Hi folks... could really use some help from others' experiences on this one.
I've been a member of Transition Victoria' Initiating Committee since we started about two years ago. During that time, we've held a number of orientations to Transition, a few Open space events, lots of awareness raising events including film screenings and public discussions, formed working groups (through an Open Space event about a year ago), participated in local government consultations on a variety of levels, created a ning website which has over 400 members, maybe 1/4 of which are actually active... in short, we've put in a hell of a lot of time trying to grow a movement locally.
After we formed working groups a year ago, we decided to form a core group as seems to be recommended in the Transition model; we called it the Common Table (CT), and it was supposed to be made up of working group (WG) representatives. The idea was that it would gradually take over the work that was being done by the IC (Initiating Committee). The CT met once a month, and spent the first few months sharing what was going on in our WGs as well as starting to look at some bigger picture issues... then WG sharing got relegated to the website, over one member's objections. At a meeting that I missed in late summer, the group decided to use full consensus for all major decisions (which in my opinion is insane with a group of 20 people...) We had a few new people start coming to the CT this fall, some as rotating WG reps (three from one group were there at one point), one as a facilitator though he wasn't representing a WG (though we later decided to rotate facilitation), one other who just wanted to be there... a few of these newer members have been immediately extremely critical of what they see as undemocratic, oligarchic processes within Transition Victoria. This is a shock to those of us who've been involved all along, because we're not aware of having told anyone else what to do about anything at any point, except recently to suggest that maybe the Common Table should just be for WG reps because it's getting unmanageable. The critics within the group would like to see policy documents outlining exactly how representation of all members takes place, exact specified procedures for all decision making, for introducing new members, a paper trail for reports of WG reps to the Common Table and vice versa, a specified and formalized conflict resolution process... in short, what feels to me like the creation of a hierarchized bureaucracy, all in the name of "process" and democracy. Our last several months of meetings have been so conflictual and unproductive that action has come to a standstill, except for what the Initiating Committee and a few working groups continue to do independently, and those who are concerned about peak oil and climate change (which don't seem to be big priorities for the newer members) and just want to do something are on the verge of quitting. Unfortunately these are also the members who have been most active in actually putting in work to get things done. We've also recently received a substantial grant, which was applied for by an IC member almost a year ago, and now of course there threatens to be controversy of how democratic processes will be applied in administering the grant. This from the same members who are criticizing everything else, of course.
Sorry that background was so long. Here's the question: how have other Transition groups dealt with issues like these? Do you have formal procedures for making decisions within working groups? (Most of our working groups haven't done this though we did offer the suggestion and information about various decision making procedures when the WGs formed.) Do you have core groups that are different from your initiating groups? Are your meetings open to all? Do you keep a paper trail for representation? (So far we leave it up to WGs to decide whether to take meeting notes and post them etc., though we create and post minutes for all IC and CT meetings -- actually I do.) Do your working groups have formalized decision making processes? Do you have formalized procedures for introducing new members?
Sorry, I realize that's a lot, but we're being forced to address all of these issues at once, so any kind of suggestions are welcome. For me, it's bringing out my anarchist side, and making me want to actually de-formalize all of our processes, instead doing what we can to seek out and offer training on communication skills and power sharing, and letting individuals and groups basically do what they want without any claim that anyone is representing anyone else.
Thanks fellow Transitioners!
Tamara in Victoria
This open, ongoing discussion of inclusion on the Transition Massachusetts site pertains to your needs, both in statements of my colleagues and me, and linked resources.
There are discussions of similar quality regarding five more values we chose to highlight. Participants feel much closer than they did prior to the emergence of the creative process.
The concept of complementary team (a team in which strengths are made productive and weaknesses are made irrelevant) may best guide you all. A local economy is an extended complementary team, and it may be that increasing attention to development of yours can take pressures off of the recruiting/planning/designing activities related to someday developments. Having an only game in town indiscriminately crowds people into a small space to which some/many bring only weakness (at this stage...). They have little to offer, but do not want to feel left out. So the twisty, disappointing dynamics set in.
Someday has arrived and will arrive again and again. Help everyone contribute their strengths. Right plant, right place has meaning for humans, too.
I'm happy to say any of this a different way, if that would be helpful.
As I read through the discussion, it seemed to have valuable insights that could help us with diversity, and it is indeed help that we need.
