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Democratic Climate Model

Democratic Society have developed a prototype for a Democratic Climate Model to show the impact of putting citizen at the centre of local climate action. It responds to the gap in pan-European efforts to democratise climate action, providing terminology and models to shift cities from a solely technocratic to a democratic approach to climate resilience. It is evolving ‘climate democracy’ discourse with funders, public sector and civil society by scaling local initiatives to European potentials.

Innovation Summary

Innovation Overview

Cities and communities know urgent, strong, co-operative action is needed on climate, but lack shared terminology of what it will take to make change. Communities are not clear on where or how they have agency to make change, and may see it rather as a job for public sector leaders and technical innovation experts more familiar with environmental sectors and sciences.

Observing that communication of these concepts is a significant barrier to democratic climate action, Democratic Society (Demsoc) developed a prototype for a Democratic Climate Model, a descriptive and analytic tool setting out conditions for climate resilience in cities, using accessible terminology and concepts to help diverse city actors forge shared understanding of conditions for climate action and become more effective agents of change. The prototype was developed through our partnership with the public sector, funders, civil society and communities in the multi-city, multi-year EIT Climate-KIC Healthy, Clean Cities Deep Demonstrations project, which seeks to collaborate with cities to find ways of imagining, experimenting and learning towards achieving carbon neutrality.

The prototype addresses the gap in pan-European efforts to democratise climate action; to date there has been intention and precedence, but a distinct lack of shared terminology and models. It is positively framed around levers DemSoc see for climate resilience: diversity of actors, participatory culture, resourcing and subject-matter expertise, and cross-border collaboration at local, regional and national levels. It provides simple tools for city actors to collaboratively measure and assess how much or little each of these things are present, and how they add up to determine the city’s future climate resilience.

There are three parts to the Model:
‘City Canopy’: a tool for measuring and visually representing a city's climate resilience based on four categories: diversity of actors, participatory culture, subject matter expertise, and resources.
Actor Framework: considers types of actors involved in local climate action, what roles they play, and how their roles must evolve to bring about just and sustainable climate futures.
Rooted vs Weak collaboration: big picture view of what collaboration and strengthened citizen participation enables for climate resilience.

The Model is a compass not a map. It is sparking conversations in cities for inclusive, community-led approaches that strengthen participation, governance and in turn, climate resilience, and fostering innovation in participatory democracy approaches for climate resilience amongst public sector, civil society and community actors.

It was developed over 12 months and builds on an earlier appreciative enquiry tool Demsoc developed for cities focusing on levels and quality of participation and climate action. The current iteration was generated from internal design research in late 2020 with Demsoc's Local Connectors (LCs) involved in the Deep Demonstrations work. LCs are staff deeply embedded in their cities, living and working locally, and providing on-the-ground support to the city council in the local language. Each LC has a rich knowledge on feeding innovation into democratic processes, knows the actors on the ground involved in climate action, and regularly collaborates with local and regional government stakeholders. The LCs are connected on a European Union (EU) level, exchanging ideas and learnings and embedding this knowledge back into local climate action initiatives with public sector, civil society and community stakeholders.

DemSoc are steadily implementing, testing and iterating the prototype in early experimental stages collaboratively with public sector leaders, civil society and communities across 11 EU cities – Amsterdam, Kraków, Leuven, Madrid, Orléans, Vienna, Križevci, Maribor, Niš, Sarajevo, and Skopje – as part of their ongoing Deep Demonstrations engagement. DemSoc are using the prototype to design portfolios of experiments for participatory democracy with public sector leaders to achieve systemic change in areas as diverse as mobility and logistics, housing and the build environment, waste and the circular economy, energy, and urban greening.

Krakow public sector leaders have described it as an ‘eye opener’ and are using it to develop a more democratic participation strategy in 2021. Vienna included a divers set of actors in the city’s financial planning through a participatory budgeting process. In Madrid it led to more diversity in the planning process, influenced establishment of communities of practice, and has sparked conversations about how specific community groups can bring in insights. It has also sparked conversations about changemaking in place with funders and institutions keen to understand how to work with citizens on topics such as retrofit.

More broadly DemSoc are using the Model to grow ‘climate democracy’ discourse in Europe.

Innovation Description

What Makes Your Project Innovative?

The Model is an innovation for climate action at a local level, aimed at fostering higher quality of democracies and more participatory democratic approaches. It does so by providing accessible terminology and concepts to forge shared understanding between diverse actors – including public sector, civil society and communities – to engage in climate action in more democratic, participatory ways and become effective agents for change.

It intentionally encourages cross-border collaboration and reframes ‘innovation’ in climate action as being built on the ethos of deep collaboration and democracy-driven governance, not technology only. It takes a systemic perspective on pathways towards climate action and promotes a design justice approach to the climate challenge, making explicit the relationship between design, power and social justice by calling out where inequity and citizen disempowerment weaken governance and climate resilience.

What is the current status of your innovation?

We are trialling the Model with 11 cities in Europe over the next year, weaving it into experiment design and playing back learnings into the Model:

- Working with city leaders to design positive ecosystems for citizen participation, based on Model principles. For example, setting up a democratic energy transitions lab to examine agency of different actors and how to build participatory culture in support of energy innovation.
- Bringing internal and external actors together around the Actor Framework, to think about agency for change and pathways to increased diversity and inclusion.

DemSoc are producing a replicable, scalable ‘Playbook’ with different components of participatory democratic practice for climate action based on Model concepts and Deep Demonstrations learnings.

