Siward Zomer
Cooperative Director of Energie Samen

Siward Zomer: “Dialogue with your neighbors, at neighborhood scale, is the most efficient way to launch heating and retrofitting projects.

Siward is the Co-operative Director of the Dutch federation of citizen energy cooperatives. Siward has worked in the cooperative movement in the Netherlands since 2011, and with Energie Samen since 2018. Energie Samen represents and supports more than 600 neighborhood initiatives.

goal of this document

This report provides ideas on how to start and structure an Energy Community, meaning a group of citizens looking to develop activities in favour of a local energy transition. It focuses specifically on the tools and techniques that relate to structuring the core group of an energy community project and raising support in the local community.

The target audience for this report is project leaders and citizens looking to build an Energy Community. We will therefore take the standpoint of a community leader or organiser. It will also assume that we are at the very start of the project in your community. Our goal is to direct you to a path rather than to provide a single answer to the question: how to start an Energy Community.

Finally, before starting a community energy project, we recommend you to look around and make sure that there is not another initiative that could deserve your support and time.

Who are we and what do we want?

The first step in building an energy community will be to define your project more clearly while leaving some room for future adaptations. This brainstorming process should also take stock of the resources and challenges that you will be facing while delivering your objectives. The following questions can help in drafting your early project:

  • Who are we?
  • What do we want to do together? What is our project?
  • What are our common objectives?
  • How to constitute the early group of stakeholders?
  • What resources do we have inside the group (technical/financial /social/political)?
  • What are we missing and the barriers that we will be facing?

Think of those questions as a way to start building your statutes. Those answers will constitute the articles about the object of the organisation, its values, the goal of the energy community and its finality. Those refer to the foundational articles for a cooperative society (Chapter 1 of your statutes): the object of the organisation (Article 5) is the scope of activities, the values relate to how the community will deliver those activities. The goal (Article 4) is the actual value that the organisation will provide to the participants. The finality (Article 3) relates to the added value to the society at large. You realised that the goal and the finality for an Energy Community as often merged, but it is good to relate the finality to a larger purpose and goals to concrete added value.

The Future Radar will support you the think about the more concrete steps you will need to take to find those answers collectively. This is a tool to explore your objectives. We used the Future Radar also to have a broader discussion on our environment: legal, political and economic.

TOOL 1: Future Radar

Future radar is a tool to help you work on your project plan and your broader vision. The goal of this tool is to create two canvas: one representing your long-term vision for your initiative, the other representing the major milestones to reach this vision. This exercise work with the notion of an idealised future, in which your vision became true. The canvas for this exercise is a timeline with 5 to 10 graduations. You can find this canvas in the Climate KIC Toolbox (see below).

Step 1: The exercise starts with each participant stating her/his vision of a desirable future. Those visions should be aggregated into a single “desirable future”.

Step 2: The first canvas will be filled starting with your end point (2050 for example), at the time when your “desirable future” is realised. The idea is to step backward from this vision and to place on the timeline the innovations or societal changes that will allow your vision to be realised.

Step 3: Participants each write innovation / societal changes that will need to happen to see the “desirable future” realised. The important things to consider are both the innovations themselves but also the temporality. Discuss each innovation as a group.

Step 4: Once those innovation/changes have been agreed on, grade them according to feasibility and control. For each innovation decide how feasible they are to deliver, and how much control you have as a group to over this innovation happening. The innovations/changes that you see in the group max feasibility and max control are the ones you should focus your planning efforts around.

Step 5: Switch to the second canvas. This timeline starts from the present moment. Now that you have identified the changes that need to happen. Use the second canvas to identify as a group the actions that you can take to make those changes happen. Start from the present situation and place those actions on the timeline. Take time to discuss as a group the temporality and interlinking between actions.

Step 6: Assess each action that you have identified by the amount of effort it would require from the group, and the impact it would produce on your community. Take time to discuss each action as a group. Your project plan should be focused on the actions that represent the most impact and require less effort.

Step 7: Reflect as a group on the project plan you have created. It is important to assess also the amount of effort you can produce as a group, and the changes you can expect in your environment. It is a good time to also go back to your vision and confront it with your group’s reality.

As the founding group of the Energy Community, we will consider you as the “core group” of the community project. This moment should also be taken to reinforce the commitment that the group is making to the vision of the Energy Community and its goals.

The important piece of defining your group are twofold: the first definition is your “core group”, meaning the people around you that are carrying the project. You can use the Maturity Scale and questions to define above the resources and personality of your group. This definition will allow you to take on the challenge to organise yourselves, we provide ideas on this point in the next title: “Institutional construction of an energy community”.

TOOL 2: The Maturity Scale

The Maturity Scale is a dashboard and analysis methodology built by the H2020 COMPILE project. This dashboard has the goal to provide a concrete view of the maturity level of a community energy project. This dashboard is supporting the assessment of the project leaders to understand the capabilities and weaknesses of the community project. The dashboard if constructed around 6 factors defining the state of a community project. This dashboard allows for community project leaders to better analyse the development area of their initiative and provide a picture in time that can help the founding group to collaborate. More on the Maturity Scale can be found on the COMPILE website and in this Toolkit:

The second piece is the definition of your environment. This environment is divided into the context in which your project is deployed and the territory which is the geographical area in which your action is deployed. Of course those two things are linked, and they might change through time. In order to explore the context in which your project is developing, you can use the first step of the Maturity Scale, as well as a briefing from many advocacy-based and business-based organisations. We recommend especially that you get in contact with your national consumer organisation.

Cooperative Institutions

An energy community, by definition, is managed through a democratic governance system. Of course, a democratic governance is one of the most challenging to deploy because it requires us to think collectively to put systems in place that will allow every voice to be heard, while still preserving the capacity for quick decision making. This is essential for the day to day working of any market player. Therefore, we will recommend the cooperative model of governance which has been proven to deliver both points.

The Member

A member is a participant in the scheme of the energy cooperative. In general, members are physical persons. However, in some cooperatives, members can also be legal persons. For the energy communities, the European law is allowing for municipalities, SMEs and physical persons to be members. This requires balanced governance between the different types of members. Being a member of a cooperative is: carrying an equal right to participate in the governance in the cooperative.

The heart of the membership right is the participation in the governance of the organisation. A member is a co-owner of the cooperative. In this sense, the member is the most important part of the cooperative. But it also entails a responsibility toward the cooperative. This responsibility is the participation in the activities and governance of the cooperative. It can take several forms:

  • Participation in time: some cooperatives have mandatory participation rules, by which members must provide a number of hours per month to the cooperative
  • Participation in consumption: some cooperatives have a limitation on what the members can purchase, providing priority to the services of the cooperative.
  • Participation in investment: some cooperatives have a mandatory loan policy, which requires the members to loan money to the cooperative on top of their membership share.
  • Participation in vote: many cooperatives have a mandatory voting rule, which means that you can lose your membership if you are not participating in the governance of the cooperative.

Those rules and responsibilities should be handled with care, and always validated by the General Assembly, to avoid overburdening the members.

General assembly

The General Assembly (GA) is the ultimate decision body of the energy community. It is composed of all the members and has the task to define the main orientations and strategy of the cooperative. Any decision taken by the General Assembly is final and cannot be challenged by other institutions of the cooperative.

The board of directors (or administrators)

The board of administrators is a representation of the members in charge of the concrete implementation of the strategy decided by the General Assembly. Any and all members should have equal access to the Board, or the opportunity to be represented. As a general good practice, the administrators should be elected for a limited time and a limited number of mandates.

The composition of the Board should be ruled by the statutes of the cooperative, as well as the rules for conflict of interest. The roles and responsibilities of administrators should be determined by the internal rules of the cooperative.

The Board can be a direct representation of the members, meaning any member can be elected to the Board, or a representation by college. The representation by the college is linked to a reserved number of seats at the Board for a section of the membership of the cooperative. The advantage of this type of fixed seat is to allow different types of actors to be treated fairly if not equally.

Advisory Board and supporting bodies

On top of the traditional institutional structure of the cooperative, many organisations have advisory boards and supporting bodies in their governance. The role of those boards is to provide advice to the General Assembly or the Board of Administrators without decision power. It is very useful to inform decisions and restore balances that are sometimes difficult to have at the local level. A few good examples are:

  • A diversity board: the goal of this group is to bring together experts that will support the cooperative in implementing diversity mechanisms and provide a safe space to have clear conversations about representations of the local community.
  • A technical board: the goal of this group is to support decisions of the cooperatives in terms of technical projects, especially if those projects need the support of a third party like for building renovation for example
  • A representation of the employees: the employees of the cooperatives are typically not represented in the governance of the cooperative, due to the conflict of interest. But many cooperatives will have an employee representation in a non-voting capacity in order to inform the Board and GA about the daily business of the cooperative. The employees of the cooperative can also be represented at the GA through a special membership.
  • A stakeholder representation board: this type of board is used for smaller cooperatives supported by public institutions. The municipal or regional authorities might be represented as well as significant local stakeholders, relevant to the project of the cooperative.

Voting rules

Voting is one of the key foundational acts of the cooperative life. The members must be empowered to carry their voices to the General Assembly to direct the main orientations of the cooperative. A focus on voting rules and procedures will allow for your cooperative to engage your members further and provide for a stable governance long term. Therefore here are a couple of recommendation regarding the organisation of your elections and voting rules:

  • Provide a wide range of information options for the members: information to members is crucial. Staff and board members of the cooperative must ensure that each member can make an informed decision regarding the orientation of the cooperative. To reach this objective, large energy cooperatives have implemented several methodologies: newsletters, annual reports, local energy cafés (informal meetings with cooperative staff where assembly topics are explained), webinars. For specifically significant votes like elections or changes in the statutes, we recommend that you organise an extraordinary General Assembly. This way to you avoid a long meeting and provide an opportunity for discussions.
  • Choose the right voting set up: The way a vote is carried out may have an impact on the outcome of the vote. In general, we recommend closed voting (secret voting) in multiple rounds. It is a good practice to start with a simple majority round and to work your way toward a run off elections.
  • Demonstrate the fairness of the voting system: it is crucial to provide transparency and recourse to your members during the voting process. Make sure that all candidates are identified and presented in advance. It is important to split the voting process between the executive board and auditing boards. And finally make sure that a clear recourse process is available to members.
  • Establish a voting commission and procedures: The voting procedure should be established in your statutes. We recommend also naming a voting commission of members who will be in charge of organising (or checking the organisation) of the vote. This commission should also presented to members at the General Assembly, and a rotation should be included in the procedure.
  • Bring the barriers to voting as low as possible: the key goal of your voting procedure should be to allow for as many members as possible to express their voice. We recommend to have early voting, online voting and proxy procedures in place if you can.

If you want to know more about best practices in voting, we recommend the cooperative guides from the ICA and the Central Bank of Brasil.

Roles and responsibilities

In order to avoid frustration and to provide for an efficient organisation, it is important to establish clear processes at the beginning of the life of your project. To define responsibilities within the team following competencies, knowledge, and available time will allow for members of the core team to work efficiently and in coordination. As a team, it is especially important to understand each member’s contribution and learn what everyone needs to be successful.

  • Define the roles and responsibilities that will make your team successful: Some of the main areas to cover are project management, financing, administration /coordination, and communication. Depending on the number of the core team members activities could be divided within them.
  • Clarify expectations you have of each other so the whole team can grow: It is often the situation that we all start enthusiastically with a high desire to participate in the activities but time changes and our availability is not always as we were planning. This can significantly affect meeting goals and building trust with the community so the communication, clear expectations, planning and coordinating of the team members and activities is crucial.

Here below is an example of a step by step approach to defining the roles in the team:

  • Step 1: Define main areas which need to be covered to support the development of the energy community.
  • Step 2: Provide an opportunity to each team member to express their skills, and their desire relating to certain roles.
  • Step 3: Based on the available time, skills and competencies, each team member will be assigned a role. In an ideal situation, the team member should take the responsibility for a role in front of the collective, which accepts it.
  • Step 4: It is important to review regularly the roles assigned to team members. Make sure that team members get the opportunity to let go of a certain role, and to take on more responsibilities.

Leadership in the cooperative movement must be about leading by example. The cooperative leader is held to a higher standard and therefore this might be a heavy burden to bear. It is important to ensure that collective institutions are ready to relieve that burden if necessary.

Jim Williame, director of Ecopower: “The most important thing to remember in cooperative leadership is: “It is not about you. Do not put yourself in the center.”

Inclusivity and community representation

Despite the institutional structures, it often happens that the energy cooperative needs to consider criteria of inclusivity to truly deliver a “democratic” governance mechanism representative of the local community. The key reason being this necessity of fair and inclusive representation is linked to the goal of any energy community: to serve the local needs of its community. Therefore, the only way to ensure that we create an organisation that will serve local needs is to ensure that our membership and leadership look like our community.

In order to support inclusivity in the cooperative, several mechanisms can be used:

  • Positive discrimination while choosing members for leadership positions: some cooperatives looking to encourage the participation of underrepresented groups are reserving seats in their governing bodies for minorities in order to ensure that they are both representatives of the neighborhood and that they are a force of liberation.
  • Use appropriate facilitation techniques to ensure that every group is heard during meetings, the column discussion (see below), “guardian angels” that ensure that certain people get a chance to speak without interruptions.
  • Adapt your content and timing to the life of underrepresented groups: for example, mothers are usually busy in the evenings because they often have the bulk of the charge of the household. Therefore, organizations looking to reach out to the public are creating tailor-made activities. Some interesting examples are: having a kid-friendly area during a community meeting, do lunchtime meetings rather than evening meetings, use “Tupperware meetings”.

More importantly, and besides tools, encouraging diversity in your energy community is mostly a collective realisation. It will be a constant struggle to ensure that diversity is a priority and a strength.

TOOL 3: Column Discussion

The “column discussion” is a facilitation technique to ensure that all voices are represented during meetings. The goal of this mechanism is to ensure that we hear messages from all groups forming our community while organizing the discussion to help to facilitator:

  • Step 1: Determine the underrepresented groups that you need to support in the discussion.
  • Step 2: Prepare a spreadsheet with three column. The first column is to write the name of people asking to speak to make sure that we respect the order of intervention. The second column is for priority intervention, people from underrepresented groups that will get priorities in speaking during the meeting. The third column is to write the name of people that are too often asked to speak.
  • Step 3: During the meeting, the facilitator keeps the board up to date, based on the people’s request a turn to speak.

Adapt your goal to the group

The first part of your work is to find a project that will fit into your objectives as a group. The key issue to create this consensus is often that members of the group have different ideas of the priorities of projects.

For example, is the priority to start with supplying activities, considering that it gives you more direct and concrete access to the neighbourhood, and therefore a change in mindsets. Or is the priority to start with renewable production, since this is what is missing the current energy system.

The most important goal of this discussion is not the solution. It is the fact that we all find a solution without the debate turning sour. Your first teammates are the most precious resources in any project. Therefore, we need to find a way to have this discussion about issues where we get personally involved, without involving personal feelings in the discussion. For this purpose we are proposing the “PO con Pro methodology”.

TOOL 5: PO con PRO methodology

The “PO con PRO” method is inspired by the Commandant Maquet of the US Navy is based on a ritual of collective conversation that will help the conversation move forward without ending up in the dead-end of the unanimous agreement. The key success factor of this method is to recognize that all the members of the group have a value for the group, and their ideas are not linked to that value. An idea does not damage or encourage the role of a person in the group.

  • Step 1: Each person that has an idea, expresses the wish to present it to the group. The facilitator of the conversation is keeping track of those expressions in order to make sure that all ideas are listen to.
  • Step 2: The ideas are presented by the person carrying them. This presentation should be as clear as possible, and especially highlight the needs in an effort, personal skills and commitment of the person carrying the idea to take action. This presentation should not be interrupted except for questions linked to general understanding.
  • Step 3: Each meeting participant is invited personally to express themselves on this presentation. They can express two things (this should be stated when providing feedback). The first type of feedback is a “point of concern” which relates to gaps or pitfalls identified by the participant according to her/his understanding. The second type of feedback is “proposals”, which relates to solving an issue or a gap in the presentation.
  • Step 4: The person carrying the idea gets to answer the feedback adapting her/his presentation.
  • Step 5: Once the presentation is final the facilitator can use this presentation to help the team to realize the SWOT analysis of the idea (see below).
  • Step 6: Once the SWOT analysis is realized, the team can decide on the analysed idea. It is important for the facilitator to support the decision on the base of the analysis.

