In December 2020, the Scottish Government published a draft public engagement strategy which provides a framework for engaging Scotland's citizens in the transition to net zero emissions by 2045.
A consultation on the draft strategy opened on 16th December 2020 and closed on 31st March 2021. Through 19 open consultation questions, participants were asked their views on important aspects of the strategy. The consultation received 178 responses: 40 from individuals and 138 from a range of organisations.
Overall Approach, objectives and principles
There was broad support for the overall approach to public engagement outlined in the strategy and the objectives and principles underpinning it. Three fifths indicated that they welcomed, supported, or agreed with the objectives. Two thirds of respondents offered a similar endorsement of the principles, describing them in positive terms such as good, excellent, sound, appropriate or helpful.
Suggestions to improve each objective were clearly identified. It was felt that Objective 1 (Communicate) should include enhanced public understanding of climate change policy, as well as awareness. The prevalent theme for Objective 2 (Participate) was for participation to be inclusive and reflective of all parts of society. There were calls for Objective 3 (Action) to focus on enabling as well as encouraging action, and respondents welcomed the inclusion of communities. Most agreed that communities are well placed to know the requirements and limitations of their local areas and called for them to have input into decision making.
While respondents were most likely to indicate that no additional objectives were required, some suggested a more explicit objective around education. For example, emphasising climate change impacts and mitigation throughout the curriculum, and developing science-led education and training programmes for all parts of society.
The Just and Putting People First principles were most widely welcomed. Respondents outlined how they felt the principles should operate or ways they could be strengthened, either with additional information or wording changes. There were calls for more detail on how the principles would be applied locally, e.g. how communities' voices will be heard, and how communities will be trained, supported and resourced to drive change.
The Green Recovery
Respondents identified numerous opportunities and challenges for engagement in the Green Recovery. Sustaining and embedding the behaviour change resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic was most prevalent and seen as both an opportunity and a challenge. Some noted that this is an ideal time to engage people because of the focus on issues such as public health, food supply and consumer behaviour. A challenge is to avoid a return to 'normal' behaviours post-pandemic. Others believed that because the pandemic has affected the public, communities and businesses in many ways – job losses, food insecurity and challenges around health – tackling climate change is not seen as an immediate priority. Respondents highlighted the importance of getting the timing and messaging of public engagement right.
Highlighting the positive benefits of a Green Recovery was the second most prevalent opportunity. The overarching focus of these responses was showing the public how their lifestyles would improve by taking individual and collective action. Improvements included cleaner air, better health and wellbeing, stronger communities, tackling fuel and food poverty, and training and green job opportunities.
Ensuring communication is sufficient in scope and clear in its messaging was a commonly mentioned challenge. Some noted the need to continue to raise awareness, particularly of terms such as Green Recovery, Net Zero, Just Transition and Wellbeing Economy. A small number advised against using scientific and economic jargon. Another issue was the need to ensure clear, consistent messaging around what individuals need to do and how this makes a difference. A few noted the need to communicate the consequences of not taking action against climate change.
Making engagement relevant was also identified as a challenge. While recognising that everyone needs to be included in engagement, some respondents noted that people need to understand what taking action, or not, would mean for them and their lifestyle. This means messaging needs to be tailored for different audiences to make it relevant. Others felt tackling climate change should be presented as something everyone needs to contribute to, to overcome lack of interest or scepticism.
Communicating climate change policy
The proposed approach to communicating climate change policy was welcomed by around two fifths of respondents. Several specifically welcomed the recognition that "governments are often not the most suitable messenger when it comes to communicating policies to differing audiences".
Beyond endorsement, three themes were most prevalent. Respondents encouraged the Scottish Government to partner and collaborate with a range of organisations and sectors from local authorities and public bodies to museums, faith organisations, industry and businesses. They suggested that a variety of traditional and digital media channels should be used, with the media, messages and narrative tailored for different groups. It was seen as vital to include those who are digitally excluded, least engaged, more disadvantaged or likely to be most impacted by potential changes. There were also requests for messaging to be simple and accessible, but also strong, clear and consistent.
Enabling participation in policy design
Around two fifths were also supportive of the proposed approach to enabling participation in policy design. The next most common theme was positive feedback on the Climate Assembly and use of deliberative approaches. There were calls for the strategy to clarify how the Scottish Government will publicise, learn from, commit to and act on the Climate Assembly's recommendations. Calls for inclusivity were also prevalent. Respondents outlined how the Scottish Government should overcome barriers to engagement and ensure those most likely to be affected by climate change are encouraged to participate.
