From Community Action to Policy Change: 3 Key Takeaways from ECOLISE’s 2022 Policy Positioning Process

Humanity is facing a deep and multifaceted social-ecological crisis. Only with radical transformations of our values, institutions and behaviours can we begin to create a world based on social equity that allows for a good life for people and the planet.

A community-led transformation of society can contribute to bringing the necessary changes to address the planetary crisis – this is what science bodies such as the IPCC – and experience – tell us. Yet the power of communities is not harnessed in policies such as the European Green Deal (EGD). What community-led initiatives (CLIs) need to thrive are transformative local development policies with collective action at the heart.

How can we reach a shared vision of such policies among change-makers at all levels – ECOLISE members, partners and policy stakeholders?

ECOLISE has been exploring this question in conversations with members and partners during a consultation process around 10 theses towards transformative community-led local development. The aim? To trigger conversations – and to arrive at a shared policy position on transformative local development policies. Around 100 people from roughly 50 different organisations have participated in this consultation process so far.

Do you want to have your say? The consultation is open until spring 2023 and we encourage you to provide feedback by reviewing and commenting on the 10 Theses Google Doc.

3 Key Takeaways from ECOLISE’s 2022 Policy Positioning Process

Below are three key takeaways from ECOLISE’s ongoing policy positioning work, representing three key actions needed for transformative change:

  • Strengthen collective action among CLIs and between CLIs and policy stakeholders
  • Adopt a systems-thinking approach with a focus on regenerative cultures and values
  • Translate community action into political will


1)     Strengthen collective action among CLIs and between CLIs and policy stakeholders

ECOLISE and its members include permaculture associations, transition networks and ecovillages. Such organisations primarily focus on local and community-based initiatives, which can be laboratories for transformative social innovation, as DRIFT researcher Giorgia Silvestri explained at ECOLISE’s 2022 policy stakeholder event. These innovative niches need to be strengthened (at international and interregional levels) through public support systems and by creating interfaces and intermediaries between grassroots innovations and policy levels. Transformative change will only be possible with greater collaboration between CLIs, policy stakeholders, and mainstream society.

Existing funding methods and frameworks directed at bottom-up initiatives and multi-stakeholder approaches, such as LEADER/Community-led local development (CLLD), need to focus on implementing the European Green Deal. Their principles need to be mainstreamed throughout all funding programmes.


2)     Adopt a systems-thinking approach with a focus on regenerative cultures and values

We are all part of broader systems: natural, social and political systems. Climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution impact are all symptoms of a planetary crisis caused by human activity. Thus, solutions to tackle such issues require a change in how humans feel, think, do and organise: a systemic approach. Systems thinking recognises that everything is connected; it looks at the relationship of different parts of a system and how they link together to make a bigger whole – and it looks at the question of where the power lies.

A prerequisite for all systemic action is understanding the root causes of the planetary crisis. We argue there are two central causes: first, broken human-nature relations and a worldview that sees humans as separate from nature (see thesis 2), and second, extractive economic systems that rely on the exploitation of nature and humans alike (see thesis 3).

While the European Green Deal is a major step forward in terms of a coordinated response to the planetary crisis, its ambition and concrete implementation fall short. To date, there is no plan for implementing the EGD at local levels, and collective action by citizens has yet to be harnessed. Local and collective action must be front and centre to achieve transformative change. Local development policies funded by the EU cannot remain as an add-on of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which in itself fails to align with the goals of the European Green Deal, as MEP Benoit Biteau noted at the policy event. They need to be a focus of EU policy in their own right, with adequate funding.

What is needed is a systemic approach to policy making and implementation – one that includes a focus on regenerative cultures and values, as well as binding national, regional and local targets for climate and biodiversity plans, in line with the European Green Deal.


3)     Translate community action into political will

Lack of coordination and failure to adopt a systems-thinking approach on the side of policy makers, coupled with political apathy or outright political distrust on the side of citizens and community-led initiatives, could create a major barrier to implementing the EGD. To build trust and achieve transformative change, the EGD must significantly increase its reach to citizens and communities. It also needs to include adequate funding for localisation and implementation, as well as participatory and deliberative democratic processes.

For bottom-up approaches to be part of the policy dialogue, this requires political will to work with CLIs, highlight local solutions and expand community-led approaches into policymaking. At the same time, increased trust and structural support are needed for CLIs to engage with the EGD – and to make it a better Deal for people and the planet.


Get involved: Contribute to ECOLISE’s ongoing consultation process

The consultation process is still open until Spring 2023, and we aim to build a strong alliance of ECOLISE members and partners until then. You are invited to provide comments on the 10 Theses. Your input will inform the development of the shared policy position, with the ultimate aim of shaping policy in order to strengthen community-led initiatives and the implementation of the European Green Deal.

Next steps: what do you plan to do with this knowledge?

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