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Chapter 6: Gathering, Planning, Execution, Follow-up
Setting up your steering group
The co-originator of the permaculture concept, Bill Mollison, once famously said, "I can't save the world on my own. It'll take at least three of us", or words to that effect. In order to start a Transition Initiative, you will need to gather like-minded souls in order to drive forward the first stage of the process. These people can be found either trough private contact or trough telecommuting, which thus allows easier creation of a distant project. In organising the Transition Initiative, an important thing is that from the very first meeting you organise, that group must state clear objectives and define a lifespan for its functioning (the latter is also called a demise).
The reason for this is that many groups starting Transition Initiatives get atrophied and stuck with people who cling to their roles in a way that stifles the progress of the project. In order for the Transition Initiative to work, it is important that the project becomes driven by those who are actually doing things. The initial group is thus ideally composed out of reliable people with the aim of getting through steps 1 to 7, and to agree that once a minimum of four sub-groups are formed, the initial group with whom the Transition Initiative was started disbands and the members are spread over the theme groups. After this, a steering group is formed made up of one person from each of the theme groups. The steering group can (atleast at first) consist of (all or a part of) the intial group members (probably atleast including yourself). This, as in the beginning, the people with the most experience and ideas will be the founding members. In the beginning, this is a fair thing to do as they are then most qualified and as those who have put in most work and/or financial input should be able to make sure their investment sees its returns. However, as time goes by, the initial members may reduce their contributions or become less qualified to continue leading the steering group. At this moment, those people from each of the theme groups who have become most qualified and/or contributed the most to the Transition Initiative, are asked to replace them. This offcourse requires a degree of humility for the rest of the party, but is very important in order to put the success of the project above the individuals involved. It is also quite a relief! It means that you aren't forming a group whose aim is the complete organisation of the entire Transition Initiative, but just to do the first few steps; which is a much more manageable task!
The exact theme groups which are formed differ with each type of Transition Initiative, but a example of groups used in a Transition Initiative to convert a regular city to become more environmentally friendly is the following
- Building & Housing
- Economics & Livelihoods
- Health & Wellbeing
- Heart & Soul
- Local Government
- The Arts
- Admin & Support
Now that the steering group is made, you may now start to plan your Transition Initiative. The plan thus made is to be called the Appropriate Living Plan (ALP) or Energy Descent Action Plan. At the preliminary stage your job is comparable to a gardener preparing the soil for the ensuing garden, which you may or may not be around to see.
Step 1 involves the establishment of a baseline. The establishment of a basiline involves the collecting of some basic data on the current practices of your town, eg regarding the energy consumption, food miles, the amount of food consumed, ... Your steering group could spend years gathering this kind of data, but you shouldn't try to build up a hugely detailed picture, it's more a matter of getting a some main indicators of key elements of how the place functions. Examples are how much arable land there is, how many people there are (to calculate consumption), how the energy is being produced currently, whether any of current energy power plants can be converted, what materials can be reused, whether any of the area's vehicles can be converted, ... You may find that the your local government office has a lot of this information anyway. Your working groups may also have identified some of this information.
Step 2 involves the obtaining of the local community plans Your local government's plans for the area are likely to have timescales and elements that you need to take into account in your ALP. If private buildings are a key part in your plan, it may be useful to ask the owners their plans aswell. They will both be a useful source of information and data.
Step 3: Analysis and primary processing Having aquired the data, you will need to decide whether you assume that the existing plan is based on unrealistic assumptions or realistic predictions. You should also decide whether you want your plans to wrap around the plans of others (which ensures support) or whether you want to do things exactly your way. Take note that the first option here is to be preferred and hear out your group members. Map out the area (or the most important parts thereof) in 3D using Google SketchUp and Google Earth. The programs allow you to visualise your changes to yourself and others. This map-out will at the moment only be partial and will be completed at step 6.
Step 4: Main processing
Now it is time to visualise the changes and note down the backcasts. Backcasting is a process which looks at what needs to be in place in, say, 15 years, and then asks what needs to be done by year 14 in order for that to happen; what must have been achieved by year 10, what are the milestones for years 7, 5, 3 and next year. The working groups thus list out a timeline of the milestones, activities and processes that need to be in place if the vision is to be achieved based on the main objectives and its derived prerequisties. Backcasting will thus enable you to think through some very useful questions and provide answers to these. Two examples for the provisioning of wood and for the a technical project (the local PassivHaus) are provided below.
Regarding the wood provisioning; if a community recognises that it needs to be providing 50% of its own sustainable wood for construction by 2025, that resource will need to have been planted up in 2018, which means the land will have to have been secured by 2016, which means the negotiations with landowners and the council needs to have been completed by 2014, which will require the audit of the local resource for new/existing suitable woodland needs to start in 2012 (to include a good period of observation), requiring skills to be built up within the community for assessing land in this way by 2010, meaning someone needs to be booking a year's forestry course tomorrow.
Another example is the one from the Scandinavian model of the PassivHaus, a house which derives all its heating needs from good orientation, super-insulation and the occupants' body heat, and redesigns it to use 80% local materials. Clearly however, having a Local PassivHaus built tomorrow would be a near-impossibility: a number of things would need to be in place first. There would need to be a local hemp industry in place, a local lime production, people should be making clay plasters and a workforce needs to have been trained up and familiar with these new materials and techniques. This backcasting, noted down in the ALP, offers a way of setting out the practicalities of the transition.
Step 5: Pull together the group's ideas into an overall plan Next, the timelines of the different theme groups are combined together to ensure their coherence. This might be done on a big wall with post-it notes or on a whiteboard with magnets to ensure that, for example, the Food group hasn't planned to turn into a market garden the same car park that the Medicine group wanted to turn into a health centre. This process should not be too time-consuming; it is intented to simply ensure that when combined, the different strands of the plan all tell a consistent story.
Step 6: Create a first draft Make the final version of your SketchUp model, incorporating all of the buildings, places that will be changed by the Transition Initiative. Create a text in which a short summary of the state of play in 2008, followed by the year-by-year vsion until the date at which the Transition Initiative reaches its objectives and is completed is given. Once complete, pass the document out for its review and consultation. Next, create brochures, and other documents you can use for your presentation of your ALP to the public. Open Space Days, Transition Tales and a range of other visioning days can be used to create an overall sense of a localised, low-energy must-do project, preferably in such an enticing way that anyone reading it will feel their life utterly bereft if they don't dedicate the rest of their lives towards its realisation. The presentation to the public would be useful to engage inhabitants to helping with the projects and in order to receive funding from wealthy inhabitants or organisations.
Step 7: Finalise the ALP When the public presentation has been done, much feedback will be received from inhabitants and sponsors. Reflect on this feedback and integrate last-minute changes into the ALP where required (these will only be minor).
Execute your plan. Appoint group members or others to take up the function of eg local food officer, local eduction officer, ... and others listed in your ALP and ask them to to execute the ALP in practice.
Determine whether the objectives have been met. Determine whether you attained your personal objectives. Ask the inhabitants whether they think any improvements may be added and implement corrections as required.