Acceptance requires citizen participation

RWE publishes study on handling infrastructure projects / Results of the study are guidelines for future work

Essen, (PresseBox) - In an increasingly networked society it is becoming more difficult for companies and government agencies to gain acceptance for major projects and infrastructure changes. The energy industry in particular faces special challenges due to the accelerated change in energy policy. If these challenges are to be met successfully, the topic of citizen participation must take higher priority. But how exactly should citizens be involved in developing such projects? RWE has conducted an extensive study on that question in an effort to contribute to the debate in today's society on acceptance issues.

Around 40 prominent experts from the business world, political parties, universities, newspapers, NGOs, research institutes, churches and trade unions were polled for the study. Among them were federal ministers Peter Altmaier and Dr. Philipp Rösler; the president of the Federal Network Agency, Jochen Homann; and the head of climate and energy policy for the WWF Germany, Regine Günther. Scientific studies and earlier surveys were also incorporated in the analysis. "Our goal was to try to understand the background behind protest movements and their mechanisms and to get a feel for how much latitude there is for the implementation of large-scale projects. Only with this kind of understanding will it be possible to shape the process constructively in the years to come. In two or three years we want to take a fresh look at the situation and conduct another survey", said Peter Terium, CEO of RWE, describing the motivation behind the study.

The study shows that there is an urgent need for a new culture of dialogue and participation. Protests are after all not motivated only by citizens' personal interests. Many people have lost confidence in politics and in big companies. And as dissatisfaction with the political and economic elites grows, so does people's need to have a say in planning and to take matters into their own hands. But the fact that activism is increasing in civil society is a development politics and business should see as an opportunity. Because citizen participation, when channelled properly, can be a boon both to the concrete undertaking at hand and for democratic society in general.

The experts surveyed agree on the need for open discussion of the consequences for the general public of carrying out, or preventing, a particular investment. "Citizen participation must be an integral part of planning for all companies. And it must be 'genuine', that is, the citizens must be granted real influence on the course of events", Terium commented.

Peter Terium considers the acceptance study of great value also "because it provides insights on the fundamental frame of mind prevailing in our society when confronting situations of upheaval or change." Rolf Martin Schmitz, Deputy CEO of RWE AG, adds: "We will use the results of the study to continue to improve the dialogue with our stakeholders. This is the only way we can promote acceptance for the necessary infrastructure and implement the requisite measures. In the long term, we also want to strengthen confidence in our company."

The study demonstrated that, although the public has a great deal of sympathy for the energy changeover, many citizens do not yet have a clear grasp of what exactly is involved. The process needs to be explained better and more intensively. RWE is already starting to do just that with the youngest members of society: the RWE School Forum offers classroom teaching materials and teacher training. Energy education is furthermore a central theme addressed by the RWE Foundation. In order to create a better understanding of its work, RWE maintains close contacts with local citizens and policymakers at all of its project sites.

The study was conducted with the assistance of the communications consultancy Deekeling Arndt Advisors.

The acceptance study was presented in Berlin on 7 November during a roundtable discussion between Federal Environmental Minister Peter Altmaier, Peter Terium and Rolf Martin Schmitz.

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