One of the most fascinating recent studies into the impact of Transition was Local Communities Leading the Way to a Low Carbon…See More
Hosszúhetény is the most populous village in Baranya county, in the south of Hungary, with 3400 inhabitants. It's situated in beautiful natural surroundings at the foot of the Zengő peak of the Mecsek hills. People who live here are traditionally very proud of their natural environment,…See More
It's time for a rant about SACAT. "About what?" you might most reasonably cry. 'Semi Attended Customer Activated Terminals', that's what. In plain English, it's those self checkout things that are taking over shops up and down the land. In 2008 there were 92,600…See More
“What's the catch?” she asked as she idled up to the table. The yard was filled with blankets and tables, boxes and miscellany scattered over almost every square inch except for the well-marked paths. Our information table was welcoming people at the entrance, and this question was asked…See More
Greyton Transition Town has been in existence for just over two years and is beginning to have a significant impact on our community. The one way which stands out for all of our community is what a great vehicle it is to bring about social integration. The context of Greyton is…See More
We are really honoured to be able to share with you today an interview with Sir David King. Sir David is currently Special Representative to the Foreign Secretary in the UK on climate change. For 7 years, between 2000 and 2007, he was Chief Scientific Advisor. Much of his…See More
Nafeez Ahmed: Natural and social scientists develop new model of how 'perfect storm' of crises could unravel global system
A handbook "THE ENTERPRISING ECOVILLAGER. ACHIEVING COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT THROUGH INNOVATIVE GREEN ENTREPRENEURSHIP" focus on green business and entrepreneurship, offering a practical guide on how ecovillages can create business opportunities that adhere to the principles of truly green thinking. It gives an overview of the different aspects that should be considered by the aspiring ecovillage entrepreneur, and presents examples of successful business stories from various ecovillages around Europe. The book also strives to remedy the reluctance that many ecovillagers feel toward business. Furthermore, it demonstrates the ways in which ecovillages are ideally suited to run businesses that are compatible with the well-being of both people and planet, the businesses of the future.
Kalu Yala, a sustainable settlement for innovators, may be the alternative real estate model the world needs.
January 31, 2014
IN RESPONSE TO RISING PRICES AND SHORTAGES OF PROPANE AND NATURAL GAS, LOCAL GROUPS SPONSOR DO-IT-YOURSELF WORKSHOP ON SOLAR HEAT
Peacetime Emergency declared by Minnesota Governor, Mark Dayton in response to shyrocketing propane gas prices. Area groups know the situation is serious and have a seriously effective solution for the area. Read on..
A trip to the lumberyard and a few hours of time can save $ on heating bills.
One of the most fascinating recent studies into the impact of Transition was Local Communities Leading the Way to a Low Carbon Society, a report published by AEIDL (Association Européenne pour l’Information sur le Développement Local. It looks at Transition, permaculture and ecovillage networks, what it calls the "Silent Revolution", "a potentially powerful driver of pro-environmental behaviour change". We caught up with Eamon O'Hara, who created the report, to find out more about it, and about his conclusions.
How did you create this report, and what research did you do for it?
I have been working at European level on programmes and initiatives dealing with local development for almost 20 years now and around 2008/2009. I started to become more aware of Transition and other similar movements that were developing around Europe. It struck me at the time that not much was known about these grassroots movements at European level, at least in Brussels, where I was based at the time.
There was some really great work being done, some great examples of local projects and communities that were transforming themselves, but it was off the radar for many people. Of course there was nothing abnormal about this. These were grassroots movements, developing organically at their own pace and normally this would be fine. But climate change and the drive for sustainability are issues that need urgent responses, so it seemed to me to be important to try to promote awareness and a wider replication of these initiatives in communities across Europe.
From other programmes I worked on I knew there was considerable experience, and tools and methodologies, that could be drawn on to facilitate the exchange of good practice and ideas, but a necessary first step would be to build awareness around this movement and its potential. Over the next couple of years I began to make contacts within Transition, the Global Ecovillage Network and within other community-based initiatives focusing on climate change and sustainability. Then, in 2012, I received support from AEIDL, a Brussels-based association that I have worked closely with for many years, to carry out a preliminary study.
This study was a combination of desk research and interviews with key people in the countries targeted. I focused mainly on 13 countries where I knew there were community-led initiatives focusing on climate change and sustainability. The study was essentially a mapping exercise, focusing on, firstly, identifying initiatives where they existed, and then trying to better understand the scope and scale of their activities. I had a limited budget, so this study was by no means exhaustive but I think it was an important first step in terms of developing an understanding and awareness of this fledgling movement.
How has it been received since you published it?
It has been really well received. A lot of people have expressed surprise that they hadn’t heard about the initiatives featured before, especially given the scale of activities that now exist across Europe. It has certainly got the attention of policy makers in Brussels and I think this is something we need to build on.
Another important outcome of the study, however, is that it allowed me to build up a strong network of contacts across the countries studied. These contacts represent a wide range of initiatives and I sensed there was a strong interest and desire among them to work more closely together. In some cases there had already been informal interaction, but there was a clear interest in taking this to another level. So, in follow-up to the study I set about coordinating a discussion between these contacts and from this discussion the idea of establishing a formal network emerged. This has since progressed to the establishment of ECOLISE, the European network for community-led action on climate change and sustainability.
