Planet Forward Wins Tawani Grant


March 1, 2010

Planet Forward, the progressive new media project pioneered at SMPA last year, has recently received a $500,000 grant from the Tawani Foundation, which supports ventures that enrich and improve health, wellness and knowledge. The award will help fund production of weekly webisodes, the website, and other potential television specials, the first of which aired on PBS in April 2009.

A Project of the Center for Innovative Media at George Washington University, Planet Forward is an online social network dedicated to giving a voice to average people who want to shape the future of energy policy.

Participants showcase original videos about reducing carbon emissions on Planetforward.org and comment on other contributors' ideas. The most promising and original entries are the selected from the website and aired as part of special broadcasts on PBS stations nationwide.

The Planet Forward project also incorporates debates between policy-makers and experts, including 2009 participants environmental entrepreneur Shai Agassi and Carol Browner, Director of the Obama Administration's Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy.

"SMPA students have also been invaluable from everything like naming the show Planet Forward, to helping with the TV production, to supplying some real high-quality content for community reaction," said director of production Chad Davis.

The Planet Forward production team includes two SMPA graduate students as well as Susanna Murley, a specialist in environmental communications. Two undergraduate interns have also joined the Planet Forward staff this spring.

Planet Forward was created and hosted by SMPA Director Frank Sesno and will be hosting a screening of student videos in the Jack Morton Auditorium on April 20. SMPA also offers an advanced, hands-on production class that generates environmental video content for use on the Planet Forward website and television program.

Several changes have occurred this year as the project expands. The Planet Forward website has enhanced its social networking capacities by allowing users to blog and collaborate on ideas. Additionally, future TV productions of Planet Forward will incorporate a competition that didn't exist in the pilot.

"The Planet Forward members who submit the best ideas on how we reduce our carbon footprint will become Planet Forward Innovators. And we'll follow those innovators for a year after the broadcast to see if their ideas can take root and grow," Davis said.

According to Planetforward.org, "The real reward is the chance to have your viewpoint considered by influential people and become a real part of the national debate."

Planet Forward's second television special is currently in production and will use material being collected now from Planetforward.org. Several "webisodes" have also been produced in the interim period between television specials.

Davis said the positive feedback from funders, members of the pilot community and PBS associates encouraged the launch of future TV specials.

The first television special recently aired again on PBS channel 26 in Washington D.C.