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Hope for the Future: Grantham Centre training

A core aim of the Grantham Centre is to communicate evidence-based information about the climate crisis – and sustainable solutions to it – to as wide an audience as possible. Because of this we provide the Grantham Scholars with a bespoke training programme.

This training programme is managed by Centre Manager Deborah Beck, who continuously reviews and updates it. The programme includes everything from the basics of writing to working with industry.

Influencing policy: system change not climate change

One area we specialise in is influencing policy. Because it is vital that research insights make it into meaningful policy change. Without this we cannot change the systems that create the climate crisis.

Hope for the Future and the Grantham Scholars

Hope for the Future (HFTF) is a climate charity which works to equip communities, groups and individuals across the country to communicate the urgency of climate change with their local politicians. And they have an impressive track record, 90% of their engagement with MPs are successful. Further, they are a local group, founded in Sheffield, just like the Grantham Centre.

Through training sessions with HFTF our Scholars learn how to interact successfully with politicians. For instance, a group of Grantham Scholars used the HFTF method to set up a meeting with Paul Blomfield MP at the Time is Now mass lobby.

Our Communications Officer sat in on a training session with HFTF and the Grantham Scholars (delivered as a webinar due to the lockdown) to find out more about them and how they work.

Hope for the Future and the Grantham Centre

One of our Scholars, Emma Stevens, was so impressed by HFTF that she now works for them. Emma has this to say about them:

“I have volunteered with Hope for the Future since January 2018 because I was inspired by the charity’s relationship based approach to working with politicians. Since then, I have supported 10 groups of constituents to run events with MPs from across the UK, on topics ranging from solar power to ‘fueling’ a just transition. I was recently appointed as their Events Officer.”

Emma Stevens at a Hope for the Future event in Cornwall
Tackling the Climate Emergency in Cardiff’. Panellists: Alice Taherzadeh (Cardiff University), Dr Catherine Cherry (CAST), Patrick Hall (Bright Blue) and Jenny Rathbone (Assembly Member for Cardiff Central) with Sarah Robinson chairing the discussion (Deputy Director, HFTF). 

Hope for the Future training: finding common ground

As Emma’s quote shows, HFTF bring MPs and constituents together, and then helps them find their common ground. ‘Common ground’ is also the title of HFTF’s webinar series (for more information on this look at their events page).

During their training session with the Grantham Centre, HFTF explained how they use empathy and research to find common ground.

Empathy gets stuff done

HFTF use ‘tactical empathy’ as a way to get MPs to listen. Because if people don’t listen they don’t take information in.

Tactical empathy means a lot of things. HFTF break it down into techniques for conversation. It may mean mirroring tone of voice and use of language. They stress the importance of trying to understand why your MP’s beliefs may not be the same as yours. And they suggest asking questions and affirming you have understood the response. They even suggest using mindfulness techniques, for example, openly acknowledging if a meeting is uncomfortable.

That last example is one of the ways HFTF really stands out as an organisation – they use tools from many different disciplines. And they do this because it works. Which leads onto another one of their tools – research.

Research for better conversations

Knowing where your MP stands on climate change means you can target specific topics in your contact with them. After all there is no point preaching to the converted – but letting them know they have a mandate to act in their constituency may be useful. On the other hand, if someone is a climate change denier then you need to start small – but the rewards could be great.

HFTF take research further. They create a fact file on each MP they work with, one which outlines the MP’s areas of interest, voting record, and sphere of influence (what committees they sit on etc). And perhaps most importantly, where the MP is on a scale of 1-5 in terms of of climate change, from sceptic to believer.

This scale provides a way to set goals, chart progress and stay realistic. For instance, they have found it is only possible to move an MP 1 or 2 points across the scale.

But the research doesn’t stop with the scale. HFTF further suggest that people create a plan of approach to an MP. They should have a specific topic to talk about, be able to show its local connection, and practice explaining it succinctly.

Sounds like a lot of work, but as HFTF point out, the more work you do before seeing your MP, the easier you make it for them to hear you, and the more likely it is they will act on what you say. The aim is to move them along the scale and get them to act on climate change.

Tactics: message and framing

HFTF use of tactics for communication is remarkable. It reminds me of advice given to screenwriters trying to get a deal in the cut-throat film industry.  They even make use of the idea of an ‘elevator pitch’, well-known in writing circles, which is a brief, punchy summary of an idea. You get results if you know your audience and craft your message specifically for them.

Another tool writers use is framing. This is how you set the scene for information. In the HFTF context this means if you’re talking to a traditional, Conservative MP, it might be better to use a language of ‘preserving’ rather than climate change.

The UK political system

HFTF also educate people about the UK political system. Even though I have lived in the UK all my life, there’s plenty I don’t know about it. For example, I learned that MPs cannot simply act on issues that are important to them, they need a mandate from their constituents.

HFTF provide a framework for getting information to get to MPs. Before working in the university sector I had assumed that the ‘best’ knowledge was being fed to the people who make decisions on our behalf. But sadly this is not the case. So the training which HFTF give to people like our Scholars, each of whom is an expert on an area of sustainability, is important.

Hope for the future?

HFTF show how useful communication can be, and that it’s a craft, something you can learn to be better at. They also encourage empathy for MPs. This is nice from an ethical point of view – and it gets stuff done.

If you want to work with Hope For The Future get in touch getting in touch with them at info@hftf.org.uk