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Why Perform a Community Audit?

We often get asked about community audits – what do they entail, why do one, what is the output? Succinctly, a community audit maps local and regional assets, provide options, and articulate a vision for community-based renewable energy development. They help communities bring together information on economic, cultural, historic, political, and environmental perspectives to support community-centric strategies for renewable energy development.

A community audit engages all relevant stakeholders in the community, maps relevant community assets, identifies opportunities and barriers, and provides valuable output to support project goals. Through this process, local leaders examine existing attitudes, inventory assets and resources, identify a collective vision of the future, and uncover investment needed to achieve goals. On this basis, they help communities mobilize the resources at their disposal to achieve desired outcomes.

The first step in launching a community audit involves defining goals as specifically as possible. Is the audit a general one, aimed at providing a general picture and composition of a local/regional economic, political, and cultural and natural resources with respect to generic renewable energy development? Or, does the audit have a more specific target? For example, audits can be designed to determine the needs of and resources available to a particular technology such as geothermal energy development or sustainable agriculture opportunities.

The goals of the community audit shape everything about its design and execution:

  • The stakeholder partnership, encompassing who is brought together to provide input and direction;
  • The expected end user(s) of the information;
  • The scope of the project;
  • The methods used to gather the data and the data sources themselves;
  • The resources available to support the project and how the final results get used.

From the beginning, the defined goals strategically and practically shape future actions. Community audits are the front-end of a broader strategic planning effort and, therefore, must include broad-based collaborations with key stakeholders in the community.

Through stakeholder input and by mapping community assets, a community profile is formed, giving a feel for the area and its history, and detailed information about needs, resources, strengths, services, and facilities. It also looks into the future; what changes, threats or opportunities lay ahead with respect to the goals and scope of the project?

They result in a report containing detailed findings, conclusions, recommendations and plans for action. Project output is customized to the needs of the project’s sponsors such as a summary report, informational brochures or videos, infographics, and other valuable content. While the community audit may have been done to inform strategy, output can also be leveraged to support future actions including campaigns, funding applications, and building wider consensus. They offer an important step towards understanding options and shared interests and defining and achieving collective goals.