In spite of its rapid growth and plentiful positive publicity, there have until now been no studies looking at who is getting involved and what their motivations are. Dr Gill Seyfang at the School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia has conducted an in-depth membership survey of Transition Norwich earlier this year and published the results.
The study looked at the gender, age, income and eductaion mix of participants comparing it to the general population. It found that half (50%) were aged between 45 and 64 and there were few participants under 25 (11%), compared with 15% of the general population aged between 16-24) and over 65 (only 3%, compared with 20% of the population).
Engaging New People
The survey revealed that for nearly a third of the members (32%), Transition Norwich was the first local environmental group they had been involved with. A further 19% had previously been involved in similar activities, but were not involved with any other groups at present. This finding is significant as it demonstrates that the Transition Movement is capable of enrolling and engaging new people (or re-engaging exactivists) in local environmental groups, rather than simply re-badging existing campaigns and activists (although it clearly does this as well).
What is Different About Transition?
The survey asked members what they thought differentiated Transition Norwich from other local environmental groups, and the responses indicated that there were three important distinguishing features.
The most frequently reported of these (cited by 50% of respondents) was the interlinking of a broad range of issues under a single ‘umbrella’ brand, for example “I don’t see it so much as a new group but as a process that can bring together a lot of pre-existing activity, catalyze new work, and create new interest in a range of seemingly disparate issues”, and another said “it is a wide umbrella group of diverse interests, but with a common goal to act locally…”, while this respondent felt “it is
comprehensive in that it covers all the different themes in a separate but interlinking way” and another said “it has a wider vision, brings together many different strands”.
Second (mentioned by 29%) was the focus on positive practical action as opposed to negative-seeming protesting or campaigning, as explained by this respondent: “It’s not about creating a ‘them’ and ‘us’ opposition, though it can and does challenge existing orthodoxies. Its primary means of motivation is offering a positive vision that inspires people to join in, rather than inviting people to join in with demonising and scapegoating a group or institution.
The third most-cited difference (21%) was the grassroots nature of the organisation, with its emphasis on community empowerment, such as “It focuses on doing it for ourselves, rather than persuading others”, “facilitates bottom-up change that does not rely on government”, “helping empower people to change and be catalysts for change” and “TN is grassroots therefore less exclusive or prescriptive”.
Objectives and Obstacles
The members’ principal objectives were: tackling climate change (reported by 67%). building local self-reliance (66%), preparing for ‘peak oil’ (57%), and community-building (50%).
When looking at the internal obstacles, some saw the strengths as also its weaknesses. First and foremost was a concern with various administrative and organisational aspects of the local group which were quite varied. Another concern was with the need to maintain momentum – particularly in relation to activists finding time to devote to the movement
However the biggest obstacle to be overcome was reported to be the widespread apathy or ignorance (or resistance/denial) of the majority of the population (40% of survey respondents listed this).
The report can be downloaded here:
A Fine City in Transition PDF 2MB