Get Involved is very lucky to be supported by a wonderful judging panel, made up of chairman, Duncan Stewart; Anja Murray; Ruth Buggie, SEAI; and Paul O’Sullivan, Clann Credo. Ecologist, environmental policy analyst and broadcaster, Anja Murray has been a member of the panel since the initiative launched in 2013. We caught up with her to hear some of her thoughts about this year’s competition and to learn more about how the judges assess entrants into the Get Involved competition.
Get Involved: Hi Anja, thanks for taking the time to speak to us. You’ve been judging Get Involved projects since the initiative began three years ago, so you’re ideally placed to discuss how the make-up of projects has changed over that time. Can you tell us a little bit about this?
Anja Murray: The initiative has grown in many ways since it began.
There were far fewer applications in the first year than in this, the third year of ‘Get Involved’. In the first year some of the projects were fantastic but many were still embryonic.
In 2014 there was a really good range of community-led projects, some focusing on energy conservation, others on food, and many which aimed to restore cherished local natural habitats. This year the quality of projects jumped again and much of what communities are doing, largely on their own initiative and with really innovative approaches, is truly inspiring.
In addition, this year we have seen an even greater merging of social, economic and environmental objectives, where a single project brings people together to learn from each other, helps some of the most vulnerable people in the area, and has the overall effect of lessening the ecological footprint of that community. That has been really exciting to witness.
Get Involved: What do you think makes a sustainable, community-led project work well?
Anja Murray: There are so many communities all over the world coming together to run locally-based environmental and heritage conservation projects and to me the core success of any of these is how the group works together.
Having an inclusive and ‘ground up’ approach is almost always the best indicator of the success of a project. However, the natural environment is complex, so it’s necessary to have an ecological understanding to ensure that projects that include conservation objectives actually deliver what they set out to achieve.
Get Involved: Yourself and the rest of the judging panel, including our sponsors, SEAI and Clann Credo, recently completed the desktop stage of the judging process. Could you tell us a little bit about how that works?
Anja Murray: We start by reading the application forms and the coverage of each project in the local paper. Each judge makes their own notes on each project. We try to get a sense of how much collaborative effort went into the project and what the social, economic and environmental benefits of the project are.
All the scores are totalled and we discuss each project together. Through this process the stand-out groups begin to emerge and we get a sense of which ones we need to visit to get a better understanding of how they work.
Get Involved: So, then you visit the projects that you’ve shortlisted. What do you look for during a site visit?
Anja Murray: During a site visit we like to meet the participants and ask them to explain what they have been doing and why. It’s always wonderful to see the character of each project in reality, rather than just reading about it on an application form or in the newspaper articles! During the site visits we really gets a real sense of the collaborative effort, energy, enthusiasm and knowledge that has gone into a project. To me, that’s really exciting.
Get Involved: Is there anything that you would encourage people to focus on or look at if they are planning to enter next year’s competition?
Anja Murray: The Get Involved initiative is unique in that the emphasis is on collective efforts to deliver projects that bring about social, environmental and economic benefits. That’s no easy task and it means that a project where a very small group has done a beautiful ecology project won’t make the grade, so to speak.
Groups should think about being as inclusive as possible in how they go about the tasks they set themselves and look at widening the reach of the positives.
Our ethos is that strong and resilient communities are essential to sustainable development and that no one aspect of sustainability can be achieved without also delivering wider community benefits.
Get Involved: So what’s next?
Anja Murray: I’m really looking forward to getting out to see the shortlisted projects in early 2016. It will be a great opportunity to meet some of the inspiring people who have worked really hard, had a lot of fun together and collectively advanced common good causes within their localities.
Follow Anja on Twitter @MiseAnja