The next step of your project development should be more focused on the understanding of your environment and the models that your project can exploit. For this analysis, two of the most used tools for market analysis are: the PESTEL and the SWOT. The PESTEL analyses the external market forces to your project, while the SWOT analyses the internal market forces. In general, we recommend that you realise those analysis as a group, and in a collaborative way. You can usually also find supportive literature at the chamber of commerce or in the professional organisations.

PESTEL analysis

A PESTEL analysis is an acronym for a tool used to identify the macro (external) forces facing an organisation. The letters stand for Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Environmental and Legal. Depending on the organisation, it can be reduced to PEST or some areas can be added (e.g. Ethical). Here is a couple of guiding principles on the criteria of your PESTEL:

  • Political: This section of your analysis should look at the governmental environment of your project. What are the levels of national and supra national governance you will have to deal with? The taxation regime and other contributions that will impact your balance sheet should be listed here too. Finally, be aware also or additional non-governmental stakeholders and economic actors having weight on your project and its development.
  • Economic: This section is dedicated to the factor that might impact your business model and economic viability. It is a good opportunity to find some figures around the basics of your activities, from material prices to procurement issues and banking conditions.
  • Social: This section is mostly dedicated to understand the social environment of your neighborhood. For this part of the analysis, you can use research on the needs and wishes of your neighborhood. We will also talk about this analysis in the next chapter of this report.
  • Technological: This section is about looking into the technological and technical environment you are evolving. What are the technologies available and how to utilize them for your project? What kind of disruption can affect your project, and what are the technical criteria that you will have to consider while developing your project.
  • Environmental: This section is dedicated to the norms, rules and regulations related to environmental protection and preservation that you will have to consider during your project. This is especially interesting to look at urbanistic plans and zoning in your neighborhood to know what kind of geographical environment you are in.
  • Legal: This section is dedicated to a broad look at the norms and legislations that might impact your project and organization. The COMPILE project has produced a Legal Report on Energy Communities[4] that can support your discussions.

The PESTEL Analysis can then feed into your SWOT once you start to take on the various component of your project plan.

SWOT analysis

The SWOT Analysis stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats of your project. Below is the template you can use for the analysis.

The two top sections are looking to put together the status quo, the intrinsic value of the project and the pieces that are missing in order to find those pieces in our community or through partnerships.  The two bottom sections are looking forward and preparing the milestones and main challenges that our project team will have to face.

The SWOT analysis interfaces perfectly with the Chrono-structure that we will realise when we start building our organisations. This analysis should also allow us to discuss collectively the services that we decide to provide as an energy community and to compare projects between themselves.

Risk management

The risk analysis of your project is useful for various purposes. First, to discuss as a group and raise awareness of the various stress points of your project. Second, to bring clarity and transparency to your financing partners. A risk assessment is a best practice for all projects, but you will need to adapt your criteria to the type of project that you are looking to carry. Risk assessment is carried out in three stages:

  • Stage 1: Assess the functional perimeter,
  • Stage 2: Identify the predictable and unpredictable risks,
  • Stage 3: Prioritize and mitigate risks when possible.

The functional perimeter is the scope of your project and the level of investment both in time and effort that will be required from the project team. The functional perimeter starts from your objectives and concrete results expected out of the project. The list of questions you can ask to define this perimeter is summarized in 5W and 3H – What/Who/When/Where/Why/How/How much/How come.

Based on this first analysis you should be able to create the risk table. This risk table will bring together all the risks of the project, and be tracked throughout the project in order to make sure to plan accordingly.

The risks are of two nature: Generic project risks – where you will find a majority of risks, and specifical project risks – where your will need to identify risks specific to your environment and business model.

Generic project risks: generic risks are usual risks for a project in general. Those risks can be identified through 7 dimensions. Start with the general project triangle: Time, Cost, Quality. Most of the generic risks are around those three dimensions. Once you have explored those three basic dimensions, you can add three additional dimensions: Decision making, Innovation and Complexity (related to implementation). The final and probably most important dimension for risk is the team (meaning the risks linked to project teams).

Specific project risks: for the specific risk of your project, you can use the SWOT tool and PESTEL (see previous sections of this chapter).

Now that we have identified the risk, we have to assess the likelihood of this risk being realised and the threat attached to it. This part is especially important since it is when we will realise if the risk carried by our project is bearable are not. And therefore how drastic our risk mitigation strategy will need to be.

In order to calculate the criticality of our risk, we propose the following formula:

Criticality = probability of the risk * threat to the project

We recommend that you simply choose a scale (from 1 to 5 for instance), to describe how likely is the risk to get triggered, and how sever would be the consequences. For our examples, 1 non-likely at all and 5 is almost certain for the likelihood. And for the threat, 1 is low to no impact on the project, while 5 will be a critical threat to the project. Once you have calculated the criticality for all the risk of the project you can situate all of those on this graph:

The y axis is likelihood, and the x axis is the threat.

The risks that are in the red part of the graph should be mitigated against. Mitigating risk means lowering its likelihood or lowering its threat in order to avoid it ranking in the deep red part of the graph. In order to build those strategies, we can also look at the trigger and preventing it to happen, and tracking it more closely. A specific responsible person should be named to track each specific risk, and order to ensure that none fall through the cracks during the time of project implementation. Finally another strategy should be prepared to deal with repairing the damage in case the threat is realised. Those strategies and assessment should be grouped in the risk assessment table. The risk assessment table should be tracked throughout the project. This is first and foremost a living document and a reference point for the project team.

How do we raise enthusiasm of our neighbourhood?

We cannot help people if we do not like spending time with them, if we do not love them for who they are, not what they represent, you know? First, we need to spend time, good times with people. Because people feel it. They feel if you are trying to help them without loving them, if you are avoiding them, if you are afraid, maybe a little disgusted, or if you are simply having a good time. They are not stupid. And they will adapt their behavior accordingly. […] So, if you have this ‘brotherhood’, then you have a foundation for tackling everything else.” Petit Manuel de travail dans l’espace public, Jérôme Guillet p31

Once you have mobilized your core group and structured your project, it is time to engage more citizens and local stakeholders to join in your initiative. This is a process that will naturally occur in most community-based initiatives. In this section, we will propose simple ways to structure this process and provide a common language.

There are many marketing, engagement and other campaigning strategies to raise awareness of your initiative. We encourage you to look around at the techniques used by SMEs, political campaigns and NGOs in your region to get inspired.

In this section, we propose an engagement methodology inspired by the Community Organizing approach and by the socio-dynamic methodology. The objective of our engagement strategy is to build an energy community. This means a stable organisation that will carry out energy-related projects. This objective will be reached by engaging more and more stakeholders into our initiative. Because we have limited time and resources to do so, we are proposing to adopt a strategy called the “strategies of allies”. At its core, this strategy relies on the principles of socio-dynamic analysis, and step by step engagement in order to organise peoples that are supportive to our initiative to create momentum, and tip the political and social scales in favour of our project.

In this section, we turn our attention to the different forces active in your local territory. We are looking at the whole make-up of our community environment, not only people but also groups and organisations.

Most engagement campaigns are built around 4 main steps:

  • Recognition: Mapping stakeholders and identifying groups to reach out to. The mapping phase is crucial as it will help us understand the environment in which we are working. It will also condition the specific steps we will take within our engagement strategy.
  • Absorption: Actively reaching out to your neighbors. The only way to bring people into your initiative is to let them know about it. “Up close and personal” is a way to define it for energy communities, since we are offering a local collective project. Think about ways to help people connect with your project at a personal level, and let this guide your interactions.
  • Radicalization: Informing, training and engaging people who join your initiative. Do not be misled by the word, there is nothing radical about this process. Radicalization simply refers to raising the level of interest of your neighbors. Your goal in this stage is to make sure that your project stays relevant, interesting and valuable for our members to join and continue participating in the collective activities.
  • Expansion: Growing the network in concentric circles around our current members. To convince the whole neighborhood, each new member will convince her/his neighbor to join in, who in turn bring in another community member and so forth.

