Morris Area Rural Climate Dialogues
- General Issues
- Specific Topics
- Climate Change
- Scope of Influence
- Start Date
- End Date
- Time Limited or Repeated?
- A single, defined period of time
- Total Number of Participants
- Decision Methods
- Not Applicable
The first local event in a state-wide public dialogue initiative, the Morris Area Climate Dialogue used the Citizens' Jury method to educate residents about the local effects of climate change and to encourage collaboration and reflection on collective action.
Problems and Purpose
Rural communities are at risk to be seriously affected by climate change. Recent extreme weather in Minnesota has caused unease in several communities about how to tackle climate change now, and in the future. Due to the lack of education, resources and community awareness, citizens need to be educated on climate change and what they can do to make a difference (Jefferson Centre, 2014). Rural economies such as Morris are vulnerable to shifts in weather or to policy change that is intended to address climate change. Policies and solutions that raise resource and energy costs adversely affect residents in rural areas as they spend a greater percentage of their income on these necessities (Rockway, 2014).
Unfortunately, citizens of rural areas are frequently left out of public discussions about climate change and there is a lack of communication between the public and policy makers. Further, the local impact of climate change in rural areas, such as heavy precipitation events are generally overlooked by state media (Rockway, 2014). Residents of rural city’s like Morris who may not believe in anthropogenic climate change (pollution caused by human activity), often don’t recognize the impact climate change can have on their own community.
Climate Dialogues help rural communities come together to think critically and strategically to address local climate change. The purpose is to improve public participation by bringing local communities together to think critically and plan strategically to address climate related issues. The Morris Climate Dialogue is the first of many projects in the Minnesota area aimed at stimulating rural citizens to work together and tackle climate change.
Background History and Context
The idea for the Rural Climate Network came about at the 2011 National Rural Assembly. During the conference, a climate change group was established in response to the lack of collaboration between rural communities concerning climate change adaption. Rural communities that depend on natural resources are susceptible to the effects of climate change, as they are closely linked to natural ecosystems for their social, economic and environmental prosperity (Ruralclimatenetwork.org, 2014). The Rural Climate Network is designed to promote collaboration and solve the complex issue of rural climate change. Back in May 2014, the Jefferson Centre and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy began working with Morris Area High School students to raise awareness of climate change and the impact it can have on the local community. These students then distributed energy surveys to their families and neighbours, which aided inform research by the Centre for Earth, Energy and Democracy (Jefferson Centre, 2014).
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The Jefferson Centre is a nonpartisan non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing democracy by advancing informed, citizen-led solutions to challenging public issues through deliberation and community action (Jefferson Centre, 2014). The Jefferson Centre was the organising group and sponsoring group for the event. The Centre collaborates with governments and non-profits to tackle modern day challenges like climate change and receives most of their funding from donations. For the three days, participants were paid $375 plus expenses including child care and travel costs.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
To ensure diversity in participant selection, five thousand randomly selected citizens of the community are sent invitations to participate. Out of the five thousand, fifteen demographically balanced but randomly selected citizens were chosen from Stevens County.
Methods and Tools Used
The Citizens Jury method was used to ensure top quality engagement and community problem solving. A Citizen’s Jury is an intensive participatory process which brings together a group of randomly selected citizens to deliberate on an issue (Smith and Wales, 2000). Over a period of days, the selected citizens are exposed to an issue and hear from a wide range of witnesses and experts. Trained moderators overlook the process to ensure the proceedings are fair. The jurors examine the witnesses and can even call for more information if necessary. Following a process of deliberation amongst themselves, the jurors come up with an action plan in a citizen’s report. Usually, the sponsoring body is then required to act on the report (Smith and Wales, 2000).
Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction
Fifteen Stevens County citizens met at the West Central Research and Outreach Centre in Morris, Minnesota starting on Thursday, 12th June 2014 lasting until Saturday, 14th June 2014. Participants arrived at the Centre at 8:30am and stayed until 5:00pm. The group of fifteen were tasked with deciding how the Morris Area might combat the recent extreme weather and climate change.