DemSoc are also using the Model to galvanise cross-sector, cross-border ‘climate democracy’ discourse, reframing responses to climate action from a civic level, via a EU-wide democratic climate network.

Innovation Development

Collaborations & Partnerships

Civil society organisations: The Model was co-designed with Demsoc ‘Local Connectors’ (LCs) collaborating with public sector and communities in Deep Demonstrations cities. The LCs reviewed concepts and terminology, and helped refine Model narrative ready for publication.
Government officials, industry, academia: we continue to engage city leaders, sustainability experts and design academics on Model development e.g. how to more clearly draw a line from strengthened democracy to climate action.

Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries

Citizens and civil society as stakeholder and beneficiaries: Design, monitor and implement a collective and adequate response to climate change and adaptation.

Government as user and beneficiary: Assess the city’s path towards climate resilience. Using the model to build local governance systems for climate resilience.

Funders as users: Consider the intersectionality between climate and democracy; make sustainable funding decisions to advance local climate action.

Innovation Reflections

Results, Outcomes & Impacts

We are using the City Canopy to illustrate Deep Demonstrations cities’ achievements and areas for growth, showing percentage of “canopy growth” based on qualitative indicators including extent of participatory culture. In the future we anticipate adding more metrics including the number of citizens involved, and ‘crowd sourced’ quantitative measures for plotting and comparing City Canopies.
For example we plotted the climate resilience of Orléans, France, revealing how far the city has come with participatory culture as it develops a transition governance approach at local and regional levels.
Public sector leaders in Krakow, Vienna and Leuven are discussing how they can use the City Canopy in more collaborative ways, scale it up to other levels of government, and use what they learn to better shape their projects and programmes for democratic climate action.
To make the Model more actionable we are assembling a Playbook for cities to address climate change more sustainably

Challenges and Failures

The Model focuses on understanding conditions for democratic climate action, AND ways to strengthen climate action. The latter goal is challenging to measure. To what extent and through which mechanisms do democratic governance models enhance climate action? Empirical analysis shows that an absence of democratic engagement on climate blocks progress. Beyond the removal of barriers, gathering evidence to prove this link and understand mechanisms through which shifts happen is something the field and public sector leaders in e.g. Vienna are grappling with. Demsoc are connecting existing thinking and learning across actors and sectors to understand the connection between climate and democracy better.

Fundamental and rapid transformation is needed. DemSoc's challenge is to move from mapping, which describes the situation and possible ways forward, to implementing plans that are leading to incremental and sustainable changes on how cities address climate change through democratic means.

Conditions for Success

As the prototype grows and develops to be the following conditions will enable its success:

Accessible – The Model was developed to be freely used by all actors and sectors, with attention to simple language and narrative. Over time it will be translated into other languages.

Actionable – The Model was developed to be used, tested and adapted. Only if it reduces the complexity of how to resolve the climate and democratic challenge of city leaders, will it see an uptake and serve its purpose.

Democracy champion – Having leaders inside government, as it is the case in e.g. Vienna, with an existing participation culture and understanding of the power of citizen voices significantly increases chances of Model buy-in by other public servants.

Targeted communications strategy – Different target audiences have different needs and interests; the Model must be communicated through the right channels and with the right messaging to reach them, including across borders.


We are rolling the Model prototype out to Deep Demonstrations cities for ongoing feedback on its validity, feasibility and scalability.

Funding partners such as EIT Climate-KIC are republishing the Model in their global networks, and looking for similarities in how they and other members of the Deep Demonstrations consortium are approaching the climate challenge from more systemic and holistic perspectives.

DemSoc anticipate civil society organisations adapting the Model within their strategic approaches to building capacity and capability in participatory democratic methods with local, regional and national levels of government.

DemSoc are also observing the growth of ‘climate democracy’ discourse amongst community groups, governments and academics, who are starting to draw upon and evolve the terminology, concepts and principles of the Model - such as “rooted collaboration” – in cross-sector, cross-border collaborations and discussions.

Lessons Learned

Demsoc’s work and this Model specifically is not aimed at providing users with a replicable approach that works in all settings. The experience has highlighted the relevance of democratic climate solutions that are developed by local actors collaboratively. While this is not the simple approach everyone hopes for, DemSoc believe that it is the sustainable approach that creates a city’s infrastructure that can adequately address complex challenges beyond climate change.
To achieve a rapid and fundamental transformation, it is not sufficient to focus on technical solutions only. A transformation of economic, social and financial systems is needed that cannot be achieved by a siloed approach but by addressing the governance infrastructure instead.
It visualises complexity using relatively simple aspects. Therefore, it justifiably has its critics. Hence, DemSdescribe it as a compass rather than a map and are working on more actionable tools for cities to use, such as a methods Playbook.

Anything Else?

The Healthy, Clean Cities Deep Demonstrations project is financially supported by EIT Climate-KIC.

Democratic Society have been working as the design partners within the project consortium since 2019, with Dark Matter Labs, Bankers Without Boundaries, and Material Economics, to inspire 14 cities with new ways of imagining, trialling, and learning to work towards a just transition.

The first cohort of city partners during the 2019-2020 programme were Amsterdam, Edinburgh, Kraków, Leuven, Madrid, Malmö, Milano, Orléans, and Vienna, as well as Future Cities South East Europe city partners, Križevci, Maribor, Niš, Sarajevo, and Skopje.

Project Pitch


  • Generating Ideas or Designing Solutions - finding and filtering ideas to respond to the problem or opportunity

Innovation provided by:

Date Published:

3 September 2021

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