Transition Culture

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

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6 Dec 2011

Transition: Thrive – our new Sustaining Momentum course has its first outing

Transition Training has developed a new 2-day course for Transition initiatives who have been going for some time, called ‘Transition: Thrive’.  It had its first pilot a couple of weeks ago, and in this guest post, trainer Naresh Giangrande reflects on how it went, and what learnings  are helping to shape its further evolution.

How well is Transition going in the UK? Is it succeeding, failing or something in between? Is there anything we can do about it when it isn’t going well? How can we help functional Transition initiatives take their next steps in a training? Last weekend,  twenty six dedicated pioneers took the plunge, confronted their inner daemons and came along for a roller coaster ride of a weekend in Totnes, UK.  Along the way we shared our hopes and dreams -and nightmares doing this thing called Transition. I am curious how many reading this might identify with the feelings, and experiences described!

These brave souls were all doing Transition in their communities.  Those Transition initiatives (TIs) were, I suggest, in one of three places:

  • Going well, and wondering what can we do next?
  • Ticking over reasonably well, and needing some input on how to go to the next level, for instance how to get more people involved.
  • Collapsed or confronting crisis and wanting to know how to recover from this.

Jenny McKewan  and I designed what we felt was a programme rich in both process and practical ways forward in order to address  the diverse needs listed above. We wrapped the training in an appreciative inquiry  (more on this below). We also encouraged the group to share their expertise and learn from each other. We had many very knowledgeable people who held sessions on:

  • communicating about climate change to the most intractable audience
  • another who took people though how to use social media like twitter and facebook, blogs etc, and
  • one of our trainers, Mandy Dean  who stepped in with a session on Open Space as a community engagement tool.

Open Space Technology was mentioned, by one TI who used it many times, as over and over proving its worth in generating ideas and moving projects forward.  Jenny also taught a break out session on groups and the creative use of conflict, and I did one on our economic blueprint for a relocalised economy and the REconomy project.  We also created a Test your ability to respond to change game, and told our stories using the Transition Ingredients cards.

The feeling of this course was very different to our original training, Transition: Launch.  In Launch people are new to Transition and there is lots to do and participants go away generally happy having learned a lot. Our participants this weekend, most being Transition veterans, have been at the coal face of Transition for a while. I felt expressions of anger, distrust in the Transition method, personal pain at how hard Transition was sometimes, as well as being full of successes and the satisfaction of facilitating others to proactively engage with fundamental change. Participants also had more specific needs like help with social enterprise models and specific projects that they were undertaking. Sunday morning became particularly ‘hot’ as another issue surfaced that we commonly find amongst Transition groups as well as in our training; the inner/outer dilemma.

Some felt that we were placing too much emphasis on the process side of the weekend. We were introducing a method called Appreciative Inquiry, AI for short. It feels like a very good fit for Transition groups as it uses a process of ‘Discovery’ to find out what has been working well and then helps us to figure out how to do more of that. This is in contrast to a conventional change management approach that focuses on problems and finds ways to overcome them. Many groups and businesses have used this approach to great effect, Project Lyttleton in New Zealand is one of them,  who have built solid community resilience in a short period of time, and who places the AI approach at the heart of everything they do.

Appreciative Inquiry is a good example of an ‘inner’ transition method that helps achieve tangible, practical results. This weekend, and it commonly happens in Transition groups, some found the process side-  ‘navel gazing’, group building, and other such ‘new age’ tomfoolery- uncomfortable and pointless.

However it’s been my experience that  attention to how a group is working for instance, which is often hidden especially to those who are antithetical to this way of working, makes groups welcoming, effective, and convivial places to work. It also helps us to pay attention to our underlying feelings which can easily undermine our personal health and well being (as we become more aware of the un-sustainability of business as usual). Conversely, Visioning, Creating a space for Inner Transition,Running effective meetings, Personal resilience and many other ingredients of Transition testify to the importance of this side of the process.

We make an effort to weave both the inner and the outer into Transition Training, and are aware of the sensitivities of many who wouldn’t wish do process. However it is also our experience that the chance to explore the inner side of things in a spirit of cooperation and safety (we never make anyone in a training do anything they don’t want to do, it is always an invitation), can be deeply nourishing and life enhancing. It is one of the things that makes Transition such an effective process. We solved this inner/outer dilemma on the second day by facilitating different streams, and enabling people to focus on the stream they felt most important to them.

It is our intention that Transition: Thrive will be a valuable tool in enabling TIs to function as effectively as they can. It will also enable those who are having difficulty to find ways to overcome those difficulties and flourish. And it will continue to provide a platform for Transitioners to find their next steps and network with those facing similar challenges.

