Becoming the media
A wide range of media can help a Transition initiative communicate, both internally and externally, what it does. Here are some of the options.
Making, editing and posting your films online has never been easier. Transition Town Tooting made short films in the run-up to their Trashcatchers’ Carnival, showing how the workshops were progressing and capturing people’s expectation.[i] Transition Finsbury Park in London ran an event called ‘Welcome to Finsbury Park’,[ii] inviting people to “submit videos of places that matter”, lasting less than a minute. As more regional gatherings take place, more are being filmed and made available. For example, the film of the Transition South East gathering in March 2010 offered a great record of the day,[iii] as did the film of the 2009 Transition Scotland gathering.[iv] In Transition 1.0,[v] a Transition Network documentary, gathered much of the footage initiatives had taken and edited them into a film. Making short punchy films of your events gets it out to lots of people.
Many Transition initiatives gather their photos in online galleries, as a record of their activities and in case anyone else wants to use them (these galleries have been very useful in preparing this book!), often using sites like Flickr and Picasa. Some good examples are the libraries set up by Transition Stroud[vi] and Transition Langport.[vii]
Twitter is a useful social networking tool, and a good way of keeping people informed about developments and events. It is like writing haikus, given that you have only 140 characters, but is an increasingly useful way to share things amongst those interested in your initiative. It is easy to register and get started. When I last looked, there were over 160 Transition initiatives with their own Twitter accounts, which they use for sharing news, making announcements and networking with other initiatives. Transition Network’s Twitter account is ‘transitiontowns’.
Blogs are a great way to communicate stories, news and thinking – one of the best options for ‘becoming the media’. Getting set up is easy, with sites such as wordpress.com offering a free service. Some Transition initiatives, such as Transition Alnwick[viii] and the Ealing Transition Community Garden,[ix] blog regularly. Some very good bloggers have emerged through Transition initiatives, such as Joanne Porouyow in Transition Los Angeles,[x] Transition Norwich’s Charlotte du Cann and Transition Town Kingston’s Shaun Chamberlin. At the time of writing, Transition Network is launching the ‘social reporting’ project to encourage Transitioners to blog, film, tweet and generally record their experience of being in Transition, and tell our story.[xi]
Facebook and other social media
Facebook, Twitter and Ning (and YouTube and Flickr for videos and photos) have exploded in popularity in the last few years. Since their foundation they have gone from strength to strength, collecting millions of users, making them an important part of many people’s internet practices. Being social networks, they mimic group processes online, enabling people to set up groups, follow their friends, serendipitously find new friends, and other things that might happen in a group social setting.
Transition Initiatives have used these networks to grow their memberships, coordinate events, connect with other initiatives, share ideas and so on. They use social networks along with other media including mailing lists, their own websites, Youtube and Flickr. They are very powerful tools, and great fun if you like that sort of thing (though many don’t). The best way to see if you enjoy using them, and get value from their use, is to give them a try. It can’t hurt![xxi]
Websites and newsletters
A website is a brilliant communications tool for any community organisation, as it allows you to publish your information and events freely and allows anyone to keep up to date with your activities. Newsletters are invaluable too. Your website links should go on all your posters, and you should enable people to subscribe to your newsletter online as well as to your events.
In Transition Network’s 2010 web survey, newsletters were the single most important communications tool for initiatives – a well-timed newsletter (Thursday or Friday lunchtimes are popular) gets straight to people’s attention. M
any initiatives put out regular newsletters: some good examples include Transition Town Exmouth[xiv] and Transition Town Berkhamsted.[xv] It’s a good idea to archive previous newsletters for reference.
Planning and designing your website makes a difference to how useful it is, but this does not need to be a big deal; all you really need at the beginning is to publish news and events. Really – keep it that simple. There are some great Transition websites. New Forest Transition’s ‘New Forest Food’ website[xvi] was voted the ‘Best Healthy Lifestyle website’ in the Hantsweb awards 2010, and other examples of good, clear, accessible websites are Transitions Hebden Bridge,[xvii] Lewes[xviii] and Finsbury Park.[xix] Make sure your site has links to Transition Network’s site.
You do not need sub-groups and forums and multi-user ding dongs; not yet, we promise. You just need to get used to publishing news regularly and sending out regular newsletters. All the free online services are flexible (some of which are outlined in the 'initatives' website advice page). Remember:
a) you can change the templates as you need, from thousands available
b) the most important thing is content, not precision layout of pages
Beware of embarking on a mega-web project early on – it is tempting to think that the website has to do everything, but it doesn’t! This is the classic technology trap – we think we’re doing something important but we’re actually spending time over-complicating our lives in front of the computer when we could be in our neighbourhoods building real relationships. You can get to the rocket science later, when you know what you need and have some good people in place to manage the technical and editorial work.
Websites should be light and flexible, not big burly cumbersome beasts that scare everyone apart including the beleaguered techie who volunteered early on and then found him- or herself struggling to deliver something far too complicated that no one really understands. Your site must be understandable and usable by more than one person, preferably not a techie too.
Transition Network offers very simple ‘Community Microsites’[xx] for initiatives starting out on the Transition process. These are simple ‘websites in a box’, and make it easy for people to add their own news and events and resources to a site they can call their own. They are deliberately simple and you may grow out of them, but that’s the point: once you know you need something more sophisticated, you’ll be more confident about what you need!
