Knee Deep in Transition, avoiding donut organisations, and building the New Economy

Originally written for the Transition Network and published May 2012, as
The Organiser: Hosting Training For Transition, making donuts, and bringing the New Economy home

Transforming the way we think and do

Transition is huge. No matter that it isn’t yet dispersed everywhere, or having greater impact, there’s no arguing that it has reached far and wide, in to the lives or consciousness of many. People are practising everywhere. And yet I’m often surprised that the depth of Transition, its immense wisdom, roots, influences and tools aren’t better appreciated or utilised among even those who have a lot of experience in doing it. I’m surprised there are still Transitioners who haven’t read the Handbook, at least once, let alone read Rob Hopkins’ MSc dissertation, which I’d highly recommend.

Be prepared to be surprisedI’m surprised when Transitioners aren’t regularly doing visioning; I think a streamlined version could be built in as a 5 minute insert into the majority of Transition meetings as a habit. I’m surprised when I’m met with surprise that collaborative governance systems such as Sociocracy and Viable Systems Model, the psychology of behavioural change, scenario planning, oral history and much more have influenced the Transition movement right from the start. That the pattern language of Transition isn’t more embodied. That the Project Support Project isn’t at the core of all initiatives. Or when Transitioners neglect to design in fun and celebration. Or getting paid.

Transition goes deeper than telling everyone else what they need to do differently, and deeper even than creative solutions that demonstrate the future and replenish the present. It is also a personal journey, and that remains true whether we’re just starting out or think of ourselves as ‘experts’; the journey into Transition is a lifelong one. Transition asks us to get creative, and re-imagine how we might go about doing things, as well as what we want to create.


So it’s really important that the deeper aspects become more widely dispersed among our initiatives. That everyone becomes more acquainted with using permaculture design tools and applying the Transition principles. That skilling up includes facilitation skills, equipping people to use tools like Open Space, collaborative decision making, visioning and backcasting. That we build in resilience to everything, from our own lives, to our initiatives and to society. It’s really important that as many people as possible take the Training For Transition course and explore others, and share their knowledge and skills, and continue their learning.

The New Economy begins at home

We need to consider how we might create an experiment that could replicate and upscale. What could this look like in 5 or 10 years? How could it employ people? How will it contribute to building the ‘Transition Economy‘? Or has it been designed to burn out your volunteers, exclude others too busy trying to keep a roof over their heads, and erode goodwill?

T4T Totnes Org StructureI’m definitely not saying money should be the only kind of yield, or that it is necessary all the time, or that people shouldn’t be doing things for love, as a gift. But at least some of our projects need to be solving the problem of scarce realistic alternatives to working in and for the old economy. Transition has to help create the new one. I would personally argue that unless some of our projects are nurturing the ‘Transition Economy’, then maybe we aren’t fully doing Transition yet.

If we take sustainability seriously, then we have to make our lives and projects sustainable. Creating pathways for people earn to an income simultaneously addresses several permaculture and Transition principles such as resilience, obtain a yield, succession and the core ethic of people care.

And so I want to encourage us all to think about getting people paid. I often find that among people who are trying to somehow save the planet, paying people makes some feel uncomfortable and brings up issues. Be honest and open, have those discussions with your peers, and resolve any concerns together.

Organising Training For Transition in your town

TransitionTrainingDoris1I was twice part of a four person team who were tasked with hosting a Training For Transition weekend in my town, for local Transitioners and others in the region. Hosting one creates multiple short and long term benefits. I couldn’t recommend it more. There’s also some work involved. Tasks can be shared out, but ultimately someone will have to put in some significant effort, such as liaising with participants, filling seats and handling bookings.

We selected one person to be lead organiser and recognised that with a fee. We sketched out a budget and set about promoting the event. One time we failed to fill enough places to break even and had to call it off; there needs to be quite a bit of organising and promoting.The other time we managed to almost fill the course, make enough to cover all our costs, pay the trainers their deserved wage, pay a cool local organisation for their space, pay the lead organiser something, and raise a surplus for our general funds. And we generated a deep sense of determination and purpose, whose effects can be seen still. And we had fun and made some lasting bonds.

In hindsight, we probably set prices slightly too low, and underestimated how much jostling about for places goes on when people change their minds. I’d recommend having a waiting list as large as the number of places available. The share of surplus to the lead organiser and general initiative funds wasn’t going to make anyone rich. In fact the lead organiser fee was more a token gesture compared to the work undertaken, enhanced by a free place on the workshop, but very useful nonetheless.

jigsaw-handsFair Shares and Making Donuts

One phenomenon I reckon is quite common among established Transition initiatives is making donuts. A core group in the middle put in huge effort, then watch as proud parents when projects spin off into Transition Enterprises that get successful, pay people and win applause. Unless we make sure that those left in the middle are looked after, we create a gaping hole that is unsustainable. There are many ways of solving that. One way is to make sure that any projects stay connected to the centre as they grow, contribute to the health of the whole, and ‘feed the mother’. A model I’ve used as a flexible rule of thumb for organising events is:

For a revenue generating event, aim for 80% going to the project, for example the Food Group circle, who deal with all the organising and paying venue and anyone that needs to be paid, then keep any surplus for future work, 20% goes to the ‘mother’, the Transition initiative umbrella. For running a workshop, aim for covering all fixed costs and expenses, then organisers split some share of 30%, trainers 50%, 10% to the ‘Mother’, 10% to some Fun(d) For The Future for that group or project. Always reassess the above when you’ve counted the cash left over and make sure that everyone feels good about the shares, adjusting accordingly. Be open and transparent about money and paying people, and get consent (draw out objections and resolve them) before proceeding from  whomever in your group needs to have a say. If necessary, use the event as an opportunity to agree a protocol in general about handling revenue and paying people.

Always allow some comfort / error margin when planning. Always conduct a post event evaluation, and grow from it. Be open. Celebrate success and successful failures. Aim to harvest a money yield when you can, as well as growing capacity, relationships, morale, resilience and more.

Martin Grimshaw was the chair of Transition Brighton and Hove, which has unfortunately now faltered. He continues to be involved with Transition through other routes.

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