I think this is a hugely important development. ECOLISE now brings together all the key stakeholders involved in community-led action on climate change and sustainability in Europe and I think it is well placed to build on the awareness the study has created and really set about the task of championing the cause of community-led action on climate change and sustainability in Europe.
What is your sense of the impact that Transition has had since it began?
Transition has been pivotal. It has opened the door for ordinary people to get involved in reshaping their communities and in so doing reshaping society. That opportunity always existed for people, but Transition has provided the “how-to” guide, and by leading through example, has inspired people and given them the confidence to take action.
However, I think Transition’s best days are still ahead of it. The challenge now, however, is to take Transition from being an initiative that is still largely limited to pioneering communities to a concept that is mainstreamed in the thinking and actions of every community. Of course Transition is not alone here. There are also other initiatives, such as the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN), Low Carbon Communities and others, and there is also considerable knowledge and experience available in movements such as Permaculture, but the essential principles are largely the same and I think this knowledge and experience now needs to be disseminated on a much larger scale.
You write that lobbying and advocacy "remains a relatively minor part of their activities and the focus is more on local rather than higher level decision making". Do you see this as a weakness or a strength of the Transition movement?
For me this is a weakness, but not just of Transition, of community-based initiatives in general. It is completely understandable, as I mentioned above, as Transition is a grassroots movement and there are obviously limited resources and capacity, but I think this is an important activity. To achieve the kind of scaling up I mention above, I think the Transition approach must essentially become part of mainstream policy and thinking and for this lobbying and advocacy are essential.
But I think this can best be achieved by initiatives like Transition and GEN and others working together, and this is why I think ECOLISE has such an important role to play in facilitating this scaling up.
You mention what you see as the "important catalytic effect" Transition can have, and how it has the "potential to change social norms". Could you tell us more about what you meant by that? By what mechanisms do you observe that it does that?
Again, this applies to community-based action on climate change and sustainability in general, not just Transition. The catalytic effect is essentially about one community being an inspiration for others. Communities that have been successful in developing community energy projects or in reducing their carbon footprint are an important source of ideas and information for others. These communities demonstrate what can be achieved and in this way give confidence to other communities to follow suit.
Various studies have also shown that community-based initiatives tend to have a longer term impact, which goes beyond the immediate effects on carbon emissions or other indicators. These initiatives are generally more holistic in nature, covering a wide range of issues, such as food, transport, energy, etc.. so they can impact on more than one aspect of people’s lives. But the group dynamic aspect of community-led initiatives is also important. Norms are established by groups, not individuals, so this potential for growth and learning within a group environment is an essential precursor for wider behavioural change.
Having created this report, what do you see as the keys to Transition being able to go more mainstream? What, for you, might its next steps look like, and what support would most skilfully enable that?
I think the most important thing now is for Transition to work with the other partners in ECOLISE to create the conditions that will allow for the mainstreaming of community-based action on climate change and sustainability. This is a formidable task and one which can best be achieved by working together. It requires a coherent dialogue with policy makers on why and how community-led action on climate change and sustainability should and could be mainstreamed and what supports are required. It also requires a concerted effort to promote awareness of the potential of community-led action and to make available to communities across Europe the information, tools, guidance, training and advice they need to make this happen.
It is important to be aware however that not every community will necessarily want to become a Transition town or district, but I don’t think this should be an issue. The key thing is to mainstream the approach, to make available the learning and knowledge and to allow flexibility for communities to use this and adapt it to their own circumstances.
How impressed were you by the evolving evidence base for Transition? Do you think researchers are asking the right questions, and is there a good body of evidence already would you say?
Some really good work is being done in this area but I think more is required, not just for Transition but for community-led initiatives in general. To get policy makers on board and achieve the mainstreaming that is needed we need a more convincing argument as to the benefits. There is strong anecdotal evidence and some interesting studies have been carried out but we need to build on this and provide strong empirical evidence that supports the argument for mainstreaming.
We also need to better understand the potential for replicating community-led approaches in different contexts across Europe. Local conditions on the ground vary considerably from one country, or one region, to another so we need to better understand how existing approaches can be adapted to different contexts.
As an extension of this, we need to know what works and what doesn’t in different contexts. We need to be able to provide advice and guidance that is context specific. All of this requires a coordinated transnational approach to research and knowledge development, which is developing but still in the early stages.
You concluded that: "Community-based approaches should not be seen in isolation. Their role must be seen in the context of wider action and an appropriate support framework must be established in order to assist the further develop and replication of these approaches, without losing their essential local, bottom-up ethos". What is the role that Transition groups play do you think that none of the other scales can do?
Transition groups and other local community-led initiatives play a key role in engaging with and mobilizing local communities. By engaging local people they can unleash a resource that other levels can rarely unleash and facilitate the development of ideas and projects that are tailored to local needs and conditions. Policies and programmes developed and implemented at higher levels rarely if ever achieve this.
However, if higher levels of governance and decision making recognize this important contribution of community-led initiatives then policies and programmes can be designed in a way that makes space for and facilitates this local, bottom-up approach.
