Transition Culture

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

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18 Sep 2008

Bristol Meeting about the Transition Network Structure Document

Here are the Minutes from the recent Transition Network Structure Document Strategy Day at the Full Moon in Bristol.  The day was the last round of the discussion on this key document, and it was very productive.  The final version is now in preparation and will be available soon.  This has been a fascinating process, one which has involved many peoples’ comments and input.  When the final document emerges (as it will soon) It will be very useful, and I look forward to its regular revision, keeping it fresh and up to date.  Thanks to everyone who made it to Bristol and to everyone who contributed to the Transition Chat on the subject a couple of days prior to that.


Chair: Peter Lipman, Transition Network Present: Rob Hopkins, (Transition Network), Gary Alexander (TT Diss), Finn (TT Farnham), Simone Osborn (TT Bristol & BS3), Kristin Sponsler (TT Bristol & BS3), Paul Baker (TT Bristol initiating group), Audaye (TT Exeter), Inez Ponte (TT Bristol), Ciaran Mundy (TT Bristol)


  • Review
  • Transition Network Purpose (a draft)
  • Membership
  • Criteria
  • Transition International
  • Principles
  • Next Steps

Review Objectives

  • to come up with a working draft that is key to Transition Network, the organization, and the wider Transition Network community, to be revisited in a couple of years.
  • to cut down the length to a third of the size
  • to take a decision back to the trustees on membership

Questions Raised

  • Who is the document aimed at?
  • What’s the problem we’re solving?

Background (Peter & Rob)

  • TN grew so fast & we are trying to keep up and keep coherence. Questions were raised at the 08 conference in Cirencester around accountability, legitimacy and inclusivity.
  • April 08 saw the first Strategy Day (in Bristol) with the aim of looking at purpose.

An ACTION arose –for Peter and Rob to write a draft. This draft was looked by a small group of interested people and then put on transition culture and the forum for wider consultation. A second draft was then written, which is the current document.

  • Monday 8th Sept saw the first transition chat which involved a long discussion with useful but often contradictory views and lots of input, and the need for this to be a working document for a year.
  • This document needs to be meaningful & useful so that anyone thinking about transition can understand the structure (from a muller in Peru to the press). Ie/can we explain what we are in worldwide context.
  • We are a self appointed group but would like to be representative and inclusive. How can we hear what people need and support them?
  • A need for coherence without it becoming a straitjacket
  • At the moment we don’t have the resources – do we grow or do we become self organizing? (A question transition cities also ask)
  • Models already out there – AA, the Landless Movement, Via Campesina, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth – each use different organizing structures

2. Purpose & Vision

2.1 Purpose Aim

  • to look at the purpose of the Transition Movement. The role of Transition Network Ltd is to facilitate that purpose.

Starting premise

The twin drivers are peak oil and climate change.

  • Monday Chat brought about much discussion re this premise – does it need to be wider? A need to define this today.

A discussion followed where various questions were raised: -what does it mean to be a movement? -what does a statement of purpose need to achieve? -who is the statement aimed at? – is it primarily to be spoken or written down?

  • a statement of purpose needs to grab attention, be punchy and succinct (aka chaodic principles)
  • a need for simplicity/ is it necessary to add more to the twin drivers? Transition as Trojan horse; there is an implicit understanding of deeper issues underlying the two drivers. Oil equates to work, Climate equates to love
  • structure often thought of as Top Down but does it have to be that way? The appeal is community based but actually autocratic (in that small groups initiate) the challenge is how to engage the community
  • needs to be inspiring and enabling, promote positive thinking and be empowering, not too prescriptive, open and allowing creativity

key words: resilience, inspirational, equity, the concept of well being & definitions tried out: “A sustainable society worth living in” “a community response to…peak oil and climate change” “a catalyst to community led response to peak oil and climate change, by improving cohesion and resilience and quality of life”

The statement unanimously agreed on came from Peter: “to support community-led responses to climate change and peak oil, building resilience and happiness”

2.2 Vision (or snapshot) A discussion around this raised the following points:

  • How long should this section be? Importance of impact of first few lines in getting someone to read on.
  • Style –inclusion of bullet points, pictures.
  • Getting clarity around the difference between a picture (snapshot), a vision, a mission statement, the interactive visioning process, as used in TT training (& a suggestion to set up a Transition Tales forum to involve people in the visioning process.)
  • Is the purpose of this section of the structure document to :

– Be visionary? – Define core values? – Describe how we get there? ACTION – Gary volunteered to draft this working from section 8 (pages 23-25) and e mail it round for feedback.

