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The renovation rate in Flanders needs to triple if we want to get our buildings completely climate-neutral by 2050. That means we need to sharply increase our efforts in the short term. Thus, we should not put all the burden on the next generation. We believe that guiding neighbourhood renovation projects can be a very important tool in this.

In this Longread, we are going to show you how we can all together start a real renovation revolution in Belgium.

In this context, we will look at the concept of a renovation revolution on two levels:

  • A renovation revolution in the neighbourhood, i.e. how can we motivate as many participants as possible with 1 district renovation project.
  • Unleashing a renovation revolution throughout the country, i.e. how can we use the experiences of one neighbourhood renovation as a trigger for many other neighbourhood renovation projects in the country.

In search of the tipping point

In this Longread, we draw on Malcolm Gladwell’s book The tipping point. A tipping point, or tipping point, is the moment when a trend turns into a large-scale revolution. In this case, the moment when we suddenly see our renovation rate rapidly triple over a relatively short period of time.

In the graph, we see a simplified representation of how the current renovation rate has been hovering around 0.7% to 1% for years. The tipping point is the moment when that renovation rate suddenly starts to accelerate over a period of several years.

We see this type of evolutionary curves recurring in all kinds of contexts, for instance in sales of popular products but also in outbreaks of diseases such as a flu epidemic.

According to gladwell’s theory, we could also trigger a similar revolution for neighbourhood renovations provided we can bring together the right elements at the right time.

Such a large-scale renovation revolution would obviously be great. Because if the number of neighbourhood renovations increases exponentially, we can really contribute to tomorrow’s energy transition. 

How do we achieve such a tipping moment?

The good news is that such a tipping moment is partly within our control. According to Gladwell, there are some factors that can predict a revolution. They are:

  1. The law of a few
  2. The stickiness factor of the idea/concept
  3. The strength of the context

The law of a few

One spark can start a fire. The law of a few says that a limited number of people can start a big revolution.

The 80-20 rule describes a sociological phenomenon found in many groups. 20 per cent of a group may be enough to convince the other 80 per cent of their idea. In other words, you only need a few influential people to cause a tipping point.

Gladwell divides those influential people into three types

  1. Connectors are people who have many contacts in multiple neighbourhoods. They establish relationships between different communities.
  2. Persuaders are people with a lot of charisma who are good at convincing people. They influence the buying decisions and behaviour of others.
  3. Experts do not have such a large network but know a lot about neighbourhood renovations, therefore others follow their recommendations.

These 3 types of influencers may be clenched in 1 person or more likely in 2 or 3 people.

For example, a liaison could be the chairman of a neighbourhood association or someone in the municipal services. They can refer us to the right people to start a neighbourhood renovation project together, or to immediately appeal to a large target audience to come down to the info moments.

A connector could just as well be someone who recommends this video course and methodology and forwards it within his or her network of colleagues at the other local authorities.

In this way, such a liaison is someone who quickly and effectively circulates knowledge throughout the population.

A persuader could, for example, be a local resident or a respected person who has also successfully participated in a neighbourhood renovation in the past. Such persons have an important persuasive value to win over like-minded souls.

A persuader can equally well be someone who convinces other cities and municipalities about the usefulness of neighbourhood renovation projects. Crucial in the operation of persuaders is to portray their testimony beautifully, authentically and clenched. Video and social media can form the perfect cocktail.

Finally, there are the experts. In the case of neighbourhood renovations, on the one hand it is typically the renovation supervisors who have a very good technical and social feel for the situation. On the other hand, it is the process counsellors and communication officers who are very skilled at dealing with neighbourhood residents. They can attract attention and thus get residents involved in the process.

Are you yourself putting together a team to supervise neighbourhood renovation projects? If so, definitely try to be attentive that you too can attract the right people on board.

If you want to spread an idea, you first have to make sure it sticks. That is why it is important to start thinking about the way you tell your story. A story needs something special, something catchy. Something that sets it apart from the rest of the information we are inundated with every day. A small detail can make all the difference here.

The stick factor idea was further developed by Dan and Chip Heath in book Made to stick. They unravelled six SUCCESS factors that contribute to the appeal of an idea or message. Applied to neighbourhood renovation projects, this could look as follows:

  1. Simple: Keep your wording and ideas simple if you want to appeal to an audience.
  2. Unexpected: Surprise residents by offering unexpected messages or promotion at unexpected places and times.
  3. Concrete: Make concrete how you see the process going. Attending the info moment today means you’ll have an energy advisor on the floor next week.
  4. Credible: Work with organisations and people who are credible and trustworthy. Again, ambassadors and witnesses from the neighbourhood are a good idea.
  5. Emotional: Speak to people on their emotion, for example the desire for energy supply coming from home.
  6. Story: Vertel jouw boodschap in de vorm van een verhaal. Laat getuigen hun verhaal vertellen, hoe zorgeloos en veilig ze zich voelden door de renovatiebegeleider, en hoe tevreden ze nu zijn van hun comfortabele woning.
  7. Story: Tell your message in the form of a story. Let witnesses tell their story, how carefree and safe they felt because of the renovation supervisor, and how satisfied they are now with their comfortable home.

The power of context

The way you build your story depends on your target audience and its context. Human behaviour is strongly influenced by environment. So think beforehand about the group in which you want to tell your story. If residents of a neighbourhood have no desire for a renovation, chances are slim that you will reach the tipping point.

The context can range from:

  1. Personal factors such as ‘I have just moved and want to renovate’ to ‘my father has just died, it’s really not a good fit right now’.
  2. Local factors such as ‘ this neighbourhood has rental properties whose owners are hard to reach’ or ‘the municipality has decided to introduce an extra premium for energy renovation’.
  3. Upper-local factors such as ‘the cost of natural gas is very cheap at the moment, making energy savings difficult to recoup’ versus ‘the obligation for roof insulation and glazing will be further tightened!

You can already see that there are a lot of contextual factors that are not always within our control. This is a fact that we have to accept in part. The perfect neighbourhood renovation project with 100% participation guarantee does not exist.

On the other hand, it is extremely important that we keep hammering away at the context factors that we can change. Join forces and make your voice heard to the municipal government and higher authorities about those context factors that we can change for the better.

Again, sharing these messages within your own networks and on social media is incredibly important. Take pen in hand yourself, seek support from colleagues and make yourself heard. If everyone remains silent, nothing will change.


In a nutshell:

  1. Get the right people on board;
  2. Present your concept and idea so that it sticks to people;
  3. Be aware of the content and try to help influence those where necessary.

Want to start generating impact yourself? Then be sure to share this text!


Want to know more about thoughtful local renovation policies or district renovation projects?

Contact us!