There's something else fundamental that I'm trying to address here, though, that I think is a slightly different issue, and is incredibly urgent for us right now because it's preventing us from moving forward. What do you do when new people join, and want to completely revamp pretty much everything the group has been doing so far, and don't seem to see climate change and peak oil as major priorities. Because we're trying to be inclusive, these people are able to end up participating in our core group, but their very vocal criticism of everything we're doing has brought us to a standstill. It looks to me like personal power issues being played out on a group stage, and they're drawn to Transition precisely because it is relatively inclusive, because they can get in and go right to the centre immediately. When they then frame themselves as victims of our hierarchy, no one wants to be seen as a bully by disputing that version of reality. Has anything similar happened to anyone else? If so, how have you dealt with it?
Also still wondering about the degree of formality that other groups use in their decision making and representation processes.
Thanks!! Look forward to hearing more.
I feel deeply for your predicament, having been in groups ostensibly run by consensus and then stymied by actions of those with personal agendas.
Our experience is exactly the opposite at Transition Westminster/Arvada/Broomfield. Our intitiating committee and core group have essentially worked themselves out of a job. It was our understanding that we were not there to tell any one else what to do. Rather, we were there to facilitate those projects that our members were interested in pursuing. We have the gardens, an intiative to develop green house technologies, film series, community dances, a contemplative hiking program, and relationships with a number of other community organizations, including the Grange, all developed because individual members of our group were interested in pursuing those connections and the other members of the group supporting those efforts.
I think that the difference between bottom up and top down is difficult for people in our culture. No one needs to decide what will happen because change takes place at the level of the individual decision to participate. We can talk all we want about how things "should" be done, but, none of that will happen until someone decides to do it.
I don't know the dynamics of your group but I recommend an effort to change from a decision making body to a facilitating body - find out what people want to do and help them do it.
"There's something else fundamental that I'm trying to address here, though, that I think is a slightly different issue..."
That thought, I believe, is not a helpful one, Tamara. Making the best of diversity is not one thing and becoming a more resilient communtity another thing. They're the two sides of a coin may be helpful here. Real inclusion means that newcomers see adjustments being made because of them, in recognition of their strengths and resources, not wagon-circling for turf protection by the early-comers.
I would have other responses if Transition was a campaign, but it is, finally, the bringing to life of a local economy, which will be all-inclusive. As such, you cannot succeed by being in charge of a limited effort aimed at some victory, however noble. No one will go home and back to normal when finished with Transition. There will not be a finish line! Local economies will be dynamic and continuously changing, not only because energy descent will be their backdrop for decades. The campaign will have been institutionalized as the local economy; help people find/into their new niches as they present themselves.
Thanks for your thoughts, David. I appreciate your desire to offer helpful advice based on your own experiences.
Is it possible that there may be more to our situation than you're aware of? When I read your suggestion that I am trying to defend my turf, win some kind of campaign, and go home and back to normal afterwards, I feel surprised and hurt. None of those things seem in any way like what I'm trying to do, nor are the others in my group. I guess I'd like to request that you find out more about the situation before making that kind of assumption. It's possible (and I think it's the case) that we've actually already bent over backwards to accommodate this particular newcomer for many months (haven't had difficulties with any others, though we have welcomed many new members, invited new ideas and made numerous changes based on their ideas); however she continues to be dissatisfied with pretty much everything, without offering any constructive suggestions or offering to do any of the work. There are some behaviours that I don't think any movement can include without self-destructing.
Are there really no other groups out there who have encountered difficult people of this sort?
I've read through the "difficult people" discussions mentioned, as well as the survey summary, and it's great to be aware that others have encountered difficult people... but I guess every situation's unique. Unfortunately, I'm not getting any clear ideas about how to deal with this one, though I'm very grateful for people's suggestions and empathy.
Thanks to all who've commented, I appreciate the sense of community!
I guess all things become more clear with time... can't control the situation, so will just have to see how it unfolds...
Hi Tamara. Except when I wrote “That thought, I believe, is not a helpful one...”, I employed you in the plural sense; you all, notably IC members. I hope that lessens your hurt, for none was intended. You have been the messenger, should go unharmed.
In your latest note I see there is, indeed, more to the situation than I was aware of. Still wishing to help, I will only question.
