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Awareness raising

Preparing to address the Unleashing of Transition Forest Row (Photo - Mike Grenville)


What is the best way, in your community, to raise awareness about the issues underpinning Transition?


Awareness raising can cover a huge range of activities: anything that involves people understanding, learning or doing something new; visioning the future; working out how to change something in their lives; or talking to someone else about what they’ve done – all are part of the process of raising awareness about the need for Transition.

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Organise an ongoing programme of awareness raising, designed to appeal to your community in its themes, activities, style and language, and always give people time to digest information, to express or share feelings, and to come to their own decisions about what they can do.

Full description

Awareness raising can cover a huge range of activities: anything that involves people understanding, learning or doing something new; visioning the future; working out how to change something in their lives; or talking to someone else about what they’ve done – all are part of the process of raising awareness about the need for Transition. Loud, outgoing events that make a big splash and get publicity will work in some places and for some people, while in others it may be more appropriate to take a quieter approach – entering into conversations with existing groups and maybe supporting their work. For example, Transition Vancouver in Canada spent a year publicising and supporting the events of other groups before putting on any of their own.

Transition in Action: Awareness raising in Ambleside

by Steph Bradley

In Ambleside in Cumbria they have formed AAA – Ambleside Allotment Association. When their founder moved to Ambleside from Lewes she wanted there to be a Transition initiative in her new town. There wasn’t one, so she knew it was her task to start it, but she didn’t want it to have an exclusive feel; she wanted to find a way to have a diverse group in from the start. She spent a while just listening: what were the town’s concerns; where would there be a common passion? She soon discovered that Ambleside had never had any allotments, and they wanted them. So she went about the town and talked to people; all kinds of people, not about Transition, but about allotments. She talked to the elderly, those that had been there for generations, to councillors, to housewives, to local businesspeople, to young people, to working people, and formed a group whose brief was to get some allotments for Ambleside. When I was there in 2010 things were moving and three sites had been identified or offered.

AAA have already run Open House Days showing the things they have done to make their homes more energy efficient, and put on awareness-raising weeks in collaboration with the local library, which has since opened up a paved back area to become a tiny community garden. When a semi-retired builder in the group lamented still having no garden of his own, the group went round and helped him turn his builder’s yard into a grower’s haven. The common language of Transition Ambleside is allotments; the rest comes in bite-sized chunks as and when there is passion and interest.

One key to successful awareness raising is understanding the community you’re part of. It can sometimes be the case that the people who are involved in Transition have moved to an area recently. If so, make sure you have good connections with people and groups who really know the place, listening to their advice before you start on visible activities. First impressions count, and treading on the toes of existing groups and relationships early on takes time and energy to put right later.

Awareness raising in different ways for different people

Understanding the process of change is a key tool in designing effective awareness-raising activities. A common mistake is to assume that once people have information that the existing system isn’t working they will immediately take steps to make a change, that all they need to do is watch The End of Suburbia (see Resources section) and the next day they’ll be lagging the loft and digging up the lawn. Experts in behaviour change tell us a different story – that people move through several stages between the first insight that something isn’t right, and actually changing what they do. Addictions specialist Carlo DiClemente called this ‘The Stages of Change’,[i] suggesting that people at each of those stages have very different needs and need to be communicated with in different ways.

It is also important to note that different people learn in different ways. Some people learn and absorb information mentally, through exposure to ideas, concepts and written or spoken information. Some respond more on an emotional level, through being engaged by what they care about; what they fear or hope for. For example, Rebecca Hosking’s film The Message in the Waves had a visceral impact which led to her town, Modbury, banning plastic bags. Other people need to learn in a more physical way, by making something, building or planting something, through acting out scenarios . . .  If you are able to create events that include something that will appeal to all these different learning types, you are far more likely to attain the depth of awareness you are looking for.

In terms of making your events as inclusive as possible, remember that different people are around at different times of the day and week, and that some will not be able to access events at certain times or in certain places. Think about what is appropriate for people who are parents, children, elderly, workers, have English as a second language, have physical disabilities, or come from different cultures. Try also to think really creatively about the themes of the events you are holding, as different themes will attract very different audiences. Think of this as giving your initiative more ‘edge’, more surface area, a wider relevance to more people. In your Transition initiative you will have people who are passionate and skilled in the areas of food, building, the arts, crafts, politics and so on: try to weave some of that into your awareness-raising programme.

