Capacity building: How to make citizens feel empowered?

In February, TANDEMS joined other LIFEProgramme projects in a meeting, which aimed to strengthen inter-project collaboration and give space to knowledge exchange opportunities. One of the most prominent topics was the issue of capacity building. All LifeProgramme projects put their heads together to debate over their strategies on how to ensure that individuals or communities take charge of their needs and identify their priorities. In this article we dive deep into the challenges, opportunities and best practices in capacity building for communal energy projects. 

What is Capacity Building?

Capacity-building is defined as ‘the process of developing and strengthening the skills, instincts, abilities, processes and resources that organisations and communities need to survive, adapt and thrive in a fast changing world’. Under the umbrella of the LifeProgramme, projects are working tirelessly on building capacity within the energy sector. They ensure that individuals, neighbourhoods, regions or communities become resilient towards the continuously shifting and unpredictable energy market. In TANDEMS, for example, the method of achieving this is encouraging the setting up of energy communities. Additionally the project supports the collaboration between municipalities and energy cooperatives. Capacity building is, however, not a straightforward process. During the meeting, all LifeProjects worked together to identify the potential challenges, opportunities and future strategies for this process. 


One of the more prominent challenges of capacity building is the lack of a universal feeling of democratic rights among the society. Many citizens still are victims to a power hierarchy within the current political systems. Residents do not feel empowered enough to become autonomous from e.g an energy market, which does not have their best interests in mind. Changing power structures is a very long and complex process, which is extremely difficult to introduce.

Another existing challenge is sustainability. Building up capacity is one thing, but making sure that the new resilience learned by the community is sustainable, requires time, patience and continuous effort. Much of which cannot be afforded, especially when immediate results are needed, e.g. in old flats, which require immediate energy renovations. Lastly, capacity building is a very dynamic and intangible process. It is not the same all the time and it cannot be easily measured. This can lead to a sense of dissatisfaction and breach of perseverance. 


Nevertheless, challenges also open up multiple opportunities. Within the TANDEMS project, many energy communities work on a very localized and small scale. This avoids having to address bigger, extremely difficult issues such as power hierarchies within democratic societies. One of our partners, AGEM Energy Experts, is a great example of this. They work in a very localised area of Achterhoek where they are able to deeply understand local contexts and build capacity not only on a peripheral level, but also cause social and behavioural transformation. AGEM additionally offers expertise help. It helps citizens to fully understand and gain the skills needed to set up and manage an energy community in the long term.


Another illustrative example of good capacity building strategies is TANDEMS sister project, LifeLOOP. The project uses a variety of methods to build skills. Some of which include coaching and mentoring, networking and matchmaking or resource sharing. LifeLOOP additionally offers training sessions on ‘topics related to community energy such as renewable energy technologies, energy efficiency, financing models, community engagement, and project management’.

The meeting concluded in three main capacity building strategies. Putting priority in collaboration and formation of networks, which can train each other as well as form a strong and resilient community. Offering financial and legal advice by experts, which is tailored to individual needs and adjusted with time. And lastly, ensuring a long term vision for citizens of a certain community. Long term planning ensures sustainability and proliferation of good practices. These strategies can help energy communities, clean energy advocates,  municipalities or individual citizens to become independent and effectively manage their energy resources in the long run.