Transition Network Game Plan: 12 Ingredients

Cultural Intelligence, Earth Intelligence

The twelve key ingredients to the Transition model

To begin with, it is important to note that although the term “Transition Town” has stuck, what we are talking about are Transition Cities, Transition Islands, Transition Hamlets, Transition Valleys, Transition Anywhere-You-Find-People.

These ingredients are not designed to be followed slavishly – like a good recipe in the hands of a creative chef, sometimes you’ll need to switch the order around, substitute certain items, change the emphasis, add some spice! And that’s what Transition Initiatives are doing – taking these ingredients, putting them in different orders and adapting them to local conditions. An example of this is Transition Town Bridport’s interpretation of the 12 ingredients.

1. Set up a steering group and design its demise/transformation from the outset

This stage puts a core team in place to drive the project forward during the initial phases. We recommend that you form your Steering Group with the aim of getting through stages 2 – 5, and agree that once a minimum of four theme groups (see #5) are formed, the Steering Group transforms to include representation from each of those groups. This may mean people have to step down from the initiating group, and that requires a degree of humility, but is very important in order to put the success of the project above the individuals involved. Ultimately your Steering Group should become made up of 1 representative from each sub-group.

It’s a good idea to get some agreement on the aims and objectives of the group at an early stage so any differences can be ironed out early on. These can be the precursor to when it’s time to set up a constitution, and here are two examples of such agreements:

2. Start raising awareness

This stage will identify your key allies, build crucial networks and prepare the community in general for the launch of your Transition initiative.

For an effective Energy Descent Action plan to evolve, its participants have to understand the potential effects of both Peak Oil and Climate Change – the former demanding a drive to increase community resilience, the latter a reduction in carbon footprint.

Screenings of key movies (In Transition 1.0, Inconvenient Truth, End of Suburbia, Crude Awakening, Power of Community) along with a facilitated question and answer session at the end of each, are very effective. (See Transition Initiatives Primer (1MB pdf) for the lowdown on many of these movies – where to get them, how to access the trailers, what the licencing regulations are, doomster rating vs solution rating.

Talks by experts in their field of climate change, peak oil and community solutions can be very inspiring. Articles in local papers, interviews on local radio, presentations to existing groups, including schools, are also part of the toolkit to get people aware of the issues and ready to start thinking of solutions.

 3. Lay the foundations

This stage is about networking with existing groups and activists, making clear to them that the Transition Initiative is designed to incorporate their previous efforts and potential inputs by looking at the future in a new way. Acknowledge and honour the work they do, and stress that they have a vital role to play.

Give them a concise and accessible overview of peak oil, what it means, how it relates to climate change, how it might affect the community in question, and the key challenges it presents. Set out your thinking about how a Transition process might be able to act as a catalyst for getting the community to explore solutions and to begin thinking about grassroots mitigation strategies.

 4. Organise a Great Unleashing

This stage creates a memorable milestone to mark the project’s “coming of age”, moves it right into the community at large, builds a momentum to propel your initiative forward for the next period of its work and celebrates your community’s desire to take action.

In terms of timing, we estimate that 6 months to a year after your first “awareness raising” movie screening is about right. The Official Unleashing of Transition Town Totnes was held in September 2006, preceded by about 10 months of talks, film screenings and events.

Regarding contents, it’ll need to bring people up to speed on Peak Oil and Climate Change, but in a spirit of “we can do something about this” rather than doom and gloom. One item of content that we’ve seen work very well is a presentation on the practical and psychological barriers to personal change – after all, this is all about what we do as individuals.

It needn’t be just talks, it could include music, food, opera, break dancing, whatever you feel best reflects your community’s intention to embark on this collective adventure. Some examples (web pages and videos) of unleashings are:

 5. Form theme (or special interest) groups

Part of the process of developing an Energy Descent Action Plan is tapping into the collective genius of the community. Crucial for this is to set up a number of smaller groups to focus on specific aspects of the process. Each of these groups will develop their own ways of working and their own activities, but will all fall under the umbrella of the project as a whole.

Ideally, sub groups are needed for all aspects of life that are required by your community to sustain itself and thrive. Examples of these are: food, waste, energy, education, youth, economics, transport, water, local government.

Each of these sub groups is looking at their area and trying to determine the best ways of building community resilience and reducing the carbon footprint. Their solutions will form the backbone of the Energy Descent Action Plan.

One great way to encourage a theme group to start up is to hold a themed event and then ask at the end of it who might like to get involved in forming a group and looking at how your community might respond in that area.

6. Use Open Space

We’ve found Open Space Technology to be a highly effective approach to running meetings for Transition Initiatives.

In theory it ought not to work. A large group of people comes together to explore a particular topic or issue, with no agenda, no timetable, no obvious coordinator and no designated minute takers.

However, we have run separate Open Spaces for Food, Energy, Housing, Economics and the Psychology of Change. By the end of each meeting, everyone has said what they needed to, extensive notes had been taken and typed up, lots of networking has had taken place, and a huge number of ideas had been identified and visions set out.

A quick introduction to Open Space can be found on Harrison Owen’s website. The essential reading on Open Space is Harrison Owen’s Open Space Technology: A User’s Guide, and you will also find Peggy Holman and Tom Devane’s The Change Handbook: Group Methods for Shaping the Future an invaluable reference on the wider range of such tools.

