Key takeaways from workshop on resident engagement practices during the ISHF 2023

Involving residents in energy efficient social housing projects can be challenging. Lack of motivation, a general distrust towards institutions and miscommunication are issues that may arise when working with resident engagement. How do we meet these challenges, ensuring that people’s needs are met when developing Sustainable Plus Energy Neighbourhoods (SPENs)?

On 7-9 June 2,100 social and affordable housing providers, policymakers, city representatives, urbanists, architects, researchers, NGOs, and activists took part in the International Social Housing Festival in Barcelona. If you missed it, check the LIVE BLOG to revisit the essence from big debates, best practices, challenges, memorable quotes, stats, and impressions. 

 The H2020 EU-funded projects syn.ikia and ARV, develop sustainable neighbourhoods and communities, and their pilot projects in the Mediterranean context involve public housing projects in Spain that share key socio-economic features and ambitions. By inviting both pilot project leaders from Palma de Mallorca and Santa Coloma de Gramenet, we explored practices for resident engagement in energy-efficient housing projects in the Mediterranean region.

The workshop took place on June 8th 2023 and was organized by syn.ikia’s coordinating institution the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) together with Housing Europe and INCASÒL. The aim was to facilitate the exchange of knowledge around resident engagement in energy efficient social housing projects. Clara Mafé from Housing Europe, who leads the work on stakeholder engagement in syn.ikia, moderated the event.

Our workshop introduced several social housing projects involving resident engagement and focused especially on syn.ikia and ARV’s demonstration projects in Spain. The 43 participants were also given a brief look into ARV’s methodology for planning citizen engagement activities.

Involving residents in sustainable plus energy neighbourhoods (SPENs)

Carles Mas (INCASÒL) presented the syn.ikia-project and the social management process the housing agency is following in syn.ikia’s demo in Santa Coloma de Gramenet that will be finished next year. This includes setting up an office on-site where tenants can report and discuss issues that are important for them. He emphasised the importance of cultivating trust between tenants and the project administration.

Caroline Cheng (SINTEF Community) leads the work on citizen engagement and Living Labs in ARV. She briefly presented the ARV-project before introducing ARV’s SMILE methodology: Scope, Map, Implement, Learn, Enhance. The methodology involves analyzing the key actors involved in order to target specific needs. She emphasized that with a better understanding of our target groups, we can better messages from the tenant’s perspective. The language we use to communicate is key.

“Active resident engagement and feedback are often the weakest links in processes of sustainable neighbourhood developement” – Caroline Cheng

Marta Nicolau Prohens (City of Palma) presented ARV’s demo in the Llevante District in Palma. She introduced strategies for creating an inclusive energy transition process and carrying out large-scale retrofitting. According to her experience, a successful engagement strategy should increase comfort and security amongst residents, as well the energy efficiency of the neighbourhood. She highlighted that given how unpredictable people are, the outcome of engagement activities can be variable. It is important to be adaptable and rethink plans along the way.

Anna Mestre (Catalan Housing Agency) has worked with resident engagement in the three retrofitting projects HOUSEFUL, 4RinEU and Plug-n-Harvest. She talked about planning engagement activities and the various participation tools they used in each of the three projects. These included group discussions and one-on-one conversations with tenants and focus groups to detect incentives. Anna also reflected on the lessons learnt from the different EU-funded projects, highlighting shortcomings and areas of improvement. For instance, the involvement of the regional politechnical university (Universidad Politécnica de Cataluña) after the project was crucial to ensure the continuous engagement of tenants. It is also important to centralise all efforts and activities related to user engagement in a single work package and partner. Data collection strategies are essential. Counting with social and environmental experts in the consortium should be must. ​

Key takeways

The presentations were followed by group discussions around which target groups are more or less difficult to engage and why, incentives that can be used for motivation and participation tools.

Some of the main conclusions reached were:

  • Engagement should start with children and parents as this is the easiest group to engage.
  • The more difficult groups to engage are older people and low income groups.
  • A major challenge is the mistrust in institutions and projects administrations amongst residents.
  • Using participation tools involving the use of senses works well, such as videos, models that people can touch etc.
  • Involving residents at the right time is a typical problem for housing associations. It is easier to get people engaged in the beginning of a project development than at the end.
  • Information updates about the project development should be given at all times – even the bad things
  • Keys to moving forward: choosing the right communication channels according to target groups, developing key messages that residents will understand and being present in the neighbourhood in an approachable manner.
📥 Download the workshop slides 
📥 Download participation cards 
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