Trust building through solving immediate community challenges

Climate change is a classic (and particularly tragic) "tragedy of the commons" problem.  For many years we've been able to dump our CO2 and other greenhouse gasses into our shared atmosphere, with no real incentives to behave otherwise.  

And efforts over the past several decades have shown how hard it can be to make progress when there's no trust among all the parties involved. Seemingly wise "top-down" schemes don't find the sort of support they'd need to be successful. And the mistrust becomes corrosive to the very fabric of our communities.

So recent news from MIT about community-driven agricultural development caught my eye. The article notes that “considerable research over the last few decades has shown that bringing about improvements in agricultural systems is a highly complex challenge, with many interrelationships and feedbacks determining how well new methods and devices take hold or provide a real improvement.” (Not unlike climate action, right?)  Field studies by Elizabeth Hoffecker, from MIT D-Lab’s International Development Innovation Network, and Boru Douthwaite of the NGO WorldFish, found that a community working together on smaller immediate challenges develops greater trust. This sets the stage for progress on bigger problems that previously seemed intractable.

One study looked specifically at overfishing in a Zambian community:

The Zambian fisheries were facing two related issues, Hoffecker says: “The narrow challenge was to come up with a way to prevent fish from spoiling.” But in addressing that challenge, it became apparent that “there was a much bigger challenge, which was overfishing.” Though many communities in the region were facing these same challenges, “some of the stakeholders were not working together” to address them, she says. If people had tried to get these groups to work together on the bigger challenge right at the start, she says, “it probably would have failed,” because there was so much mistrust between the different communities...

...The overall process led to four significant outcomes, Douthwaite says — none of which had been planned or anticipated initially and thus might have been missed in an evaluation based just on meeting initial, stated goals. The four outcomes consisted of developing a locally sourced fish-processing method (the salting), developing a value chain for the salted fish from harvest to market, creating working groups that could continue to evaluate and improve innovations in the fishery, and improving relationships among the different groups involved, from the fishermen to the government agencies to the traders and buyers. In the end, this led to a growing consensus about the need for measures to prevent overfishing.

For climate change, what might be some immediate or simpler challenges that can bring a community together? Perhaps local deployment of renewable energy...or boosting preparedness for wildfires...  Please post your ideas in the comment thread!

3 Comments

Curt Newton's picture

Re: community aggregation - a

Re: community aggregation - a proposal to do this has started in my town. It's not an especially progressive community, and aggregation's reliance on opt-out to acheive economies of scale is meeting with some fear and resistance. While the consumer's relationship with their default electric service is ALREADY opt-out, anything that looks like government "takeover" or "mandate" sets off our more conservative/libertarian citizens. We're trying to keep the conversation focused on (1) it's the same 'collective buying power' benefit that you get at your Costco / BJ's Wholesale Club (2) it's very likely to save money on your bill (3) you're free to sign up with any other service you want - no loss of freedom! (4) more renewable energy content = more local jobs. Oh by the way it has this green benefit too, but that's not the conversation starter. My letter to the editor of our local paper: https://docs.google.com/document/d/14e4GQYolvLZMxvaAu9YJ6YJVfSqtiUg8cOmq...

Dave Damm-Luhr's picture

A number of communities

A number of communities around the US (e.g., MA, NY, CA, RI, IL, NJ) are pursuing "community choice aggregation" or "green municipal aggregation" - in order to enable community members to select a green energy supplier, particularly when they cannot otherwise do so (e.g., b/c it's not feasible to have solar panels on the roof). This has the potential to bring a community together around its energy sources. I'd be very interested to hear stories about ClimateX members' experiences - hard nut to crack? piece of cake?

Here's how community choice aggregation works:
a city or town contracts with an electricity supplier on behalf of residents and businesses who have not already selected a competitive supplier. Most residents and businesses currently get electricity supply, referred to as basic service, from their electric utility. Under a state's law, however, electric utility customers can choose an electricity supplier other than their utility (e.g., a green one), and the utility will continue to deliver the electricity, maintain poles and wires, and provide other customer services. Customers still receive a single electricity bill and can realize both cost savings and price stability goals with a greener electricity supply.
More info: http://www.mapc.org/cca

Rajesh Kasturirangan's picture

For the most part, fish

For the most part, fish stocks have declined due to industrialized fishing - no surprise there, just as industrialized farming has destroyed soils everywhere and put farmers into debt - and I can't imagine a real solution that doesn't involve major major cuts in large scale fishing. For example, it's not clear who the “some of the stakeholders were not working together” are, for if one stakeholder is an industrial fishing conglomerate and the other stakeholder is a marginal fishing community, they aren't peers in any meaningful sense of that term. Let me also record my dislike of the term "stakeholder," one of those World Bank bureaucratic euphemisms that have entered into discussions of justice. We don't need stakeholders, we need citizens.