Biofuels and community participation: Engaging process in the emerging bioeconomy

2008 Annual Report for ENC07-100

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2007: $22,709.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Sharon Lezberg
Environmental Resources Center

Biofuels and community participation: Engaging process in the emerging bioeconomy


This project develops and provides training materials to Extension, NRCS educators and community stakeholders on ways to engage community members and stakeholders in assessing proposed bioenergy developments. The project team is reviewing various frameworks for community engagement and will develop an inventory of strategies to encourage community participation in siting and development issues. We have developed tools that were utilized in an in-service training for community development Extension professionals. We will identify assessment tools for community members to evaluate the pros and cons of bioenergy production. An in-service training program for Wisconsin based Extension agents will provide sessions on sustainability issues in the emerging bioeconomy, strategies for community involvement, assessment tools for evaluation of impacts, and use of decision-making frameworks.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Outcomes: The overall long-term outcome of the project is to provide tools to Extension Agents and other community based educators to engage community residents in decision-making about bioenergy production.

The long term outcomes of the project are that:
1) educators utilize a community-based participatory framework to respond to this and other emerging agricultural issues,
2) educators address sustainability concerns of agricultural technology development, and
3) citizen voices inform public policy regarding siting of biofuels facilities.

The short-term outcomes of the project are that educators:
1) have access to information about bioenergy sustainability concerns,
2) gain insights into the process of community engagement,
3) are exposed to tools and skills to promote community participation, and
4) gain confidence in their ability to facilitate community participation in discussions about the bioeconomy.

To reach these outcomes, the project will:
1) develop case studies of the educator’s role in facilitating community input,
2) develop an inventory of strategies for encouraging community participation in bioenergy assessment,
3) develop training materials for community member participation in bioenergy assessment,
4) conduct one in-service training program for extension personnel (anticipated participation of 75 people),
5) share educational materials with others in the region.


Thus far, activities associated with this project have focused on early phase of identifying subject matter for training programs and determining what materials need to be developed and how to deliver training programs on community process. Project activities have included:

1) Collaboration with other researchers who are involved in case study research, in order to gain access to their interview findings and to derive lessons from their case studies. The project coordinator held initial discussions with various researchers and Extension team members to determine who has been studying bioenergy sustainability and community impact issues in Wisconsin,. These early discussions identified the need for researchers and Extension faculty to communicate regularly regarding various projects. The bioenergy and bioeconomy team of U.W. Extension has responded to this need by organizing twice yearly meetings of researchers and Extension faculty engaged in this work. Researchers at U.W. Madison and U.W. Stevens Point have made available their research findings and interview transcripts for our project, so that we can pull out strategies that improve community participation in bioenergy assessment. Researchers have been engaged in the development of mapping tools and economic evaluation on-line tools. These will be included in the toolkit for community engagement.

Diane Mayerfeld, SARE State Coordinator, has been instrumental in connecting the project coordinator with Extension personnel, and in suggesting possible training venues/collaborations.

2) Development of an informal group of researchers, state policy professionals, and non-profit professionals who meet monthly to discuss bioenergy sustainability concerns. This is an internal professional development activity, but has led to good networking connections and familiarity with academic research on these issues. We have established a collaborative wiki site to share references.

Alan Turnquist, project participant from PATS, has been involved in the formation of this networking group, and has leveraged additional resources and support to provide quarterly forums on bioenergy for campus and Extension faculty.

3) Exploration of appropriate sustainability frameworks. The University of Wisconsin Sustainability Team (Community Development program area) developed an in-service training program focused on issues of sustainable communities and energy independence. A primary focus of the in-service was to introduce the Natural Step as a framework for community decision making that integrated environmental parameters with social and economic concerns. The Project Coordinator was involved in the planning group for this in-service, and developed a case study of a corn grain ethanol production facility. In-service participants worked in small groups to assess the facility using the Natural Step sustainability principles. The sustainability team provided an internal assessment, which was distributed to participants after the exercise. The training activity was well received and highlighted the potential of this framework as an analysis tool for communities that are engaged in trying to become energy independent and/or are considering and assessment of biofuels production facility or the use of bioenergy for heating or electricity generation.

4) As this SARE-PDP project was taking shape, the Project Coordinator took on a role in a larger project to develop training programs for Extension personnel on bioenergy generation, energy independence, and sustainability. The latter project is a national facilitation project through the National Integrated Water Quality Program of CSREES. The focus will initially be for the North Central Region (specifically, the EPA designated Great Lakes and Heartland Regions) with eventual plans to migrate the training programs to a national community of practice.

The difference between the two projects is that the SARE-PDP project focuses on training and tools to assure community participation, and is specific to Wisconsin. The national program will make use of training materials and programs developed through the SARE project, but will also inform the SARE project.

As part of the national facilitation project, we have developed a web based survey for Extension professionals in the 12 state North Central region to get baseline information on activities related to bioeconomy, current training programs, and training needs (this survey is included in the mailed version of the report). The survey findings will inform the development of our training program, and will be posted on the project website.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Thus far, the impact of this project has been the development of a specific training tool – the ethanol facility evaluation using the Natural Step Framework. We will be working on expanding this tool so that it can be used in a broader community-based assessment, and on the development of a more complete toolkit.


Alan Turnquist

Outreach Specialist
Program on Agricultural Technology Studies
Andrew Dane
Community Natural Resource Extension Educator
University of Wisconsin Extension, Chippewa & Barron County
711 N Bridge St., Rm. 13
Chippewa Falls, WI 54729
Office Phone: 7157267950
Diane Mayerfeld

SARE State Coordinator
Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems