Transition Culture

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

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20 Sep 2010

Transition as a Pattern Language: ‘Measurement’

So here we go, the first of many patterns for your delectation and delight ….the original pattern can be found in the evolving pattern directory.  To leave comments, suggest examples, criticisms, anecdotes, case studies, projects, essential further reading, or to offer photos you feel better capture the essence of the pattern than the photo I have used, please follow the link and use the comments box (comments have been disabled here so we can gather all the comments in one place).  In case you’re wondering what this is all about, there is an explanation with links here. They are not being posted in order… you can see the larger context, the evolving directory of patterns, here.


The ongoing collection of data and evaluation of success of your Transition initiative will be useful on many fronts. When it comes to FINANCING YOUR INITIATIVE many funders will want to see some hard data about your achievements and in terms of COMMUNICATING WITH THE MEDIA and AWARENESS RAISING it is also very useful to be able to show what has been achieved. Any meaningful STRATEGIC THINKING will also be much improved by good research.

The challenge:

The old question “if a tree falls in a wood and there is no one there does it make a noise?” can be restated perhaps as “if a Transition initiative cuts carbon and/or builds resilience but no-one measures it, has it made any difference?” The answer is yes, a bit, but nowhere near as much as it could do.

In the excited swirl of starting a Transition initiative, the idea of measuring progress isn’t generally top of anyone’s list of priorities. However, finding straightforward ways of gathering data is a very useful discipline to get into from early on. Many books on sustainability auditing and measuring impact can prove bewildering to all but the qualified accountant, and although measuring the exact amount of carbon saved through the endeavours of the initiative is a big job, there are various ways your group can start to gather data. I will start from the easiest and go through to the most complicated…

1. Harvest simple data from events and projects.

Keep a spreadsheet of the events you ran and the number of people who came. Record other easily measurable outputs from projects, such as the number of trees planted, the number of students worked with in the local school, number of new allotments created and so on. You could also have simple feedback forms after any trainings or key events, checking for satisfaction and degree of agreement with particular suggestions. Ask the different working groups to keep a record of any data that emerges from their work.

2. Use tools that gather data….

Initiatives like Transition Together and the expanded version, ‘Transition Streets’ being run in Totnes, have great potential for gathering useful data with regards to reductions in carbon emissions. 10 pilot communities around the UK have been creating their own place-specific versions of ‘Transition Together’, such as Transition Leicester’s ‘Footprints’ manual . Transition Together is a very good tool for gathering data about carbon reductions and financial savings.

Data gathered from Transition Together’s first four pilot groups shows that the 32 households involved generated £19,236 worth of savings between them, saving 1.2 tons of carbon per household. With data from another 31 households still to be processed, it is evidence of a powerful tool for gathering data.

In Transition Horncastle, the group has been working together with British Gas and the Energy Savings Trust’s ‘Green Streets’ programme, which gives participating households Smart Meters and other support with energy reduction, which, as one participant stated, has “revolutionised our lives”. It has also provided Transition Horncastle with valuable data about what degree of energy use reduction is possible.

3. More detailed surveys

You may, if resources permit, decide to do an annual survey of the community to establish how opinions have changed, and what impact, if any, your efforts are having. This level of research may be helped considerably with input from a local college or university. Sometimes you may be approached by students wanting to research your work, or you may approach teachers of sustainability courses, or see if any students researching dissertations might want to do such a survey for you.

Designing a good questionnaire is an art. We have all had the experience of being asked to fill in a 15 page questionnaire and not doing so. Here are a few tips:

  • Make it as short as possible: we all have busy lives and better things to do than trawl through endless questions
  • Identify in advance what is essential to know: why are you doing the survey? What do you want to learn from it?
  • Use simple language: this needs to be as accessible as possible
  • Don’t use leading questions: keep the tone as neutral as you can, so as not to ‘lead’ what people tell you
  • Try it out first: pilot your survey on a few people first to iron out any glitches, any questions that don’t make sense…

There are a number of good guides out there to designing good surveys . Far more reliable data is gained by surveying door-to-door than just stopping people in the street. Choose your sample carefully, trying to get as representative a spread as possible across the area, and ensure a good sample in the street by choosing every 6th house. In terms of processing your data, you will need someone with knowledge of statistics to do this, but a well-run survey can produce very useful information.

The solution:

Being able to show firm results and that you are measuring your impacts will greatly impact your relationship with funders and with local and national government. As the impact of your projects grows, it will become increasingly important that you are documenting their impacts. Getting into the discipline from an early stage will stand you in good stead for later.

Connections to smaller patterns:

In more diverse communities, considering INCLUSION/DIVERSITY in how research, especially surveys, is presented, is vital. ENERGY RESILIENCE ASSESSMENTS can also produce useful data.

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