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Transition Towns, grassroots community groups and transformative change. Uschi Bay BSW, MSW, PhD Monash University Melbourne Australia u Transition towns –grassroots movement. Transition Towns, grassroots community groups and transformative change.

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transition towns grassroots community groups and transformative change
Transition Towns, grassroots community groups and transformative change
  • Uschi Bay BSW, MSW, PhD
  • Monash University
  • Melbourne
  • Australia
transition towns grassroots community groups and transformative change1
Transition Towns, grassroots community groups and transformative change
  • Overview of presentation
  • What is the Transition Town Movement?
  • What are the 7 principles underpinning the Transition Town Movement?
  • Contend that social change occurs at three levels
  • Outline 12 steps for becoming an official Transition Town
  • Outline of my research project
  • Introduction to case study site 1
  • Some preliminary findings from TT 1- leadership, vision and governance
  • Indication of some of the strategies, successes and future challenges
transition towns grassroots community groups and transformative change2
Transition Towns, grassroots community groups and transformative change
  • Transition Towns are aiming to address the biggest problems facing the world in the 21st Century: Peak Oil and Climate Change
  • through mobilising ‘community actions and foster[ing] public empowerment and engagement around climate change, with the objective of catalysing a transition to a low carbon economy ( Seyfang 2009, p. 2)
  • The motto of the Monash University social work department is: “ workers leading socially sustainable change”
  • For this reason I seek to engage with new social movements and their change processes to research what facilitates “ordinary” people in communities to design and direct their own destinies- reducing carbon emissions, adapting to climate change challenges and to innovate strategically in preparation for a future with less available oil.
what is the transition town movement
What is the transition town movement?
  • Transition Town’s movement purpose is to:
  • “… support community-led responses to peak oil and climate change, building resilience and happiness” (Hopkins & Lipman 2009, p.7).
  • There are over 350 official Transition Towns worldwide in the UK, Australia(42), Sweden (25), Canada, Chile, Germany, Holland, Japan, New Zealand and United States and many more “mullers”(Transition Network 2012).
  • There are national hubs in Sweden, New Zealand, Scotland, United States and Italy.
  • Originally seen as an environmental movement – now more as seeking a shift in culture (Hopkins 2011).
the 7 principles of transition
The 7 Principles of Transition
  • “1. Positive Visioning – (not against current wrongs but for change)
  • 2. Help People Access Good Information and Trust Them to Make Good Decisions ( empower all people to make changes in their daily lives)
  • 3. Inclusion and Openness (no room for “us and them”)
  • 4. Enable Sharing and Networking (build up collective body of experience)
  • 5. Build Resilience (food, economics, energy, water and so on)
  • 6. Inner and Outer Transition (learning to support each other- not wait for permission, follow one’s passions)
  • 7. Subsidiarity: self-organisation and decision making at the appropriate level” ( turning problems into solutions)(Hopkins & Lipman 2009, pp. 7-8).
social change occurs at three levels
Social change occurs at three levels
  • ‘1) Structural level – control over resources and power
  • 2) ideational level- where participants come to understand their interdependence, mutuality, reciprocity and compassion
  • 3) Level of skill- participating in articulating concerns, identify needs and become active agents in their own destiny’ ( Kenny 2001, p 6).
  • The Transition town movement operates at all of these three levels by developing people’s skills in communication, group facilitation, understanding of social, political and economic systems,in undertaking research- exploring subjugated knowledges, finding creative, flexible and practical solutions to problems, respecting and taking a holistic view of individuals, families, groups and communities.
to become an official transition town
To become an official transition town

1) to set up a steering group (and design its demise during the outset)

2) awareness raising – by building essential networks and preparing the community for the launch of a transition initiative.

3) Lay foundations by developing networks with already existing groups.

4) Organise a great unleashing- a way of launching the initiative in the community.

5) Form relevant sub groups- these may deal with food, seed saving, transport, solar or wind power, permaculture and so on.

6) Use open space technology for running meetings.

