tear-down
  • Evaluating outcomes

This would be particularly effective if coordinated with City of Guelph community-facing initiatives like the Water Wagon.

It is proposed to build a regular schedule of “lunch and learn” events for the following audiences:

  • Local employers
  • Faith communities
  • Service clubs (e.g. the Rotary Club)

In addition to scheduling appearances and managing the logistics of the same, this program would encourage these groups to set up their own community energy committee/team (if none already exists) and for this group to remain connected with OEG.

It remains to be seen whether it is worthwhile to create a physical space where the displays can be set up permanently, along with additional collateral provided by partner businesses and other organizations. The city of Bottrop, Germany had success with this approach, but eMerge Guelph has had a less positive experience and recently abandoned its storefront area. Community awareness and momentum may have to be built up much more before such a facility would be a useful investment.

This process of ongoing community engagement will be a key task for the proposed volunteer corps (see Volunteer Management).

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