There is already a precedent in terms of EU rural development policy, part of which is implemented through a bottom-up, community-led approach. The European Commission has also proposed that this approach (community-led local development, or CLLD) be extended to other policy areas in the 2014-2020 programming period. This opens up a real opportunity to establish community-led approaches as an integral part of the EU’s response to climate change and sustainability.
Hosszúhetény is the most populous village in Baranya county, in the south of Hungary, with 3400 inhabitants. It's situated in beautiful natural surroundings at the foot of the Zengő peak of the Mecsek hills. People who live here are traditionally very proud of their natural environment, one famous example of which was in 2004, when fierce resistance from locals and green groups made the Hungarian government abandon a plan to build a NATO radar on the peak. While this event made Hosszúhetény somewhat famous, sustainability did not become a priority in everyday life of the inhabitants afterwards.
Things began to pick up in 2007, when the local government became a founding member of the Hungarian Climate-friendly Association. Around this time a civilian climate-friendly club also started in the village, which after a few years led to various initiatives to promote local and sustainable consumption and living. A group of around 20 people worked on various projects. A local marketplace was created with weekly market days from local producers and in 2012 a Local Exchange Trading System (LETS) started. We have annual seed swap events and we have organized various informative programs such as movie screenings and talks about sustainability and climate awareness, gardening workshops and lectures, health days, among others.
In December 2012 we held a screening of In Transition 2.0 (see photo below). The realization that there was a whole movement out there with the same objectives and ideas that we had was a heart-warming and encouraging experience. By this time we also knew that the real challenge is to keep the great ideas and projects running (the local market and the LETS had both become non-functional), and we wanted to learn how to achieve this.
Eventually, a group of dedicated people participated in a Transition training weekend in October 2013. This training has given us valuable insights into the structures and dynamics of our local community and it has started us on a new way to Transition. We are now in the process of learning how to get the most out of ourselves and our ideas. We are improving communication with the local government, finding ways to reach more people, helping to make the local events sustainable, raising awareness on food self-sufficiency.
We have also entered a 2-year project organized by Transition Wekerle, through which we will learn from and teach other transition communities, as well as build our local and national transition network. We believe the next years help us to strengthen our local community, learn new skills and set up new initiatives which help to make our village more resilient.
By Zsanett Roozental-Pandur and Zoltán Hajdú
It's time for a rant about SACAT. "About what?" you might most reasonably cry. 'Semi Attended Customer Activated Terminals', that's what. In plain English, it's those self checkout things that are taking over shops up and down the land. In 2008 there were 92,600 such units in use worldwide, by the end of this year it is expected to top 430,000. In the UK, 32 million shoppers now use them every week, over one third of Tesco's store transactions every week are self checkout. I recently went to WHSmith at St Panchras station in London, the first shop I've been into that is 100% self checkout. No staff. I turned around and walked back out again.
It's bad enough on the occasions when I visit my local Co-operative store, who have now just two tills with actual human beings. The rest is all self-checkout. According to Geoffrey Barraclough of BT Expedite, who installed the system in the WHSmith store at Kings Cross, such systems are great because because they:
Enabl(e) shoppers to pay for goods quickly by making more till points available is a proven means for retailers to help boost footfall, service and sales levels".
That may be the case, but surely the main reason is that they need to employ less staff and thereby make more profit? Whenever I go into a shop which has self-checkout, I refuse to use it. I make a point of telling whoever is at the till that I am refusing to use it because I don't want even more staff to lose their jobs. It's a solidarity thing. But when I go to a shop that doesn't even give you the choice, sorry, they just lost a customer.
A few years ago I did a series of oral history interviews with people, asking for their memories of Totnes in the 1940s and 50s. One woman told me of her experience of doing the week's shopping:
I used to go to the grocer’s and I could sit down, lovely. They’d go through your list and say yes, yes, we’ve got some new whatever it is, would you like to taste some, you’d have a little snippet of cheese or something, great, yes, we’ll have that. Now we’ve got a tin of broken biscuits, but they’re not too bad, half price you see, would you like them? As soon as you put a biscuit in your mouth its broken isn’t it?! Then they’d say “now Mrs Langford you’re going to the butchers yes yes and going to get some fish? Yes yes, and paraffin? Yes yes, and they used to say to me now bring any parcels in, we’ll put it in the box with your groceries, and bring the lot up for you. And they did you see.
When I go shopping, I want to interact with people. Even the act of popping in to buy a newspaper involves a few words, a "how you doing?" or even just a "thanks". It's interaction, it's communication, it's the glue that sticks us together. A study in the US looking at why people use farmers markets found that 'social interaction' was one of the key reasons, people who shopped there having 10 times more conversations than people shopping in supermarkets. It quoted one shopper as saying:
"You end up talking a lot more to other people than you do in a grocery store. I mean, typically you go to the grocery store and you don’t talk to anyone. Even the checkout people, I mean now you don’t even need to see the checkout person, you can just go through the automated line".
And if I'm checking myself out, I am doing the shop's business for them. Not content with assaulting high streets with out-of-town shops, and then moving onto those self same declining high streets to add "vibrancy" to them, they have now, with most of the opposition neutralised (97% of all UK groceries are now sold through just 8,000 supermarket outlets), they are getting us to do the checking out for them! What next? Stacking the shelves? Sweeping the floor on our way out? Perhaps giving the bathrooms a lick of paint?