I was profoundly inspired by our participants this weekend who despite the difficulties in their TIs and the increasing desperation of our times, showed up ready move on. I honour their courage and determination, it touched me deeply.  Our purpose in Transition Training is to support those doing Transition. We will continue to stand beside transition folk and do all we can to enable learning, provide connection and communication, and inspire with transformative, experiential learning.

Naresh Giangrande

To see dates of all upcoming Transition trainings, including Transition: Thrive, click 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.


6 Dec 12:43pm

It’s a sad commentary on our times that even with such serious issues, as the unprecedented ones we face toady, we cannot find a new level on which to co-operate and communicate so as to affect a proper transition to localisation.

Personally, I think that this is down to people’s different levels of understanding. Some people have a vague idea of the severity of our situation and do not, therefore, have sufficient motivation to cast aside their ego, in order to see the wider picture. Moreover, people who have a high level of understanding, who deeply feel the need to transition and know exactly why we need to and what will happen if we don’t, often are more able to see a clearer path to what needs to be done and how. I think that this lies at the heart of any friction, resistance or conflict that may arise within TI groups.

It’s very hard to really convince many people of the need to change so that they have the motivation to give them the energy to take appropriate action. Most people will watch a documentary or two, read a few books, and in the interims between this fall asleep again, and thus loss the momentum needed to give real energy to the desire to change. It takes repeated hammering to get the main points sunk in sufficient enough for them not to be forgotten and there seriousness not once again to be overlooked. It took me nearly 6 months to really not fall asleep again to the issues of our (mostly) collective unsustainable future. I found that every time I spent additional time researching and educating myself about peak oil, economy and climate change, I found a deeper level of appreciation for the severity of it all. Furthermore, it was exactly this which gave me more confidence, determination and thus motivation to get out there and start becoming the change we all want to see in the world. I know grow all my own food, harvest all my own water and meet most of my electricity and hearting need through renewable, off-the-grid technologies.

To be honest, most people involved in the TI’s do not have a strong enough knowledge base with which to draw from, and if they do they likely do not apply it directly to themselves. For example, most people know that we are living unsustainably, but most also are not prepared to really live as self-sufficiently as possible. They are not prepared to try to grow all their own food, to harvest their own water and meet there own energy needs with simple, stand alone, off-the-grid technologies (which are so cheap nowadays that even someone on minimum wage can save up enough money in a few months to buy a decent solar PV panel or solar thermal panel.) We can find the time to read up about these issues, we can find time implement them in our lives. Heck, sleep a few hours less if you have to! If there was ever a time in all of history NOT to be lazy it would be now!

I thought that one of the main premises of TI is that we simply cannot wait for national or even local government to make the fundamental changes needed to cut CO2 omissions/ energy use, and bring in policies to make us more self-sufficient, localised and therefore sustainable into the indefinite future. It has to come from ourselves first and then our friends, family and then wider community. All we need is sufficient motivation to allow us to understand how we can be more sustainable, self-sufficient and localised. All the means are there, all the ways to transition are there and have been for millennia, its is simple a matter of us being prepared to make the changes needed. And you either see that or you don’t, quite frankly. And to be honest, the only thing that is stopping a smoother, quicker and less painful transition is our own minds and our inability to comprehend the severity of our situation and then to act effectively within our own lives, firstly, and then our communities to create change. We are mental and physical weaklings, really…who could spend 8 plus hours a day working the land day in day in day out? Heck we cannot even organise ourselves within the TI groups without conflict. Pahhh….its time to get real people…our economy is in its least legs and peak oil is sure to finish it of even if we manage to keep it on life support till then. Catastrophic climate change is almost inevitability now because the issue has been ignored and trampled on by corrupted governments working for the monstrous greed of national and multi-national cooperation’s for the past 40 plus years. And so, with these massive issues, you think that we could coordinate ourselves at least at the community and family level to create the change needed. But NO…people are still having tiffs about insignificant trivialities…how can we sleep at night knowing that such petty, silly little things are baring the way to real change? If you have been involved in something like this, and I bet there are many that have and many that are still unresolved…I suggest that you put aside your bruised ego and take the higher path to greater co-operation and communication. We don’t have time for this crap people…

Blake Poland
6 Dec 12:57pm

Thank-you Naresh for a very thoughtful and nuanced presentation of this new initiative for longer-term TI ‘leaders’. I appreciate the sensitivity you bring to the issues.

Peter I sense your frustration, and can relate to it.

