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Insights from DUST’s Polish Focus Groups

As we gear up for the experimental phases of the DUST project, including the Regional Futures Literacy Labs (RFLLs), it's a good moment to delve into the qualitative research methods that offer deeper insights into engagement and sustainability transitions. Specifically, let's zoom in on the findings from Poland, where focus groups have uncovered the intricacies of participation dynamics. 


While quantitative methods provide a broad overview of engagement in sustainability transitions, they often lack a specific understanding of different contexts. That's where our focus groups come in, peeling back the layers to explore the underlying reasons behind varying levels of participation across regions and communities. Building on data gathered through DUST surveys and interviews, these discussions reveal both the challenges and opportunities for fostering inclusive and diverse engagement in sustainability transitions. 


Facilitated by UEK and KADRA, DUST's regional partners in Poland, focus group meetings aimed to engage less-heard voices in planning for the energy transition of Polish coal regions. Using previous DUST research identifying Least Engaged Communities (LECs) in each region, the meetings targeted mining communities, particularly youth, retired as well as current miners and energy sector employees in the Katowice and Belchatow case study regions. 


In Belchatow, participants included secondary school students, local lignite miners, power plant employees, and retirees from the energy sector. Meanwhile, in Katowice, miners and retirees from the energy sector were also involved in addition to university students, some of whom are active in climate movements. Notably, the Katowice youth group was comprised mainly of female students, whose parents work in mining or the energy sector.   


The mix of participants helped the focus groups to explore how sustainability transitions are perceived and experienced by various LECs in the Polish regions. For the youth, energy and climate transition are familiar concepts, yet the term "just transition" is relatively new. Their focus centres on environmental concerns, with a strong desire for better air quality driving their support for transitioning traditional sectors. Embracing change, they see opportunities for improved quality of life and new job prospects. They yearn for faster adoption of green technologies and a clear vision of new economic sectors, alongside opportunities for skill development. Post-industrial regeneration and repurposing of mining areas also top their wish list. While many are not actively engaged in climate actions, individuals lead education and protest initiatives through groups like the Silesian Youth Climate Movement.  


In stark contrast, miners and energy workers perceive the transition as a threat, fearing job losses and a radical shift in industrial culture. For them, slowing down the transition until 2049 is a priority, emphasizing the economic implications and the need to preserve livelihoods. Unlike the youth, miners and energy workers participate in the development of Social Agreements, where job security is prioritised. Interestingly, retirees have largely been absent from consultations on just and energy transition measures, signalling a gap in engaging this demographic.  


All focus groups highlighted building trust as a cornerstone of effective engagement in sustainability transitions, with distinct perspectives emerging from youth and mining communities. Trust is a critical factor amongst younger generations, yet they express scepticism towards public institutions, viewing them as disconnected from their daily lives, existing in a "parallel world". Likewise, miners and energy workers' limited trust in public institutions and politicians is shaped by historical events dating back to times of socialism and martial law, which included the violent suppression of miners' strikes in 1981. They too value empowerment, seeking meaningful involvement in decision-making processes. Instead, all LECs place trust in and rely on smaller social groups like family and friends, as well as citizen collectives and NGOs. In addition to building trust, several young people suggested creating and hosting participation in familiar and accessible environments, such as entertainment venues, shopping areas or pubs to encourage engagement.  


By incorporating these insights from LECs perspectives, within the RFLLs and other interactive activities, the DUST project can pave the way for a more inclusive and engaged sustainability transition in Poland. Follow our social media channels to stay tuned! 


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