We wouldn't expect to do those things unpaid, so why doing the check out? It's not as though they offer you a choice whereby if you check yourself out they give you a few percent off your bill.
Of course, many people might say "actually Hopkins I rather like going shopping and not having to talk to anyone", but for me that's tragic. Think forward. Imagine if we get to the stage where every business, in order to remain competitive with the staff-less chain stores, installs self checkouts? Imagine the day when you can do all your week's shopping without ever speaking to anyone. Something is lost, something as fundamental to our wellbeing as being able to hear the birdsong on a Spring morning. As hearing the sound of children playing. Civility, community, humanity, all start to unravel.
So I say "no more!" Shun the soul-less cash extracting electronic leeches! Refuse to spend any money unless a human being is involved! Turn around, walk out and walk on. The kind of world we want our children to inherit is being shaped by the choices and the decisions we make today every time we go shopping. Choose community and people and conversation over blatant money-grabbing and unemployment generation.
Or even better, you might use them for a month or so, keep a note of how much time you spend operating their checkout system, and send them a bill for your time, charging them the Living Wage for your time (which is, by the way, £8.80 in London and £7.65 an hour elsewhere). Let's see how they like that.
I'll leave the final word to the great Jonathan Richman who, in four minutes and forty five seconds puts it far better than I can:
What role does measuring and evaluating your impacts have to play for Transition initiatives? How important is it, and how straightforward is it in a group that is already busy "doing stuff"? Jo Hamilton is a researcher at Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute whose research focuses on those very questions. Together with colleagues Ruth Mayne and Kersty Hobson, she is currently developing a project called Monitoring and Evaluation for Sustainable Communities (MESC) to develop and trial a range of tools to enable groups to self monitor and evaluate their work. She's still recruiting groups and is running 3 workshops in April and May for groups who'd like more skills and insights on how to do this (more below).
The project idea emerged from meetings with the Transition Research Network, and is a collaboration between the University, Transition Network, and Low Carbon Communities Network. We started by asking Jo why it matters that Transition initiatives should do monitoring and evalution:
"Used well, Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E)** can be part of toolkit for helping Transition Initiatives assess and make the changes that they want to achieve.
My prior experience of being involved in, supporting, and more recently research with community groups, has demonstrated the power of reflecting on what has been achieved, learning from what has worked, what hasn’t, and what unexpected outcomes there have been. Whilst analysing comments from feedback forms after community events has sometimes felt like the last thing I’ve wanted to do, it has always been helpful: to guide future activities, to communicate what we’ve achieved in the event, and to help us see what other changes need to take place. Positive comments can give a much needed energy boost, whilst critical or negative comments can be the starting point of another conversation and provide useful feedback.
Why does having an evidence based for your impact matter?
Let’s face it, we’re not going to get ‘good feedback’ about the impact of local action from the weather or climate, so we need to see what feedback we can get from the people we’re working with, and the local environment we’re working in.
On a wider scale, having an evidence base is crucial to demonstrate what Transition initiatives have achieved, and to provide weight to argue for investment in local action, or policies that can enable local action to scale up. At present the evidence base is small, but growing. In addition to the evidence generated by groups themselves, in recent years there have been many academic research projects, masters and doctoral dissertations, which demonstrate impact. You can access many of these through the Transition Research Network.
What makes a useful indicator? What is worth measuring and what isn't?
Indicators are specific pieces of information that you collect, so that you can track the changes you’re aiming for. Whilst it is useful to measure the number of people who are reached by or involved in group activities, the changes, or outcomes, that you contribute to are the key things to measure. These could include whether somebody chooses to eco-renovate their home, switch transport modes to more low carbon forms, or exert political influence. However, alongside indicators you also need to ask questions to understand why and how the changes occur and capture unexpected outcomes.
Is monitoring and evaluation something that groups should be looking to do from Day One, or can it be something they pick up later, and if so when?
‘Start where you are’ is the key phrase here, as groups get initiated in different ways and have different motivations. Planning M&E is similar to project planning, so integrating M&E into any form of planning is most helpful at the beginning of a project, although it can also be done at any stage. Simply examining the assumptions that underpin the activities you want to carry out, and the changes that could be expected is really useful. Whatever stage a group is at, M&E can help you learn more about what works, what isn’t working, and what could be done. We’ve compiled a step by step guide which you can download here.
How do you see the balance between getting on and doing stuff and measuring it? Is there a danger that measuring things can take away the energy that gives you anything worth measuring in the first place? There's the balance?
It can be a tricky balance to strike, and many groups haven’t done M&E precisely because the focus has been on the doing. However, I liken M&E tools to penknives: they’re multifunctional tools, which fit in your pocket, and you know how to use them. Some penknives are nice and simple, whilst some look like they might be too cumbersome and complicated, thus are unlikely to be carried around and used. M&E is a bit like that. The process of M&E can be multifunctional, the trick is to select the tools you need, carry them round with you and integrate them with what you are doing anyway.
