2. The Role of Symbolic Modelling in the Minewater Project
The place of the Innovative Communication in the overall project
Adapted from reports written by Stefan Ouboter.
See Appendix A
for an overview of the Minewater project
The minewater project has the ambition to deliver a working minewater heating system.
are involved in this new energy transition, all having their own
perceptions about energy, their own priorities and their own
expectations based on their own experiences. In the Minewater project
it is assumed that when the initiators of the projects know the values
and symbols of the community, they can incorporate them into
the implementation of the project and the project will better serve the
The Minewater project is divided in work
packages. Most of the work packages are of a technical nature: a
technical feasibility study and the technical design of the
system. Other work packages are focussed on the environmental
aspects, legislative issues, etc. Last but not least is the design of
a management system and marketing plan for the energy supply system.
innovative approach to community communication is defined as a specific
work package that has to be connected on a continuous basis to two
tasks of the overall Project Management Office: the communication
strategy of the project and the dissemination of results of the two
pilots. The first steps are two deliverables: the stakeholder analysis
and the marketing plan.
The essence of this work package is
the definition and demonstration of an innovative communication
strategy based on the experiences in the pilots of the Minewater
project. This communication is innovative because it takes into account
the thoughts, ideas, feelings, frustrations fears and pride of the
mineworkers communities, where more traditional communications
strategies are based on non-personal information exchange and rational
negotiations with stakeholder groups. One of the deliverables of this
work package is a booklet with the working title: 'Past, present &
future of the energy in Mining communities'.
This work, carried out within the Minewater project by Stefan Ouboter will address several methodological questions:
Communication issues in the minewater project
- What kind of questions do we ask the community when we want to learn about things that are important for them?
- We intend to use the clean language model, but how do we adapt the questions in order to use them for this purpose?
idea is to interview people that are ‘network hubs’, expecting them to
know about the perceptions of community groups, but how do we know that
the perceptions of those being interviewed are representative of the
- How do we analyse the data (symbols, values, criteria,
experiences, etc.) in such a way that the results can be inputted into
the communication process and the design of the new energy system?
- How does the whole approach of assessing the subjective experiences of
the community (from beginning to end) be described as a model that can
be used by other minewater projects?
1. Many different stakeholders are involved on several levels:
The Initiators (5 Partners):
- Local councils
- Technical experts
People from the local community:
- Potential consumers
- Potential direct beneficiaries (operators, employees, local commerce)
- The European Union (part sponsor)
- Private investors
- Energy supply companies
- Interested observers (other mining communities, universities, environmental agencies, etc.)
[Note from PT & JL: The environment could be considered as a stakeholder and some people allocated to be its advocate.]The minewater project encounters a number of major issues:
Private investors are reluctant to invest in this system because of
long time scales for return on investments and the fact that this kind
of energy has a limited amount of options for delivery, and thus
b. Some stakeholders involved in energy supply may see the project as business competition.
The new systems will have to reach a minimum volume to become viable.
Only when whole areas are connected can the system work. This means
people in these areas cannot choose individually. New built areas are
believed to be more suitable than adapting old areas.
d. Consumers may be scared away by experiences in the 1970's with community central heating systems.
Mining communities were monocultures, with the mines as a focal point
in economic, social and even family life. When coal was exchanged for
oil in a period of only a decade, workers lost their jobs, families
lost their income, people lost their pride and positive perspectives of
their future. Now, some decades after the closure of the mines this
trauma is still tangible in many mining communities. The effects of
the trauma could lead to an initial negative attitude toward the
minewater heating system. General approach towards community issues in the Minewater project
the other hand, a successful Minewater project could help to reframe
and heal the negative experiences of the past with a positive
perspective of the future. To do so the project needs knowledge about
the mental perceptions on a community level.
Apart from the
regular communication activities needed in a large scale technical
project like providing information, presentation of arguments that lead
to clear decisions, and responding to the questions of the people
involved, a major component of the Minewater project is that the
project's communication should incorporate the subjective experiences
of the local community.
Local council representatives have made a list of subjective experiences they expect from people in their communities
- recognition of expertise about the mines, location of shafts, quality of the water, etc.
of the identity of the community as a former mineworkers' community and
at the same time the search for a new identity
- acknowledgement of the pain that was caused by the closure of the mines
of the economic and social problems in the present that are still
connected to the history of the mines (unemployment, physical health
problems, brownfields, etc.)
- the need for new perspectives for the future that do not deny the past and present situation.
question for the minewater project is how the perceptions that take
place in the minds of the local people can respectfully be taken into
account in such a technical project. Symbolic Modelling was mentioned
in 2003 by Stefan Ouboter as a promising approach (see Appendix B). His company NOK is
one of the five project partners. His aim is to produce a model based
on the experiences in the two pilots, but applicable to any
other comparable situations.
Symbolic Modelling is in its
essence a coaching tool, in which people are coached to model their own
symbolic landscape, thus meeting their own goals. However, Symbolic
Modelling could work for an enterprise like the Minewater project
because the desired outcome of the initiators of the project is to
incorporate the goals, concerns and expectations of the local
communities. The local communities are not against the goals of the
Minewater project, but their support is conditional (e.g. ‘it should
not cost more than traditional heating systems’, ‘I want control over
the heating in my own house’, etc.). Other perceptions cannot be dealt
with in a rational negotiation process without knowing more about the
symbolic landscape that is behind certain remarks (e.g. ‘this will
never work in a city like Heerlen, because nothing ever works here’ or
‘it will be the same as before, we are not important’) Incorporating Symbolic Modelling into the Innovative Communication of the Minewater Project
is presumed that the need for an innovative communication of
the Minewater project (let people express their subjective experience
and give these expressions a place in the communication process) can be
blended with the methodology of Symbolic Modelling in 3 steps:1.
one is mapping the symbolic landscapes of the local community and the
initiators of the project. Through interviews with key persons of the
local communities, focusing on their symbols and asking them what they
would like to have happen and proceeding according to the
clean language methodology.
From preliminary interviews it is
concluded that two type of answers can be expected. Some symbols are
conceptual, like the 'comradeship' that former mineworkers in Heerlen
experienced in the mines and to which many of them refer to as the
ideal of how people should work together; or the ‘positive outcome of
the business case’ that the people from the council of Midlothian
mentioned. Other symbols are part of the physical environment, like a
monument, a former pit, or the Miners Museum.
The outcome of
this step is a symbolic landscape of the local community, which
includes stories, photographs, geographical maps, etc. which will be
fed back to memebers of the community to gauge the degree of
It is essential in this first step that the
symbolic landscape of the initiators is also modelled in the belief
that the only way to communicate the ins and outs of the project
to people who are not directly involved is in a symbolic form (rather
than talking the jabberwocky of their technical profession). 2.
second step is to connect the symbolic landscapes of the local
community and of the initiators of the Minewater project, mostly
authorities, project developers and energy supplying companies. Do
they recognise the network of symbols of the local community, the
harmonic elements and the tensions in it? And can they implement the
most important elements of the symbolic landscape of the local people
in their own conceptions of the project? 3.
third step is to utilise the blend(s) of symbolic landscapes, adapting
it to the mutual benefits of all involved parties and to anchor it in
the implementation. The most obvious aspect of the project where this
blend could be explicated is the communication plan. But
the implementation plan is even more important so that problems are
addressed, monuments are taken care of, key persons of the local
community are involved, etc.