Building Capacity and Increasing Our Impact as a National Network

In November, 31 Transitioners from across the nation participated in a National Strategy Conversation with the goal of identifying ways in which the Transition US staff and board, the Collaborative Design Council (CDC), national working groups, and regional hubs can strengthen the network of people-powered initiatives at the local level. 

This session was co-facilitated by CDC members Jessica Cohodes (co-founder of Transition Milwaukee, WI) and John Foran (Eco Vista Transition Initiative, Transition Schools National Working Group, and the TUS Board of Directors). The discussion from this and other National Strategy calls will be used to refine the strategic direction of Transition US. 

Background & Context

The Transition movement took off like a bullet when it was first introduced in the US. Of the 168 official Transition initiatives that registered with Transition US, two-thirds of them began before 2012. Only 36% of those groups are still active today, although their former members may be very active as individuals. 

Introduction and Framing of “Building Capacity and Increasing Impact as a National Network”

The work of the Transition movement – of shifting to a less fossil-fueled future – has never been more important. That future is upon us right now.  

“We’re at the beginning of the second wave of Transition movement,” interim Executive Director Don Hall told participants on the call. “We are putting ourselves in the right position for that second wave by coming together as a movement in ways we haven’t in the past.” 

In a 2019 survey of Transition leaders and stakeholders, local leaders identified the development of regional hubs as a key opportunity for growth (see Strategic Planning Input Paper, page 17). Respondents said regional hubs could facilitate state and regional networking, peer-to-peer learning, and group collaborations. 

Three regional hubs developed organically – Salish Sea (WA), NorCal (CA) and MAST (PA). Two hubs are in the process of forming – SoCal (CA) and New England. Survey participants said Transition US should be more intentional in encouraging and supporting the development of new hubs. 

Since that survey was completed, several National Working Groups have formed around specific topics and are now offering webinars. 

Building Capacity

INCREASING CONNECTIONS

“I get inspiration by talking to others,” said Linda Currie of Transition Berkeley (CA). That sentiment was echoed by many of the participants on the November 24 Strategy call. 

People want to know what other groups are doing and how they are doing it (especially during COVID when typical activities are curtailed). They want to know which qualities make a group successful, and how many and what kinds of people make for an effective leadership team. They want to know what others have learned about best practices. 

They’d like more opportunities to connect, whether that is in affinity groups on specific topics (permaculture, economy, land trust, etc.), in regional hubs, through group-to-group or one-to-one mentoring, or in mini retreats that create space for connections and ideas to deepen. 

ACCESS TO RESOURCE PEOPLE

Groups would like help accessing professionals and networks that can help them get new projects off the ground. They’d like Transition US to have a network of resources. 

  • Scott Brown (Boulder, CO) and Kaat Vander Straeten (Wayland, MA) said their groups wanted help networking with mental health professionals. (Climate anxiety and climate grief are increasing problems.) 
  • Shelley Buonaiuto’s group in Fayetteville, AR wants to start a community bank. They want to talk to an economist and they’d like some expert financial help getting their project off the ground. 

TRAINING AND MENTORING

Participants identified areas where their groups could use more practical training or assistance:

  • How to use social media
  • How to set up a website
  • How to market their group or project (or the Transition movement as a whole)
  • How to raise funds and manage money
  • How to set up a 501(c)(3)
  • How to attract new members and keep volunteers engaged
  • How to deal with conflict

NEW LEADER SUPPORT

The transition of leadership away from the founding group to a new group of leaders is a particularly hard shift for many groups to make. New leaders aren’t always aware of or accessing the resources available from Transition US. They may not even be aware of Transition US – and Transition US isn’t aware of them. 

Before Leslie MacKenzie (co-founder of Transition Longfellow) moved to a new town, she spent 3 months meeting with and recruiting potential new leaders for the group she would be leaving behind. After she left, 2/3 of the original leadership team stepped down and the new team formed. That would have been a good time for new leaders to take Transition Launch training and an ideal time for leadership mentoring. Since the new group hasn’t been involved with Transition US, she doesn’t think training happened, and mentoring doesn’t yet exist. 

COMMUNICATIONS SUPPORT

Participants wanted help presenting a unified story of Transition that they can use to change the national narrative. 

As Chad Pilieri (NY) so humorously put it, when telling the Transition story of the future: “We’re not going to be suffering, dirty and freezing.” That’s the story others are telling about a scary low-energy future, but the Transition story is a positive one. We need to talk louder. Participants want:

  • Short, inspirational videos that are easily shareable
  • Toolkits for replicable projects
  • A single repository for information
  • Transition-related articles that can be shared
“Harvest Round” from “Building Capacity and Increasing Impact as a National Network”

Increasing Impact

The environment in which Transition 2.0 operates is different than the one it emerged from in 2007 when Transition hopped the ocean and took hold in the US. In addition to the well-known environmental groups that dominated the landscape, there are now many thousands of projects all across the country aimed at increasing access to local food, reducing waste, pushing for greenhouse gas reduction, providing mutual aid, and more. 

Does that mean there is no longer a need for Transition? 

No! As Linda Currie said, “We don’t have to do everything … (now) we look for gaps to fill.” 

On the macro level, networks and collaborations may play a bigger role for Transition groups in the future. Many participants, including Sari Steuber (PA), Mark Juedeman (MT), and Kaat Vander Straeten (MA) said they would like to see Transition US provide more support for collaboration, especially with local government. 

That can be challenging work. Municipalities aren’t used to collaborating with citizens. The experience of some on the call was that even when cities had staff specifically devoted to sustainability, groups often got pushback rather than enthusiasm from them. 

Linda said that her group originally did a lot of hands-on projects themselves, then members got involved in a city working group facilitated by an NGO. They thought the working group model would be the direction of the future, but that turned out not to be the case. Things didn’t get done, the NGO lost funding, and the project folded.  

Despite the challenges, collaboratives done well can have far-reaching impact. Transition groups need to be ready to operate effectively at that level. What skills and resources are needed to work in coalitions and networks? Participants didn’t have specific suggestions. 

On the micro level, even very small groups can increase their impact and plant seeds for a better future by showing people a different way of living. That work is the second part of Joanna Macy’s model of The Great Turning – coming to understand the systems we live in and rethinking the way we do things.

Leslie MacKenzie shared that after her household converted their tiny city lot to an edible landscape, added rainwater catchment, and solar PV and solar hot air to their house, they put their house on a citywide home tour. That gave them an opportunity to talk to more than 300 people about living with solar and growing some of their own food. (The tour organizer eventually added a sustainability/solar category to its listing to ensure such homes were always on the tour.)

There are lots of ways people in Transition groups can be visible role models, even people whose Transition groups have ended can continue to do this valuable work. When we increase our visibility, we increase the impact.

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