Designing your events so that they invite participation of local politicians can be a very useful strategy for your initiative. Before the 2010 general election, many Transition initiatives, such as Transition Luton, held hustings events, inviting their local candidates to discuss issues relevant to Transition.[i] Transition Belsize in London developed the idea of inviting local politicians to sit in armchairs at the front during film screenings, and then asking them to give their thoughts afterwards.

Transition in Action: Transition Belsize Urban Green Fair

by Sarah Nicholl

 The Urban Green Fair is the culmination of Eco Week, an annual event run by Transition Belsize, and takes place along the wide paved area of Haverstock Hill in London NW3, opposite Belsize Park Tube station. The Green Fair is a Saturday-long series of fascinating stalls, action-packed activities and fun events, including: bees and bee-keeping demonstrations; farmyard animals from Freightliners City Farm; build a plastic-bottle greenhouse; cycle maintenance with Dr Bike; inspiring arts, crafts & a knitted bench; children’s busy bee area; pop the bee piñata; painting; music; cob beehive building; foraging walks and foraged food cookery demos and tasters with chef Sarah Moore; a 5K fun run; local seasonal jams, chutneys, cakes and pastries; Belsize energy and solar panels; handmade pizza cooked in a cob oven; quirky vegetable competition; climate camp . . .

Awareness raising needn’t always be about speaking and telling people things – listening is also an important element. One woman in a small town in the US said that, as an incomer who had only lived in her town for 17 years(!) it wouldn’t be appropriate for her to be organising events and talks; it would seem presumptuous and may switch people off. Her method of raising awareness was to include the phrase ‘in the age of the end of cheap oil’ in as many conversation as she could, and to get involved with lots of existing community activities. Her friend said you wouldn’t believe how skilled she was at getting that phrase into all kinds of topics and with all kinds of people – who were now starting to use the phrase themselves. It is important also to design your awareness raising so that it makes sense to different people. Working in partnership with other organisations can help. This will also help to learn a bit about the strengths and skills in your community.

Transition in Action: The Transition Barcelona Caminata

by Claudia French

A walkabout (caminata) in the neighbourhood of Poble Sec and Montjuïc hill, Barcelona, was organised by Barcelona-en-Transición (Barcelona in Transition), with the collaboration of local individuals, organisations and small businesses. After around four months of preparation and fieldwork, one Saturday in September 2010 we visited various places of interest related to the international Transition movement. We saw, for example, community allotments; local artisans, craftspeople and artists who use local material (wood, wool, leather, metal, etc.); as well as shops, cafes and food co-operatives that sell local, organic and/or loose (unpackaged) produce.

The Caminatas we organise are opportunities for the people of the different neighbourhoods of Barcelona to get to know their area better, as well as getting to know the Transition movement and its aims. They are regular events, in which we aim to visit all the various neighbourhoods in Barcelona. We always finish the Caminatas with a shared picnic, in which everyone brings local food and drinks to share, and we reflect on the event, answer questions, and generally have fun, while getting to know each other better. A piece of local joy, without the use of petrol . . . something to be celebrated!

Here are a couple of other suggestions you might find useful:

Allow time for digestion: Make space for people to talk and listen to each other after films or talks, as well as having question-and-answer sessions. Gather feedback and ideas, so people can see what others are thinking or feeling. Many groups hand out Post-it notes and ask people to write ideas on them, to be collected at the end, or you might have a large sheet of paper on the wall that people can write or draw on.

Give information but don’t tell people what to do: A key principle of Transition from early on was to give good information and then trust people to find their own response. Talking about your own reaction – how you felt or what you changed – is fine. Telling others they ‘should’, however, is almost always patronising and inappropriate, and is more likely to cause resistance than change.

It is also worth noting that over the life of your Transition initiative your approach to awareness raising will change. In the first two of the five stages set out in this book, ‘starting out’ and ‘deepening’, peak oil and climate change can prove forceful catalysers and offer a powerful lens through which to look at the resilience of the community. By the time you reach the fourth stage, ‘building’, you may find that most people in the community have made up their mind one way or another, and that continuing to press the point creates more division than engagement. Shifting the focus to raising awareness about economic resilience and setting up new enterprises and projects may prove far more productive.