One debate we have here periodically is how much energy we should put into growing the movement versus deepening our own understanding, networking and skill building. If we really believe there is a ‘quickening’ for change and that dominant systems are unravelling, it seems to me we will have our large numbers soon enough. The real question becomes: are we prepared for this kind of “success”? Because when people lose faith in mainstream dominant solutions and start looking elsewhere, we had better have more than rhetoric and some good ideas. I want us to have some actual knowledge, experience, etc to build on. But it seems that there is much angst at the moment about the size and momentum of the Transition movement. This is understandable, but I think it results in us spending way too much time on “education” and not enough on skill-building and community building. And it gets us feeling inadequate about our progress, and forgetting that progress is not linear – when the social tipping point comes (this year?) we had best be prepared! 😉

Are others having this debate within their own steering groups? I would love to hear from you.

Pete North
6 Dec 2:53pm

If there was call for one of these sessions in the North of the UK I’d be up for helping find a venue in Liverpool or the like. It looks like somethin we could benefit from as we are not collapsed, not motoring, pottering along at a rate people seem happy with while the planet fries …..

6 Dec 4:18pm

Hi all;
Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I couldn’t quite get the gist of what you were saying Peter. Kind of like not even transition people get the difficulties we are in. And yes i agree with you, and the real life problems anyone faces when they set up a TI is that it is hard work, they don’t always get along with people in their groups, and it doesn’t always work as well as it might. My response is rather ‘than get over yourself’, is learn how to make a group work better. It’s an important skill and will be even more valuable as life gets more local.
Thanks Blake- i think the sorts of debate you flag up about education rather than skill building is one that takes place all over. I am no stranger to it! And both are necessary. Education for the very reasons Peter highlighted, and to draw others in and skill building because unless we start tackling the practical nuts and bolts of creating a low energy local economy its never going to happen.
And Peter N we would be happy to come up to Liverpool again, just give us a date!

Pete North
6 Dec 4:22pm

If any Northerners would be interested in an event being organised in Liverpool in the spring, let me know ( and if there is enough call I’m happy to organise it…

Blake Poland
6 Dec 5:32pm

Thanks Naresh,

4 books that will completely revolutionize the way you imagine social change happens (and loosened me from a fixation on ‘education’ to greater interest in co-creation and solidarity and emergence) are:

Holman, P. (2010). Engaging Emergence: Turning Upheaval into Opportunity. San Francisco, CA: Berret-Koehler.

Senge, P., Scharmer, C. O., Jaworski, J., & Flowers, B. S. (2004). Presence: An Exploration of Profound Change in People, Organizations, and Society. New York, NY: Currency/Doubleday/Random House.

Scharmer, C. O. (2009). Theory U: Leading From the Future as It Emerges. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Westley, F., Zimmerman, B., & Patton, M. Q. (2006). Getting To Maybe: How the World is Changed. Random House Canada.

In my view, these should be required reading for anyone imagining themselves to be helping others through the transition.


helen cunningham
6 Dec 6:29pm


i think this new transition training is just what is needed for many groups at the moment.

We would love to have one organised in the Peak District or nearby, there are quite a few groups up here who have been going a while and need sustaining. Can we find out how much it costs to hold such a training course so we can find out if it is viable to put one on?


Erik Buitenhuis
6 Dec 7:46pm

Peter, I am disturbed by your us and them thinking. In my experience in talking with people who understand differently from me, I’m just as likely to offend someone by my not understanding what they think is clear as another person by my arrogance in thinking I understand the problem better, just as I’m as likely to learn from somebodies wisdom as I’m to inspire somebody to take the next step. Best of all, of course, is when you figure something out together that neither of you had realised before.

8 Dec 6:14pm

@ Erick Buitenhuis

I have not personally experienced any conflict within the transition movement I am engage with. I have just heard of many others that are in quite a state – not able to get anywhere with the petty internal conflicts between people’s ego’s stopping them from collaborating to bring about fundamental change. I was trying to get people too realised that these things should not hold us back from getting things done.
And to be frank: the facts are the facts – and you can soon tell if someone if well informed or not. And such people need to understand the situation better if they are to get the energy and desire to really change – that is a fact. So perhaps you may say I have a lack of humility or am being presumptuous, but really sometimes it need to be told as it is – no sugar coating.

