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Europe’s local energy challenges: stories from 17 multi city workshops

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SHAPE ENERGY is Europe’s Platform for the energy-related Social Sciences & Humanities (energy-SSH) running over 2017-2019. A central component of the Platform’s work has been the organisation of 17 city workshops across 17 European countries, held between Nov 2017 and Jun 2018.

The workshops aimed to explore the role of the Social Sciences & Humanities (SSH) in meeting local or regional energy challenges: how do those working in energy at the local level feel SSH understandings could help them in their work? Workshop organisers were trained beforehand in participatory ‘storytelling’ methods, which were designed into the workshops in order to enable rich and diverse contributions from participants to help understand these challenges and draw out SSH-relevant themes. In most cases participants both told individual stories and generated collaborative visioning stories; many examples of the latter are included in this report.


The workshops each focused on a specific local issue, and in 14 cases the Local Authority was directly involved in the event. Energy and buildings proved topical, but other issues chosen included citizen initiatives, local authority collaborations, and fuel poverty. These workshop topics each related to one or more of the four SHAPE ENERGY topics. Overall therefore ten workshops tackled aspects of ‘Energy efficiency and using less’, six linked to ‘Competitive, secure, low-carbon energy supply’, seven to ‘Energy system optimisation and smart technologies’ and five to ‘Transport sector decarbonisation’.


Workshops involved on average 20 attendees, who ranged across: local business as well as industry support organisations, local and national policyworkers (both elected officials and civil servants), NGOs and community groups, academics (often from local universities), as well as citizens who had a stake in the topic being discussed. The workshops had active social media streams, and a large number of blogs and videos are available through the SHAPE ENERGY website. Participants often commented in particular on the value they saw of bringing different groups together around the same table, including in cultural contexts where interactive workshops are less common than traditional presentation-focused events. In many cases efforts are being made to capitalise on the workshops through taking ‘next steps’, for example beginning a series of meetings, or feeding the work into local energy strategies.


From the workshop data, six themes were identified by Energy Cities as take-aways for local politicians and civil servants looking to deepen their work on social and human dimensions of energy at the local level. These involve exploring: Changing energy behaviours; Energy education and engagement; Vision, inclusivity and fairness in energy matters; Energy collaborations and partnerships; Creating alternative (energy using) systems; Timescales of energy systems.


The organisation of those workshops involved using a common method (storytelling) to bring together local stakeholders many of whom do not normally think of their energy-related work in terms of SSH themes. Storytelling proved fruitful in many ways for achieving learning, conflict solving and inclusion, but other methods could certainly be used. The materials coming out of the workshops can now be used in diverse ways by city administrations, those working in all aspects of energy, as well as SSH researchers.