However, from experience and from research, I know that reflecting on what you have achieved over the past year, or reading positive feedback from an event, can be a real energy boost. Doing this with other groups can help get a wider perspective on the impact of your work, share valuable learning, and identify areas for collaboration on issues which are beyond the capacity of one group alone. It can be a fine tuning mechanism, to help your group set achievable goals.
Some groups (for example Low Carbon West Oxford) who developed a system for M&E from the beginning, have been able to demonstrate their impact to the local authority and funders, which has led to further collaborations and enabled them to replicate and scale up some of their projects.
A lot of measuring can be incorporated into other activities that you’d be doing anyhow - when you’re asking for people’s contacts for emails, ask a couple of questions too. At some events, simple feedback can be provided through engaging activities such as writing thoughts and feedback on post-its.
What are some of the principles that underpin good and worthwhile evaluation?
Following on from the previous question, it’s good to set some guiding principles for your M&E, and to ensure that you have the resources to do it well. Guiding principles could include making sure that your M&E is focused and feasible, whether it’s useful for, and usable by the group.
You might need to generate evidence for potential funders, or to leverage more support for your work from the local authority. In the MESC project we’ve been selecting indicators and devising resources that will hopefully enable groups to compare themselves to others, and which can be aggregated so that there’s a more comprehensive view of what is happening at a national level.
What sorts of things might a Transition initiative want to measure?
It depends what the focus of the TI is, or where the energy is for M&E. You might want to measure the carbon reduction achieved from participants in your activities, how your events are helping local residents in fuel poverty access grants and other services, or how your farmers market is influencing residents’ shopping patterns and food sourcing.
Who are they doing this for? Themselves? Local government? Academics?
M&E can provide useful information for the group and wider movement itself, in helping you to answer the question ‘so, what has your group actually achieved?’. This can help the group feel proud of what they’ve achieved, and help plan future activities. Local and national government always want figures of what Transition Initiatives and other community energy groups have achieved, and being able to provide some of those figures can help justify funding and provide evidence for policy making (such as the recent Community Energy Strategy).
Can groups do this alone or do they need to do it in partnership with other organisations?
We’re currently trialling resources and tools to find out what groups can M&E alone, and what support they need to do more. More in depth M&E could involve partnering with other organisations, such as Universities, or through the Transition Research Network.
How have you developed your resources?
The step by step guide to M&E and tools are based on the teams’ research knowledge and practical experience, and draw on a range of existing resources and research.
We got initial feedback on the step by step guide and some of the tools at two workshops that took place in June 2013, and we’ve developed and adapted the tools.
Lastly, you are running three free workshops for Transition initiatives who want to find out more about this. Can you tell us more about those?
Thanks, perfect plug to the workshops, which we’ll be running in three locations.
The free workshops will give you an introduction to planning your M&E, and a chance to trial a range of resources. The workshops are part of the MESC project, so participants can receive follow up tailored support to help you monitor and assess impact.
Workshop Dates and Locations, all 10am – 5pm (pick one)
Sat April 12th – Oxford at School of Geography and Environment
Sat April 26th – Manchester at Anthony Burgess Foundation
Sat May 10th – London, Lumen URC (nr Euston station)
Advance booking is essential, and priority will be given to groups who would like to participate in the MESC project to trial the resources. For further information please email email@example.com or see the project website.
** Monitoring is the collection and analysis of information about a project or programme, undertaken while the project is ongoing. Evaluation is the periodic, retrospective assessment of a project or programme.
“What's the catch?” she asked as she idled up to the table. The yard was filled with blankets and tables, boxes and miscellany scattered over almost every square inch except for the well-marked paths. Our information table was welcoming people at the entrance, and this question was asked over and over again to our organizing team. “What's the catch?”
There was no catch. Everything in the entire yard was free. You didn't need to belong to Transition Town Media. You didn't have to bring anything to take something and there certainly were no limits on how much you could take. It was all free. Media's FreeMarket Day, organized by our TTI to reduce waste, had done something even more radical than just giving away things. It had punctured people's ideas of what was possible. Something for free? What's the catch? Having to rethink the idea that there is no catch makes people stop and wonder, “What other impossibles are possible?”
Transition Town Media has been a thriving TI since 2009, the first in Pennsylvania. We have many initiatives in all the areas Transition encourages, but some of our most popular are grounded in the concept of the “gift economy” as set out in Charles Eisenstein's book “Sacred Economics.” Many of us read that book together in a warm, fire-lit living room a few Januarys ago, enthusiastically discussing how to implement the practical and hopeful assertions within it into our work as Transition activists.
At the core of our gift economy focus is a timebank. Timebank Media was created by our TTI to bring more people into Transition through the use of an alternative currency. Timebanking has done more than just that, however. It supports volunteerism in all the on-going projects in which Transition is engaged. It helps to reduce burn-out among the Steering Committee and other volunteers by providing a way for them to get their needs met in areas outside of Transition.
For example, when my family suffered a health-care crisis, with winter looming, dozens of timebankers came to my house to stack the eight cords of wood my family needed put away before winter. All of my committee-earned hours helped me and my family in a very tangible, important way. Timebanking also creates a small, stable, but necessary, flow of dollars (through membership fees) to pay for things like fliers and film-rental fees, web-hosting and office supplies. These are real costs with which every TTI has had to contend.