In the following chapters, we will present several tools that can be used to work collectively on your engagement strategy. The Climate KIC initiative has created a book describing the implementation of the following tools and more, through the concept of the “Transition Hubs” strategy.

Stakeholder Mapping

The mapping phase is key for a number of reasons. The first is that it will help you understand your immediate environment. The second is that it will confront you with your beliefs and assumptions about the people around you. As a community group, your goal is to rally people to your point of view and encourage them to join your initiative. However, there are likely many different projects going on at the same time in the same territory. The mapping process will help you find commonalities and define a strategy that will leverage those overlaps.

We recommend that you perform the mapping in two stages: First list all the stakeholders, then assess their attitude toward to your project. For this, we are offering a two-step approach: Stakeholder Mapping and Stakeholder Analysis.

We are referring to people or organisations making the social fabric of your neighbourhood, city, district, province, etc. A key tool when you start your community energy project is to “take possession” of the main space of public interaction of your neighbourhood (markets, main square, public park and gathering places). Away from complex techniques and concepts, initiatives are built on social interaction at the origin. Keep this in mind through this engagement process..

Stakeholder Mapping

The essence of the mapping exercise is to provide you with the opportunity to discover the stakeholders in your territory who might impact your project and who will impact your value chain. This process can be done by simply listing down actors with your group on a paperboard. Here are a few things to keep in mind when carrying out a stakeholder mapping:

  • Stakeholders are people first. You will ultimately need to convince people, not organizations: Even if you map organizations or groups, you will ultimately need to convince people within those organisations of your project. So, when you do a stakeholder mapping exercise, try to always get a name down for each stakeholder you are defining. This will be useful during the next exercises when you are looking to gage the interest and their alignment with the goal of your project.
  • Stakeholder mapping is never done: Your list will continue growing during the project, it is completely normal.
  • Think about the location of your stakeholders: The more interaction you have with people, the more likely they are to be open to your ideas, and/or the easier it will be for you to understand their motivations and positioning. If you are looking at local actors, it is important to break down your community spatially and consider the place where they live or where their business is located.

We insist on the physical location of actors for a couple of reasons: first it will help you focus on the people behind the organisations. In order to engage local actors, you will need to convince the people in their team. Second, knowing the actual place of business or location of the people you are trying to engage will help with organising actions relevant to them. For instance, you are trying to change the mind of municipality regarding living conditions in social housing: go take a shower on the lawn of the person responsible for urbanism at the municipality. Some tools for stakeholder mapping are:

TOOL 6: The Actor Tree

The Actor Tree Canvas is a visual tool that helps you identify, list and group the myriad of stakeholders around your project. Stakeholders are depicted as the roots of a tree that will feed and carry out the process of system innovation, which is represented by the crown of the tree. The trunk of the tree represents your challenge.

  • Step 1: Take a piece of paper and draw a tree on it.
  • Step 2: With your group, put on the trunk of the tree the challenge that you are currently tackling as a group. It is possible that there will be more than one challenge at the beginning. Encourage the group members to specify what they mean by each challenge, to help understanding within the group. You can use post-its if that is convenient to you.
  • Step 3: Once you have all your challenges laid out, try to summarize all the post-its in one statement that summarize the challenge you are tackling as a group. Write this statement on the trunk of the tree.
  • Step 4: Once your challenge is defined, try to define the context in which you are operating. Any feature that you consider relevant for the stakeholder of your challenge is relevant. Think about how your problem is impacting stakeholders in this step as well. Collect the context information in the branches of the tree.
  • Step 5: Based on your challenge and the context, move on to identifying the stakeholder categories linked to your project (i.e. government, NGOs, SMEs, suppliers, financing actors, etc.). For each category, add a root branch, and write the category on it.
  • Step 6: Once you have the categories, now explore the exact stakeholders by category. Add a root branch for each stakeholder under the category root.
  • Step 7: Finally look for any missing pieces and stakeholders that are not currently in this tree.
  • Step 8: Once the tree is done, take some time to reflect as a group on the exercise. Ask yourselves questions such as: How useful was this process for our group? Did you discover something new? Do you already see key stakeholders for your initiative? What stakeholders, challenges or context information was surprising to you?

Once you have listed and organised your stakeholders, you can start move on to analysing the positioning of those stakeholders towards your project.

Stakeholder Analysis

Once we have the list of the stakeholders, we can start assessing how supportive or not the identified stakeholders may be of our energy community project. The goal of this analysis should be to define your actions and support the development of your project in the phase of absorption (see section 4.2). You can do this analysis using experience, meaning through the core group knowledge of your community, or a more systematic approach. In both cases, the goal is to assess if actors are supportive, not supportive or undecided with regards to your project. In this chapter, we will offer one parameter for your stakeholder analysis. There are many parameter that you can choose from, but all methods have the same goal: How to prioritize your efforts as a group to engage the maximum number of people. Each criterion that you choose will provide you with a different canvas. You will find other parameter for analysis and canvas in the Climate KIC visual toolkit.

Socio-dynamic analysis

When using socio-dynamic analysis, actors are assessed according to one criterion: The energy deployed by the actor in relation to our project:

  • Synergic energy is energy deployed in favour of our project. Energy here is defined as “initiative”, meaning the amount of action executed by the actor without being asked to act.
  • Antagonist energy is the energy deployed against our project. Here, energy is defined in the sense of energy spent to carry a competing project.

The benefit of this assessment criterion is that it is relatively devoid of judgment. Therefore, it will allow our core group to have a clear discussion on which groups of people to prioritize as you develop your project. So how can we grade this energy (plus and minus are only denominations to facilitate the dialogue during the analysis):

We can discuss as a group by going through the list of stakeholders, giving a grade to each one. For some actors, this grading exercise might be difficult. One way to make a choice, is to count the number of engaging steps[1] performed by the actor in general and then the number of engaging steps in favour of the project. This should give you a good idea of the potential grades respectively for Synergic Energy and Antagonist Energy.

Now that you have identified and analysed the actors within your territory, you can move to the next step. The main goal here is to identify community members who may want to join your project and either invest in (financially or otherwise) or support the energy community. To help you prioritize, we are proposing an adapted version of the socio-dynamic map:

We simplified the map into 4 types of actors. This simplification allows us to simplify the way we think of peoples’ profile, as it relates to our engagement strategy. This will also simplify our analysis while having discussions in the neighborhood. We start with one question : might this person be interested in the topic that you are tackling with you project ? If not, this is an unmovable. If yes, then we have to categories this person further.

Unmovable: The unmovable are the least likely to change their positioning. They are either too busy, strictly against your project, or not ready to engage in any initiative at all. This is a significant part of your population, but recognizing them will allow you to focus your energy on people you might engage. Their status will change through time, and as you deploy your engagement strategy; you will naturally activate more unmoveable, and they will integrate other groups of your analysis.

If this actor is interested or working on a similar topic then your project might tackle. Then they might be of three categories :

Leaders: Those are stakeholders that will drive your project or another project forward. They do not need support nor encouragement. Supportive leaders are part of your core group. However opponent leaders will most likely not join your project. The main objective when communicating with opponent leaders should be to highlighting your common objectives while moving both projects forward.

Activist: Those stakeholders are the most important, will help you realise your project and support the growth of the community. Activists are the true relays of the actions and proposals of community project. They need to be organized collectively and to take action. Our goal should be reinforce our activist, convince more activist people to join our project. This should be the main target of our engagement strategy.

Undecided: This is the majority of the stakeholders of your territory. Those people might want to get engaged but do not really have a clear idea about how. Most have convictions and motivation that could push them to act. Our goal is to uncover those motivations and see how they could be compatible with our project. The first objective to start with is to mobilise undecided to act. They can act for any project, but by the simple fact of becoming active, they will come closer to Activists, that we can work with at some point. Our end goal should be to challenge the lack of motivation and action at the neighbourhood level, our project is one way but any type of action will be a good step moving in the right direction. Like it is well put by the Adrien Roux an animator of Alliance Citoyenne (recording): “My first enemy is despair, despair that there is nothing we can do to change things, and that therefore it is useless to act. It is the death of concrete action.”

