Transitioning towards personal and community resilience

I’m in the middle of the three-day Transition Towns conference in Liverpool, and so far it feels like the best conference I’ve been to since … well, maybe Ties that Bind in Cupertino in 1996.

That one was exciting because it was a chance to connect with North Americans who had been using the still-new Internet for local community building. Over the past 15 years the emergence of community and social media has given us the tools and inspiration to explore new ways of sharing, creating, collaborating.

Online has been the new frontier, the promised land, the place to try and pull the unconnected across the digital divide. It can offer great benefits, but I think that even the most committed of the digerati would concede tech isn’t enough. Social media doesn’t necessarily produce social behaviours. Just because people can share it doesn’t mean they will … and more and more information and apps can become a burden not a blessing.

Time for a new framework … for me anyway. Transition has a lot to offer.

Transition Towns are only a few years old, as you can read in the Wikipedia entry, and most accessibly on the blog of co-founder Rob Hopkins. The core idea is that we need to evolve our local communities in ways that will enable us to deal with peak oil, increasing energy costs, and the challenges of climate change. To that extent Transition might be seen as another green movement.

I was invited to this year’s conference by my old friend Ed Mitchell – who manages the online aspects of the Transition network – to do some social reporting. In that role I have had the privilege of exploring with some of the 250 people here the deeper and more diverse aspects of Transition.

What came home to me is that Transition is about being resilient … whatever the challenge or threat. The network chair Peter Lipman talks about that in the video above, when he explains that the concerns of world economic leaders about future risks mirror those of Transition … and that Transition groups in New Zealand were able to respond most effectively in the wake of the New Zealand earthquake.

While there is a lot practical advice on creating local groups to develop projects around energy saving, local food production, health and well-being – and much more – there is also a strong emphasis on the need for personal change, and Sophie Banks explains in this discussion with David Johnson and Trathen Heckmen, across from the US.

Anyone who has started a local group know that community doesn’t mean consensus … and that you are quite likely to become mired in personality clashes, conflicts around style and purpose, argument about how far to campaign, and how far to work with existing institutions. A lot of the conference workshops cover those issues.

At one point we spent about an hour in groups exploring a possible journey over the next ten years, and as you will see here, in an explanation from Filipe Matos from Portugal, personal change and groups processes are essential for the journey.

I liked the way that Filipe asserted that Transition should not – like many movements – be too concerned about promoting its “brand”. It should aim to connect the best of what is happening already, and share openly with others.

When I arrived on Friday night I wasn’t too sure how to approach reporting … and so chatted that through with Ed and Charlotte Du Cann, who is leading a wider social reporting experiment across the network. I didn’t want to going around sticking a camera people’s faces, and just grabbing my idea of a story. Who not give the camera – or at least the mic – to those at the conference, if they want to share their conversations more wide.

I used an iPad 2 with an iRig mic, and carried out some experiments in the bar. It work well – as you can see at the start of the 16 videos I have shot so: listed here. Alternative view all sixteen below.

I’ll return to some the themes in later posts, but now I need to get back to the action. It isn’t a conference for the reporter as observer. That may be my challenging personal transition.

Meanwhile, do follow other bloggers from the conference on the Transition site.

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