Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Psychology of Climate Change: The Slow Process of Change

     Change is hard. Anyone who has ever tried to give up a bad habit or take up a good habit can attest to this fact. And yet when we consider changing our societies to mitigate climate change, we naively assume that if we just figure out the right thing to do, somehow everything will fall into line. The fact of the matter is that change is a slow process, even for very minor changes. The greater the change and the more people involved in making it, the more difficult it will be to sustain.
     Community psychology has long explored the process of creating and maintaining community change. Much like the process a person goes through when attempting to change themselves for the better, a community must go through a series of steps to make lasting change. When you consider that the response to climate change means a planet-ful of communities must go through this same series of steps, you begin to realize the difficulty in responding to climate change.
     I teach a course at the University of Hawai`i, Mānoa called “Cultural Community Psychology and Global Climate Change.” In the short video mini-lecture below, I explain the steps taken to create and sustain a positive change. The societal and global changes necessary to adapt to climate change must incorporate this process if we want to implement lasting changes successfully.

Kati Corlew, M.A.

University of Hawai`i, Mānoa

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

There's No Place Like Homeless

Right after I mostly retired a few years ago, I volunteered to work one day per week in a large homeless feeding kitchen. My experiences there led me to start attending the monthly meeting of the Tacoma-Pierce County Coalition to End Homelessness – a group of approximately 50 providers of services to homeless people. A couple of years ago, I was asked to participate in the HUD-mandated Homeless Continuum of Care (CofC).

There is probably a CofC in your county. It develops comprehensive plans to end homelessness and makes recommendations to the county and to HUD about funding housing development and support services. It is an interesting place to do community psychology. I have participated in policy development, consolidation of three different county plans to end homelessness (each required by a different funder) into one integrated and more holistic plan, review of grant requests, and governance of the CofC. Currently I am serving as chairperson.

Like your state (unless you live in North Dakota or Alaska) the State of Washington is experiencing a major fiscal crisis. Our state has no income tax and the voters have repeatedly rejected efforts to authorize one. We rely upon sales taxes and “business and occupation” taxes to finance state government. Both of these are markedly sensitive to fluctuations in the economy. Our social safety net is in shreds as state government revenues keep falling.

I have been especially concerned about how people who are homeless or at imminent risk of homelessness can survive as their sources of income are eliminated. I have been advocating for some time that our county needs to do contingency planning for a dramatic increase in homeless individuals, couples, and families with children. As part of that process, I began to gather statistical data about the probable extent of the emergency in Pierce County. I wrote an editorial, subsequently published by our local newspaper summarizing what I learned. You will find it here. Later I learned from the Washington Department of Labor that from January through October of 2011, 70,643 Pierce County residents have exhausted their unemployment compensation. We have no idea how many spouses and children are impacted or how they are faring, but we can predict that a significant number are at high risk of homelessness.

Pierce County now is starting a contingency planning process to try and mediate our pending homelessness emergency. Involved will be Pierce County and City of Tacoma staff members, Associated Ministries, hopefully an architect/planner, informal advice from the Pierce County Department of Emergency Management, and me.

What are the lessons for Community Psychology? Willingness to get involved will be welcomed by your community. A holistic overview is valuable, although the scope of the need may feel truly overwhelming. Collaboration with other professions in search of solutions is fundamental. Many human service providers share our values. Gathering and aggregating data is very helpful. Informing the general public about both scope and consequences is fundamental, and local news media are willing to help accomplish that.

Al Ratcliffe, Ph. D
Tacoma, WA

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Kickstarting Social Change: Community Psychology & Crowdfunding

Though I may decry the commercialization of holidays, I must admit that I do love giving and receiving gifts. But what if we could harness this energy, this spirit of generosity, this money that we spend on frenzied holiday shopping to collectively build something amazing? The answer is that people are already doing this, in the growing phenomenon known as crowdfunding.

Crowdfunding is the term used when many people collectively pool their money to fund something they believe in. In a sense, it’s an old concept – people have been pooling money for ages. However, as with many established practices, it has been transformed by the Internet. The proliferation of crowdfunding platforms has allowed artists, filmmakers, entrepreneurs, and activists to raise money and report on the progress of their efforts in a completely new way. The phenomenon has even prompted legislation to allow for crowdfunded investments, and despite some detractors, the Entrepreneur Access to Capital Act overcame the usually partisan U.S. politics to pass through the House of Representatives 407-17.

In a typical crowdfunding scenario, a person or group posts their idea online and sets a fundraising goal. They’re encouraged to provide as many details about their project as possible, and to spread the word to their social networks about their campaign. Most platforms take a percentage of contributions, which may vary depending on whether or not the goal has been reached. Some platforms, like the very popular art funding site Kickstarter, have an all-or-nothing model in which funds are kept in escrow and only processed if the fundraising goal has been met. In many cases, people will receive perks for contributing, and there will be several levels at which people could contribute with progressively better perks.

With the passing of this recent legislation, I expect to see more sites that offer actual monetary returns on investment, but my experience with crowdfunding so far has mostly centered on artistic projects. Earlier this year, I helped a musician friend raise funds to help pay for the production of her album on IndieGoGo, and people who contributed received copies of the album once it was made, along with other perks. Another musician I’m a fan of wanted to make an album of cover songs and started a Kickstarter campaign as an experiment, finding to his delight that his fan base was sufficiently excited about the idea that they exceeded his $3600 fundraising goal in a matter of days, eventually contributing over $15,000.

Here are some more examples of crowdfunding in action:

  • The Occupy movement has made extensive use of crowdfunding, raising $75,000 on Kickstarter  to create the Occupy Wall St. Journal and thousands on Loudsauce for various media campaigns, such as running a full-page ad in the San Francisco Chronicle
  • Social entrepreneur and noted roller derby enthusiast Micki Krimmel used Kickstarter to raise funds for Neighbor Goods, an online platform in which people can share resources with others in their community
  • A man in Newfoundland, Canada raised $7000 on Indiegogo to help out a friend whose house burned down 
  • Members of Musicians Without Borders have raised over $3000 and have until February 1st, 2012 to reach its goal of $15,000 for the Rwanda Youth Music program. A widget advertising their campaign is embedded in the beginning of this post.
Although these are all success stories, it bears mentioning that for every success there are many failures. Crowdfunding platforms are not magic – if you can’t get people to buy into your idea and contribute funds, it won’t work. There’s often a lot of behind-the-scenes fundraising and some may question why they should use a site that will collect a percentage of money they mostly raised from their own friends and fans. However, there can be a significant value add for those who are willing to put the time into really thinking through and promoting their projects. As crowdfunding continues to grow, we may find increasing opportunities to pool community resources to invest in sustainable businesses or launch social enterprises that improve community well-being. Community psychology practitioners can be at the forefront of this, reminding people that while the holidays come and go,we can spend our funds the rest of the year creating lasting positive change.

Gina Cardazone, M.A.
University of Hawai`i, Mānoa