Transition Town Basics:
8 Principles
12 steps
7 Buts
Some terms

Transition principles

1. Positive Visioning

We can only create what we can first vision

  1. If we can’t imagine a positive future we won’t be able to create it.

  2. A positive message helps people engage with the challenges of these times.

  3. Change is happening – our choice is between a future we want and one which happens to us.

  4. Transition Initiatives are based on a dedication to the creation of tangible, clearly expressed and practical visions of the community in question beyond its present-day dependence on fossil fuels.

  5. Our primary focus is not campaigning against things, but rather on positive, empowering possibilities and opportunities.

  6. The generation of new stories and myths are central to this visioning work.

 2. Help People Access Good Information and Trust Them to Make Good Decisions 

  1. Transition Initiatives dedicate themselves, through all aspects of their work, to raising awareness of peak oil and climate change and related issues such as critiquing economic growth. In doing so they recognise the responsibility to present this information in ways which are playful, articulate, accessible and engaging, and which enable people to feel enthused and empowered rather than powerless.

  2. Transition Initiatives focus on telling people the closest version of the truth that we know in times when the information available is deeply contradictory.

  3. The messages are non-directive, respecting each person’s ability to make a response that is appropriate to their situation. 

3. Inclusion and Openness

  1. Successful Transition Initiatives need an unprecedented coming together of the broad diversity of society. They dedicate themselves to ensuring that their decision making processes and their working groups embody principles of openness and inclusion. 

  2. This principle also refers to the principle of each initiative reaching the community in its entirety, and endeavouring, from an early stage, to engage their local business community, the diversity of community groups and local authorities. 

  3. It makes explicit the principle that there is, in the challenge of energy descent, no room for ‘them and us’ thinking.

  4. In a successful transition project every skill is valuable because there is so much happening.

  5. We need good listeners, gardeners, people who like to make and fix everything, good parties, discussions, energy engineers, inspiring art and music, builders, planners, project managers.

  6. Bring your passion and make that their contribution – if there isn’t a project working in the area you are passionate about, create one!!

4. Enable Sharing and Networking

  1. Transition Initiatives dedicate themselves to sharing their successes, failures, insights and connections at the various scales across the Transition network, so as to more widely build up a collective body of experience.  

5. Build Resilience

  1. This stresses the fundamental importance of building resilience, that is, the capacity of our businesses, communities and settlements to deal as well as possible with shock.

  2. Transition initiatives commit to building resilience across a wide range of areas (food, economics, energy etc) and also on a range of scales (from the local to the national) as seems appropriate - and to setting them within an overall context of the need to do all we can to ensure general environmental resilience.

  3. Most communities in the past had – a generation or two ago – the basic skills needed for life such as growing and preserving food, making clothes, and building with local materials.

6. Inner and Outer Transition

  1. The challenges we face are not just caused by a mistake in our technologies but as a direct result of our world view and belief system.

  2. The impact of the information about the state of our planet can generate fear and grief - which may underlie the state of denial that many people are caught in. 

  3. Psychological models can help us understand what is really happening and avoid unconscious processes sabotaging change, e.g. addictions models, models for behavioural change. 

  4. This principle also honours the fact that Transition thrives because it enables and supports people to do what they are passionate about, what they feel called to do. 

7. Transition makes sense - the solution is the same size as the problem

  1. Many films or books who suggest that changing light bulbs, recycling and driving smaller cars may be enough. This causes a state called “Cognitive Dissonance” –a trance where you have been given an answer, but know that it is not going to solve the problem you’ve just been given.

  2. We look at the whole system not just one issue because we are facing a systems failure not a single problem failure.

  3. We work with complexity, mimicking nature in solutions based problem solving.

8. Subsidiarity: self-organisation and decision making at the appropriate level

  1. This final principle enshrines the idea that the intention of the Transition model is not to centralise or control decision making, but rather to work with everyone so that it is practiced at the most appropriate, practical and empowering level, and in such a way that it models the ability of natural systems to self organise. 

  2. We create ways of working that are easy to copy and spread quickly

Why Transition Towns? 

  1. Scale is important - acting at a level where you feel that you have influence. 

  2. -Facing the present global challenges alone feels hopeless.

  3. -Influencing change on a governmental level feels impossible.

  4. Remember Albert Einstein: “A problem cannot be solved on the level on which it was created.”

  5. By working on the community level, where actions are significant, visible, and tangible the Transition Town process is effective and generates positive feedback loops.

(1) Form a steering group — Get the ball rolling.

(2) Raise awareness — Screen films, host events, spread the word.

(3) Network — Connect with existing groups.

(4) “The Great Unleashing” — Throw a critical mass party!

(5) Form working groups — To address key topics (energy, food, transportation).

(6) Use open space technology

Key Terms:

Initiative Group:  The people who find each other in a community and who share a commitment to bring about an effective local response to the combined challenges of Climate Change, Peak Oil and Economic Instability - the Triple Crisis

Resilience: The ability of an ecosystem to assimilate a change imposed from outside.

Great Unleashing:  A big celebration to launch the community’s combined effort.

Working Groups:  These groups form during or before the Great Unleashing.  They focus on specific areas such as energy, food, transportation.

