Transition Culture

An Evolving Exploration into the Head, Heart and Hands of Energy Descent

Transition Culture has moved

I no longer blog on this site. You can now find me, my general blogs, and the work I am doing researching my forthcoming book on imagination, on my new blog.

3 Mar 2008

12 Tools for Transition. No.2: The Web of Resilience.

webAt the beginning of any course I teach, and also at events where I need one practical exercise to communicate the Transition concept, I use the following exercise, an adaptation of one I have used for years at the beginning of permaculture courses. I have done this with very diverse groups of people and I have never had it not work; it is always very powerful.

Divide students into groups of no less than 5 (minimum of 6, ideal around 12). If you have any more than that divide them into smaller groups. Get them to stand in as tight a circle as they can, so their shoulders are touching.

Equipment needed;
One large ball of string and one sticker per person in each group (these are large parcel labels that you buy on a roll), with the names of different elements of a native woodland written as visibly as possible on these in advance. Here in
the UK, my list consists of Oak Tree, Soil, Hedgerow, Badger, Worm, Dormouse, Rainfall, Owl, Leaf Litter, Fox, Robin, Wetland, Hazel, Beetle, Fungi, Blackberries, and so on. You can adapt it for the species more appropriate to your

The setting for this exercise is a native woodland ideally do this exercise outdoors, in a woodland, under a large oak tree, but this is not always possible, especially in an evening class – in this case ask people to imagine themselves in a wood).

The stickers are handed round, everyone sticks theirs to the top of their chest. The ball of string is then passed across and around the circle, the only rule being that as you pass the string to someone you must make clear what your relationship is to them.

As the string is passed around you can chip in any extra information you have on woodland ecology that is relevant about relationships between the different elements. After a while you end up with a complex web of string between everybody. When it is finished, get everyone to pull the web tight, and then to put their hands on top of it and see how strong it is. At this stage people feel quite proud of this web they have created, and are rather pleased with themselves.

Once you have the web created you can make the following observations:

“In nature, this web of relationships is inherent in all ecosystems, and it is the diversity of relationships that makes these ecosystems work. These webs are very complex and resilient, but they are also very fragile. We intervene in them at our peril, as we can never really know what effects we are having, as we have insufficient understanding of them. While we have just done this exercise about a woodland, we could just as easily do it about a town, with the butcher, the church, the schools, the farmers and so on. Before cheap oil our communities and our economies depended on these networks of relationships and connections.

Cheap oil gave us the dubious ‘luxury’ of thinking we could live without them. People now often live with no idea who lives next-door to them. What life beyond the peak will need, and what permaculture is about, is rebuilding these connections. Permaculture is about re-weaving this complex web of beneficial relationships. This game is a useful tool for seeing and giving form to what we have thrown away and what cheap oil does for us.”

I then walk around the circle and ask them to note how some people are holding more strings than others.

“These are the key elements of the ecosystem. When we make interventions in this system we do so at our peril. We could be a farmer who decides to clear the oak trees and drain the wetland. We could be the planners in a town with a strong local economy who decide to permit a large out-of-town supermarket. Either way we often don’t see the results of this intervention immediately.

“What happens when we clear the oaks (the person who is the oaks lets go of their strings)? We can see that it doesn’t make much obvious difference. So then we drain the wetland (wetland person lets theirs go). Again, it looks a bit worse but not much.”

Then, using a plausible narrative (“so then the farmer did this, and then that . . .”), get people to let go of their strings one after the other; at a certain point it all collapses. The point to make is that you have no idea of knowing when that happens.

You build the out-of-town supermarket and three years later the high street is deserted. In essence, human beings before cheap oil used good design, and networks of relationships to make things happen. Since cheap oil we have lost all that. We will need to rebuild it.”

For added dramatic effect, you can brandish a pair of scissors and cut the strings! As a way of teaching people about permaculture principles and about how cheap oil has transformed our society, this can be a very powerful exercise.

(Taken from The Transition Handbook: from oil dependence to local resilience, available here).

Comments are now closed on this site, please visit Rob Hopkins' blog at Transition Network to read new posts and take part in discussions.


Ted Barton
3 Mar 2:58pm

How small can one go with a local group?

Ted Barton
3 Mar 3:01pm

Suggestions for a small village &o+ houses, within two miles of large city. Very poor bus service connecting

Lucy Skywalker
4 Mar 8:56am

Rob, 2nd paragraph looks like it has a typo, I think you mean groups of no LESS than five?

But again, great.

4 Mar 9:15am

Ah, well spotted Lucy, well done. There’s always a few that get through unspotted! Thanks. Ted, good questions. You will find some of the answers about sizes of groups and so on in the Transition Primer,which you will findhere.

As regards suggestions, you will need to decide what is the scale over which you can have an influence. Is it being part of the city, is it the village itself, or a collection of villages around you? Then start the 12 Steps process set out in the Primer and in the Transition Handbook and the ideas of what to do will emerge from the community itself. All the best