Transition Training Week Five – Community Engagement

How many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
Yes, ‘n’ how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, ‘n’ how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind,
The answer is blowin’ in the wind
~ Bob Dylan

You need something to open up a new door, to show you something you seen before but overlooked a hundred times or more
~ Bob Dylan, Writings And Drawings

7:42 PM, I finished cooking, dinner, dishes and plan to spend the next ~three or so hours blogging and working on my university assignments.  Sitting on the table with me is Bilbo, my 17-year-old cat, purring and pushing my hand, so the writing is being a bit delayed…

Today at the Transition Training with Naresh Giagrande and Tom Henfrey we explored “community engagement”, one of the most important tasks of a “Transition” group: if we don’t engage community, there is no much we can achieve by ourselves…

Why to engage the community?

These are strange times: times of changes and lots of “information” and “misinformation”: people are inundated with social media, TV and social events, but neither the media nor the governments are providing reliable and accurate information. People are confused, frustrated, overwhelmed: many know something is “wrong” but they struggle to see what exactly that is. The ones who go through all the stages and become fully aware may feel isolated and confused about what the next steps would be…bringing community together helps with awareness, making connections, finding support and answers and finally finding the ones who will share the “action” piece of transition.

We explored how “Transition” doesn’t just tell the “bad news” to people (we are in a mess we have created: there is Climate Change, peak resources, economic failure, food insecurity, social issues, etc.), but also the “good news”: what can we do about each one of these things and, more importantly, how we can do it together.

In order to understand how we can “engage” community members, we study the “inner transition” represented by “Doppelt’s five stages of change” (see resources below):

Disinterest: there is none or little awareness and no perceived need to change. This may be due to lack of information, feeling of disempowerment or denial (don’t want to know)

Possible “Transition” intervention:

  • Understand that people may be scared or in denial: they may belong to a group that contradicts these new findings and may be concerned about being ridiculed or isolated
  • Provide information that contradicts person’s assumptions (through films, speakers, discussions)
  • Listen to what they have to say: without engaging in debates and argumentation, just listen what they have to say…
  • Tell inspiring stories about people who did something, so they may feel empower
  • Connect the problems to people’s lives: some problems are too complex, too abstract or too big and people run away from them. Seeing the connection to their own lives and loved ones helps to deepen the understanding and empower them
  • Talk about possible and positive futures: most people “feel” or “know” something is wrong with today’s society but don’t want to accept big issues such as Climate Change or resource depletion because they are “too negative”.
  • Provide inspiration: we have to start somewhere and we can do it, both individually (at home, work, etc.) and collectively (through Transition, Permaculture, etc.)

Deliberating:  People at this stage have acknowledged that the problems exist and that something has to be done. They may feel the “urge” of knowing more (some start frantically “Googling” about these issues and reading every book or article, I was one of them…). Questions about one’s life, work and purpose start rounding our heads…people start “reviewing” their assumptions and the way they and others live and considering changes but still uncertain about which ones: solar panels? Bike? Growing my own garden ?  change friends or relationships? Where do I belong? This stage may also contain lots of anxiety, guilt and ambivalence. Dreams and expectations and our own sense of identity are challenged.

How Transition can help:

  • Show that somebody trusted (from their community or somebody with authority) has aready gone through this change
  • Have conversation spaces where people can share information and feel “safe” and supported, not judged or compared
  • Share positive stories to show that change has been done and is possible
  • For those who may need it, create safe spaces where people can share feelings 9such as confusion, grief, anger, guilt, despair, etc.)
  • Encourage change through showing the benefits of change: savings, more community, freedom, new friends, resilience, etc.

Designing: people in this stage have already accepted change and the need for it. They start planning and designing the “how” this will happen. This phase is also challenging because some changes may be perceived as overwhelming or even “impossible” due to lack of motivation or resources (i.e. “solar panels are too expensive”, “I have never rode a bike in traffic”, “I am not good at gardening”,” I can’t leave my job”, etc.

