Earlier this year, we were asked to facilitate a Citizen’s Panel on how homeowners can make their homes more energy efficient, in order to help the UK reach it’s net zero targets. Ray Plummer, one of our panel members, shares his thoughts on how it felt to be a part of this project.
Earlier this year we were delighted to work with 25 homeowners in Birmingham, to help them answer this question:
‘What needs to happen to bring home energy use in line with the need to tackle climate change?’
The panel’s recommendations went to inform the Government about what support and encouragement homeowners in the UK need, in order to play their part in protecting our planet. We asked Ray how it felt to be a part of this project. His experience demonstrates how our deliberative processes value everyone involved.
What made you want to take part?
There’s been a lot on the news about the impact of climate change, and I had been concerned about it for some time.
When I read what the Citizen Panel was all about, I was very impressed. It offered a practical way to get involved, have a say and maybe do something that might have some influence on government thinking in the future.
How did your fears and expectations compare to how you felt by the end of the sessions?
My big fears were that I would be part of an unrepresentative group of inflexible people. Experts on green issues and climate change, who would all have a particular shared view of what the problem was, whose fault it was, and how to solve it, and they would dominate the discussions.
It wasn’t like that at all. It was a very diverse group, with a few people who were really knowledgeable about the issues. But most of the group were good, decent, ordinary people who just had the desire to do something that might make a positive difference.
What did you find most enjoyable and interesting?
So many parts of the whole process were really interesting and enjoyable.
The facilitators created an environment where everyone felt able to have their say, without worrying about being put down or ridiculed. The online and face-to-face group sessions were very collaborative, informal and fun. The group activities where we had to work together to build a model or develop answers to a specific question. And then to present our vision, model or solution to the wider group was challenging, but good fun too.
I think many of us felt really privileged to be able to listen to and observe expert presentations from Climate Change Committee staff, from academics who had a deep knowledge of the issues, and by people from government and third-sector organisations who were doing practical things, such as giving advice about home insulation and energy saving, or using technology such as air source heat pumps, or designing super-efficient homes.
The mix of ordinary people making common sense suggestions, and experts, who often pointed to real-life projects and research that agreed with our suggestions, was incredibly positive. It showed that we were on the right track and there was a place for real-life experience.
Has your participation changed how you act within your community?
At the most basic level, it has led to me having a much greater awareness of the issues and talking to friends and family about climate change and the small things we can do to make things a little better. I always walk to the corner shop now rather than using the car. We recycle much more. And I would never have agreed to go on a podcast about environmental issues before I got involved with the Citizens’ Panel!
However, the thing that stood out most clearly for me was that, although it is really important for us all, at an individual and community level, to move things around on the deck of the ship to better care of the environment, it is down to the leadership and courage and clear-mindedness of the government of the day, and all governments, to decide whether, as the captain of the ship, they are heading for safe harbour or steering us straight into an iceberg.
Why is it important that deliberative processes like this happen regularly?
They provide a powerful, organised and well-structured way for ordinary people’s voices, views, and opinions to be heard by the public at large, and the government of the day.
They give us a forum that can show how ordinary, everyday people are willing to adapt, make sacrifices and be flexible if it means that society can be changed for the better.
The vast majority of the public demonstrated that during the pandemic –but the government seems to have missed that lesson. The conclusions from Citizen’s Panels, such as the one I’ve just participated in, should give courage to any government to make the positive changes that are needed.
The public is not afraid of change, as long as the ‘why’ is clear and positive, and the ‘how’ is practical, sensible, affordable and achievable.
(Hear more from Ray, in conversation with Academic Jake Ainscough, one of the climate panel commentators, on the Owl Hoot podcast.)
A massive thank you to Ray for taking the time to share his experience of deliberative politics.
Read more about this project and the final report, along with the citizen’s recommendations.