With two-hundred members, Timebank Media has in its three years helped to create a web of support under our community and a tangible honoring of all the work done by so many, work that is largely invisible in the traditional economy. As one of our members, Donna Cusano, relates: “Little did I know that this simple act of exchanging my time for “Time Dollars” would provide a life-affirming shift.”
Timebanking necessitates an hour-to-hour exchange that excludes most “things.” Sadly, however, there are lots of people who need things...and lots of people with extra things. Transition Town Media has created several different initiatives to solve those problem in addition to the FreeMarket mentioned above.
The first and most impactful has been our Facebook “Swap” group. It is a hyper-local group devoted to keeping things out of landfills. Do you have something you no longer need? Post it and give it away. You will always have takers in a group with 800+ members (in a town of 5500). If you need something, ask. It will be at your doorstep within the afternoon. Usually this is done for free, although sometimes things are sold as well. What makes this group different from groups like “Craigslist,” is that it is a) local to our town, b) usually everyone is known to each other or you know people in common.
You can look that up on FB and explore the connections you have with people in advance of meeting them, c) your generosity is visible to everyone, and that counts a great deal when you are establishing a gift economy based on trust, engagement, and generosity. And finally, d) you get 800 people doing the work of Transition without even knowing they are doing it. So subversive!
Our TTI also tries to scale these initiatives. The swap group is community-wide, but we also hold intimate gatherings called “gift circles” every so often. Thirty or forty people gather, share a meal, and then sit in a circle and ask of the group for something they need, and offer up something they have. At the end of the evening, everyone makes new friends and sees first-hand the effects of giving and receiving on the people around them.
Our newest gift-based initiative is going to open in June of 2014. Transition Town Media has been offered a very visible, “main street” space to create a “FreeStore.” We envision it as an extension of the Swap group and the FreeMarket. This store will take in all manner of free items, donated to us by the community, and make them available at regular hours to anyone who might be in need. You do not have to give to receive.
We are hopeful that this space will become an epicenter for our sharing community in Media, with gathering space, free books, comfortable chairs, food to share, and information about community events and larger items (like furniture) that are also available in people's homes. This space will also serve as Transition Town Media's first office space as well. It is being funded by grants (like one we just got from Shareable, making us part of their Sharing Cities initiative) and private donations from our Transition community and other interested community members. It will be staffed by Timebank Media volunteers.
Transition Town Media sees that some of its mission is to puncture the cynicism that surrounds creating real, lasting social change at the local level. There are critics of the effectiveness of localism everywhere, it seems. We feel, however, that if we can joyfully provide, without a catch, for all members of our community and serve their well-being through gift economics, the paralysis of cynicism might give way to the empowerment and agency needed to create this more beautiful world for which we, as Transition initiatives everywhere, are striving. If we give people the experience that the world is a little better than they think it is, a little more giving, a little more just, what else might be possible?
Here is a great story from Derbyshire. Whistlewood Common Limited, the locally-owned cooperative set up by Melbourne Area Transition, has been celebrating its purchase of almost 10 acres of land near Melbourne. The society’s inaugural event – a “woollies and wellies” party on the land on 2 November included a bring and share lunch, a unique “beating of the bounds” ceremony involving both young and old, and the planting of the first tree.
Whistlewood, a not-for-profit community enterprise, was set up to purchase land on Melbourne Common. The land bought by the group was last held in community ownership before 1791! The group quickly attracted grant funding from The National Forest Company, but still needed to raise a further £50,000 to meet the asking price for the land which was on the open market, and establish a credible plan to manage it.
Within just 16 weeks the group had formed an Industrial & Provident Society (IPS) (a type of co-operative), to hold the land and raised sufficient funds to put in a successful bid for its purchase.
Whistlewood now has nearly 150 members drawn from or with links to Melbourne. This group of individuals and community organisations with an interest in resilient and sustainable local enterprise, will now determine what happens next. Amongst ideas already put forward are orchards, wildlife areas, a food forest, an outdoor kitchen, a celebration space and camping for local youth groups.
I particularly loved the page on the group's website that read "So many of the projects that we “dreamed” about two years ago when we first started are now fully up and running". Whistlewood Common Limited is no doubt one of them.
Every now and then a funding opportunity comes along which looks ideal to Transition groups, or at least to one aspect of their work. We were excited to see the other day that the A Team Foundation, Funding Enlightened Agriculture (FEA) and Buzzbnk have come together to create a funding solution which will enable food and farming projects to get the funds and support they need to move forward.
If you feel that your project might qualify, and this looks like just the kind of enlightened funding you've been looking around for, find out more about it, and how to apply, on the Bzzbnk site page.
They are looking for projects in the following areas of agriculture:
They aim to support small enterprises that are in line with the principle of Enlightened Agriculture which is that: “Farming, horticulture and food distribution be expressly designed to provide everyone everywhere with food of the highest quality, nutritionally and gastronomically, without wrecking the rest of the world”. The basic approach is that of “agro-ecology”.
If you feel that your project might qualify, and this looks like just the kind of enlightened funding you've been looking around for, find out more about it, and how to apply, on the Bzzbnk site page.
