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Communicating Transition

One of the morning workshops on Saturday was “Communicating Transition Effectively”, led by Nick Osborne and based on concepts borrowed from Integral theory and Spiral Dynamics that identify different categories of worldview commonly held by people. These categories range from autocratic and authoritarian systems of belief on one end of the spectrum, to more modern, technophilic, green and “integral” belief systems on the other. 

There’s much more to this, of course, but the practice of grouping people psychographically, that is, according to values, attitudes, and beliefs, has been going on for decades and is used by political consultants, marketers and advertising firms to inform communications strategies. Depending on the psychographic profile of the “target” audience, messages can be crafted to maximise influence. For example, people with traditional worldviews value authority, clear definitions of right and wrong, and a strong sense of morality, therefore messages, such as “acting to make the economy more equitable is our moral duty” may resonate more effectively than “we must overturn the corporate capitalist system”.

The aim of the workshop was to impart some of this know-how to help Transitioners to preach beyond the converted.  It included role play with small groups play acting various worldviews, while other groups practiced communicating typical Transition messages. What Nick pointed out, and what was by now abundantly evident, the messages we tend to construct in our transition work are crafted by folks of a particular world view for those who share that worldview. To reach people with different views, values, and philosophical proclivities we’ll need to develop empathy for where other people are and how they view the world. We’ll also need to become more flexible in how we communicate. The last part of the workshop focused on practicing those skills, translating and re-articulating messages.  

The implication in the session is that groups are working to communicate and influence outside the typical “green” people, the converted, who are naturally drawn to Transition. Whether groups are doing this or not is an interesting question. But if we’re truly in this together, then surely we much find ways of connecting with diverse groups, tribes, and political parties, speaking their language, and finding common ground.

Image: the Universal Translator Reference Sheet, from Intregral Institute.


Ann Owen's picture

Not my cuppa !

This is where me and several of my fellow transition trainers part ways. I instinctively reject this sort of simplistic classification of people. It feels smug and cynical to me. Who am I to decide which box somebody or a community for that matter fits into? Each and every day, due to the influence of our experiences, our head space has the opportunity to shift. People have the potential to be gracefully fluid emotionally and mentally. I think boxing others and ourselves is harmful to this potential and makes us less than we could be. Change and the ability to respond to it, instantly, lies at the core of resilience. I fear the dangers of this kind of thinking outweigh the benefits and although I agree we must at least know of it and understand it, I have no use for it. Well done for bringing it out here where it can be dscussed.

Kerry Lane's picture

Divergent world views

I agree with you Ann that segregating people and creating an us and them mentality is really not helpful, but at the same time I think it is very important for transition groups to recognise that they are normally only communicating to people with the same world view of them and taking the time to talk with people with divergent world views would be a very valuable exercise.

Ann Owen's picture

I agree, but...

"taking the time to talk with people with divergent world views would be a very valuable exercise"

Kerry, I agree 100%, but we don't need Spiral Dynamics to do so, just a willingness to shut up and listen is a good start. There's that wonderful quote that goes something along the lines of " the same kind of thinking that got us into trouble is not going to get us to the solution" and  SD and IT could be seen old school, popular with the advertising industry. How about instead of influencing or indoctrinating people with clever messages, we just encourage them to think for themselves with good quality awareness raising and allow their responses to arise naturally. I guess there are many ways to skin a cat, but to start employing the techniques of an industry that carries a great responsibility for wasting our resources, just doesn't sit well with me.

John Mason's picture

This is an interesting area

This is an interesting area to explore and of considerable interest to myself as one of the Skeptical Science team, within which we frequently discuss how to communicate climate change issues. Sometimes, it has become abundantly clear, there is no common ground whatsoever: for example, hardcore deniers typically have a highly authoritarian ideology which falls back on conspiracies whenever the facts are spelt out. The furious reaction around the blogosphere to the recent Lewandowsky paper, which identifies a definite connection between climate change denial and conspiracy-theorising, has done more than enough to confirm the results of that paper! A major take-home for me is that arguing with these people is a waste of time: however, carefully demonstrating to everyone else in clear lay language why they are wrong is effective.

Everyone else in between is the important bit because it comprises the vast majority of people and I am inclined to go with what Ann says here: there is a vast undecided middle-ground who are aware that there are growing and increasingly urgent issues that Mankind is facing but are easily-led as to causes and solutions. I agree with Jay that talking about these issues in terms of 'our' worldview often fails to get through: however it can be dangerous to assume one worldview or another with members of the public. I know of Daily Mail readers who are keen environmentalists, Guardian readers who think consumerism is all that matters and hundreds of other anti-stereotypes. I think you need to know somebody very well indeed to understand their worldview in any detail, excepting the obvious ones (e.g. Mitt Romney to name a topical example) who blast it out whenever they have a platform from where to do so.

Our task, be it at Skeptical Science or in the Transition Movement, is made all the more difficult because of the very issues we are dealing with, but I do think the word 'resilience' has an extremely powerful ring to it that most people can identify with: they have in recent years seen what happens to systems that have no resilience-thinking designed into them. But we can go further and consider resilience design with respect to how we communicate with people outside of our spheres. One thing that I believe to be useful is to consider that majority of people and how they have arrived where they are. They have been sold, with great skill, the message that they exist to consume as much as possible - the more the better - to the extent that people do not object to being called 'consumers' - a horribly cynical term if ever there was one. It has not made them any happier - far from it, with overwork, stress and indebtedness all symptoms of the general malaise. It should, given that, be easier than it appears to be to convey our messages, even if in part, once the issues are understood, there are some very dark and serious aspects to them.

It's a tough one though. I've been doing a bit of experimentation with Arctic sea-ice extent (see by carrying a print-out of that graph around and showing it to people I know. Any Transitioneer immediately responds in an 'oh my god!' manner, but others, well-educated and literate, start with 'what am I supposed to be looking at?' and when I explain - and the explanation is very simple - they go double-glazed! This has been a useful exercise because it demonstrates to me the level of awareness-raising that we require here: the relatively short period of awareness-raising which was the norm in earlier aspects of the Transition Movement is clearly insufficient outside the sphere of what one might call the 'usual suspects'. Consumerism has a hold like that of the Ring on Gollum. It's one reason why I went the Skeptical Science route (apart from the amazement at being invited to join such a fantastic and dedicated voluntary organisation) - a massive awareness-raising campaign needs to be rolled out. Transition has the answers, but the problem it has is that many people out there - despite an uncomfortable feeling that something may be going wrong - still do not know what the questions are.

All the best - John

John Mason's picture

In the face of the attacks

In the face of the attacks (mostly but not exclusively from hard-right Americans) we have been taking in recent days at Skeptical Science, John Cook writes a nice testimony to the power of community:

Jo Homan's picture

an interesting discussion

When I saw the photo of that chart my first reaction was "oh good, I wonder what bit I fit into, I like the different colours". Then I read a few of the boxes at random and realised that in different contexts and different times I would agree with nearly all of them! That's because we're so complex and self-contradictory, whatever story we might like to try and present to the world, however we might want to see ourselves as progressive or post-modern. Having said that, I can see that it might be useful to have text in an advert or that would appeal to a general trend that you're trying to counteract, but it's definitely foolish to try and categorise people. I like Ann's idea that

we just encourage them to think for themselves with good quality awareness raising and allow their responses to arise naturally

And what makes awareness raising "good quality" would probably include a decision to use language that doesn't only appeal to 'other people like me'.