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DUST Trails 8: Stara Zagora's Focus Groups

In the past year in DUST, we have dived into the form and levels of participation in just sustainability transition policies, through our desk research, first hand research with policymakers and our conversations with members of the least engaged communities in our case study regions. Our focus groups conducted in each of the regions saw our partners sit down with many individuals from diverse communities, to explore their thoughts and feelings on their involvement in the design of policies relating to sustainability transitions.  


In Stara Zagora, Bulgaria, these focus groups were geared towards three groups of women; retired women, young women, and women employed in the energy sector. The conversations revolved around the phasing out of coal production at the Maritsa Iztok Complex, Bulgaria's third largest coal power plant. Focus group participants were asked to comment on how they view the transition, and the degree to which they have been involved in the decision making process.  


A common concern that emerged from conversations was the economic future of the many people who rely on the power plant for their income. While there is some information on the process of phase out and the closure of the complex, for many the question of what comes next is a big one. Participants commented on how those in charge are not able to guarantee their financial security and that the pathway through the transition is unclear. To them the changes to their lives in terms of re-training, and finding new work are a concern and may bring an extended period of instability.  


Others in the focus groups commented on the lack of a unified narrative around the transition. For them, the subject of sustainability and the imperative of transitioning seems to be the occupation of those in power and not an open conversation that they are able to take part in. Some feel that the spotlight is on the power plant and the transition in the region, and not society as a whole. A sentiment here may be that while the urgency of change is promoted in this area, behavioural shifts and collective action is underemphasised. 


Many in the focus groups also commented on the well understood need for these changes to occur. The protection of the environment for the future, especially so that the younger generations could live a safe and stable life, was well reported. Indeed, many participants have been involved in festivals and events that serve to inform residents on sustainability transitions and promote an eco-mindset. For some, however, this narrative is overplayed and rarely touches on what change actually looks like within transitions, which may be essential to generating collective momentum. 


Explorations like these are essential to develop a true understanding of how decision making processes around sustainability transitions really function. While quantitative methods provide a broad overview of engagement in sustainability transitions, opening conversation with individuals provides a specific understanding of the human contexts at play. They shine a light into the ways that people are impacted by changing systems and processes and complement more data-ed approaches with human stories and experiences. 


Want to know how the conversations in our other case study regions unfolded and how we will use these results to open conversations between communities and policy makers? Stay up to date with everything happening in DUST through our website and social media! 


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