On day one of the process, jurors were introduced to each other and began discussing goals and expectations for the three days. Shortly after, jurors engaged in a simulation exercise to get them working together and understanding how to assess information to achieve mutual results. Prior to their first presentation, jurors identified factors related to community resilience. Their first presentation was on local extreme weather and climate conditions by expert Mark Seeley from the University of Minnesota. Before day one concluded, the jurors established the key weather and climate facts from the presentation (Jefferson-centre.org, 2017). Day two commenced with a presentation by the Centre for Earth, Energy & Democracy on energy burdens. After the presentation jurors had time to discuss community concerns related to energy use and poverty (Jefferson-centre.org 2017). Following this the panellists received the five final presentations to conclude day two. The first presentation was by expert Mark Kulda (Insurance Federation of Minnesota) on extreme weather and insurance. Second was a presentation by expert Abdullah Jaradat (USDA Agricultural Research Service) on climate and agriculture. Third was a presentation by expert Blaine Hill (City of Morris) on local infrastructure concerns. Fourth was a presentation by Bill Klyve (Otter Tail Power) on energy and energy efficiency and the final presentation was by Troy Goodnough (University of Minnesota - Morris) on options to strengthen resilience (Jefferson-centre.org 2017). Day three convened with the jurors selecting and identifying the top challenges, opportunities, key facts, implications and actions throughout the day. The jury then concluded with the jurors writing their final statement.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Following the citizens jury, several recommendations were made for community action (Ruralclimatenetwork.org, 2014):
- Assess and adapt agricultural practises to ensure future productivity in the face of extreme weather and climate change.
- Embrace new technology to improve individual and community resilience in response to climate change and increases in insurance and energy costs.
- Plan for heavy precipitation events and implement new methods to protect private property, improve water quality, and ensure a sufficient water supply for now and the future.
- Educate community members on the concerns, opportunities and actions identified with rural climate change.
- Ensure the whole community is mindful of local weather and climate change and can voice their concerns.
Since the Citizen’s Jury ended, local partners have obtained over $50,000 in supplementary funding from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to continue implementing recommendations for the rest of 2017. Throughout Morris there have been new collaborations between the local government, non-profits, academic institutions and community members. State agencies along with other institutions are sharing the recommendations from the dialogues into their own work. The Morris City Council has signed a technical assistance agreement with Saerback, Germany, a sister city to seek the arrangement of clean energy technology to promote economic development and to reduce greenhouse emissions (Rockway, 2014). Morris City has already shown improvements in energy efficiency to city-owned buildings and street lighting. Stevens County has integrated climate resilience into its emergency and disaster plans. Further, community awareness of climate change is still being promoted through discussions, K-12 students and green tours of clean energy sites (Rockway, 2014). The University of Minnesota-Morris has dedicated students and staff to hold community education events on climate change. Consequently, the University won the 2017 Minnesota Climate Adaption Award for successfully promoting the ‘Morris Model’ for climate adaption planning and creating public awareness.
If the dialogue had not occurred, rural communities would continue to live without having an informed voice in policy discussions on issues of climate change. The feedback created from the dialogue is being deliberated throughout Minnesota by government officials, researchers and advocacy groups (Rockway, 2014). In addition, The Jefferson Centre remains in contact with the participants to inform them what impact their work is having. The recommendations from each dialogue have inspired community action, including the approval of green infrastructure, energy efficient upgrades, renewable energy deployment, energy and water conservation and community education. Further, the dialogues have influenced policy at the state and local level, with “state agencies and other institutions pursuing changes to the ways they engage and provide resources to rural communities” (Rockway, 2014).
