Selecting the right narrative can help unify diverse stakeholders’ support

New Delhi – A new methodology pursued by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) in India has been applying a new narrative for alliance building to energy reforms in the country.

Reform does not stem automatically from mere figures and facts. Rather, to bring about change, new visions of the future need to be created such that they propagate a re-imagination of what we hope to achieve for current as well as future generations.

Any attempt at a socio-economic transformation is bound to create winners and losers which tends to asphyxiate the economy. Given that there exist vested interests in the status quo, there is a need to balance the varying interests and construct such a narrative that can exemplify how various actors can benefit from the transition. This necessitates a paradigmal shift which calls for the building of alliances between the various stakeholders in any field. A new methodology pursued by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) has been applying this narrative approach to energy reforms in India.

Nearly half of Rajasthan’s school have no electricity. […] An approach transitioning to cleaner sources of energy which is tied to a broader societal concern has better chances of gaining traction.

It is a well-recognised problem that the penetration of electricity provision in the north-western Indian state of Rajasthan is low. Nearly half of Rajasthan’s school have no electricity. To overcome this challenge, a new approach to problem solving is needed. An approach transitioning to cleaner sources of energy which is tied to a broader societal concern has better chances of gaining traction.

“The Solar for Education project provides one such entry point towards energy transformation in Rajasthan, by addressing a larger societal concern that is quality education,” said Abhishek Kumar, Director of think tank Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS), the FES partner on the project.

Framing the narrative in this manner helped garner support from various stakeholders “who were otherwise at loggerheads due to conflicting interests and outlooks,” said Kumar, who is also the convener of the Green Growth and Energy Transformation initiative in Rajasthan, West Bengal and New Delhi.

This principle is the key behind an approach to consensus-building that FES calls Transformative Change-Making Methodology, or TCM. Adopting this approach is essential if India is to undertake effective energy reforms at country level. The problem is not overall supply, Kumar explained, rather distribution and mapping of demand. “On one hand, we are an energy-surplus State, but on the other, around a fifth of households have no access to electricity.”

<link news practical-guide-to-transformative-change-making external-link>Download and read the paper "Practical Guide to Transfromative Change Making (TCM)

To achieve this, one needs to identify and locate the “keyholding players,” he said. “By key holders I don’t mean just actors in the energy field but also others like the government, private sector and civil society.”

“The behaviour of these actors is shaped by economic, social and environmental imperatives,” he said. “If their intent and motivations on these imperatives can be mapped, incentive structures can be envisioned and a suitable narrative can be built to bridge the discourse gap.” In other words, any given project can be presented in such a way to highlight its benefits and appeal to those actors, rather than simply as a project for the greater good.

This requires different stakeholders with sometimes diverging interests to agree on a common objective, Kumar explained. “In the immediate present, interests are more likely to conflict. It is, hence, easier to agree on a common goal that is set in the near-ish future, rather than here and now”, he said.

In Rajasthan, this was done by selecting the objective of electrification of schools as one catalytic project, and building of stakeholder networks by means of what TCM describes as “seed coalitions.” These seed coalitions comprise of diverse stakeholders that need to create a relationship based on trust and ownership amongst themselves.  

In the initial few meetings, the stakeholders were on different pages. Eventually, through a structured process of discussion, ideas aligning different interests started to evolve. “The seed coalition started with 10-15 members, but within one year they managed to seed many more coalitions so that the project could be implemented,” he said.

 “Today there are more than 150 members associated with this idea, and they include potential grassroots beneficiaries, school authorities, non-governmental organizations, media partners, corporates, bankers and people’s representatives including high-level politicians.” – Abhishek Kumar (CUTS)

At a national level, India’s next challenge is providing energy access for all, while improving its mix of renewable and fossil-fuel based energy, Kumar said. This will require a detailed mapping of current demand, better coordination between government agencies and power generators, and more empowerment of the consumers to make informed energy choices.

But here too, TCM has a role to play, he said. “The strength of TCM, as a method and approach, is to create powerful discourses that can bring marginalized, fringe voices into the mainstream and help in overcoming political, social and cultural barriers. Therefore, it can be used effectively for creating transformational change in any sector.”

For more information on the work by FES in India and the application of TCM in their work visit the official country office website and contact the team members.

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