15 Jan 2007
10 First Steps for a Transition Town Initiative #4. Form Groups.
You can’t do this on your own. Part of the process of developing an Energy Descent Action Plan is that of tapping into the collective genius of the community. One of the most effective ways to do 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.
As organisers of the initiative, you can be quite proactive in getting these groups to form. In Totnes what we did was to design the programme so as to encourage specific groups. For example, to get the Food group going, we first ran an evening event called “Feeding Totnes – past, present and future”, where speakers addressed each aspect of the issue in turn. This drew in many of the people in the town with an interest in food.
This was followed 3 days later by an Open Space Day on food. This explored in depth the possibilities of the relocalisation of food in the Totnes area. From this meeting a number of initiatives emerged, and people came forward to run the food group. We have since used this model to start a few of the other groups.
It may not always be necessary to actually start a new group. Sometimes there may be existing groups in the area who have done lots of work on a particular subject. There may, for example, be strong renewable energy groups, or local food groups. Consider avoiding duplication by going to them and asking if they may like to take on the role of being a Transition Town group, and feed their ideas into the EDP process. We are in the process of doing this with a very strong local transport group.
In TTT, we have set out a collection of guidelines that we ask those considering forming new groups to read through first. They run as follows;
* Each group should have a core of people who steer it, and who meet regularly, but also be open to whoever else wants to come.
* Be continually asking itself “who isn’t here that should be here?”, that is, always being open to exploring new ‘avenues’ by which new people with relevant skills can be drawn into the group.
* Each meeting could invite a “witness”, someone who has expertise in the field in question, who could then be asked for their perspective on the issues, their experience and their ideas for subsequent witnesses.
* The key task of each group is to explore the question, what is a vision for a low energy Totnes in relation to this field, and what might a timetable to that look like? The group is assembling ideas and information that will enable them to put together their section of the Totnes Energy Descent Action Plan.
* Each group will have access to the relevant section of the Transition Town Totnes website, and will also be able to use the TTT logo in its publicity materials. In exchange, it will keep a record of its business on the website, be it as minutes or as notes. TTT can also promote any events through its email bulletin.
* Each group will also be able to use the Wiki website, allowing it to post initial drafts of documents or of its section of the Energy Descent Plan, in such a way that others can edit it online, a powerful collaborative information building tool.
The final thing to say on the question of setting up groups is that you cannot assume that everyone who offers to form and facilitate a group actually has the skills to do so. This became clear after a while here, that it was useful to offer training in facilitation and designing successful meetings to all our group conveners. We organised a day with Andy Langford and Liora Adler of Gaia University on the subject of Designing Productive Meetings. This covered basic tools like go-rounds, Think and Listens and so on, and was extremely useful.
It is also important that these groups meet each other on a monthly basis (at least). In TTT, the facilitators of each group meet on a monthly basis. Each group sends on person to that meeting. We meet and then have lunch together. Designing in as many opportunities for the groups to network and meet each other as possible is very useful.