As the project coordinator for Cologne within the EU Horizon 2020 project Grow Smarter it is the city administration’s business to offer the required citizen participation activities. We decided to use the Community Reporting format as the adequate method.
What is Grow Smarter about?
Grow Smarter is an energy efficiency project in which existing technical solutions are combined to prove that it is possible to reach energy saving goals and to function as a best practice example. The project area is mainly the Stegerwald Settlement, part of the Cologne district Mülheim, situated near the Cologne fair and surrounded by railway tracks, a main road and an industrial zone. The housing blocks are mainly owned by one housing company. Sub-projects are for example the energetic renovation of the blocks with new insulation and installing of photovoltaic and heat pumps, the set up of a mobility hub with car sharing and rental bikes and a new way of car parking management. These will be combined in a smart home scenario for an easy use by the tenants.
The challenges we have to face:
This sounds quite exciting, but what we learned from the tenants during a first information event in November 2015 was – despite their approval of the rising living standard – their partial concerns about rent increase, electro smog and misuse of data.
So the question is how to get the tenants to acknowledge the various options of previously unknown new possibilities and to value the positive aspects of the project.
Our answer is to get the people living in the Stegerwald settlement to engage themselves in the project, to deal with the new technical and infrastructural offers and to get in dialog about their experiences with us (the project partners of the Grow Smarter) and amongst themselves. We are going to encourage and support this by offering Community Reporter workshops. The workshops will not only deal with the “regular community reporter stuff”. In addition we want to give the participants a deeper inside into the project for example by inviting project partner for interviews and by trying out the new technical offers. Participants will also be encouraged to come up with their own ideas for a change to a more energy efficient lifestyle.
Thus far in theory! At the moment we are promoting our Community Reporter workshops that are run by the Adult Education Centre. We don’t know yet if we find enough interested participants to implement a Grow Smarter Community Reporter group.
Another challenge we have to face is the concern of project partners about negative reporting. What if Community Reporters focus on – from their point of view – negative aspects of the EU-project? As long as Community Reporters stick to the editorial guidelines we – the project partners of the Grow Smarter project – have to accept this. And furthermore it is a chance for us to learn about the opinions, attitudes and concerns of the people who are affected most by the EU-project Grow Smarter – the tenants of the Stegerwald Settlement.
Therefor we open and offer a dialog between the involved parties. Since the beginning of this year the project coordinator offers a fortnightly open hour in the office of the housing company, situated in the Stegerwald Settlement. Citizens and residents can ask questions and come forward with suggestions concerning the project. These are passed on to and discussed with the project partners under the aspect of implementation.
In one years time we may know if the idea of using the Community Reporter format worked as a tool for citizen participation in our case. We’ll let you know!
Meanwhile we are very interested in your experiences with negative reporting and if it happened how you dealt with it. Please get in touch with us!
City of Cologne
eGovernment and Online-Services