3. Membership Background (Rob & Peter)

  • The need for accountability: arose from comments at the conference about need for self organizing.
  • Mike Grenville (TT Lewes) sending a questionnaire around regarding an online newsletter “Transition Times”, which TN can put some money into. TN doesn’t have (time) resources to produce this.
  • Trustees of TN Ltd are self appointed predominantly white, middle class males (2 women)

Objectives -to ensure Transition Network Ltd is accountable to the wider Transition Network

Questions Raised & Suggestions

  • How can we sustain membership? Can people subscribe to the online magazine – say £10 a year? What are the set up implications? Drain on human resources?
  • How would a members’ voting system work? 1 vote each (but TI have differing sizes of population…) Voting equates to control and power. TN is about empowerment
  • Who would the members be? People/neighbourhoods? Is it UK based or global, how do we decide?

i. The felt need from the trustees to be participatory and inclusive, Use feedback loops. Transparency more important than voting – it’s more inclusive. ii. & the need for accountability & branding. How widespread is that view? ( in response to conference feedback) If a self organizing group is being effective why question it?

  • Are we a hierarchical committee? The point of structure is to safeguard against power over. Structure can equally be used to oust people. A need to trust the wider Transition community to notice incipient signs, if they occur.
  • Have a set of principles that TN Ltd follow. It’s on the way (Peter & Sophy working on it)
  • The need for more volunteers to make a commitment – membership would help formalise their identity (a collaborative society needs a sense of identity) v. Increase in core costs. Question of manage the process v self organise?
  • If you create members you also create non-members + reference to Clay Shirky’s example of the 80/20 split (see presentation at )

Analogy made – a drop of rain on a window picking up similar drops and getting bigger*. Inspire through action.

  • How do we reach those who have never heard of transition? Not everyone who acts in a transition type way is necessarily involved in the Transition Movement and doesn’t need to be
  • Sense of inclusion can be fostered by subscribing to the newsletter, the website, the next edition of the handbook, the film making, all of which are collaborative projects, so no need to formalise membership?
  • Example scenario if BNP set up a transition initiative what would happen?  Transition has a culture; a way of doing and being, a social dynamic implicit to it; this wouldn’t happen.
  • Creating structure doesn’t solve problems. It lulls us into a sense that everything is OK; we are not accustomed to being self organized; it’s unfamiliar therefore unknown, we are learning (new skills) all the time and finding new ways to involve ourselves in the world in which we live. Formal membership won’t help us.
  • Transition Network Ltd attempts to balance Top Down and Bottom Up approaches. It’s not the structure, but the process that is important; the structure will follow.


No membership required for now. Raindrop* model seen as useful. Keep under review. Continue the transparency and inclusivity policy so that wider Transition network community can feedback and inform board if not felt to be serving the whole. Trust the trustees, and trust the wider network to recognise signs of inappropriate power over and raise it as an issue.

4. Principles


Review the principles outlined on pages 9-11 of the structure document.


  • Add a verb to each statement; principles should help me wherever I am
  • Our principles are about moving from passive to active

NB some points were minor editing ones (eg changing a “but” for an “and”) and not recorded here.

  1. OK
  2. OK (question over use of “good” as best choice of vocabulary)
  3. Ok but refer to comments on forum re “usual suspects” & “new stories & myth” posted by Marcus Perrin TT Chepstow.
  4. Some discussion about whether this is a part of 2
  5. Is this a purpose rather than a principle? Needs more explanation.
  6. Is it similar to 9?
  7. Not happy with word “subsidiarity”. Some thought that it is also like 2
  8. Suggestion to change to “Openness to feedback and learning”
  9. See 6

5. Criteria


This refers to the process that all Transition Initiatives have worked/are working through. Do we want it to be this way, or self selective? Most of the points are not so much criteria as helpful tips. Many like the criteria and the sense of having progressed through something, but not all. Discussion – main points raised

  • What is the function of the criteria? Valuable, something to work through
  • What has been the objection to them? They are Top Down and self organizing groups should be able to get on with it themselves
  • Why not refer to then as guidelines or “First Steps”? This is less prescriptive and more supportive and still helps define an identity. They could be reworded as “If you do …” type statements
  • It’s the process that is important, and without something to follow the idea of Transition could be devalued.

