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Public Engagement

Policy Context

Section 91 of the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 sets requirements on Scottish Ministers to publish Public Engagement Strategies on a 5 yearly basis.

The Scottish Government published the Low Carbon Behaviours Framework in 2013. This set out important elements such as the ‘ten key behaviours’ list and also the Individual, Social and Material (ISM) Behaviours Framework. Go to the manual topic on Behaviour Change for more information.

In 2021, the Scottish Government published its new Public Engagement Strategy which sets out the overarching framework for engaging the people of Scotland in the transition to a net zero nation.

The report covers three strategic objectives:

  • Understand - People are aware of the action that all of Scotland is taking to tackle climate change and understand how it relates to their lives.
  • Participate - People actively participate in shaping just, fair and inclusive policies that promote mitigation of and adaptation to climate change.
  • Act - Taking action on climate change is normalised and encouraged in households, communities and places across Scotland.

An outcome of the new Public Engagement Strategy is the Net Zero Nation site which provides a landing page for the public to engage with the Government's Net Zero strategies. The page includes information on the Government’s plans, actions taken so far, ways to get involved, and resources.

In Spring 2022, the Scottish Government funded public polling on climate change. It covered questions around public trust in sources, understanding of net zero terms, understanding of sources of emissions, and interest in getting involved in climate action.

The Climate Change Committee highlights the importance of public engagement and behaviour change, noting that 65% of the emissions reductions needed by 2035 require national behaviour change. This report on Deliberative Public Engagement was produced for the CCC by Climate Citizens and Lancaster University.

Public Engagement, Place-making and Climate Change

SSN and a range of partners have been developing work to support public engagement at a place-level. The Scottish Government has a commitment to the ‘Place Principle’ in developing local place plans. One key resource that has been developed to support working at a place-level is the Place Standard Tool, available on the Our Place website, which was developed with a strong public health emphasis.

SSN, in partnership with Scottish Government, Sniffer, Public Health Scotland and Architecture+Design Scotland, has helped develop the Place Standard Tool with a Climate Lens. This suite of resources supports climate change focused place-based community and public engagement, drawing out the climate change challenges relating to the Place Standard elements.

Citizens’ Climate Assemblies

Between November 2020 and March 2021, the Scottish Government held an exemplar event called Scotland’s Climate Assembly. The subsequent report provides details on the assembly’s methodology and outcomes. There has also been a report published on Institutionalising Participatory and Deliberative Democracy which gives guidance on conducting citizens' assemblies.

Climate Conversations

Scottish Government has developed the Climate Conversation Pack as a tool to help individuals get to grips with all things climate change and identify topics and conversation starters.

Guidelines for Communicating Climate Change

The University of Strathclyde has published guidelines for climate change communication. Working in collaboration with a variety of individuals and organisations, Sustainable Strathclyde has released a one-page document and short video, aimed to encourage more effective communication on climate change. Watch the video or access the downloadable resource for more detail on the top six key guidelines for effective communication.

Public Engagement on Climate Adaptation

Adaptation Scotland run a project called Adaptation Learning Exchange for Community Engagement. The project aims to create a space where professionals can share experiences and develop new approaches to bringing communities and organisations together to adapt. The project includes Exchange Events, Task Groups and Pioneer Projects. One project outcome was a short guide to ‘Designing an adaptation engagement strategy’.

Sciencewise conducted a roundtable discussion of public engagement on climate adaption research and policy, results of this discussion can be found in this report.

Policy specific public engagement

  • The Scottish Government have published guidance on public engagement for sub-20MW wind turbine proposals.
  • In 2015 the Chartered Institution of Highways & Transportation published guidlines for practitioners to engage more effectively with those who stand to be most directly affected by transport work.
  • Scottish Futures Trust have also created a report for public engagement on infrastructure.
  • The Our Place website provides resources on place-based working, which is often complementary to public engagement. The site provides tools such as the Place Standard Inclusive Communication Toolkit and a Young Placechangers Toolkit for engaging young people. There is also a great section on Community Planning with links to important documents such as Scottish Government’s Community Planning guidance.

Reporting Pubic Engagement Initiatives

Public bodies are encouraged to report climate change related public engagement projects in their annual mandatory climate change reports in the ‘wider influence’ section.

Helpful links:

Public engagement handbook created by Policy Scotland.

Climate Outreach has a range of resources and expertise on public engagement and climate change. Their site contains insightful reports such as: Public engagement for a 1.5C world – shifting gear and scaling up and Theory of change: creating a social mandate for climate action.

ClimateXChange produced a report on Understanding and Engaging the Public on Climate Change in 2020. This report was commissioned as part of the Scottish Government's work to develop a new Public Engagement Strategy for climate change. At the core of this work is the need to understand public attitudes to climate change and review different models of public engagement to examine what works in achieving the transformation needed.

ClimateXChange have resources relating to Public Engagement, including:

Related policy challenges

Related projects

Kings College London released a research paper on engaging with older people.

The National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement website has a wealth of practical advice on how to engage publics.

Futerra produced a helpful seminal report on climate communication based on research conducted for the UK Government in 2011. ​

The SSN Local Authority Forum held a Public Engagement Event on April 2022. The summary of the event can be found here. Please note that useful links, further reading and event slides are located at the bottom of the document.