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Do not make decisions that impact peoples’ lives without their involvement – when it comes to LEZs too. Communication workshop

“Do not make decisions that impact peoples’ lives without their involvement” – this principle that should guide local governments, especially in controversial matters such as Low Emission Zones. The form of communication is as important as its content, while social consultations are the culmination of a thorough process of informing and educating the public – these are some of the principles of communicating with residents that local government officials learned during a workshop in the “Laboratory of Low Emission Zones” project.

The workshop was attended e.g. by representatives of local governments from Włocławek, Mińsk Mazowiecki and Radomsko. The team of the National Center for Climate Change at the Institute of Environmental Protection – National Research Institute demonstrated examples of the language of effective communication with local residents and discussed ways to effectively involve them in the public consultation process.

The topic of Low Emission Zones undoubtedly evokes strong emotions. As is the case with other controversial issues, this is often due to the fact that residents feel surprised by the actions of the authorities and left out of the decision-making process. Engaging them is not only a formal obligation (as per legal requirements pertaining to public consultations) or a way to build a positive image of local authorities, but above all the basis for social participation, without which local communities cannot properly function and develop.

The main purpose of public consultations is to bring constructive conclusions – therefore, they cannot be the beginning of the communication process, but should rather be treated as a kind of test of previous dialogue, information exchange, and in many cases – education. Effective and constructive consultations are possible only if residents are partners in the conversation with the local government – crucially, partnership requires that the discussants have the same level of knowledge. The task of educating the public to ensure that no one is left out is a responsibility of local governments.
Effective education takes time, so it must start as early as possible – particularly in the case of LEZs, as the topic has given rise to many myths, misunderstandings and controversies. In Antwerp, which is often held up as a model for establishing Low Emission Zones, communication started three years before the launch of the Zone.

The workshop was part of the agenda of the seminar of the Association of Municipalities Polish Network “Energie Cités”, which was held under the title “Sustainable development of cities and municipalities on the road to climate neutrality” on May 11-12th in Jadwisin near Warsaw. The meeting brought together local government officials, social activists, state administration officials and experts from all over Poland involved in urban green transition and sustainable development.

(photo: own materials)