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Learning public involvement processes, 1998 – 2001

Date interview: March 4 2016
Name interviewer: Morten Elle, Center for Design, Innovation and Sustainable Transition, Department of Development and Planning, Aalborg University, Copenhagen.
Name interviewee: Søren Hermansen (SH), 04-03-2016 + Malene Lundén (ML) 07-04-2016
Position interviewee: SH – farmer and head of Energiakademiet, part of the old Samsoe community, part of ‘the tribe’. ML – photographer and project manager, newcomer on the island (she moved there in 1988)

Social-technical relations Re-invigoration NGOs New Organizing Networking Motivation Interpersonal relations Experimenting Competence development Civil Society organizations

This is a CTP of initiative: INFORSE - Samsoe Energy Academy (Denmark)

Learning public involvement processes, 1998 – 2001   This critical turning point is related to a number of meetings with the islanders in the period 1998 to 2001. The meetings had different purposes, but represent a change from an attempt to have a process that is in fact very top-down, to a well prepared bottom-up process. The focus in the first meetings was very technical, and the idea was to use technical arguments to convince the islanders to accept the large scale plan for Samsoe as a Sustainable Energy Island, including new large windmills. The intention was not to act top-down, but the local interpretation was that it was a top-down process.   SH: There is always a turning point in the transition from vision to accept. We entered the process with and engineering and planning approach, and we thought that we were very good. We had created a master plan; we felt that we had taken everything into account. We had handled the engineering and structural questions. But in reality the islanders had quite other questions, questions regarding ownership and who the project would benefit. It became the turning point where we, the project makers, realized that we had to create the project together with the islanders.   Gradually the local initiative learns that it is not the technical details that are important. It is about creating ownership, accepting farmers’ rights and understanding the unspoken rules of the locals. It is not the meeting itself that are the most important; it is the discussions before and after the meeting. In order to have a successful meeting you have to prepare well, be sure that your important allies will be present at the meeting.


The material actor creating the first part of this learning process is the large MW-windturbines. They are large, and the islanders question their size. The perceived size does not (only) relate to the physical size, it is much more related to the ownership. SH: There are some very sensitive issues concerning the issues the ownership of the wind turbines.

Related events

There were windmills on Samsoe before it became a sustainable energy island. The islanders had not only experiences with individually owned windmill – typically owned by farmers – but also with a number of windmill co-operatives. In Denmark co-operatives are seen as the cornerstone of society, Danes have more than a hundred years of experience of organising co-operatives. These experiences were decisive for the organisation of thousands of wind-turbine co-operatives in the 1980ies.


The conflicts are clearly related to the ownership: wind-turbines can be very large, ugly, noisy and bird-killing if you are not feeling any ownership. If you feel ownership they are pretty symbols of a prosperous sustainable future. SH: in the very beginning of the process, the farmers very angry because we had meddled in the discussion of the location of wind turbines. We wanted to develop a comprehensive plan.  ML: There were conflicts concerning where the wind turbines were to be placed, but the conflicts were about very specific elements in the plan. The inhabitants of Samsoe were generally very positive regarding wind energy, solar energy, biogas etc.


This learning process was not anticipated by the local initiative, initially having focus on the mere technical problems related to make an integrated plan for 100 % renewable energy supply. They thought that the benefits of realizing the plan were more or less self-evident. They were locals – not outsiders – and having the future of the island in mind, making the resistance hard to understand in the beginning.


The basic learning is about involving people in transition towards sustainability. It is not the technical aspects that are the most challenging: it is the social aspects. SH: You have to understand the different levels of discussion in a local society. There were meetings before and after the official meetings – and in the beginning we were not invited to these informal meeting. You have to create local ownership in all dimensions, making people a part of the project. Involving the public is not about having a public meeting. It is about an understanding the local context, involving people before the meeting, making sure that your important allies understand the arguments and participate in the meeting. It is also about continuing the process after the meeting. SH: We learned how to ‘prime’ a meeting. We learned that we had to walk from house to house, discussing the issues of the meeting, making sure that your supporters turns up at the meeting. This process can be interpreted as a complicated navigational governance process.

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