The article below was Published October 2011 in Environmental Leader Magazine.
When looking to gain public support for your renewable energy project, developing a grassroots campaign may be your best strategy. Many people seem to have a vague understanding of what a grassroots campaign is but very few know what exactly it entails. The most basic definition describes a grassroots campaign as one that takes place on a local level with community involvement. Community involvement is indeed key to securing a smooth transition from the initial proposal to construction stage of your venture.
It is important to recognize the different ways community members can get involved in the course of the project. Opposition to your proposal may be inevitable. The main goal of your campaign will most likely be addressing and eliminating such opposition. It is imperative to not lose sight of those who support your project. Support from certain members of your local community may be the difference between defeat and success.
When you begin your grassroots campaign, your first step should be conducting preliminary research of local demographics. It is necessary to become aware of potential local support to help build allies. After you have done your research, you will need to identify and create a database of local residents who are in favor, against, or undecided about the project. A good way to begin is by carrying out a poll or a phone bank, asking local residents about their view of the economic development of the region in general, and about your project plan in particular. The results of the poll or phone bank may then be published to showcase the positive attitude in the community toward your venture. Once the database is created, it has to be maintained and updated frequently to reflect changes in local opinion.
As soon as you distinguish supporters from opposition, the next step is to reach out to third party groups that may support your development. These groups could be anything from private businesses to a local decision maker. Those companies or groups who you have had a positive relationship with in the past and could benefit from your project should be encouraged to participate in the campaign. Gathering support from local businesses, politicians and social activists is a first step toward winning the approval of the overall community.
Your campaign should aim at encouraging a creation of a pro-group with members from local community who support your project. This group will be actively involved in all aspects of the campaign. The main goal of a pro-group is to express its ratification and support of the project. One of the ways of doing that is through letters to elected officials and local mass media outlets. The pro-group should be aware of all names and contact information of members of the local governing boards or bodies that are making the decision regarding your proposal. Residents who want to express their support can also write to local newspapers and magazines, prompting a local response that can also be used to identify more support. Nothing motivates community involvement more than seeing your peer and neighbor actively participating in the project.
Another example of community involvement is volunteerism. Very often local residents offer their free time to help with petition signing, open house set up, or simply spread the good word about your project. You will find such contributions extremely helpful in your grassroots campaign. In addition, members of pro-groups will most likely attend public hearings where they will speak in support of your project. Attendance at such hearings may be pivotal in whether your proposal moves forward. This is the platform to showcase how many residents favor your development.
Pro-groups can go even further and actively promote your project through social networking. They can initiate Facebook pages where they share information and discuss the progress; they could Tweet news and updates; blogs and websites can be created outlining the benefits of your business or project for the community. This type of social media activity maximizes the chances of local decision makers noticing the positive attitude toward your project and may also attract new supporters.
Your grassroots campaign will most likely concentrate on debunking and eliminating the opposition to your project. As we all know, the best defense is a good offense. Pro-groups and active supporters can be your most powerful tool. Very often the opposition stems from misinformation and poor communication between project representatives and the community. It is always advised not to wait until the opposition arises to implement your campaign. Begin educating the public and presenting it with facts before they get the chance to form an opinion without proper information. Local residents and members of pro-groups will prove invaluable in spreading the good word and encouraging other locals to see your proposal in the positive light.