Transition Culture

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

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3 Feb 2014

Introducing a month on Resourcing your Initiative

Planting walnuts with the Mayor, 2007.

This month we will be exploring the theme of resourcing your group.  Although we will be touching on issues of funding and finance, our explorations will be about much more than just that.  The resources available to a group, and how it harnesses those resources, will be a greater factor in whether the group is successful than whether it is able to attract funding or not.  Funding without other resources being in place first may well, ultimately, be self-defeating.  But what are those resources, and how to make best use of them?

During February we’ll be speaking to comedian and writer Rob Newman about his new show ‘A New Theory of Evolution’, and what it tells us about the most basic resources we are working with, the people around us.  We’ll hear from Transition Network’s funding manager Nicola Hillary on her tips for approaching funders.  We’ll hear from people doing Transition in very varied locations about the resource of leadership, and what inspired them to step across into actually being part of making Transition happen.  Janelle Orsi, a Californian attorney, will tell us what the legal and organisational resources that will maximise the likelihood of the kind of shift we need to see will look like in practice.  And that’s just a taste of what we’ve got lined up.

This will also be the month when Transition Network unveils the first draft of its organisational Strategy document. It’s been something needed for a while, but following a lot of work internally, we are ready to put it out for your feedback, criticism and input.  We really look forward to your thoughts on how Transition Network can best support and inspire the work you are doing in your community.  We’re also pleased to launch our new support page, a kind of index which will help you find your way around the many resources that Transition Network has to offer, and will be hosting a series of free webinars to which you are very much invited. 

We will also be offering our Transition Town Totnes (TTT) Reunion.  There’s a fascinating programme on BBC Radio 4 called The Reunion, which brings together some of the leading players in a key event in recent history, whether it be people on both sides of the Greenham Common protests, the Miners’ Strike, or the first episode of The Fast Show.  

With TTT often being viewed as one of the ‘flagship’ Transition initiatives, we thought it would be useful to look back at those early days, and what resources there were, what was done, and what needed to be done before any funding could meaningfully be sought. It seemed like a good moment to pause and reflect on that experience, something we’ve never really done before, both as an opportunity to celebrate what’s been achieved and to appreciate the different contributions that laid the foundations for the initiative.  We also felt, given this month’s theme, we felt it would also be a useful opportunity to gather and share learning from that experience.  It’s important to state that this is the story of just one Transition initiative, rather than any kind of “here’s how it should be done” piece.  It will look different everywhere.  

Former Totnes MP Anthony Steen with the first release of Totnes Pounds.

So, four of the founders of TTT, Naresh Giangrande, Sophy Banks, Fiona Ward and myself, along with other people active in TTT both at its outset and later on, spent a couple of hours last week reflecting on those early days, and what we put in place. We’ll be presenting the video and audio of that during this month so I don’t want to give you the entire story now, but for this post, I thought it might be useful to reflect on what were the resources that we had then that meant that we were able to create the foundations for what became TTT.  

A still from the forthcoming 'TTT Reunion' video (l-r: Naresh, Sophy, Rob, Teresa, Fiona).

That’s not to say that you can’t do Transition if you don’t have every one of these, but they are offered in that they worked for us, so you might find them insightful:

  • Time: the four of us were able to give a day or two a week unpaid to the project, to be able to commit to projects that we knew would demand time, some with the support of family or partner.  Anyone who has set up an organisation – voluntary sector or a business – knows how much work is needed to get it going before there is any money coming in. It was a commitment we were all happy to make, with a recognition that that was not sustainable over the long term, that we were just laying foundations. 
  • An openness about needs and wantsat our second Core group meeting we checked how sustainable it was for each of us to continue working at the pace we were going at that point. No one felt they could continue for a further 6-12 months – and we realised we needed to do less, or pay someone to do a central adminstration role.  Once this role had been designed, we found a local philanthropist who was willing to fund it (see job ad, right).
  • A diverse mix of experience to draw on: We all came from very different backgrounds.  Between us we had experience in permaculture, organisational systems, running a business, accounting, counselling, computer systems, fundraising, mediation, blogging, teaching, running a football team, natural building, group facilitation and media and communications.  A pretty eclectic assortment of skills, but many of them came into their own when doing this work. It meant that we found ourselves drawing on our eclectic experience when designing particular things.  For example the early forerunner of Transition Streets, which we called ‘Home Groups’, was based on one member’s experience of consciousness-raising groups which were a key feature of the feminist movement of the 1970s and which one of our members had been part of.   
  • The community itself: we were operating in a community with a rich history of activism and openness to new ideas.  They responded with huge openness and creativity to the suggestion of Transition.  That then gave the wider process access to a whole range of new resources. 
  • Trust: through working together, we established a good degree of trust between ourselves. We were happy to let other people run with different aspects of the work.  

