Reflections on Data-Driven Community Engagement to Inform Evidence-Based Policymaking in Randers, Denmark

Steph Pietras
March 17, 2023

TReNDS’ Program Associate, Steph Pietras, describes her experience participating in the Urban Climate Change Research Network (UCCRN)’s Urban Design Climate Workshop (UDCW) in Denmark last November.

While pursuing my MSc in Sustainable Development from the University College Dublin, I was invited to attend an Urban Design Climate Workshop (UDCW) hosted by the Urban Climate Change Research Network (UCCRN). Bringing together students from each of the nine partner higher-education institutions, the aim of the workshop was to develop a multi-disciplinary design-oriented proposal to support the climate-resilient transformation of the medieval city-center of Randers, Denmark. In collaboration with the local government and Aalborg University, we developed policy recommendations and design solutions through community engagement exercises.

To engage the local Randers’ community, we created and conducted an online survey, as well as organized a participatory workshop with citizens at the local library. The survey data collected was used to develop policy recommendations that were presented to the local government's Sustainability Committee and aided officials in producing a more detailed report that was released last month.

Workshop Reflections 

The city of Randers is uniquely positioned within Denmark. Randers is Denmark’s only natural river harbor, making it a dynamic center for production, trade, and commerce, but also among the country’s areas with the highest risk of extreme floods.

To address flooding and other climate challenges, Randers is working to become climate neutral by 2050. Achieving this goal involves creating synergies and integrating climate adaptation strategies as part of the urban landscape to add value to the city’s development, rather than just an add-on. For instance, the “River City Randers – City to the Water Development Plan” is just one of the many projects working toward this vision by creating a new urban neighborhood that will also serve as a recreational basin and rainwater reservoir. 

As part of the workshop and to provide context for the development of our online survey, we met with local officials, including Daniel Madié, Randers’ City Council Member and Chairman of the Sustainability Committee, to garner a better understanding of the sustainability challenges facing Randers, as well as the city’s vision for a more resilient and sustainable future. Representatives from various government departments also took us on a tour of the city where they highlighted both problematic neighborhoods like Slotspladsen, which is susceptible to flooding, and high value areas like Østervold, a climate adaptation project that collects rainwater.

Meetings with government officials in conjunction with specific site visits helped us develop questions for the online survey, which was conducted in both Danish and English. Survey questions were related to mobility, public spaces, and climate, but also included demographic and general questions. For example, a survey question inquired about citizens’ perceptions on making Randers’ city center a “car-free” zone. This designated area would prohibit passenger cars from traveling through it, thereby making the area more pedestrian friendly and attractive for visitors to shop at local businesses. Based on our survey responses, the vast majority of respondents voted in favor of this. Thus, as the Randers’ government continues to develop climate-related policies, frequent local surveys like this one, will be important for justifying, modifying, or  adopting new policies that are tailored to citizens’ perceptions and needs.

Having Danish students in the group was also helpful for ensuring accurate survey translation,  providing insights into cultural norms, and disseminating the survey to the local community. For example, we learned that Danish people prefer to receive information on Facebook over Twitter or LinkedIn. To target local citizens to respond to our online survey, we joined and posted in local Facebook community groups, including Venner i Randers, Danmark. / Friends in Randers, Denmark. We also undertook additional survey outreach efforts including speaking with locals on the street and encouraging them to take the survey on their phones, as well as gathering responses at Randers library, a common gathering place for locals. 

Lessons Learned for Future Work

It’s clear that engaging with communities at a more local and granular level is important for increasing participatory governance and local interest in policymaking. My experience in Randers taught me the following:  

  • Gear Data Products Toward The Local Language and Customs – Having the online survey in Danish was critical for acquiring local responses. Furthermore, conducting targeted outreach on preferred social media platforms and in popular areas for locals was also important for obtaining successful response rates.

  • Involve Local Government Stakeholders in the Process – It was essential to have the buy-in of local government and municipality leaders from the start to ensure take-up of policy recommendations as well as enhance locals’ confidence in the project. 

These learnings are also applicable to TReNDS’ current work in Rwanda on localizing census data as part of the Data For Now initiative. As part of this work, TReNDS recently conducted workshops with local stakeholders in two Rwandan districts to familiarize the local community with the statistics’ office census data and statistical products as well as obtain information on their data needs and challenges. Similar to my work in Randers, key takeaways from the workshop also highlighted the importance of translation into the local language (Kinyarwanda), adhering to local customs, and engaging government stakeholders early in the process.  I look forward to continuing to integrate these learnings into TReNDS’ ongoing work and research  moving forward.

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For more information related to this Urban Design Climate Workshop and ways to get involved in future workshops, please contact UCCRN Nordic Node Hub Co-Director, Martin Lehmann, [email protected].