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Rural communities in the United States face the major issue of combating climate challenges with limited resources, a sceptical public and president who denies climate change exists. Deliberative public engagement demonstrates a method to address these threats by allowing open, informed discussion amongst members of the same community. Engaging citizens from a variety of backgrounds in an expert informed discussion gives legitimacy to adaption planning it may otherwise lack (Leal Filho and M. Keenan, 2017). The Jefferson Centre continues to engage with Americans to solve complex issues and challenges. Their aim is to design the future of democracy by unleashing the power of citizens through education and democratic innovations. The Citizens Jury process, their method of democratic decision-making, continues to provide citizens with the resources they need to influence change. The Jefferson Centre continues to work with rural communities across America to help address climate problems, and in June 2015 they hosted a diverse group of 70 Twin Cities residents to discuss climate change where participants provided recommendations for national policymakers at the United Nations. Their results were presented at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris. Despite Trump’s announcement that the US were pulling out of the Paris climate deal, it was reported on MPRnews that Minnesota will proceed with their own climate change strategy.
To evaluate the jurors’ attitudes of the quality of the event, all jurors were required to complete a pre-and post-deliberation survey. The participant’s belief in climate change increased by .5 points on a 5-point Likert scale, showing similar increases in beliefs that individuals, communities and the state should do more to address climate change (Rockway, 2014). While 50% of the participants were doubtful of climate change prior to the jury, almost all the participants believed in climate change after (Rockway, 2014). Participating in the event considerably increased participants’ views that climate change is impacting on their communities.
The Citizens Jury is not the only method of deliberative public engagement (Leal Filho and M. Keenan, 2017). However, the sheer success of the Rural Climate Dialogues indicates that a small, diverse group of citizens, educated by experts and focused on producing a plan of action that a community can agree on makes the process extremely useful for engaging on a complex issue such as climate change (Leal Filho and M. Keenan, 2017). Despite the success of the Rural Climate Dialogues, there are some limitations to the generalizability of the research. While there were similar results in Itasca Country and Winona County for the Rural Climate Dialogues, and some evidence this will generalise, the analysis is still limited to three cases. Further, all three cases take place in the state of Minnesota, a state that may have political culture suited to deliberation and different to that of other state’s. In addition, the time-tested Citizens Juries are a rather intense style of deliberation which require serious commitment of time and resources from organisers and participants. It is uncertain whether less intense forms of deliberation would produce a better outcome.
Citizens' Jury (method)
Jefferson Center (organization)
Jefferson Center. (2014). Morris Area Climate Dialogue - Jefferson Center. [online] Available at: https://jefferson-center.org/rural-climate-dialogue-morris/ [Accessed 31 Oct. 2017].
Jefferson-center.org. (2014). Morris Area Climate Dialogue Final Report. [online] Available at: https://jefferson-center.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Morris-Area-Climate-Dialogue-Final-Report.pdf [Accessed 31 Oct. 2017].
Leal Filho, W. and M. Keenan, J. (2017). Climate change adaptation in North America. 1st ed. Springer, Cham, pp.9-26.
Rockway, A. (2014). Jefferson Center - Rural Climate Dialogues - Core Values Application 2017 (1).docx. [online] Google Docs. Available at: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B96oe4wmXZ9vOUNJM2lUMG9hU1U/view [Accessed 31 Oct. 2017].
Ruralclimatenetwork.org. (2014). Full Community Concerns, Opportunities, and Actions | Rural Climate Network. [online] Available at: http://www.ruralclimatenetwork.org/content/full-community-concerns-opportunities-and-actions [Accessed 31 Oct. 2017].
Smith, G. and Wales, C. (2000). Citizens' Juries and Deliberative Democracy. Political Studies, [online] 48(1), pp.51-65. Available at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1467-9248.00250/epdf [Accessed 6 Nov. 2017].
Project overview https://jefferson-center.org/rural-climate-dialogue-morris
Final Report https://jefferson-center.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Morris-Area-Climate-Dialogue-Final-Report.pdf
Lead image: Rural Climate Network https://goo.gl/9xi4EE
Secondary image: Rural Climate Network https://goo.gl/ALy4Wh