How do we utilize local knowledge so that others can benefit from it? A guide from the Danish Island of Samsø

The story of the small Danish Island of Samsø's transitioned from a carbon-dependent importer of oil and coal-fuelled electricity to a zero-carbon, independent, energy-positive producer of renewables has reached far and wide - featured in The Guardian, The New York Times and on CBS News - and has revived faith in the implementation of renewable energy. 

What is especially stimulating for us at The Alternative is how they intentionally documented the journey. Samsø did not only have the ambition to become self-sufficient in renewable energy (and fossil-free by 2030) - but also to share their experiences, advice, tools, methods, data and scientific perspectives in a how-to guide for other local pioneer communities and organisations to use for themselves. 

The 'pioneer guide' was developed by Samsø Energy Academy in collaboration with a team of 'expert evaluators' from a variety of fields. The video above explains their process. 

This website is the presentation of the guide and it's an anthology of useful resources for fostering local change. We recommend spending some time on there. 

The Danish research group "The Anthropologists" developed 'a leadership compass' based on conversations and exercises with 27 citizens and visits and interviews with 7 people on Samsø, the week of October 12, 2015.  

Below is the manuel to using the compass (go here for an article on the background research).

Click to enlarge

User's Manuel

Download and print the compass and use it, together with this text, to pose questions to yourself and your community to help you find your way. The leadership compass has been developed through an anthropological study of leadership and participation on Samsø. Use the leadership compass together with this text when you take initiative, assume leadership, and together with other people embark on creating the change you want to happen around you.

The leadership compass helps you zoom in on how and why people assume responsibility, take on leadership, and manage to involve people and determine the direction of the development of a local community.


The leadership compass consists of five main elements or compass parameters:

#1 RIGHT HERE is (the place/the cause, the common ground) in the middle, and in west, north, east, south you’ll find:

#2 Who ARE we? (The community/the identity)
#3 What CAN we do? (The new/adoption of the unfamiliar)
#4 What do we WANT? (Change and future)
#5 What do we DO? (Action is realism and practice)


RIGHT HERE we are (the middle) The place. Common ground must be located. In the double meaning of ’place’ and ’ground’ for participating. RIGHT HERE refers both to ’place’ and to ’the cause,’ that is to say the project, what we want to do together. The person who assumes leadership must know the community and the place and must be able to create common ground.

The leadership words of the participants:
OURS. A small PLACE with a high degree of trust in one another. Delimited/limited SIZE. PIONEERS, survivors.


Who ARE we? (west) The community. There must be a strong connection to the identity of the community. Incarnated in a person. The person who assumes leadership must know his or her group and both be a part of and carry out the change of the community.

The words of the participants: 
COLLECT people (find the right people and make sure that the project does not break in two). NEW (fun to learn, to seek out and to visit the new in order to be able to act). DRIVE. NETWORK. POSITIVITY.


What CAN we do? (north) The new/the unfamiliar must be connected to the already existing, to the culture and the history.Whoever assumes leadership must inspire faith in our ability to act and show what we have been able to do before.

The words of the participants: 
CONVINCE (convince each other, convincing arguments are the glue). EXPERIENCE (gain experience, share experience). Set clear, understandable GOALS. DARE to do and dare to believe.


What do we WANT? (east) Focus on the change and the future. Get people to believe in a common vision for the future. The person who assumes leadership must engage and manipulate (as in prepare and process, time and compose).

The words of the participants: 


What do we DO? (south) Action is realism and practice. It must fit with a motive which is realistic rather than idealistic. The person who assumes leadership must understand, take into account and be aware of motives.

The words of the participants: 
DIFFUSION through small actions and knowledge and sharing experience. Put others in a position to PARTICIPATE. Use KNOWLEDGE so you understand, become enlightened and are able to join.

The process of turning Samsø into a Renewable Energy Island is about bringing people together in a sustainable ecosystem. It is also about reinventing the community in order to sustain, survive, recover and develop. People who assume leadership are needed to gather and motivate people. And to explain, demonstrate and cultivate a sense of security. It is biodiversity – both in the concrete biological sense and in a societal, cultural sense.

RIGHT HERE is a place: Here. Samsø is a right here. Where and what is your right here? What is your connection to the place you live? There are places and people everywhere that share something and live together.

At the same time, RIGHT HERE is an expression that is used like this: “If people right here are to accept this,” ”This thing we are doing right here is about…” Right here is a cause. Right here is Samsø as Fossil-Free Island 2030. Where and what is your right here, your cause? How collective is your RIGHT HERE, who do you share it with?

Finding your own and your common RIGHT HERE is the solution. You need to start looking, because it and you are right here. The compass will show you that both you, the place and the cause are right RIGHT HERE.

We'll end with this short video from the site in which communication advisor Jesper Højbjerg tells the story of how 'the big narrative' can learn from 'the small narrative'. While "The Little Green Island" can't do without the knowledge, innovation and interest that comes from the "The Big Planet".

It beautifully explains the relationship between the "WE" and the "WORLD" in our I, WE, WORLD framework. Watch it below.