Transition gives us the best of ingredients for networking

I’ve just posted this over on socialreporters.net, where John Popham and I are helping the Big Lottery Fund explore the future of their People Powered Change initiative as a networked space for local projects and national partners to share experience and learn from each other.

Among networks that help local projects share experience, with support but not dominance from the centre, the Transition Networkstands out as one that blends the best of event facilitation, online systems, and how-to advice. I think it’s a model that People Powered Change should look at for inspiration.

Today the network announces really innovative developments on several fronts, with an inspiring Transition Companion book about creating local Transition projects, a directory of the ingredients and tools to do that, and a set of cards that help people play through the methods.

The role of the network is “to inspire, encourage, connect, support and train communities as they self-organise around the transition model, creating initiatives that rebuild resilience and reduce CO2 emissions”.

At their recent conference, which I reported here, Transition founder Rob Hopkins gave a preview workshop and explained how the companion is based on pattern language. Here’s an interview from the conference with Charlotte Du Cann, who is also leading a social reporting project in the network.

The previous Transition Handbook (pdf here) took people through a 12-step process of setting up a local project – and I find groups love that sort of apparently simple approach, until they find that it isn’t a simple sequence. The process of building a group, developing ideas, learning new skills, working with the local council, starting on projects has to be crafted to the local situation.

Back in the 1970s Christopher Alexander worked with a group of other architects to develop the book A Pattern Language as a way of expressing the relationship between spaces, buildings, and their components. So – if you want this sort of house, it may need that sort of setting, and this set of rooms, which may require that sort of furniture. It’s all about what works with what.  Christopher and Rob met up, as Rob reports here.

Rob has used the inspiration of pattern language to recast the handbook as a companion, using ingredients and tools as an easier-to-understand version of patterns, with lots of examples of the creative activities local groups engage in during their development. Local groups create the recipes appropriate for them.

My friend Ed Mitchell, who manages the online side of the network, has worked with his web team to turn the ingredients and tools into a directory around the five main stages of development: Starting out; Deepening; Connecting; Building and Daring to dream. Within each there are ingredients (for example, Measurement, Visioning, Building Partnerships, Celebrating, Storytelling), with links showing where other ingredients may be relevant, and what tools are appropriate (for example, Energy Resilience Assessment, Finance, Volunteers).

Each ingredient has summaries of the Challenge it aims to meet, a Description, and Solution … rather like the original pattern language … together with longer content.

Translation the Transition companion to an online environment a really impressive achievement. Ed and I have discussed the potential of pattern language in the past, and I’m using some of that thinking in game development with Drew Mackie … however, Ed has now made it a reality online.

Transition has also given us a download of the set of cards, beautifully designed by Marina Vons-Gupta. The book, the web, and the cards are are an integrated set of resources that – as far as I know – are unmatched for this sort of purpose. Anyone know of anything similar?

I have the book, can browse the site, and will now download the cards, and report further. I just wanted to get something up here quickly, as context for the interview I’m doing shortly about People Powered Change developments.

For those of a technical disposition, the Transition site is built in Drupal … and I’m delighted to see that Ed and the team have some additional funding from the Nominet Trust to create a Projects Sharing Engine. Ed writes:

“We now have an 18 month project to start to bend some virtual boundaries and build some bridges between Transition Initiative websites, enabling their visitors to read and add to the projects directory all from the comfort of their own local websites”.

The Transition Network approach is to encourage local groups to develop in their own way – using some centrally-created ingredients and tools – and then use the Transition framework to share their experience. The website aggregates the local content, rather than simply broadcasting centrally.

The Transition approach is different from that adopted by the BIG Village SOS project, for example, which has a centralised system. There’s no right or wrong – it depends on the context, and what you are trying to achieve.

I think Transition can go for a decentralised system because there is a strong set of Transition principles and ingredients that will inform local development, and the content that flows from local groups. They are committed to sharing.

The many projects funded by BIG, who may share experience through People Powered Change, do not at the moment have anything in common but the BIG funding. Most of them probably don’t have any web presence … so it isn’t possible to get a feed from them.

I think what will be needed at the start, if BIG want to move forward, is a combination of the sort of social reporting project that Transition is piloting, combined with the local online training and support provided by Talk About Local. But that’s just a couple of the ingredients, and over the next month or two we’ll be looking for more.

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