A March 2007 meeting to discuss a structure for TTT.

  • A willingness to try things and ask “what if?”: from the start, TTT created a space to have a go at things.  “Let’s reprint the 1810 Totnes Pound!” Why not? “Let’s declare Totnes the Nut Capital of Britain!”  Why not? Being able to do that is a great resource in these risk-averse times.  
  • Serendipity: I’ve heard many other people doing Transition say much the same thing, that you often find yourself thinking “what we need now is….” or “we could really do with someone who knew how to….” and then that person or resource walks through the door.  I’ve no idea how it works, but it happens time and time again and is a great resource to have.
  • A shared understanding that we needed inner as well as outer skills in the project: it was clear from the the start that this was not a process that was solely about solar panels and growing carrots, it had an inner dimension too.  It wasn’t just about building community resilience, but looking at personal resilience and the resilience of everyone trying to make it happen.  One example was a time quite early on when we had to encourage one person to step out of the project when it became clear their role couldn’t be sustained.  Doing this with respect and tact was an early challenge, which we managed with care and good communication.
  • A willingness to learn together: there was, from the start, an acknowledgement that we needed to bring in new skills too.  We held two essential training days early on, one on how to run good meetings, and one on project management and organisational structures.
  • Designing events to be good stories for the media: for example the morning we got the council’s Tree Officer and the Mayor out planting walnuts in her bright pink coat, photographed balancing walnuts on her spade.  We sent out a press release announcing ‘Totnes the Nut Capital of Britain’ (which led to lots of beyond-Totnes sniggering).  We launched our first Local Food Directory with people dressed as vegetables.  Then there was the time we presented Prince Charles with a Totnes Pound…

Prince Charles meets the Totnes Pound, July 2007.

  • Great speakers: we were very fortunate to have Schumacher College on the doorstep, which meant that we were able to make an arrangement with them whereby we put on some of their visiting teachers in town, giving them better profile, more people heard them, and we got great speakers, and some early income.  Making contact with a range of local institutions can also help to generate some inspiring speakers who understand both the local and the global context.   
  • A shared analysis of the drivers for change/worldview: we came together with a strong shared sense that something was very wrong in the world, and an analysis that peak oil and climate change were key issues that we needed to address.  Having a shared analysis to refer back to meant that the work we did together was very focused.  
  • Physical resources: we each had access to a computer, had a kitchen table on which to put it, at least one of us had a printer, we had access to a projector.  
  • A sketch from the very first meeting on how we might structure TTT. A commitment to the idea that getting structure right was fundamentally important: in spite of our natural inclination to rush out and start doing things, we felt very clear that we were designing and creating an organisation that we wanted to still be in place, and thriving, many years into the future.  We gave careful thought to the organisation’s structure, the thinking around which evolved and changed several times in the first two years.  We were also aware that lots of other groups were watching to see how we did this, so it was worth getting this right from the outset.  
  • A willingness to see where it wanted to go: It felt like we all were happy to go along with the process developing its own path, rather than having rigid and fixed ideas as to what we wanted it to become and where we wanted it to go.  For example, when, after a few months of Naresh and I giving talks and running film screenings, Hilary and Sophy turned up at my house and suggested the need for a Heart and Soul group, it felt like there was space for that. It is one of the properties of emergence that strange and wonderful things happen when you open the space for them. Using tools like Open Space really helped with this. [There’s an important point to make at this point, which is an acknowledgement of the tension between this and the above resource, between freedom and structure.  Our sense was that creativity and sponteneity are encouraged by having strong boundaries, as in Open Space.  Making things really rigid or opting for a completely open “anything goes” approach are both approaches that stifle creativity].       
  • Allies: we very deliberately set out to create allies, by running events in association with them, going to meet them to see how we might help, laying groundwork for ongoing relationships.  This really proved its value as time went past.   

And money?  We didn’t have any. That came later. For the first year, TTT’s bank account was a sock in a drawer in my house, in which the proceeds of all our events were kept (probably never amounted to more than a few hundred pounds).  The first bits of grant funding came not to support TTT as such, or any kind of central resource, rather to fund specific projects, such as Transition Tales (working in local schools) or for planting nut trees.  It was only when the other resources were in place that funding began to come in, such as that for the Co-ordinator role.  

So that’s going to be our lens during February, looking at the idea of ‘Resourcing your initiative’ in its widest sense.  We hope that you’ll enjoy it, and that you’ll get involved with your comments, thoughts and suggestions.  We’d love you to share your experiences of how your Transition initiative got access to the resources they needed.  You could either post a comment below or contact us about writing a longer piece to share your learnings with the wider Network.