The key target of our engagement strategy are the Undecided. We are targeting potential allies to create momentum and get the wider community to adopt our initiative. Of course, through the course of our strategy, people will move on this map, therefore it is important repeat this analysis regularly.

We need to understand that the largest part of the stakeholders within our territory will simply not deploy energy for our project, nor for any other project. Most of the local population will remain inert. The goal of this analysis is to prioritize our actions. The goal is not to ignore the inactive but rather to prioritize the early adopters.

This analysis relies on the premise that people have limited time and capacity for action. Therefore, each participant is making a choice to allocate time and effort to our project vs another. Sometimes, certain people have more time and energy than others.. It can help to use those pivotal actors to create convergence between competing projects.

Keep in mind that while you may have organised some stakeholders into those categories that are less favourable regarding your project, this doesn’t mean that these stakeholders are “bad people”. They may have other priorities or opinions than you, but the they still deserve to be treated with respect.

Our goal as a core group should be to move people. Once again, projects are competing for time and mind space, not against one another objectives. Therefore, we should reach out to each group with a different methodology. Each stakeholder will require different approaches to move them closer towards your project or will need a tool suitable for its level of engagement (we will tackle this in the engagement ladder). Leaders and Activists can often be reached by organising meetings, information sessions and festivals. We call those activities pull actions, meaning actions where the actor will need to take the first step. For the Undecided, we will need to use more “intrusive” methods to bring our messages to their door. We call those actions push actions: Actions that will project our message to the target, such as phoning campaigns, posters, flyers or radio shows. You will find out more in the next section (Engaging Actions).

Push actions are directed towards the public (unmovable and undecided). The goal of this type of actions is to reach out to groups of undecided. Our goal should be to broaden the circle of our core group and move forward with the initiative. But in the meantime, we also need to support our own Activist base, and deepen our understanding of the issues of the neighbourhood in order to build a relevant organisation. Those actions have two different types of stances: communication stance, which is spreading your message; and listening stance which is gathering input and opening discussions in the local community. Those two actions go hand in hand.

Engaging Actions

Push actions

Those actions are usually considered traditional communication actions, such as flyers or radio ads. Push actions are usually at the start of the initiative. They are a great way to reach out to new groups of stakeholders.

In general, not all groups have a clear idea of channels and tools to communicate to the community at large. The first step is to have a strategy. That is why we are proposing below a short guide to developing a good communication strategy. The second step will be to explore the available media and channels available to you.

TOOL 7: How to create a communication strategy

The University of Kansas has created a guide for community engagement with a specific part on putting together a communication plan. The creation of such a plan is divided into 6 steps:

  • Step 1: Identify the purpose of your communication – What are the main goals of your communication, what is the output you are trying to get out of it. You should come out of discussing this section with a clear objective, as well as metrics by which you are going to measure your success.
  • Step 2: Identify your audience – This part can be built on the mapping section above. You can complement your insights by adding information from other actions such as meetings, and word carriers (see section 4.2.2). This part of the plan should come out of your general engagement strategy (which is the work that you have done throughout section 4).
  • Step 3: Plan and design your message – There are two main parts to consider while designing your message. The content, which needs to be relevant to the audience you are trying to reach. A general piece of advice: Keep it short, impactful and include a call to action (event, pledge, etc.). The second part to consider is the channel, which also needs to be adapted to your target audience. If you have access to a local news outlet or local channels, those are usually the most impactful and the least resource-intensive.
  • Step 4: Consider your resources – Make an inventory of your resources and capabilities to inform your choice of channels and media for your message. Do not forget to consider the various tools that are already available in your network. There are many local organisations that will be happy to provide you with communication opportunities . If you are not able to mobilize a lot of resources for your communication internally, rely on allies to support you.
  • Step 5: Plan for obstacles and emergencies – Spend a few moments with your team to take stock of the risks to your communication strategy and your messaging. You can use the risk assessment template provide in section 3 to help you.

Pull Actions

The broadcasting of your messages is important, but maybe even more essential is to listen to the needs and questions of your neighbourhood. Community organising is especially focused on “capturing the anger”, meaning to listen and understand the issues and concerns of a local neighbourhood in order to echo those needs while building your project. A series of tools to capture this information have been described, from canvasing to neighbourhood assemblies. We are proposing here a tool that can be a little more light to implement. You will find a number of facilitation technics and tools for large groups in Community Energy: A practical guide to reclaiming power available on the website of

TOOL 8: The Word Carrier

The Word Carrier was developed by the collective “Lezard Politique” in Tours (France). This collective of activists and artists was looking for innovative forms to engage in public spaces, particularly the streets. The Word Carrier is a sort of public exhibition supporting a local dialogue. The goal of the mechanism is to allow for conversations between Activists and citizens.

  • Step 1: Choose a question – The Word Carrier is based around a broad question, related to a local issue, that will be used to kickstart the discussions (for example: “What do you think community benefit means ?”). With your team, pick a question without an obvious answer, and that is broad enough to support the discussion on and around the topic you wish to discuss with your neighbors.
  • Step 2: Select the right space to deploy your action – Try to find a spot in the street along a busy walking path, but without too much noise. You are looking for a spot that will ensure that people will see your exhibition and will have time and space to stop and talk.
  • Step 3: Display your question written on a large panel – You are looking to collect short answers to this question that can be displayed around it, to show the diversity of answers. Therefore, you can also display some of the answers that you already have found on other panels around the question. You can use the material at your disposal: cardboard, old bedsheets, paperboards, as long as it is visible.
  • Step 4: Be aware of the spaces – People walking by will avoid your installation if you are not providing them the opportunity to engage in the exchange at different levels. In general, there are three spaces that can be set up: An exchange space where the activists interact with visitors, an observer space where people can observe our mechanism and understand the purpose of our action without committing to exchange but may look like they are interested by your action. And a third space: an escape space where people can just briefly look at our action, take information while not looking like they are. The goal of those three zones is to make the social cost for participating as low as possible.
  • Step 5: Look busy – The most important thing for the Activists facilitating this action is to avoid looking “on the hunt” for citizen participants. Try to blend into the background, or look like you are busy setting up the exhibition.
  • Step 6: Start discussions – When you have the feeling that a visitor is ready to have a discussion, open the dialogue. Avoid asking for time (“do you have a moment to talk?”), or apologies for bothering them, but simply start a conversation about the reaction of the person to the question or the answers in your mechanism.
  • Step 7: Collect answers – Discussions will provide you with opportunities to find “conversation nuggets”, sentences or ideas from answers that are not yet part of the exhibition. Write down those “nuggets” with the consent of the participant. You can them add them to the exhibition. All this content will be the result of the “Word Carrier” and true citizen experiences that will inform your actions.
  • Step 8: Debrief with the team – It is important to have a debriefing with all the Activists participating in the mechanism. Talk about the answers and the exchanges that you have had with the participants. To extract lessons learned from those exchanges, we recommend to also make a report of the mechanism. This can be shared during other events and discussions around your project or the issues that you are trying to solve.

Once we have grown our network of allies, we need to start building our organisation, which is the topic of our next section. Another set of tools can be found in the European Island Secretariat workshop facilitation guide.


In this step, we are looking to grow the engagement of our participants in order to get a strong collective down the line. One of the key issues of engaging people into your action is that each person has limited resources, and is looking for something different out of the time and effort that they put into your project. Our key goal should be to offer the right engaging step to the right person.

This concept is called the scale of engagement, which we are also using as a base for the maturity scale (see above). It relies on the notion of social cost that we discussed earlier, a participant looking to take part in action by “socially investing” in this action in terms of time and headspace. It is natural that some people will be more cautious to engage in action, taking steps first to test the initiative and only gradually taking more and more responsibilities. It is therefore important to offer activities that correspond to the level of engagement the participant is willing to commit to, otherwise the participant will refuse or get bored. In order to deal with this issue, a number of organisations are now offering a “catalogue of actions”, where citizens can choose an engagement “à la carte”. The goal of this is to let citizens choose the type of actions that attract them the most. The issue for our organisation however is that the most popular actions are not often the ones that we need the most. That is why it is important to also have an engagement ladder.

