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.

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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.

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