Transition in Action: Transition Cambridge’s e-newsletters, by Anna McIvor
In Cambridge we’ve been writing a weekly e-newsletter since August 2008[xiii] (I calculate we must have done more than 100 issues – we should have celebrated number 100 but it passed us by!). It's a lot of work, shared between three people who take turns to write it (it takes two to four hours each week). Currently we have 1,400 subscribers, and it receives a lot of praise.
We feel it’s a big part of what we do – its main function is to communicate our activities and all the other sustainability-related activities in and around Cambridge. But it also supports cultural change, as each week people feel part of a wider movement with the same agenda (and, judging by the increasing number of events that we advertise, that culture is getting stronger). We know that a lot of people read it but don’t actually come to things very often, but they nevertheless feel very connected with what we are doing.
Transition in Action: Moffat Online (www.moffatonline.co.uk
by Jane Gray
Moffat Online is the community networking site for Let’s Live Local, the Transition initiative for Moffat, in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, and the surrounding area. The site appeared almost by accident. We were developing a static website for Let’s Live Local[xxii] but wanted something more dynamic with which local people could interact. We also wanted to see how far structured social networking could create community within an area.
Moffat Online launched in May 2009 for people who live, work or have an interest in Moffat and its surroundings. Built on a Ning platform, it had a high level of design because we wanted it to look and feel professional. Early feedback was encouraging and we got members from all age groups and sectors of the Moffat community, as well as some ex-Moffatonians who missed their former home.
We’ve worked hard since then to keep Moffat Online supportive and friendly. It’s a creative and intelligent use of our community’s resources and it strengthens our willingness to help each other. We freely offer Moffat Online support to help promote the work, the events and the membership of a range of local voluntary groups, many of whom operate with no external funding. The site also hosts an extensive events listing, local versions of Freeshare and a Car Boot facility, and a range of other groups which encourage sustainable activities. We frequently send round information about initiatives such as the free Lime Plug, CERT (Carbon Emissions Reduction Target)-funded insulation and boiler scrappage scheme – members really appreciate the early notification coming direct to their inbox. Our next development is to create local business pages to encourage local trade.
Amazing things happen through the site – people joining from as far away as Canada and New Zealand, everyone with some connection to or interest in Moffat. We regularly welcome members who are looking to move to the area and want to make connections before they get here. I think my favourite ‘success’ was sending out a plea for one of our members who needed a repair to their Wurlitzer jukebox – we got an offer of help from another member within a few hours!
It’s taken a huge amount of unpaid time and effort to get to the current level of activity, and we know we’re only starting to scratch the surface of what we can do with the site. There have been many times when it would have been easier to give up; lots of ‘dips’ to work through – but we’ve always felt this has such potential to strengthen community connections that we’ve been happy to keep going. Moffat has a population of around 2,100 and Moffat Online now has over 240 members. It’s a real privilege to be able to offer this service and we’re delighted at how people have taken to it.
If your initiative doesn’t have the skills to use the media you feel would be useful, it might be a good idea to find someone helpful who does.
Transition in Action: The Norwich bloggers
by Charlotte Du Cann
In October 2009 Transition Norwich (TN) launched ‘This Low Carbon Life’, which called itself ‘an experiment in community blogging’ – its aim being to collate the personal stories and experiences of people-in-Transition that would not be covered by the events-based objective reporting of the TN news blog and monthly bulletin. It also acts as a daily creative record of the initiative.[xii]
At the time of writing, the Transition Norwich blog has 12 bloggers, six of whom write regular three-day slots in a rota system. We also run theme weeks and photo-blogs approximately twice a month in which everyone can take part (Sundays are also free days). Topics have included: flying, waste, climate change, food patterns, inner resilience, reskilling, the 7 Deadly Resistances, spring gardens and autumn woods. We look at every aspect of Transition, from keeping allotments to zero waste. Our styles and outlooks are very different, and the posts are a mixture of the serious, funny, beautiful, hard-hitting, philosophic, practical and cosmic. Most of the photography is original and tries to capture our own experiences of trying to downshift. We deliberately have no censorship or rules about content or length. So long as it’s within the frame of Transition and carbon reduction, everyone writes what they like. This is creative diversity at work, which is unusual in an era when most communications focus on brand marketing and promotion – saying what things should be, rather than how they really are. ‘This Low Carbon Life’ is pure editorial. It’s about what Transition looks like, feels like and tastes like, through our own personal experience.
Three of us keep an editorial eye on the page, checking for typos and problematic picture alignment. Otherwise it’s very much run by consensus. We meet every three months (at a wi-fi café!) to organise the rota and communicate through a Google group.
Transition in Action: Transition newspapers
Transition Lancaster’s awareness raising took the form of a newspaper, the Lancaster Transition Times, which was to be distributed to 20,000 homes before their Unleashing. Unfortunately, the distribution company failed to do so and few newspapers reached their audience. Other groups have produced similar publications, such as Transition Town Worthing’s Post-Carbon Gazette. Transition Town Haselmere have a monthly column in the local Herald newspaper. Belfast Area Transition, in Waldo County in the US, produced the Belfast Area Transition Times, which was written as a newspaper from 2021, filled with stories from a Transitioned future.
[xii] You can read a précis of their first year at http://transitionnorwich.blogspot.com/2010/10/looking-back-looking-forward-year-of.html
[xiii] You can see an archive of Transition Cambridge’s bulletins at http://tinyurl.com/66hq5qz
[xx] Find out more about the community microsites offered by Transition Network at http://www.transitionnetwork.org/web-options-transition-initiatives
[xxi] Transition Network page about Social Media:
http://www.transitionnetwork.org/syndication-and-social-media, and our Facebook page is http://www.facebook.com/transitionnetwork