It will be wonderful to see others' contributions, but we'd better not hold our breath.
Tamara -- Thank you for bringing your 'situation' to this site. I hope the help is mutual and that we can all learn something from and through the inherent frustration.
The thought that came to mind was in the form of this question: Has anyone from the core group ever met with the person in question one-on-one, listening non-defensively, caring for their position?
Yes, thanks again for those thoughts, David and Judith.
Judith, that idea is one of the first things we decided to try out... so actually I think at least three or four people have met with her separately, one at a time (some at her request, some at theirs), to try to understand what's going on. I don't know if she's felt heard as a result of that process, but I don't think any of them have felt heard by her in return. She wants to meet with me, and I'm struggling with a decision on this -- I don't want to be the one to shut down dialogue, by any means, but at the moment I'm a bit doubtful of my own ability to listen non-defensively, caring for her position. I feel as though I started out that way months ago (listening openly and with curiosity), and after months of feeling unheard and listening to her tell us to stop doing everything we're doing, right now I'm just too emotionally triggered to listen with an open heart, and I don't want to make the situation worse. Hopefully when I find a calmer place to respond from I can meet with her.
David -- thanks, those are good questions. Some I can answer easily, others not so much. I think that each of the 6 remaining members of the IC (2 others have left because they moved or had babies or both) is there because the original intentions for our involvement (mostly to do with wanting to prepare our communities for peak oil and climate change and create some kind of viable, livable low-energy future) are still important to us, and there's a continuing need to do things like organize events, respond to requests to speak on public panels, and develop a community engagement strategy... the latter is a task that the Common Table has identified as a priority but has not been able to spend any time on because the time has all been taken up for months now by this conflict. And yes, we're hoping for complementarity, for sure! Not all differing approaches are complementary, mind you. Sometimes they appear to be destructive... still seeking to find how they're complementary, at least.
The question about thinking in terms of movement rather than organization is an interesting one -- one about which I have some ideas but certainly not a complete response... still a lot of curiosity. We chose not to incorporate as a legal entity partly because we wanted to remain flexible, non-hierarchical, and diverse. We may all be aligned with largely similar goals, but I've felt it important (and have championed this at IC meetings) that we not have a "party line" on any particular local or global issues, other than the broad ideas on which Transition is founded (mentioned above), but that people feel free to speak and act for themselves, receiving support from other members as they feel moved to offer it.
As such, the IC has never imposed any rules on the working groups, other than a request to check in with the Common Table before doing anything illegal, a request not to spend more than $50 at a time from our very small bank account on WG events without checking in with the Common Table, and a suggestion to attempt to adhere to the principles of Transition as Hopkins lays them out. We developed a "Working Groups Primer," in which we laid out the Transition principles, gave some background on various types of decision making processes, and offered some suggestions as to how to get started (developing vision/mission statements and decision making processes... none have done the latter yet but it's okay, that's up to the working groups to decide for themselves; starting small action projects, finding out what others in the community are doing) No one is monitoring or vetoing others' spontaneous participation. This is one reason that I'm so perplexed by our dissident member's complaints... she's talking about hierarchical decision making, but I'm really not aware of any decisions we've made and imposed on members. What we have done is agreed to participate in public panels, hosted discussions, developed a ning website, talked about community engagement approaches, created large Open Space events, set up tables at other groups' events, created a newsletter (a task that was repeatedly offered to CT members but no one's been willing to take it on) etc. etc... in other words, a lot of work, rewarding in itself but with no external payment.
Anyway I'm going on and on. I'm curious -- do others define themselves as organizations? as a "movement"? Do you use consensus decision making, or have formal decision making processes at all? Do you have core groups that are made up of working group representatives? How do you do governance within your own groups?
Thanks so much for participating in this conversation!!
You might want to repose your questions on the listserv operated and maintained by TransitionUS.org, the website of the official US hub. Even though Victoria is not technically part of the US, I think you would be welcome to join the listserv and participate. There are many people on this listserve from initiatives at a variety of levels, and they share their experiences thoughtfully.
Good luck finding a satisfactory solution to your truly difficult problem.
Administrator, Transition Masssachusetts and Member of the Initiating Group for Transition Newburyport
Hi Tamara. Transition US hosted several webinars at the end of 2009 on this topic that I am sure can be helpful.