7. Develop visible practical manifestations of the project

It’s essential that you avoid any sense that your project is just a talking shop where people sit around and draw up wish lists. Your project needs, from an early stage, to begin to create practical, high visibility manifestations in your community. These will significantly enhance people’s perceptions of the project and also their willingness to participate.

There’s a difficult balance to achieve here during these early stages. You need to demonstrate visible progress, without embarking on projects that will ultimately have no place on the Energy Descent Action Plan. In Transition Town Totnes, the Food group launched a project called ‘Totnes: the Nut Capital of Britain’ which aims to get as much infrastructure of edible nut bearing trees into the town as possible. With the help of the Mayor, they planted some trees in the centre of town, and made it a high profile event.

Check out some of the other projects and see if there’s something there that might inspire your own first visible manifestation.

8. Facilitate the Great Reskilling

If we are to respond to peak oil and climate change by moving to a lower energy future and relocalising our communities, then we’ll need many of the skills that our grandparents took for granted. One of the most useful things a Transition Town project can do is to reverse the “great deskilling” of the last 40 years by offering training in a range of some of these skills.

Research among the older members of our communities is instructive – after all, they lived before the throwaway society took hold and they understand what a lower energy society might look like. Some examples of courses are: repairing, cooking, cycle maintenance, natural building, loft insulation, dyeing, herbal walks, gardening, basic home energy efficiency, making sour doughs, practical food growing (the list is endless).

Here’s some food for thought:

Your Great Reskilling programme will give people a powerful realisation of their own ability to solve problems, to achieve practical results and to work cooperatively alongside other people. They’ll also appreciate that learning can truly be fun.

9. Build a bridge to Local Government

Your local authority’s role will be TO SUPPORT, NOT DRIVE, your Transition Initiative.

Whatever the degree of groundswell your Transition Initiative manages to generate, however many practical projects you’ve initiated and however wonderful your Energy Descent Plan is, you will not progress too far unless you have cultivated a positive and productive relationship with your local authority. Whether it is planning issues, funding issues or providing connections, you need them on board. Contrary to your expectations, you may well find that you are pushing against an open door.

Here are two great example of this collaborative approach

  • in Monteveglio in Italy at the end of 2009, the local council showed probably the most engaged commitment to work collaboratively with the local Transition Initiative that we’ve ever seen.
  • in Somerset in the UK, the council unanimously passed a motion to become the UK’s first ‘Transition Local Authority’. What that means exactly will emerge at the process gets underway – here’s their motion.
  • A wide ranging paper on how Transition Initiatives are influencing Local Authorities, including examples from around the world

And just to make sure you didn’t miss the golden rule – your Local Authority’s role is TO SUPPORT, NOT DRIVE, your Transition Initiative.

10. Honour the elders

For those of us born in the 1960s when the cheap oil party was in full swing, it is very hard to picture a life with less oil. Every year of our lives since WWII (apart from the oil crises of the 70s) has been underpinned by more energy than the previous years.

In order to rebuild that picture of a lower energy society, we have to engage with those who directly remember the transition to the age of Cheap Oil, especially the period between 1930 and 1960.

While you clearly want to avoid any sense that what you are advocating is ‘going back’ or ‘returning’ to some dim distant past, there is much to be learnt from how things were done, what the invisible connections between the different elements of society were and how daily life was supported. Finding out all of this can be deeply illuminating, and can lead to our feeling much more connected to the place we are developing our Transition Town projects.

And to reassure those who might be concerned that Transition is trying to recreate those times – that’s simply not going to happen. Human society is a complex system and complex systems never return to a prior state. If we take the best of the what’s gone before, mix it up with the best of what we have now and in the future, we’ll have the best chance of ending up with a future that will work for all of us.

11. Let it go where it wants to go…

Although you may start out developing your Transition Town process with a clear idea of where it will go, it will inevitably go elsewhere. If you try and hold onto a rigid vision, it will begin to sap your energy and appear to stall. Your role is not to come up with all the answers, but to act as a catalyst for the community to design their own transition.

If you keep your focus on the key design criteria – building community resilience and reducing the carbon footprint – you’ll watch as the collective genius of the community enables a feasible, practicable and highly inventive solution to emerge.

12. Create an Energy Descent Action Plan

During the first year or two of the transition process in your community, the various theme groups will have been focusing on projects that increase community resilience and reduce CO2 emissions. Over time they’ll get adept at running projects, measuring outcomes, linking with the key groups in their area and becoming literate around resilience.

When all the key theme groups have built up that expertise, they come back together to help engage the wider community in creating the vision for how that community might look in 15 or 20 years.

So far, we have taken many practical actions in Totnes. However, they add up to just a mere fraction of the final range and scope of initiatives that are currently being devised by our community.

13. ???

There are groups currently looking at how the Transition Initiative might need to develop as it goes into the EDAP implementation phase. One crucial element looks like being “social enterprises”. These could be community-owned enterprises primarily designed rebuild resilience in the local economy by delivering benefits to local people – as opposed to operations primarily focused on providing profit, often for absentee stockholders and typically with minimal concern about the environmental costs.

Something to get you thinking about this:

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