The majority involved in the transition movement are still just living relatively high-impact lives, not growing most of their own food and are likely not harvesting their own water. There houses are high-impact and the energy they use within them has probably not been cut significantly. Even Rob Hopkins – and this is not an attack on him; I am just stating a truth – only grows a little of his family’s food need, doesn’t harvest any of his water needs, and his house is not that low-impact. So if the person who spearheaded the ideas behind the Transition Initiative is not that low-impact and self-sufficient then what have we actually done in the five plus years that have elapsed since he initiated it in Kinsale? We need (like someone mentioned in a previous post) more than nice ideas and concepts when the storm really hits. We need more than people who are aware of the need to transition to a low-impact, self-sufficient and localised mode of living. WE NEED PEOPLE TO DO IT. Stop all think over-compacted talking and “visioning” and bloody do it!!! Anyone who has a strong enough desire to change, can read up on self-sufficiency, low-impact living and localisation on the internet, through books and talking to people and documentaries/videos. It is not that complicated. If anything, it is a return to a simple, more balanced life, which is more fulfilling than most people can currently imagine. However, people feel trapped by the system. But actually it is nothing more that their own habituation to it! Once you break you mental dependency to it, then you can start to make a real transition in your own life – which is where it should find full expression first and foremost. This, I strongly believe, is why people are floundering around with all these courses and events, but not actually getting anything practically done. So forgive me if I sounded a little arrogant to you; but I think it was justified by my reasoning and personal experience of these matters.


8 Dec 6:50pm

Helen; we would be happy to come to the peak district to do a Thrive. See the web site here for how to host a training:
Interesting reading Blake. I have read a couple of these and the getting to maybe i haven’t seen, or engaging emergence. I would also add great book an working with emergence at an organisational level. Transition does pretty well i think on their model.

Blake Poland
8 Dec 10:59pm

just a quick note to say we turned our small suburban house and lot into a tiny inner city farm growing a substantial portion of our food using permaculture principles, and found ways to cut our carbon footprint by 80%. It can be done. And it can be fun. Enjoying life more now than ever before.

Cristiano Bottone
9 Dec 3:09pm

Thank you Naresh, very interesting and useful as always.

Alan Brown
12 Dec 11:23am

Good read. Look forward to some courses in North England/Scotland in the future.
Ref Peter’s comments, it might be worth reading some of the Cultural Dynamics materials.
Above is a good read. Really gets you into Value Modes and shows that pioneers might well be doing the wrong things to try and attract Prospectors and Settlers into taking action.

Many things that we need to do are physical. Not just hosting meetings about ‘the big issues’, as these tend to attract the ethically concerned crowd anyway.

Delivering practical manifestations, like PV panels, orchards, growing spaces, allotments, car-clubs, bike training etc, is all about delivery. To make it a social norm for the Prospectors to follow, lots of people need to be doing it.!..

So I think the education and training is very important and we need to not think we know everything, but equally, we need to balance that with knowing how to deliver change and in such a way that the 50+% of the population who follow fashion, are following Transition as fashion and not shopping till they drop!.

I’d say most of the people in our town who’ve fitted PV are not ethically concerned. Motivated more by investment potential or saving bills in the long run, and we need to respect and refine those values over time. We can’t all be eco minded over night. It’ll take time, and that time is better spent leveraging their existing values rather than trying to give them new ones which will take far too long.

Be different, fun and inviting when you run your transition events. Recognise all motives, and praise the right behaviour.

24 Dec 4:19pm

Thank you Naresh for a good account of the Thrive session at Totnes – I was there and you reflect what it was like very accurately. Personally I thoroughly enjoyed it and even the ‘conflict’ was useful, particularly as you and Jenny turned it into something positive very skilfully. I would take issue with Peter’s ‘just get over yourselves and do it’ attitude. Ironically it was precisely this ‘I know what ‘it’ is and you should all do like I do’ that sparked the ‘heat’ at the Thrive session. What I like about Transition is that it acknowledges that we’re a” coming at this from different places, with different understanding and experience and it helps us to work with that rather than bully it. I cam back much encouraged – and almost immediately I heard that our TI has been ‘given’ a garden! Pure coincidence, or maybe a bit of Transition fairy dust.

Peter Brown
28 Dec 1:05pm

Jacquie, I was there with you! I think you jokingly put a finger on a serious point – the fairy dust! People are all very different, with different personalities and different backgrounds. Some are scientists and demand exacting evidence for everything done, and some are more comfortable with myth and fairy dust. The problem is not that everyone should conform to Peter1’s active transitionist, but rather how to reconcile the two, and get them both heading in the same direction. I think this is what Naresh and Jenny were trying to do, but because it was the first trial course they had to adjust and modify it as we went along. Flexibility is a good attribute, and indeed I believe that the survivors of Transition will be those who demonstrate the greatest flexibility and adaptability to climate change.

If they cannot be reconciled, should the scientific, practical group, be coached separately from the touchy/feely group? Difficult one, because if there is plenty of time there is a lot each group could learn from each other about inner transition etc. But to get the maximum amount of information transfered to a group in the shortest time, they need to be capable to all thinking the same way……. separate courses?