What does the Power to Convene look like in the work of Transition Stroud? Transition Stroud describes itself as “a dynamic group of volunteers who are supporting the local community to strengthen its’ local economy, reduce the cost of living and prepare for a future with less oil and a changing climate”? They were one of the first Transition groups to form and have an impressive portfolio of projects they’ve achieved over the years. Recently, the Power to Convene has become a key part of their work. I asked Simon Allen, James Beecher and Erik Wilkinson to tell us more:
Erik: “For me the key strategic development was the launch in November 2011 of the “Stroud in Transition” newsletter. The first paragraph stated its key objective of “providing news and information about what’s going on not only in Transition Stroud but in the wider world of “Stroud in Transition”. That first 12 page newsletter had articles on partner organisations such as Stroudco CSA and Wood U Waste. It built on good networking done at our events such as Winterfest, Eco Homes weekend etc – and it took us centre stage. All this good will and support from our partners was very evident when Seb, I and Imogen produced the Stroud in Transition Action Menu. The Twitter link on the newsletter consolidated our developing effective use of e newsletters and social media”.
Simon: “At our 2013 AGM we got an all time low attendance of about 10 people, so for 2014 we decided to go much bigger and widen our invitation list to partner organisations, and also launch the Action Menu Leaflet at the AGM. It looks like we had a 12 month plan to get the leaflet done and then launch it at our AGM, in fact more by chance than planning the 2 things came together at the right time! At the AGM, speakers from some 11 organisations gave a 2 min shout on their work/organisation”. [Here is a video of that event].
James: “With our film series I arranged several events ‘partnered’ with other groups (a film on supermarkets with the anti-supermarket group, a film on fracking with the anti-fracking group, for example). This has meant those groups can use the training I’ve been given in setting up a venue, save the money on hiring a member of staff for the night, and know that their event will be fairly well publicised. Of course, it also helps a little with cross-fertilisation of audiences. The book group has been pulling in new people too. It would be possible to write more about the films and book group with regard to ‘convening'”
Erik: “We have also sought to “fill in the gaps” by supporting the development of new Transition action groups. We run a programme of “SkillsGain” workshops and if there was sufficient interest after the two hour workshop – then an ongoing action group was proposed. Through this approach a “Building Skills Action Group” and a “Building a Wind Turbine Group” has developed – and there may be a Joanna Macey group about to form. This approach has been successful also with Repair Cafes where a group in nearby Nailsworth has replicated/improved on Repair Cafes run in Stroud. The benefit is that it expands the number of active people involved with Transition activities (and reduces the pressures on core TS volunteers) – a drawback is that these groups may be less stable”.
Simon: “We first adopted the strategy to try and partner with like-minded organisations in 2010, when Gail Bradbrook, who was new at that time, pointed out that there was an opportunity to create synergies between the many (and small) Stroud environmental ‘Transition-like’ initiatives through partnership and sharing of info and publicity….’we didn’t have to do it all ourselves’ ……others were already doing good stuff …but everyone was struggling with publicity and getting members.
James: “hubStroud is even more about cross-fertilisation. It was set up by TS, and can and does promote TS events along with others, but because it is ‘arms-length’ and has a purpose to promote the wide variety of events in Stroud, it has a larger following on Twitter, particularly a larger *local* following, and one it may have been hard for TS to reach otherwise. This year we’re looking to finalise the coding and start offering it to other places to set up their own versions so this could be worth writing more about… take a look at the site and see if you’re interested”.
Erik: Another key issue/opportunity is that of insurance. Transition Stroud insurance arrangements have been attractive enough for a number of groups (including Stroud Community TV) to be more attracted to coming under the auspices of Transition Stroud. So we are currently looking at how Transition Stroud‘s insurance arrangements might be a marketing opportunity to promote and engage new transition action groups. However it will be critical for those groups to be absolutely clear what their responsibilities are under the insurance arrangements (risk assessments etc) and that they need to contribute to the cost of insurance. It may be that there are two types of action groups – those who have actively chosen to be insured and those who have not. It is important that groups do not think they are covered when they are not. We are in the early stages of developing this approach.
James: “It’s also worth noting that there is a Local Development Plan process happening in the town centre which in presenting some interesting opportunities with regard to partnering. It is the local town council which is convening this, but TS has a ‘power to input’ greater than it would have done some time ago”.
Simon: “Rather than re-create what others in Stroud were already doing, we have gone for a centre ground pivotal position and focussed on partnering, publicity through our e news letter (MailChimp list of 650 at present) , and as Transition Stroud we have only focussed on 1 or 2 big public events a year, plus film shows, and projects that others are not doing, e.g. Environmental training/ audits with students in secondary schools, back-to-bicycle initiatives (now been picked up by the NHS surgeries as Cycling on Prescription), Repair Cafes etc with the aim for these to become self sustaining and have an ongoing life beyond TS’s initiation”.
James: “There are challenges here – it’s hard to keep everyone up to speed and it feels a bit like more and more of TS activity is administrative sometimes, with less expectation from ourselves that we will prompt projects. However, that’s largely because none of us have the time… nonetheless, that means we’ve adopted a strategy as much out of necessity as design (though as Simon said, it was undoubtedly designed), which is worth noting at least”.
We’ll close with Simon’s key insights around successful convening from the 2014 Transition Stroud AGM:
- We decided to send out written invites …..thinking this would be more effective than e mails. Then followed up with e mails and phone calls. This was hard work! We invited about 120 people and about 50 attended. Next time we would spend more time making sure ‘new’ people understood what the event was about.
- It was timed from 7.00pm – 10.0pm (replacing a regular film show slot where we often get 40 people coming), however the feedback was this was a bit long on a Sunday evening.
- We decided to go for a sit down ‘bring and share food’ but thankfully decided to provide some backup ie canapes and a drink as a welcoming / bonding element on arrival; 80 baked potatoes and a tomato/onion sauce; bread rolls; cheese; deserts etc. This was a good plan as not as many brought food as we expected. With these additions there was plenty for everyone.
- James created power points to back up each of the 2 min speakers – this and the speakers went down really well – particularly Helen limiting them strictly, but with fun, to their 2 minutes!
- It gave us a good platform to announce our forthcoming programme, HubStroud and other initiatives.