How Transition can help here:

  • Show that “slow and small” is better and more empowering than thinking in “big” changes
  • Helping people to break the processes down so they are more achievable
  • Show the path to available resources in their own communities (grants, workshops, other like-minded people, etc.)
  • Again: meeting others who have gone through this and done the changes
  • Provide opportunities to talk to experts
  • Celebrate the progress people have already made: either through “formal” or informal “prizes” or celebrations

At this point, we were asked if we had “observed” any external behaviour or “sign” that people are or have gone through any of the above stages…this is very subtle, as the transition until here is more “internal” than external: people may still remain in the same house, job and activities, some may have adopted small changes or may have started to talk about their feelings and thoughts, but unless you are very close to them, you may not notice anything.

We also talked about the importance to see these stages as  dynamic “processes” : people not necessarily go through them at the same pace or stay in them the same amount of time: some people go through them very quickly, some stay for months or even years in one of this stages. Some people may gravitate back-and-forth within two close stages and some may never go further than one of them (i.e. disinterest, deliberating, designing). It is important for us in Transition to respect this and not trying to force these processes, just support them. We can’t make people to go from one stage to the next, we can only present tools, resources and support, but these are all internal processes and it is up to people to move from one to the other.

I would like to add that people struggle a lot in these processes: factors such as belonging to the “wrong” industry, lack of resources, isolation, partners or family members not on board or not at the same stage, chronic illness, huge commitments, debt, etc. may affect how a person moves from one to the next or how the person receives the new information.

Doing: In this stage, people are already committed to change and are doing things: some may have done big changes, some may still move through reversible small steps (”just in case”). People may change their jobs or thinking about it a lot, may already bike to work, getting into growing own food, Permaculture, etc.

How Transition can support this:

  • Providing places for people to meet, exchange ideas, tools, re-skilling
  • Places to acknowledge difficulties and share stories, offer support
  • Publicising achievements to encourage others
  • Share celebrations through award ceremonies, etc

Defending: change is usually established and people may not go back, as the awareness phase has been too deep and the steps toward change may have affected the entire life of the person (i.e. work, relationships, friends, diet, income, activities, etc.)

The change is already rooted in the person’s sense of identity and the person knows that what they are doing makes a difference, that they want to spend time with others doing the same and that their level of awareness and commitment increases every day.

After reviewing all these stages (amazing!) we did an exercise in groups where each has to “design” an activity based on a given “phase” and interest.

We reviewed the different “topics” people in the community may have an interest in: i.e. food, education, energy, transportation, housing, environment, etc. and we also talked about the importance of knowing “who” is in our communities: what types of groups? Challenges? Celebrations? What is important for community members ? We may discover that different things are important for different sub-groups, and off course, people within these groups may be going through different stages of “change” as we saw previously…

Other things to consider when reaching out to people to engage them are:

  • When people are available: some work, some are retired, some have small children, some may have other commitments, there may be religious or cultural challenges, language, etc.
  • How we can incorporate the different learning modes (as from Permaculture: heart, hands, head, etc.)
  • Where and when we will offer the event, what type of event
  • Would we offer other support (i.e. childcare, transportation, food)
  • What would be the structure of the presentation (i.e. speaker, film, game, meeting, forum, gardening, other)
  • How will we promote the event?
  • All the above needs to match the people we are targeting: we may have different events to approach people in different “stages” of change and also to approach people with different interests: food, transportation, etc. and different styles (i.e. some are dreamers, some planners, some doers, some want to feel more and find support, some want to just explore, etc.)

By the end, we were invited to visit the resources database at Transition Network and find what other transition groups have done to get ideas.

Our homework now is to start thinking at what stage each one of us is (where do you identify yourself?) and collecting the tools learned through these five weeks (i.e. context, vision, group dynamics, community engagement) to define what we are, where we are and which one of these tools (or which ones) can we start using…

If you, blog reader, belong to our (or other) transition group, I encourage you to review the different postings about Transition here and also check the Transition Network website: read about the ingredients and check the books and other resources: (some of them are already at our local library). If you don’t belong to a Transition group, try to join one or start one if there is none in your community. If you are just curious but don’t want to engage, that is fine: read ahead and research at your own pace…transition is inevitable, the difference is in how you allow it to happen to you.

Time to go to bed: Bilbo has fallen asleep over half of my keyboard and tomorrow I need to be fresh to run the first meeting for my community garden.

Quand tu veux construire un bateau, ne commence pas par rassembler du bois, couper des planches et distribuer du travail, mais reveille au sein des hommes le desir de la mer grande et large.

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry


Doppelt’s 5 stages of change:

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