7) Develop a visible practical manifestation of the project in the community, for instance food boxes, swap stuff markets.

to become an official transition town1
To become an official transition town
  • 8) Facilitate the great re-skilling- solve problems and achieve practical results and work collaboratively alongside people.
  • 9) Build a bridge to local government to progress an energy descent plan.
  • 10) Honour the elders and also acknowledge that they have lived a more frugal life not based so heavily on the use of oil.
  • 11) Let it go where it wants to go- not try to hold on to a rigid plan.
  • 12) Create an energy descent plan, each sub-group focuses on practical actions to increase community resilience and reduce the carbon footprint (Transition Network, 2011).
research project
Research project
  • How can grassroots community groups enable socially and ecologically sustainable ways of living?
    • How does TT movement address Peak Oil and Climate Change?
    • What governance processes are used?
    • What are the gender relations in the movement?
    • What are the practical strategies developed by the movement?
    • What are the outcomes that promote ecological and sustainable living?

Theoretical approach informed by critical social theory, ecological systems theory and post-structural concepts that focus specifically on: practices (such as technologies of self), relations between power and knowledge, ethical subjectivities and storytelling

Method- 14 Australian TT sites-participant interviews, document content analysis, observation of hub and sub-group meetings, participant observation of events and workshops.

case study site 1
Case study site 1
  • This Transition Town initiative grew out of the Climate Change Action group and was sparked by a number of events like the showing of the film ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ by Al Gore in the local Hall (2007).
  • Interested people decided they wished to take a broader perspective rather than just focus on Climate Change and found the transition town approach fitted more with their community change goals (2008).
  • Information on transition towns was found on the internet. The case study town has official Transition Town status (since the beginning of June 2008) and two of its founding members attended Transition Town training in the United Kingdom.
  • The Transition Network trainers from the United Kingdome presented to at least 60 people for a day in this case study town (TT 1). This training is considered to have properly launched the transition initiative in 2009.
case study site 11
Case study site 1
  • The transition initiative hub or organising committee comprises of about 12 regular members - 6 women and 6 men (all interviewed September 2011) .
  • The roles of group facilitators, note-takers and taken the lead on many of the actual transition projects, like getting solar power on local resident’s houses, setting up a successful seed saving group, and facilitating community consultations for the local Council and networking with other related groups were taken on primarily by the women.
  • The roles of Treasurer, web designer and web linker, archivist and newsletter distributer, linking into local business organisations, linking into the local Council’s water catchment management and leading the local River Festival are roles currently predominantly taken up by the men in the group.
vision of social and ecological change
Vision of social and ecological change

The idea is to “build resilience through building relationships and increasing local skills” (Interviewee 1.11).

“To communicate a message to the community that it is affordable to live sustainably and in a healthy way – and believe that we can do it. To model it and to have sustainable living more culturally accepted and not imposed” (Interviewee 1.10).

“We need to localise … and get the community back involved” (Interviewee 1.9b).

“It’s about doing positive things for the community and educating to give people trust and freedom and flexibility…generally people involved in things that way then they’re more likely to be productive and helpful than trying to tell people what to do” (Interviewee 1.8).

women s perspective on their work in tt 1
Women’s perspective on their work in TT 1
  • The women linked their vision of change to spiritual aspects, like love, consciousness shifting and caring for the people involved (the community) in a social ecological way.
  • Some of the women were involved in the social ecology course at Western Sydney University and are familiar with Joanna Macy’s (2005) approach to relating to the planet, other people and to one self.
  • The women articulated that the change process starts with working at the grassroots level and then if Council wants to come on board the power relations are on a more equal footing.
  • The intent is to be radical in a non-radical way.
  • It is a form of eco-spiritual work for some of the women members (Interviewees 1.4, 1.1, 1.3, 1.5, 1.9a). The idea is “to change attitudes or challenge attitudes and to seed self-sustaining projects like the seed savers group” (Interviewee 1.5).
governance self organising groups
Governance – self organising groups
  • TT 1 hub male members were impressed with the group’s ‘preparedness to sit down’ and talk things through… ‘different to what I know and was expecting’ (Interviewee 1.10).
  • There is a perception that the transition group is less about power and competitiveness and more about respect and acceptance (Interviewee 1.10).
  • The transition meetings are described as caring, informal, ‘non-hierarchical, consensus based with the core driving backbone being the women’ (male interviewee 1.11).
  • Both men and women members indicated that the highly developed facilitation skills that some of the older women bring to the group through their professional work in community work and professional training adds much to the functioning of the group.
connecting with the community
Connecting with the community

In 2008 focused on strengthening ties with other local community groups

  • -monthly gatherings called ‘Transition Town Cafes’ with various themes including reskilling.