Established organisations as well as new enterprises and new entrants to the field will be considered. Do let us know how you get on.
Here at Transition Network, we are always on the lookout for innovative tools for enhancing local economies, so here's a fascinating initiative underway in Dorking in Surrey. Mary Portas, 'Mary Queen of Shops' and creator of the recent 'Portas Review', visited the town recently, guest of Transition Dorking, as part of the build up to the launch, this Saturday, or their 'Golden Ticket' promotion. It's an inspired idea for boosting the local economy in the run-up to Christmas, encouraging people to get behind the town's independent traders, an approach that could be adopted in many other places.
If the words 'Golden Ticket' bring to mind Wonka-esque unwrapping of chocolate bars, think again. Transition Dorking describe the scheme like this:
The Dorking Golden Ticket event is based on a very simple model. All participating shops are invited to choose a minimum spend and a prize for the day. At the close of business on the 9th November all participating shops will draw their one golden ticket and a winner will be chosen. Transition Dorking will publish the winners on this website and the Dorking Advertiser will also carry the information.
I spoke to Sally Elias, who is one of the key drivers for the initiative, who told me that initially one of the key discussions the group had had was around whether or not they should be promoting consumption and consumerism. She told me:
"Although Transition does not promote consumerism as such, we are acutely aware of the fragility of many of our local independent businesses. Many of them tell us that without a boost this Christmas they may not be here next Christmas. As a Transition initiative we strongly see the importance of supporting our local economies. People often feel they need to leave Dorking to do their Christmas shop, assuming that some key things they need they won't be able to get in the town. What we're saying is "Try Dorking First", have a lot of fun while doing it and support your local traders".
The Golden Ticket has proved a dynamic tool for inspiring great creativity in the town. Traders have been asked to offer a "prize that money can't buy", something imaginative and playful. One barber, who also makes short films, is offering the opportunity to cut his hair, and also to appear in one of his films.
A furniture repairer is offering either a few hours of his time or to teach people some of his skills so they can do it themselves. You can see the other prizes being offered by other traders on the Golden Ticket Facebook page. The local Council have even agreed to waive the parking charges in the town for the day! For Sally, seeing this depth of enthusiasm for the project has exceeded expectations:
"What it has really brought home to me has been hearing how much people love this place. It is different, it is distinctive, and that matters to people. Once people understood the idea and the word got out there, it's been amazing to see the reaction, the degree of support, and the creativity that has been unleashed".
Currently 40 businesses are signed up to take part, more joining every day. This weekend's event will be launched by local MP Sir Paul Beresford, who will be going walkabout and doing his Christmas shopping in the town. When asked for her advice for other Transition initiatives who might like to do something similar, Sally's advice was to just go for it:
"We deliberately designed this to be as simple as possible. We wanted something that didn't take 40 minutes to explain, that people could quickly grasp and could see the advantage of. If anyone anywhere else wants to do this I can only recommend it, it has been an amazing experience, and also a great way to build connections and contacts across the town".
The REconomy Project is running a training soon on how to do an Economic Evaluation for your community.
We've written before here about Economic Blueprints/Evaluations, and their potential for really refocusing on the possibilities of a more resilient and local economy.
REconomy's Fiona Ward takes up the story:
If you don’t know what we mean by an Economic Evaluation (sometimes called an Economic Blueprint), then we suggest you read this first. If you know what it is, and you think you want to do one for your own place, then we have developed an online course that can help you.
A successful EE process will help you do the following things:
The webinar will be delivered by Jay Tompt (EE course co-ordinator) and Fiona Ward (REconomy project manager).
Several Transition Initiatives have already conducted an Economic Evaluation activity (called an Economic Blueprint in some places), and more are in the process of doing so. It’s early days, but so far the results have been very positive, and we’re learning quite a lot from this experience as well.
We are seeing growing interest from TIs around the world who want to do their own Economic Evaluation (EE). So we have assembled the processes, experiences and learnings into a course that provides support and training to TIs (and similar community groups) who want to do their own EE.
This course is designed to support a small number of TIs (called the cohort) as they actually do the local Economic Evaluation work in their own community. Most of the work is self-directed activity over roughly a 6 month period (though the best timing is still being established).
The participants attend monthly skype sessions with the cohort and those with experience of doing an EE, and support each other. One on one support from those with experience is also available, and a step-by-step handbook is provided with examples and templates. Each cohort then becomes part of a growing network of local REconomy change-makers.
Here’s an overview of the course. It’s currently in its pilot phase, and we hope to launch the first public course in Q1 or Q2 of 2014.
Transition is based on community-led change. The EE process is designed to be facilitated by a community group such as a Transition Initiative, and other community groups with similar aims are welcome to apply. It is not suitable for an individual.
We strongly suggest that your group should have sufficient funding in place to undertake the Economic Evaluation process. This includes a small contribution towards the costs of the course. It can take at least 3-6 months to raise funding. The first 3 TIs to do an EE each had a budget that covered around 75 days worth of effort, plus some costs – roughly £10,000-£15,000 depending on your day rates. We don’t feel it’s viable to run this process based on volunteer effort alone.
Ideally, you have some existing relationships with key organisations in your community, and some track record of catalysing change there.
