By Noel Longhurst (3S-group)
The Transition Movement is an interesting example of social innovation because whilst at one level it can be regarded as a form of social innovation in itself (as a novel form of community based organizing), it also creates experimental space for further social innovation to take place. This blog reflects on some of the most important ways in which that space is created.
“Transition has encouraged various experiments with local food production including creating new forms of “commons””
The history of the Transition movement has been written many times over, and can be found in many places. Suffice to say that the first initiative was launched in September 2006 in Totnes in the UK, and the idea quickly spread across the UK and beyond. It offered a community based approach to dealing with the twin threats of climate change and peak oil that appealed to many individuals who were frustrated by the lack of action by more powerful governmental and business actors. The deliberately upbeat ethic, practical approach and conviction in the power of community based action found a receptive audience amongst those who were not attracted to more confrontational forms of environmental activism. Over the following years, both the model and the focus evolved, with a greater emphasis on economic resilience emerging in the wake of the 2008 financial crash. Since the first project in Totnes over a thousand different transition initiatives have been established and most of these will have launched multiple projects. A recent book and website, timed to coincide with the COP21 climate conference, provides a sense of the range of projects and activities in which ‘Transitioners’ are engaged, including those relating to food, local currencies, community energy and local economic development. So what are the factors that have led to this proliferation of bottom-up creativity? I would suggest that there are at least three:
“Local money systems have been one strand of innovation to emerge from the Transition movement”
So in recent years the Transition movement has refined a process that supports a range of sustainability focused experiments, some of which have grown into fully fledged independent organisations. Like many forms of grassroots activism, there are always problems with resources, burnout, and sustaining initiatives in the longer run when reliant primarily on volunteers and goodwill. The Transition Network provides a source of training, advice and resources to activists, and in recent years the emergence of the REconomy strand of work is part of a greater focus on local enterprise and entrepreneurship as a means of sustaining ventures. There is also the question of the significance of place – such as the possible exceptionalism of Totnes as an experimental place – and the extent to which Transition ideas can be translated to other places. Yet, one of the interesting things about the ‘model’ is its plasticity, so that with its 10-year anniversary coming up soon, it is still being adapted and reinterpreted in new contexts.
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