The inclusion of youth participation in the draft strategy was welcomed. Comments encouraged the Scottish Government to ensure children and young people are supported to participate and suggested doing this through education and the youth work sector.
Respondents were supportive of the approach to encouraging action and its seven sub-sections outlined in the strategy. The 'Supporting Community Climate Change Action' section received most praise for noting the value of using local initiatives and community approaches to address the climate change emergency. Many were supportive of the 'Supporting Climate Change Education' section and agreed that climate change education should be integrated into the curriculum. However, they felt that more funding and support for education leaders and teachers would be required for this to be successful. The 'Supporting Key Messengers' section of the draft strategy was met with enthusiasm by several respondents who felt this approach would help reach a variety of audiences.
While respondents were generally supportive, some described the approach as too vague or general and requested more detail about how the Scottish Government will encourage action. Some called for a greater sense of urgency in the approach. A few felt the approach focuses too strongly on individual responsibility, and others commented on the importance of the Government's role in leading the approach.
Most respondents agreed that COP26 has the potential to create a positive legacy. They felt this could be achieved by establishing global partnerships and boosting Scotland's reputation as a leader in climate change action. However, this would require the summit to deliver world changing commitments.
It is also seen as a unique opportunity to engage and educate Scotland's public. Respondents gave their views on how best to deliver the "people" theme for COP26. The most prevalent suggestion was that the Scottish Government should adopt a localised approach and focus on working with communities across Scotland. Some respondents felt that working with stakeholders to showcase examples of local community climate action across Scotland would be a positive approach.
Several respondents stressed the importance of embracing diversity, equality and inclusion at COP26, and called on the Scottish Government to engage with a broad range of communities across Scotland. They wish to see diversity in representation at the event in terms of ethnicity, age, gender, disability, socioeconomic background and urban/rural divide. Respondents named a range of established organisations who they believe the Scottish Government should collaborate with. They also highlighted a range of initiatives for the Scottish Government to considered supporting ahead of COP26. These covered community, national and international initiatives and youth and education initiatives.
Monitoring, evaluation and reporting
Respondents welcomed the approach to evaluation described in the draft strategy. They supported the commitment to effective, holistic evaluation and reflected on the need for a range of qualitative and quantitative methods to be adopted.
Many described the importance of involving stakeholders, including the public, in monitoring and evaluation processes. This included providing input as evaluation participants, and in informing design, gathering data and as agents of change.
A need for a variety of frequencies of reporting was mentioned by many, to enable comprehensive reporting of progress and achievement at fixed points, supplemented with more frequent and regular updates and communication, as required. Annual reporting was most suggested, with the expectation of full or summary reports on progress and achievements against objectives, as well as targets for the year ahead.
Several respondents felt a range of reporting formats were required, primarily to engage different audiences and stakeholders. It was felt that reporting should be inclusive, accessible and engaging for all stakeholders in terms of language, presentation and format. Respondents suggested a range of reporting mediums including the use of visuals, infographics, and images and using stories, case studies, and quotes. The approach used to share information and updates throughout the COVID-19 pandemic was frequently mentioned as an effective example.
A range of informed individuals and stakeholders shared their views and ambitions for how the Scottish Government can successfully communicate with individuals and communities and encourage the public's participation in decision making. Their responses provide an essential evidence base for the Scottish Government to draw upon when developing and implementing the final Public Engagement Strategy.
There is evidence across responses that the strategy is welcomed, with broad endorsement of the objectives and principles included in the approach. Support was also expressed for proposed participation approaches, particularly youth participation and Climate Assembly. Calls for partnership approaches and collaboration and for more education to enhance climate literacy were also common.
Respondents noted significant opportunities and challenges around engaging the public in the Green Recovery. It offers an opportunity to embed COVID-19 driven behaviour change and promote the benefits of a Green Recovery, green jobs, and the increased importance of communities can all be promoted. However, they highlighted challenges around ensuring communication is of sufficient scale, clarity and relevance to be effective and that people feel empowered and able to act.
COP26 is seen as a unique opportunity to engage the Scottish public about the climate emergency to boost Scotland's reputation as a leader in climate change action. The commitment to evaluation in the draft strategy was welcomed, with respondents highlighting the need for a range of methods to be adopted and for clear and measurable goals to demonstrate progress.