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Since 2006 a unique (as far as I know) COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT climate change project has been under way in Castlemaine, Victoria. Now the results are in.

As the team included a number of facilitators, it seemed natural to make it a COMMUNITY DEVEOPMENT project…one that would work bottom-up (tho’, inevitably, it ended up being partly top-down as well). This implied handing over maximum control with the local community, and this is the shining glory of the project, as Geoff Brown’s report shows.

It illustrates a golden rule of social change: sustained change depends on shared control.

Below are some excerpts from the report summary.

See the whole report at Geoff’s web site: www.yesandspace.com.au/?p=705

And see some interviews with participants: www.youtube.com/castlemaine500

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In 2006, the Central Victorian Greenhouse Alliance (CVGA) secured the Victorian Government’s support to fund a behaviour change program that would test – by engaging a significant proportion of a township in household energy reduction – whether major savings could be achieved and measured at the regional level. The objective was to get 500 households to commit to a long-term process that required active participation and input to achieve a 15 to 30% reduction in energy consumption.

Both parties agreed that this process should be documented to assist other townships in their development of locally focused projects.

With active support from the Department of Sustainability and Environment, the CVGA called for expressions of interest from townships with populations of between 5,000 and 10,000 residents (with access to reticulated gas). After short-listing, Castlemaine was selected, and a program of activities including workshops, home assessments, community conferences and a local leaders program (to support activities beyond the project timeframe) began.

Castlemaine 500 also had a strong focus on building community capacity and leaving behind a legacy in the Castlemaine community after the initial funding had ceased. To this end, the project ran a number of leadership activities with a core group of participants and attempted to broker partnerships with key groups in the community. This side of the project has proved very successful, with some of the leaders going on to organise their own events, take part in a participatory evaluation and coordinate a network of interested people. Leaders have reported a range of new skills and knowledge as a result of their involvement in the project.

One leader was awarded the citizen of the year award for her work to assist households to reduce energy in her own community. Another leader has become the C500 coordinator, employed through the local Community House, completing the handover of the project to the local community.

In 2008, the efforts of the Castlemaine community were internationally recognised by a United Nations World Environment Day award.

Of significant interest in our findings is that the creation of social spaces proved to be one of the most influential aspects of the project. Participants reported that the opportunities to talk with each other and share their knowledge and experiences were vital to their capacity building processes. Events such as Energy Smart Workshops provided opportunities for participants to learn from and interact with each other.

Both the Energy Smart Workshops and Home Energy Assessments were highly useful as a way of supporting participants as they learned to change their behaviour and reduce energy use. Specific tools like the Home Energy Assessment Tool (HEAT), Home Energy Action Plan (HEAP), a free energy smart thermometer and a project letterbox sticker were also regarded as highly beneficial. This pilot project was always about much more than measuring reductions in energy consumption, and the feedback validates this.

Additionally (and unexpectedly), two new projects emerged in the project’s second year. The Kyabram (Ky Can Do Thatg) and Ararat (Ararat Energy Savers) projects were instigated by the Central Victorian Greenhouse Alliance (CVGA), delivered in part nership with regional partners and funded by the Department of Sustainability and Environment. The newly appointed coordinators of both the Kyabram and Ararat project workers became involved in C500 leadership activities, with their plans heavily influenced by the lessons learned during the C500’s first year.

Notably, a number of other townships (large and small) expressed an interest in developing a similar model in their local area. Valuable learnings from these projects are described on pages 26 & 45 of this report; further detailed (and useful) information is available at the CVGA’s website (www.cvga.org.au).

While the C500 project has been very successful in achieving many of our goals, it also encountered many hurdles and challenges.

The initial target of signing up 500 houses proved overly ambitious, with a final tally of 351 households formally registered to C500. At the outset, the project steering committee bounded eligibility to households within the postcode 3450 [population about 6400]. After significant community feedback this restriction was expanded to include 3451 [population around 4500], however, the project struggled to attract households from these parts of the Castlemaine community. Spin off projects at Kyabram and Ararat and a significant level of interest from other townships illustrates that the numbers were large, even if not formally based in the Castlemaine area.

Whilst the energy monitoring strategy yielded only small numbers of households with reliable, pre and post electricity and gas data, these small sample sizes still allowed us to make conclusions about overall changes in energy consumption across C500 households. However, comparisons between different sub groups of households and project interventions were not possible. Results indicate an overall reduction in gas consumption in C500 households by approximately 15%, and a reduction in electricity consumption by approximately 8%. It’s important to keep in mind that small sample sizes limit our ability to be more specific.

The results presented in this report clearly point to the complex nature of behaviour change projects and the difficulty involved with attempts to attribute project activities to influencing ‘impact level’ data such as energy consumption. In our view, the project does demonstrate tangible outcomes – despite the difficulties encountered in proving concrete reductions in energy consumption (and greenhouse gas emissions). Our findings identify the need for projects of this nature to carefully consider their approach to behaviour change and to factor in the social context in which change occurs. There is also a need for future projects to be more prepared for the unexpected, to be flexible and adaptive and to conduct monitoring at various levels, using a mixture of techniques. Above all, projects of this nature must be committed to building ownership within the community. It is hoped that this report, which has strived to tell both the good and the more difficult aspects of delivering a behaviour change program, is a useful tool for other townships across Victoria as collectively we face the challenges of a changing climate.

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