TOOL 9: The engagement ladder

The engagement ladder is a simple table, where as a core group, we are listing down the engagement actions that can be taken by our militants. To each of those actions, we are assigning an estimated grade on the engagement scale, based on their perceived social cost.

The idea of this exercise is not to provide a grade to people or get a score on the engagement, but to have an idea of the actions that can be offered to a new member joining the group. The goal is to slowly get the participant to perform more and more engaging actions. The goal of this ladder is also to find benefits that members will get out of participating in more engaging actions. There are concrete skills that need to be developed in participants taking on more complex and risky actions, the ladder can also be to map a growth path for members.

We now have a clear process to grow the engagement of our members. We need to start getting people to commit concrete tasks. One of the pitfalls to avoid while managing a group of volunteers is to exhaust people out of their own involvement. Just the same, energy communities are usually taking on a new service for most of the people involved. Therefore, it could seem like an impossible and dark path forward. To lighten and enlighten the way, we propose the chrono-budget and chrono-planning tools.

TOOL 10: The Chrono structure (chrono-budget and chrono-planning)

Like their name are eluding to, a chrono-budget is linked to the amount of time that we have available to deliver an outcome of the project, and the time necessary per tasks to get to this outcome. A chrono-planning is simply the order in which we are going to spend this budget in a detailed manner.

Step 1 is to estimate the number of hours available for each participant of the group. This is a task that can only be provided per person, and will evolve has we are getting to discuss the “when” rather than the “how much”. All the group members are offering the time that they can spend on the initiative, and we are polling to give us our total chrono-budget. We then put this to the side.

Step 2 is to break down the project plan in the tasks. This process can be long, but will yield crucial insights. We recommend to use the project plan template provided in the “How to we develop our project ?” section of this report. Without going into all the task of the project, maybe all the tasks for the month to come might be interesting.

Step 3 is dedicated to assigning a time necessary to realize each task. When performing this collective process, it is useful to think in broad numbers. It will always be time to adjust the time for each task as we are moving into the projects. We now have our complete budget. We can already see if the timeline of our project is realistic or not considering our resources.

Step 4 is to plan the task in a weekly/monthly agenda. We are getting into the chrono-planning by looking at actual calendar planning. We now are setting up exact points in the calendar where we are going to spend the time committed by the members, to deliver the tasks budgeted. This is usually while doing this exercise that we are getting into more precise figures.

Step 5 is to set up strong feedback loops. This is the most important step. As we are moving through the project, and we are finding out exactly how much time each person can invest, and how long certain task take, we can adjust the chrono-planning. This is where community leaders need to be vigilant to touch base regularly with people that have large gaps between the promised and delivered time.

The chrono-structure of our organization should allow us to detect the elements of our organization that are not being involved enough, or too much. We will also be able to have clearer discussions with people about the project plan when we are involving more people in the initiative.

The organization of the energy community is now well underway to take on the project that you are looking to build. Many cooperatives are now looking at expanding their reach, either by taking on a new service, territory or by growing more organizations in their region.


Once you have reached stability as an energy community, you often will concretely feel that a transition project is taking more than one virtuous actor. A network of actors, supporting one another, and cooperating to reach a full territory transition is necessary. Alone we sometimes go quick, but we never go far. It is time to create a convergence of interests. For this we are proposing the experiences of two cooperative programs:

The Licht Approach is deployed in Vlaams Brabant, Belgium, is a perfect tool to interested people that might be acting collectively to create an energy community. A consortium of Flemish associations, with the support of the cooperative Ecopower and the region, organize series of workshops to engage people in each municipality to create their own energy community.

TOOL 11: The LICHT Methodology

The LICHT Approach consists of 7 sessions for every LICHT group, including an inspiration session at the beginning and a final event where the different groups are brought together to exchange experiences and discuss further collaboration between the established groups. The goal of the methodology is to create citizen groups that would then turn into energy communities. The LICHT Vlaams Brabant project has been running for 3 years and produced 9 energy cooperatives on the territory of the region.

Session 1: Inspiration session – a leader from an existing community energy project present the opportunities for action

  • Topics: Inspiration
  • Actions: Discuss opportunities and existing solutions.

Session 2: Intake and action plan – The goal of this session is to make citizens recognize the needs of their territory.

  • Topics: Needs analysis, ambition level
  • Actions: Clarification of expectations and coordination, Creation of a (Retro) planning, Timing & agreements

Session 3: How to create public support – The goal of this session is to coach citizens into working collectively and engage their neighborhood.

  • Topics: How to facilitate the functioning of new or existing citizen groups? How to reach and mobilize other citizens?
  • Actions:

Session 4: Screening of energy projects – The goal of session 4 is to put groups in action and uncover potential projects.

  • Topics: Discussion of methodology, parameters to assess project proposals for technical and financial feasibility, Explanation assignment in preparation for session 5
  • Actions: Create a to-do list and criteria list

Session 5: Development of energy projects for the citizen groups – The goal of this session is to make the projects of the citizen groups operational.

  • Topics: Projects description and formalization, exploration of technical, financial and social characteristics.
  • Actions: Suggestions for adjustment and optimisation of a project proposal, Screening location, writing and personalizing proposal, discussing a proposal.

Session 6: Valorization/consolidation – The goal of this session is to explore the integration of the citizen-led projects in the broader community context. Our goal should be to engage local stakeholders like the local governments, other initiatives and existing networks.

Topics: How to further embed citizen participation in the municipalities activities around the local energy transition?

  • Actions: Perform a Stakeholder mapping. Engage the municipality and relevant networks to recognize the projects.

Session 7: Final event and ex post analysis of the project launched – The goal of this session is to put initiative in resonance and to encourage collaboration.

  • Topics: How can we collaborate? What are the barriers and needs of our initiatives? How to find relevant funding streams?
  • Actions: Structured discussion. Barrier collection exercise. Funding map exercise.

This methodology was developed by the consortium of Licht Vlaams Brabant: Ecopower, Ecolife, Klimaatnetwerk Vlaams-Brabant, REScoop Vlaanderen and the province of Vlaams Brabant.

Community Based Social Marketing is a methodology developed in the United States for supporting community projects in the field of building renovation. This methodology was taken up and adapted by the cooperative Carbon Coop in the UK, in the Greater Manchester region. This methodology was used successfully to trigger homeowners collective renovation projects. Community-Based Marketing looks at removing barriers to action, rather than convincing citizens to adopt a certain set of behaviours. This approach is especially useful for energy efficiency and building renovation.

TOOL 12: Community Based Social Marketing Toolkit

CBSM is a data-driven approach to community-level behavior change. It relies on piloting programs to remove barriers on a specific behavior that you are looking to change as a community.

Step 1: Select behavior(s) to promote. In order to determine which behavior to tackle, we recommend that you start from pre-existing research, or macro ensembles of the house (HVAC, envelop, doors and windows, appliances, etc.), and describe each possible action by breaking down each indivisible action.

You can then prioritize those actions by grading each of them along with three criteria: impact, probability of success, market opportunity. Add up the score of each action to see which ones have the most relevance to your organization.

Step 2: Identify barriers and benefits. This step is dedicated to find barriers and benefits to the actions you have selected specific to the target you are trying to reach. In order to determine those specific barriers and benefits, rely on existing research and focus groups. The best way to find those barriers if you do not have research available is to discuss this with your target group.

Step 3: Develop strategies. Once you have the list of barriers and incentives, you can now develop strategies to overcome barriers and to enhance the benefits of the actions you are offering the community. There is many possible strategies to be adopted and to make a selection, we recommend getting support from a specialist in your network. You will also find examples in the Toolkit in the notes of this report.

Step 4: Pilot test strategies. Try out the strategies that you have selected. This step is especially important since it will give you a better understanding of the pitfalls of your actions while providing you an idea on the efficiency of the mechanism. Try to always: to measure your impact and to calculate you ROI. When you can: use a control group. Also, do not hesitate to pivot and change your approach slightly throughout the experiment, and order to get the maximum information out of it.

Step 5: Implement and Evaluate strategies broadly. When you will start to scale up your chosen strategy to a larger community, a number of additional program-related barriers will arise. Use indicators to track your progress and make sure that you can pivot if necessary. Talking to a recipient of the initiative is always a great way to get concrete feedback.

