4 Oct 2010
Ingredients of Transition: Street-by-Street Behaviour Change
Strategies that bring people together with their neighbours to explore carbon reduction on a street-by-street level are very powerful. They can be a great way, through the support they offer, of tackling POST PETROLEUM STRESS DISORDER and providing EMOTIONAL SUPPORT/ AVOIDING BURNOUT. Being part of such a group has been found to increase PERSONAL RESILIENCE, while at the same time offering a powerful tool for MEASUREMENT, gathering hard data about very real carbon reductions. Finally, these tools are excellent AWARENESS RAISING methods.
(Given recent confusion, I thought we might experiment with calling these ‘Ingredients’, and see if that helps… we are collecting and discussing these ‘ingredients’ on Transition Network’s website to keep all comments in one place. Please leave feedback and comments, suggestions for alternative pictures, anecdotes, stories and projects for this ingredient here).
One of the scales that Transition works on is individual change. But if people get to feeling like they can only make changes on their own at home, they will soon lose heart unless they are very deeply committed. Not everyone wants to give the time for meetings and being part of a Transition working group. At the same time, a Transition initiative that does not promote measurable carbon reduction, and build social networks and social capital will have an impact that is marginal at best.
Transition Together1 is a model that emerged from Transition Town Totnes as a way of enabling Transition at a street-by-street level. It works like this: a group of 5-10 households get together, ideally in the same street, and meet regularly (weekly, fortnightly, whatever works…) and work through a workbook of 7 sessions.
1. Getting Started (meeting each other and agreeing how to run the sessions)
2. Spend less on energy (learning how to measure energy and how to use less of it)
3. Spend less on water (looking at all the ways we use water and how to conserve it)
4. Spend less, eat well (looking at food, how to avoid waste and eat a lower carbon diet)
5. Wasting away (avoiding waste, recycling and composting)
6. Getting around (reducing dependency on the car)
7. Wrapping up (next steps and evaluation of the programme).
Transition Together gathers useful data in every session, allowing participants to measure their progress, and also allowing a ‘before and after’ snapshot of how participation has led to real savings in each household. Data gathered from the first four Transition Together groups (32 households) shows the kind of impact that is possible. It led to total carbon savings of 38.9 tonnes (1.2 per household) and total financial savings of £19,236 (£601 per household). At the time of writing, there are 35 groups underway in the town (278 households) and it is estimated that, when completed, the programme will have led to total carbon savings of 338 tonnes, with total financial savings of £167, 109. The impact goes beyond the quantitative though, also leading to qualitative results. For example, at the end, participants fill in a survey, and the five statements that emerged most strongly at the end of the first 4 streets’ surveys were:
• I feel well informed about peak oil and climate change.
• I understand how these 2 issues affect me, my family, my local community, and the planet.
• I know what practical, effective actions I can take to reduce the potential impacts on me/others.
• I’m aware there are simple, easy things I can do to reduce household costs – and I know how to do them.
• I feel positive about the future.
10 other Transition initiatives also ran Transition Together pilots, adapting the Transition Together materials (which are very Totnes specific) to their own context. For example, Transition Leicester produced ‘Footpaths’, which adapted the Totnes materials to focus more purely on carbon reduction, and Transition Town Taunton have put all of their Transition Together materials online.
There are other approaches similar to Transition Together. Transition Norwich started a less formal approach called ‘Transition Circles’2. In this model, groups of people meet, usually over a meal, and start with looking at individual actions, creating a safe space in which people feel safe to talk about why they haven’t made particular changes, and to support and encourage people to take the first steps. The groups have been meeting regularly, and have since broadened their focus to look at larger practical initiatives. For Transition Norwich, they are a key element of what Transition looks like in an urban context.
Another is Carbon Conversations, developed by Cambridge Carbon Footprint. This is a much more formal process which takes place over 6 meetings held with a trained volunteer facilitator, where 6-8 people meet in a process that aims to “engage people emotionally as well as practically” in a process rooted in the psychology of change, also addressing why it is that people fail to respond. This approach has also proven to be very successful in getting people to reduce their emissions.
Transition Together and Transition Circles are emerging as powerful tools to take Transition work out into the community on a street-by-street basis. They offer a way of getting people talking to each other, building relationships, and starting to address the very real reduction of carbon in their lives, in a way that produces lasting behaviour change. They also allow the Transition initiative to gather data, to evaluate whether or not they are having an impact. The emotional support that you get from a safe environment working with others in a cooperative and practical way cannot be overestimated.
Connections to smaller patterns:
All sorts of things can spring from Transition Together groups. It can inspire new people to put themselves forwards as VOLUNTEERS, to initiate a range of new PRACTICAL MANIFESTATIONS, often on the street level. In order to be successful, these groups may need some help and support with skills such as RUNNING SUCCESSFUL MEETINGS. These groups can also act as very useful COMMUNITY BRAINSTORMING TOOLS generating valuable new ideas that can feed into the wider Transition process.