These conditions will help ensure your EE is as successful as possible – but if you don’t have these things yet, don’t worry! We are planning ways we can help you build your capacity, for example, to help you gain the skills you need to fundraise, or to build partnerships. You might need to do some of this capacity building work before you undertake an EE.
Transition Italy recently held the first gathering of Transitioners from across the country, to celebrate 5 years since Transition first arrived on those shores. We are very grateful to Deborah Rim Moiso for sending us the following report of the event:
About a hundred Transitioners and their friends assembled in Passignano on September 20-21-22, up in the oak-covered hills above Lake Trasimeno in Umbria, Central Italy, to celebrate 5 years’ activities of Transition Italy, our national hub, in a three day “Transition Fest” aimed to empower and strengthen the national web of initiatives… as well as to have a lot of fun!
The 2013 “Transition Fest”, the first such gathering in Italy, was designed through an online Dragon Dreaming process (for more on Dragon Dreaming, see here, the design method created by John Croft and his team to integrate planning, dreaming, acting and celebrating in a single flowing web. Pierre Houben, from Transition Ferrara, was the initiator of the group:
“Once the partying was over, I really wanted to thank everyone for their help in making my dream come true… but I was at loss for words. How do you talk about a dream which is collective, whereby everyone came together to make everybody’s dream a reality?”
Together with Deborah Rim Moiso, from the national hub and trainers team, Pierre assembled a team: Manuela Trovato, of the Sicilian Permaculture Group, is from the deepest South, and brought inclusion issues and great ideas on how to facilitate participation from the far-flung corners of the nation. Valentina Bortolussi, with her Porto di Transizione group clustered in the vicinity of Venice, was the Inner Transition voice for the team. Participating, she says, strengthened her resolve to work with other groups with a focus on the inner dimension of the “Great Turning”. Federico Carocci, from the nearby Transition Trevi steering group, lent a hand with local affairs.
First things first, a place was chosen, the unspeakably beautiful environmental education centre Panta Rei, with its view over the lake, wood and cob architecture, fantastic cuisine accommodating all tastes, flexible room use, guaranteed sunshine (seriously!!) and even tree houses! If you need a venue for a gathering in the Mediterranean countries, look no further!
Feedback forms distributed at the end of the event confirmed our suspicions: Transitioners love to do things themselves, and the best thing you (as facilitators) can do is clear the space, set the boundaries, and let the fun begin. Activities offered by participants as “giveaways” to this temporary community included circle dancing and meditation in the morning, building board games to explain systems thinking, workshops on non violent communication and facilitation, and even a huge Mandala made of coloured salt which we then all danced on to return the colours to the Earth (and to most everything we stepped
on for the rest of the day).
Whole-group activities (and this was a BIG group!) included daily opening and closing circles, music around the fire in the evening, a “Marketplace of possibilities” morning dedicated to networking, and an amazing evening of “Pecha Kutcha” presentations from all over. We really recommend this format, which ensured the flow of the evening was fast-paced, never boring, and helped everyone keep their presentations to the point. It certainly facilitates fun and laughter. Perhaps a time for discussion and reflection could have been incorporated afterwards (in this case, it got late at night and we all went to bed in our wonderful wooden cots decorated with willow branches).
Much good use was made of the space, with participants encouraged to decorate, hanging up posters and flyers from these past 5 years in Transition, trading clothes, seeds, books and useful material such as the brilliant Transition Cards (which in Italy we’ve taken to calling “The Transition Tarot: it can’t really tell you the future of your initiative… or can it?”).
A Press Office team was assembled for the occasion, with the mission of gathering photos and videos of the event and getting the press interested (we had journalists buzzing around… and getting involved as well). Their work, by the way, was also enabled by the Transition Network through dedicated funding for this event, so thank you all (Filipa, Ben, that’s you!).
Looking for a way to put all this in words, I turn to systems thinking: each element of the net is strengthened in opening itself to others. In such a gathering, so much information was exchanged, and so many hugs, smiles, encouragement and laughter, that we emerged really sensing how much stronger our Italian web had become as an outcome. In the words of Roberto Salustri, a participant and core member of the Castelli Romani Transition group:
“It so happens when we come back from a meeting related to practical ecology that we feel accomplishment and we’ve learned something new, but this time I’ve come back home really happy! Happy because I was there and I was able to participate in working groups, I met new people and I found again old friends. Happy for not always beeing “in agreement” with everything but with the absolute certainty we could look for a solution in order to find common ground. Happy about talking and discussing with so many people allowing me to learn about new experiences! Happy because dreams can come true and we have begun to do so and because there are millions of people who are already doing it. I felt invincibile not as a person but as something greater than the individual, something that lasts, something that was already there and there will always be as long as there will be the humanity. The Blessed Unrest that will save the world. I’m glad I spent three days with great people, the same people I see every day, but I was able to know in the most positive way. Leaving was really sad because I was waving friends but at the same time I was happy because surely we will meet again. May be I will not see the better world that I’ve helped to create but I’ll be happy anyway! A hug to everyone, those who were there, those who could not come and to those in the future. See you soon, Roberto”
Lastly, here are some rather fetching portraits of some of the people who came...