This discussion led straight into the next agenda item:

6. International Background In the case of international hubs TN Ltd handholds for the first 4 or 5 steps and then pass it on and we do say “no” if people are not thinking in the same way (see MoU in the appendix)

Discussion – main points raised

  • What comes first; wait for the drive and interest, or setting up a network? Different models seem to be emerging:

-where there is a distinct culture –eg Japan, where the primer gets translated first – because of funding opportunities eg in Scotland the Scottish Executive funded TIs across the country – by bioregions (a natural geographic region where a sense of place might be strong) – because of political geography

  • Should the goal of TN be to organize by bioregion, or to allow things to flow naturally? The real question is can the area defined be sustainable as an entity?

7. Next Steps Actions:

  • Rob and Peter to produce a more concise document in light of discussions today. This will be the working document in use for next year or until we need to revisit it.
  • Minutes to go on forum (Steph will have minutes ready by mid next week)
  • Peter to produce 1 side of A4 concise notes from minutes to go on forum (mid following week)
  • Rob to put link on front page of wiki flagging up what’s new.

Thanks to Steph for taking these minutes….

Categories: Transition Network

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


Kamil Pachalko
18 Sep 7:45am

Thanks for all the hard work ladies and gentlemen:)

I like the focus on trust within Transition Movement and wonder if my own nagging thoughts on putting some regulatory measures into the Movement to prevent the spread of unwanted ideas isn’t just a sign of my own despair and lack of trust which I developed looking more critically at politics, business and societies passiveness to the problems it is facing.

I think Fukuyama wrote quite a bit on trust as social capital which allows a group to minimize organizational costs. With trust you don’t need costly monitoring of the others work as you share a common ideal and vision.
From the IMF:)

This seems to work on this stage of transition but I wonder what will happen if we move on and spread ourselves over a bigger population. Or when the society gets into a crisis and will try to tap on our knowledge massively will be able to keep the vision and coherence?

Well again… I think I’ll just work on developing trust. And I trust you ladies and gentlemen but will still keep an eye on you:)

John Marshall
18 Sep 3:33pm

We have a shared vision and Peter’s statement sums it up well. Climate change and peak oil point to the need for change over time. An organic structure together with the trust that this infers is paramount in dealing with the need to respond to changing circumstances. We should avoid developing unnecessary inertia.

Jude English
19 Sep 11:04am

I feel there may be a useful structure already in existence that seems to offer a well tested model for Transition, that is the co-operative movement.
As a member I agree to certain principles and trust that when I deal with a fellow co-operator or co-operative business we share a common goal. This movement operates through social and community business with training and support, has its own political wing and is international in scope.
Is it time for Transition Co-operatives -which of course can take many forms.

Sylvia Rose
20 Sep 8:55pm

Thinking about structures for the Transition movement, I think it’s important (for both practical and principled reasons) to keep them as horizontal as possible, allowing for both autonomy for individual groups and for clear communication between groups. One way to promote autonomy while keeping the ‘brand’ consistent is to have a very clear and comprehensive statement of values and principles, which details not only the core concerns ie energy descent, etc, but also all the values which we probably take for granted as understood, ie issues of equality, valuing diversity, social justice, balancing personal autonomy with social responsibility etc. It would then be very clear that the movement was entitled to disenfranchise any potential Transition BNP groups and suchlike.

One example of how this has worked in practice is the Reclaiming tradition, an Earth-based spirituality movement founded by Starhawk and others, which has grown from a single coven to a worldwide network of autonomous individuals and groups, all (reasonably) united by ascribing to the same ‘Principles of Unity’:

Incidentally, they also work to a strong and successful model of consensus decision making, without recourse for voting. All such models have their flaws, but in my experience, any time that it costs in taking longer to make decisions is more than repaid afterwards by everyone’s much greater committment to enacting those decisions. And it gives a much clearer committment to ‘bottom up’ empowerment, which is surely what Transitioning needs to be all about.

lucy neal
21 Sep 9:36pm

Keeping Peak Oil and Climate Change as the 2 main challenges feels essential. This duality (and oscillation v the 2) feels like the bit of grit in the TT oyster shell. Everything else can be (will be) complicated – keep this simple.