CBSM can be a cost heavy program set up, but the results for complex operations such as building renovation have been significant. In the meantime, if you have limited resources, it is always possible to run smaller experiments and get support from network partners and universities. European federations, such as, Energy Cities and Climate Alliance have run program to support their respective members in that direction.

We now come to the end of this section. We have proposed here several tools to engage your neighborhood and grow your initiative. The main things to remembers are:

  • Map your territory and group the actors,
  • Analyse your territory in order to prioritize your actions,
  • Mix up your means of actions, and listen to what people have to tell you,
  • Offer the right actions to the right people,
  • Collectively organize but stay flexible,
  • Cooperate with other organizations and networks.

While building your organisation, there is a question that comes back often, which is how to build safe and stable governance. The challenge of building an organisation that will keep true to its purpose while navigating the years is a challenge familiar to the cooperative movement. This is the experience we are going to offer next.

Engaging and managing volunteers

The goal of this section is not to comment on the internal organization of the energy community. Rather, it is aims to provide ideas on how to formalize and organize the role of volunteers in the initiative.

Volunteers are essential to the functioning of community-based groups and organizations. Therefore, it is crucial to engage volunteers and support their continuous engagement as members throughout the life of the energy community. Volunteering is an opportunity for community members to give their time and make a valuable contribution to the wider community. At the same time, they are able to learn new skills and improve their lives by having a strong sense of belonging to a caring organization.

The key to a successful volunteer recruitment campaign and management is good planning. When planning work with volunteers, start by answering the following questions:

  • Why do we want volunteers in our organization?
  • What is expected of volunteers?
  • What is needed to ensure the successful work of volunteers?
  • Who will coordinate the work of volunteers?
  • Who will monitor and provide support?
  • What material and financial resources are needed to enable the work of volunteers?

Answering these questions involves preparation and planning on how volunteers are to be managed and supported. Every volunteer needs some form of training and development linked to it engagement for the community. The goal of volunteer work is not to replace staff work but to complement it. When possible, we recommend formalising the relationship between volunteers and the community organization.

Below, we provide below a series of tools to support this volunteer work:

Step 1 – Use volunteering contracts

When recruiting volunteers, volunteers must be clear about their roles. We recommend using volunteer contracts. Those contracts should look like an employment contract, except that their purpose is to provide clarity on the clear role and responsibilities of the volunteer. This contract should include a description of individual duties and responsibilities, as well as time commitments. The contract should also include an explanation of how their role contributes to the wider goals of the organization as well as the opportunities to develop their skills and learn about the area of their interest.

Volunteering contracts should be signed, and contain language explaining clear expectations from both sides. This contract does not have a legal nature but it will be a tool for conversation between the volunteer and the organization.

Step 2 – Plan and agree on volunteering costs

Volunteering is not a free activity for the organization. Besides management and training investments, work-related costs also need to be taken into account. Costs such as travel expenses, food, and beverage expenses can be counted as part of the work-related costs. However, transparency and accountability are key to the management of those costs. We recommend that communities clearly communicate expectations related to the costs, as well as plan a budget, in line with its planned activities.

Step 3 – Define and communicate the reporting procedures

Volunteers should keep track of their activities and invested hours and report them to the relevant coordinator. All volunteers should regularly monitor their work and keep a diary of activities in order for the energy community to have a better idea of the work performed. Such activities help to support coordination and ensure proper recognition of the work done by volunteers.

Monthly meetings and coordination

Coordination and management of volunteers are crucial in monitoring the delivery of agreed activities. Regular communication can also facilitate the appropriate resolution of potential misunderstandings between the volunteer and the coordinator of the organization.

Step 4 – Skill development and education

Continuing education is extremely important in developing quality in an organization and within teams. It involves acquiring new knowledge and developing the skill needed for the volunteer position. It refers to identifying the necessary skills that a volunteer needs to acquire or further develop, monitoring the development of new skills, and feedback and analysis of the whole process. Training and education are key components of the role of an energy community, as it allows for a better appreciation and understanding of energy by members and local citizens. Therefore, understanding training needs and providing adequate educational activities and coaching should be at the top of the list of priorities when developing an energy community.

Governance building

This part is meant to offer guidance on how to deploy democratic and autonomous governance within an energy community. Internal governance – that is, the rules for how decisions that affect the energy community is made – is integral to the operation of any enterprise. However, the governance in energy communities, and energy cooperatives in particular, is quite distinct from the governance of more commercially oriented enterprises. Below, we provide an analysis of the 7 International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) Principles, which also are reflected somewhat in the EU’s own legal definitions of energy communities. These principles are integrated into the governing statutes of the energy community.

Open and Voluntary Membership

There are several important aspects related to voluntary and open membership.

Regarding openness, as long as the energy community is accepting new members, it should not develop arbitrary or discriminatory criteria or exclude eligible individuals that are willing to undertake the responsibilities of membership (e.g. exorbitant entry fees). This does not mean an energy community should not develop criteria that are reasonably linked to its objectives, such as minimum investment thresholds or timely payment of membership dues.

Depending on the activity of the energy community, eligibility for participation might vary:

  • For a project to install renewables production, an energy community would want to remain open to new members while it is raising finance for the project. In this case, the community would conduct a share offer, which would remain open until the necessary finance is raised. Then membership would be closed.
  • For renewables self-consumption, energy sharing initiatives, or district heating networks, the energy community may want to tie eligibility to natural geographical or technical energy system limitations that are imposed on the activity, such as a connection to the relevant network/voltage level.
  • For other services such as supply, aggregation, EV charging, etc., an energy community would want to remain open to all potential consumers that want to receive and pay for those services within the market or service area of the community.

Importantly, openness is also about ensuring diversity in the energy community. One of the important added values of energy communities is their ability to innovate in order to address socio-economic issues in the community. For instance, an energy community may aim to address energy poverty or to ensure solidarity between members. As such, energy communities may want to encourage households that do not have sufficient disposable income to be able to become members, or at least be eligible to receive benefits derived from the community’s activities. To achieve this, for certain people energy communities often reduce, or even dispose of, requirements to contribute capital to the community in order to become a member. Alternatively, the energy community may provide services to non-members, excusing membership entirely for households that it aims to serve. Lastly, it is important to emphasise that diversity is promoted in cooperatives through ensuring gender and racial equality in the membership, as well as management (e.g. the board) and operation, of the energy community.

Concerning voluntary membership, it is important to understand that the relationship between an energy community and its participants covers two potential relationships between the member and the community: the member/investor relationship and the business-customer relationship.

Regarding the member/investor relationship, when individuals become members of an energy community by purchasing shares, they are conferred specific rights (e.g. to receive a limited return on investment, receive transparent accounts regarding the operation of the energy community, and a say in the energy community’s operations). At the same time, they are also conferred with specific responsibilities. Generally, this may include a duty to provide time towards the establishment or operation of the community. Indeed, many energy communities rely on voluntary or pro bono efforts from members during their early stages of development. Members also commit to helping make decisions, for instance, to vote for members of the board, or for strategic decisions on how to distribute or use revenues generated from the energy community’s activities. For certain activities of energy communities, membership duties may also include a duty to purchase, or even contribute, resources that the community uses in its activities, such as self-produced renewable electricity, or flexibility.

Regarding the business-customer relationship, EU legislation is clear that consumers must be able to maintain their rights as a consumer, which includes the right to switch suppliers. Therefore, no one can be forced to join or stay in an energy community, and normal rules regarding consumers’ rights to switch suppliers or service providers (e.g. aggregator) must be respected. Due to the fact that there is no consumer right to choose your distribution system operator, this requirement should not apply to an individual customer’s relationship with the energy community where it owns or operates a network. In such a situation, the customer would still have the right to switch supplier or service provider, but not the network itself.

Democratic Member Control

In cooperatives, democratic member control means that the entity is controlled by the members, who actively participate in setting up policy direction and decision making. Typically, voting rights are designed to give all members equal decision-making power, regardless of whether they have invested more than other members. The most typical way equal decision-making rights is implemented is through the one-member-one-vote principle. This decision-making mechanism is also intended to support the autonomy of the cooperative to work in the interest of the members as a whole, rather than at the behest of a single or small handful of members.

