RethinkAction is a 4-year project dedicated to developing an online platform that citizens, entrepreneurs and decision-makers can use to find out what land use options are available to them according to their regional climate challenges. The aim of the platform is to raise awareness of sustainable land use concepts and at the same time to show the actual impact of the proposed measures on the local and global climate. In order to propose the most suitable land-use based adaptation and mitigation solutions, the platform is based on data collected and processed in six different case studies in different climatic regions of Europe. In the case study regions, RethinkAction involves local stakeholders in the design process so that their needs are understood, their knowledge integrated in the platform and the usability of the tool is optimised.

As communications officers in the project, we have the particular challenge of bridging the gap between ongoing research and the public/potential end users. We are constantly faced with the question: How can we communicate the content of the project in such a way that it is interesting and accessible for our target groups? Ideally, communication is not a one-way affair, but instead includes people and fosters engagement. In the RethinkAction project, an active participation of the stakeholders in the case study regions and beyond is required for the sensible creation of the platform. So: What are the stories that activate engagement?

During the last RethinkAction project meeting in October 2023, we conducted a creative storytelling exercise with the partners of the consortium. Their competences range from the social sciences, political science, land use-based advocacy, environmental sciences, atmospheric sciences, ICT modelling, integrated assessment modelling, earth observation, climatology and communication. Some of these disciplines and tasks are very far removed from the public engagement strategy. This gap in perception is what we aimed to overcome during this session. The idea of the workshop was to try to remove ourselves from the nitty-gritty of our fields - the data, maths, and modelling, the programming - and instead turn our attention to the questions “why?” and “for whom?”.

The participants were allocated in random groups and were given 10 minutes per group to draft a basic story, which first identifies a protagonist and a situation. In the next step, the situation is being challenged by an arising problem, which can then get resolved with the support of RethinkAction. Given the short time frame (10 minutes per round), participants were asked to not overthink their proposed stories, but to think intuitively. The goal of the experiment was not to draft the perfect story, but instead to collect multiple ideas and think co-creatively about who our target groups are and try to understand and empathise with their needs.

The stories that emerged addressed a range of actors and their problems: An apple farming cooperative in France that experiences yield losses through extreme weather events use the RethinkAction Platform to find sustainable adaptation solutions. Or a citizen initiative that learn about mitigation and adaptation solutions for land use in their region and use their knowledge to apply pressure on the local authorities. Other stories address the changing nature of tourism in areas like skiing regions that rely on snow in winter and water management strategies for farmers that are increasingly affected by drought.

This exercise raised questions that are not only helpful in drafting stories, but also to remind us why we do the work we do: We want to create a user-friendly platform for citizens, stakeholders and policy makers that helps make better and informed choices regarding sustainable land use. Making the platform known and visible is the first step to making a lasting impact. The next step is to involve stakeholders to tell their own stories.

The workshop we conducted in Milan with our partners was inspired by a practical session offered by the Green Deal Support Office on how to tell better stories within Horizon 2020 projects, which took place in September 2023.