Open space Technology:  A way to enable all kinds of people, in any kind of organization, to create inspired meetings and events.

Reskilling:  The process by which members of the community relearn skills that are needed in a post cheap oil world. 

Transition Action Plan (TAP):  The Plan for the gradual reduction in the dependence on oil at the local level.

12 Steps of the Transition Town Process

The 7 Buts:

Before embarking on the journey to start a Transition Initiative in a community, an initiative group may find it useful to address some of the questions that often arise for people at the early stages, and may prevent the group from proceeding. We call these initial barriers: “The Seven Buts”.

BUT…we’ve got no funding

This really is not an issue. Funding is a very poor substitute for enthusiasm and community involvement, both of which will take you through the first phases of your transition. Funders can also demand a measure of control, and may steer the initiative in directions that run counter to community interests and to your original vision. It should be straightforward for your initiative to generate an adequate amount of income. Transition Town Totnes began in September 2005 with no money at all, and has been self-funding ever since. The talks and film screenings that they run bring in money to subsidize free events such as Open Space Days. You will reach a point where you have specific projects that will require funding, but until that point you’ll manage. Retain the power over whether your important Initiative happens, and don’t let lack of funding stop you.

BUT…they won’t let us

There is a fear among some green folks that somehow any initiative that actually succeeds in effecting any change will get shut down, suppressed, attacked by faceless bureaucrats or corporations. Transition Initiatives operate ‘below the radar’; as such they don’t incur the wrath of any existing institutions. On the contrary, with corporate awareness of sustainability and Climate Change building daily, you will be surprised at how many people in positions of power will be enthused and inspired by what you are doing, and will support, rather than hinder, your efforts. You will find your Transition Initiative is constantly pushing on open doors.

BUT… there are already green groups in this town, and I don’t want to step on their toes

You’d be very unlucky to encounter any “eco-turf wars”. What your Transition Initiative will do is form a common goal and sense of purpose for the existing groups, some of which you might find are burnt out and will appreciate the new vigor you bring. Liaising with a network of existing groups towards an Energy Descent Action Plan will enhance and focus their work, rather than replicate or supersede it. Expect them to become your allies, crucial to the success of your Transition process.

BUT… no one in this town cares about the environment anyway

One could easily be forgiven for thinking this, given the existence of what we might perceive as an apathetic consumer culture surrounding us. Scratch a bit deeper though, and you’ll find that people are already passionate about many aspects of what Transition Initiatives will focus on. The most surprising of people are keen advocates of key elements of a Transition Initiative - local food, local crafts, local history and culture. The key is to go to them, rather than expecting them to come to you. Seek out common ground, and you’ll find your community to be a far more interesting place than you thought it was.

BUT… surely it’s too late to do anything?

It may be too late, but the likelihood is that it isn’t. Yours and others’ endeavors are absolutely crucial. Don’t let hopelessness sabotage your efforts. As Vandana Shiva says, “the uncertainty of our times is no reason to be certain about hopelessness”. It is within your power to maximize the possibility that we can get through this – don’t give that power away.

BUT… I don't have the right qualifications

If you don't do this, who else will? It matters not that you don't have a PhD in sustainability, or years of experience in gardening or planning. What’s important is that you care about where you live, that you see the need to act, and that you are open to new ways of engaging people. Useful qualities for someone starting a Transition Initiative are:

  1. Positive

  2. Good with people

  3. A basic knowledge of the place and some of the key people in your locale.

That, in truth, is about it. You are, after all, about to design your own demise into the process from the start (see Step 1), so your role at this stage is like a gardener preparing the soil for the ensuing garden, which you may or may not be around to see.

BUT… I don't have the energy for doing that!

As the quote often ascribed to Goethe goes, "whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!" The experience of beginning a Transition Initiative certainly shows this to be the case. While the idea of preparing your town (or city, county, hamlet, valley or island) for life beyond oil may seem staggering in its implications, there is something about the energy unleashed by the Transition process that is unstoppable.

Many people who have initiated a Transition project, have had a period after a few weeks of thinking: “What have we started here?!” It may feel like you have to do it all yourself. You may feel overwhelmed by the prospect of all the work and complexity, but people will come forward to help. Indeed, many have commented on the serendipity of the whole process, how the right people appear at the right time. There is something about seizing that boldness, about making the leap from 'why is no-one doing anything' to 'let's do something', that generates the energy to keep it moving.

Very often, developing environmental initiatives feels like pushing a broken-down car up a hill; a hard, unrewarding slog. Working with a Transition Initiative often feels like coming down the other side – the car starts moving faster than you can keep up with it, accelerating all the time. Once you give it the push from the top of the hill it will develop its own momentum. That's not to say it isn't hard work sometimes, but it is almost always a pleasure.

(7) Practical Action — Initiate visible projects (ride shares, community gardens, etc.).

(8) Reskilling — Learn and practice traditional skills.

(9) Work with local government — Collaborate on planning.

(10) Honor thy elders — Learn from the past.

(11) Let go of outcomes — See what emerges.

(12) Transition Action Plan (TAP) — Strategize and visualize our future.

The 12 Steps do not need to be followed in any particular order and not all steps must be done.