Democratic control is also concerned with ensuring different groups within the cooperative are adequately represented in the decision-making process. Often enough, cooperatives include different groups of members, such as employees, clients, or financial contributors. It is likely that these groups will have different interests and capacities to exercise power, for instance as minority or majority members.

Energy communities bring citizens, enterprises (from small, medium and large), and municipalities together. Therefore, it is important to ensure no group feels disenfranchised from the energy community. As such, it is important to ensure adequate representation from each respective group in decision-making bodies such as the general assembly, and even the board, of the energy community. As such, energy communities may want to include veto mechanisms for minority members, or weighted voting for different categories of members, in their founding statutes. It may also be necessary to set up a representative that can speak for a specific class of shareholders, such as consumers. Such a mechanism might be especially relevant where there is a large number of vulnerable households participating in the community.

Lastly, the statutes create rules to ensure that members of the management, or elected representatives of the Board, are accountable to the members, which is typically represented in the general assembly.

Member Economic Participation

In order to become a member of an energy community, an individual must generally contribute towards the capital of the energy community. Alternatively, where certain activities are concerned, for instance, energy sharing, economic participation could be met through providing resources (e.g. supplying self-produced renewable electricity) to the energy community. Through this contribution of capital or resources, the members obtain rights to a return on their investment, as well as other decision-making rights regarding the policies and operation of the energy community.

Some energy communities provide services to non-members, for instance, the supply of renewable electricity or flexibility. Nevertheless, to encourage economic participation by becoming a member, many energy communities offer incentives, for instance, a discount in the energy bill, for households that decide to become a member.

Autonomy and Independence

Autonomy is meant to ensure that the community is owned and controlled jointly by its members, rather than by a single member or a small group of members. Specifically, autonomy supports democratic internal decision-making so that all members are adequately represented (regardless of their amount of investment). Representation includes both decisions made in the main decision-making body (e.g. the general assembly) and the managing body (e.g. the board). Autonomy is also about guaranteeing economic and financial autonomy, meaning that business partnerships with traditional market actors should not undermine the community’s decision-making independence.

Autonomy can be reflected in an energy community’s statutes in a number of ways:

  • The statues can limit the amount of capital held by one member, or a group/class of members (e.g. for-profit enterprises), so that the collective autonomy of the energy community is not endangered,
  • The statutes can place limitations on the withdrawal, or liquidation, of investment by individual members so that the community’s continued existence is not put at risk,
  • The statutes of energy community can include language imposing duties on the board to ensure financial autonomy and sustainability, refrain from speculation, or restrict the energy community from seeking out certain sources of capital (e.g. institutional investors or larger energy companies),
  • The statutes can place limits on external financing (from non-user members or non-member users) from financial institutions or from larger energy companies, which even without giving voting and/or participatory rights, could limit the autonomy of the energy community,
  • Autonomy can be guaranteed through the implementation of democratic decision-making based on the one-person-one-vote principle. The one-person-one-vote principle can also have the added benefit of ensuring equal and non-discriminatory treatment between members or shareholders in the energy community.

Education, Training and Information

Cooperatives generally make efforts to educate and train members, elected representatives, managers and employees so that they can contribute to the objectives of the cooperative. This often also extends towards the general local public. This is particularly so for energy communities, especially those that supply renewable energy or engage in energy efficiency activities. In particular, energy communities focus on providing targeted advice on how to take actions to save on energy consumption, as well as information on how to obtain financing for such activities. Energy communities also provide training to the local community in order to educate them on energy issues, for instance, steps they can take to achieve a more energy sober lifestyle. Such education and outreach activities are often already reflected in the main objectives of the energy community.

Education and outreach by energy communities have a demonstrably concrete impact on the behaviour of their members. First, according to a study conducted by the University of Twente and Delft University of Technology, by joining an energy community that engages in outreach to members on energy usage, members lowered their energy demand by 20% on average. Second, according to a survey of new members of energy communities conducted by the University of Twente and Delft University of Technology, 24% indicated having made investments in renewable energy technology since becoming a member, while another 27% indicated wanting to invest in the next few years.

Cooperation between cooperatives

Cooperation is often indispensable to the success of an energy community initiative. Typically, new energy communities start their first projects with little or no previous experience. Nearby energy communities with more experience then become a valuable resource for information, technical expertise, and other support.

Many existing energy communities help new energy communities on an informal basis. Some energy communities have specific objectives and activities aimed at assisting groups of assistance to get new energy communities started.

Cooperation among energy cooperatives was at the heart of the establishment of, the European Federation of Citizen Energy Cooperatives. It all started with several cooperatives getting together to exchange best practices and challenges, and learn from each other. These efforts eventually snow-balled into a European project bringing energy cooperatives together from a number of different EU Member States and culminated in the formation of REScoop.EU. Since then, a number of national federations of energy cooperatives (e.g. the Netherlands, Spain, Belgium, and Ireland) have been founded on the basis of collectivising efforts to share information, technology, and efforts to influence policy on energy communities. Energy cooperatives have even come together to cooperate on specific technology areas, such as mobility – going as far as to set up a European Cooperative Society called the Mobility Factory.

Concern for Community

An energy community’s objectives, as stated in its founding statutes, are one of the main characteristics that distinguish it from other more traditional commercial enterprises. It is the ability of energy communities to use energy as an innovative tool to address local socio-economic concerns, and  ensure a democratic and inclusive energy transition, that justifies special policy support from the EU.

Under EU law,  an energy community’s primary purpose must be “to provide environmental, economic or social community benefits for its shareholders or members or for the local areas where it operates, rather than financial profits.” This does not forbid energy communities from making profit, as long as the profits are reinvested into the community’s activities (e.g. renewables generation projects), or are used to pursue general public interest aims such as local development, education, or solidarity programmes. Indeed, one of the added values of energy communities is their ability to generate revenue that can then be used for socially innovative purposes. Along these lines, the statutes should clarify that returns on investment and other financial benefits to members are secondary to other general aims of the community.

Any benefits generated by the energy community’s activities may be aimed at one of two groups: shareholders/members (e.g. return on investment), or the local community. Regarding the latter, the limits are endless as to what economic, environmental or social benefits energy communities can provide. These include but are not limited to:

  • promotion of local development,
  • investment in public infrastructure,
  • reduced energy bills – at least for households and other non-professional customers,
  • increased production of locally developed renewable energy,
  • greenhouse gas emissions reductions (e.g. carbon dioxide,CO2),
  • provision of different services (e.g. energy supply, sharing, advice) to members,
  • investment in energy efficiency, tackling energy poverty, and ensuring solidarity between members,
  • education and training for members, school children, and/or the broader public,
  • promotion of energy democracy and
  • citizen empowerment.

As energy communities get involved in new technologies, concern for community should also evolve towards providing benefits for the energy system, such as flexibility.


The last section closes the Stakeholder Engagement Guide. In this guide, we have provided you with a road to create and your energy community. This is only one road, and there are many ways to create an energy community that will suitable for your community and national context. In this report, we have decided to use provide a cooperative model for the creation of an energy community. This is motivated by the results of the BRIDGE initiative Working Group on Consumer and Citizen Engagement, highlighting that the cooperative form is being used in the large majority of pilots of European R&I projects.

The first part of this report is an introduction to the context of the development and transposition of energy community definitions. The aim of this section is to understand the environment and choices leading to the taking of the first step in the creation of an energy community.

The second part of this report is dedicated to the broad institutional make-up of an energy cooperative. The goal of this section 1 is the understand the institutions and interactions inside of an energy cooperative.

Section 3 aims to provide the basics of market analysis to project leaders. This section will provide you will tools and techniques to adapt your energy community project to your environment.

The 4th section of this report is dedicated to providing tools and guidance around the community-building aspect of your project. The goal of this section is to provide community leaders with tools and resources to engage their neighbourhood. The engagement of consumers into a collective action scheme is key to the success of an energy community.

Finally, the section 5 aims to provide community leaders with guidance on how to create a sound governance model for the energy community. This section is inspired by the 7 cooperative principles and provide concrete ways to keep an energy community autonomous and demo