In 2009 two of the skilled women facilitated a Community Visioning Fair with several hundreds of community members and the following four questions were asked:

-What do we need to RECOVER from the past?

-What aspects of life in this town will we REFUSE to bring into the future? -What do we CHERISH and want to ensure continues?

-Is there anything new that we need to CREATE? (Interviewee 1.1)

The local Council then invited this Transition initiative to support their efforts at consulting with the local community around their strategic plan (Interviewee 1.1, 1.4, .1.3, 1.5, 1.10).

strategies for social and ecological sustainability by tt 1
Strategies for social and ecological sustainability by TT 1
  • 1) instrumental in getting the appointment of a part time sustainability officer within the local Council.
  • 2) Being involved on many levels with a broad range of local food initiatives, such as edible streetscapes, formation of a local food network, starting a seed saver group, auspicing a local permaculture group and supporting the two local community gardens.
  • 3) reskilling workshops in sustainable building practices, building solar ovens, constructing composting toilets, making mud-bricks, bee keeping and preserving food.
  • 4) several initiatives focused on reducing consumption of goods such as the Free market, where people bring things they no longer use or want and anyone can take it away free of charge. Transport issues were partially addressed through a carpooling network. Another initiative was to encourage people to self-care through practices like afternoon naps.
the politics of transition towns
The politics of Transition Towns
  • There is some criticism of Transition Towns by particularly neo-Marxists that these initiatives are not engaged in politics or taking a wide enough view beyond the local community (Trapese 2008).
  • The interviews reflected a view on politics that was consistent amongst members, that the transition town initiative is not aligned with any political party, although the Greens expect that the transition initiative should be associated with them.
  • There is consensus that the transition movement is not about doing activist stuff, although many members had been engaged in activism in other arenas in the past.
  • The transition town movement is understood as not being about protesting or being against things, or fighting with other groups. Rather the politics is about inspiring self-organising people to act and carry responsibility for projects that are positive for the community in social and ecologically sustainable ways.
building relationships
Building relationships
  • Building connections between people is considered vital by the TT 1 Hub members.

There was a notion that when climate change and peak oil begin to seriously impact on the community that there will need to be “enough of an underground network of people who have got the confidence of finding other ways of doing things” (Interviewee 1.3). Partly this is to be able to resist conflict over resources and totalitarian ways of reacting to such conflicts.

There is an understanding that all community members in the transition town are interdependent. There was evidence that the group is reaching out to other community groups and to the local Gumbaingiir people, especially the elders in the area.

further challenges
Further Challenges
  • One of the male interviewees stated that the transition town group to some extent was “not inclusive of the unemployed, the poor and the uneducated” (Interviewee 1.11).
  • He also indicated that there is a tendency to put “on events for the wider community rather than building a movement of the wider community” ( Interviewee 1.11).
  • These two points indicate some of the on-going challenges for the transition town movement and for effecting transformative leadership through grassroots groups.
  • Hopkins R & Lipman P 2009 ‘Who we are and what we do’,TransitionNetwork.orgavailable at:, accessed 2 July 2012 (Hopkins & Lipman 2009, p. 5) .
  • accessed 4 July 2012.
  • Hopkins, R 2010 “ Transition- how far can we go? From Oil dependency to Local Resilience’ Transition Network. Org available at:
  • Kenny S 2001 ‘Tensions and dilemmas in community development: New discourses, new Trojans?’, Keynote address at International Community Development conference, Rotorua, New Zealand. Available at:
  • Seyfang, G 2009 ‘ Green Shoots of sustainability: The 2009 UK transition town movement survey’, University of East Anglia: available at: .




JULY 9 – 12 2014