SI Series #14: The Transition Example

Previously, in blog # 12 (May 8), we gave an introductory post about the Transition initiative. I’d like here, to apply it to the five elements of what makes up social innovation: novelty, implementation, need, effectiveness, and enhancement (Caulier-Grice, Davies, Patrick & Norman, 2012). In the effectiveness section, I’ll include some data and statistics of the initiative’s success.

Transition is a good example of a social innovation that addresses the causes of climate change in multiple ways. Its novelty is not in the new practices it espouses, such as local organic food production (like backyard farming), resource skill development (like canning, home brewing or knitting, i.e., the ‘great reskilling’ (Hopkins, 2010)), or local economic practices (like complementary currencies or social enterprise), but rather the city-wide collective action of all efforts towards reducing oil dependency and the causes of climate change. In this way, it affects complex social systems through the interfaces between multiple different sub-problems rather than only by the sub-problems individually. Transition’s implementation is broad and durable in the sense that its concepts are accessible, practical and interweave connections between the pragmatic projects environmentally conscious people are already implementing in communities around the world. Ideally, the initiative blends communal grassroots action with local governance, with civic governments taking on the principles of the initiative as actions towards change. The broadness of the initiative, as well as its capacity to get society to act (enhancement) is evident in the sheer number of initiatives that are currently running across the planet (initiatives have been running for an average of about 4 years (Feola & Nunes, 2014), and as of November 2014, there were 1196 initiatives across 39 countries (WEB transition network) with approximately 226,000 members (Feola & Nunes, 2014). The number of people impacted by members’ work is a multiple of this, but is unreported).[1] A growing number of people are aware of the need to alter the cause of climate change, which is one main goal of this social innovation, as is evident of the thousands of organisations and initiatives dedicated to environmental education (the worldwide database indicates 20,548 registered with them, in countries across the world),[2] and as evident in the scientific consensus on global climate change (an analysis indicates “that 97-98% of climate researchers most actively publishing in the field supported the scientific consensus on global warming as outline by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change” (Njoroge, 2011, p. 32)). In terms of Transition’s effectiveness, Feola & Nunes (2014) have reported of the Transition projects surveyed (276), that 75.7% are either very successful or fairly successful, compared to 24.3% of those that are not very successful or not successful at all, based on four factors: human (volunteerism and involvement), organisation (ability to achieve goals), resources (funding) and external (outside elements determining success, such as support from local governments). Another report (Ward, Porter & Popham, 2011) suggests that in a study of 468 Transition households that did a survey project to reduce their energy consumption, each household saved 1.3 tonnes of CO2 per year, and only used 14% of the average household’s usage of kWh per year, decreasing costs dramatically.

Thus, the Transition initiative, as a city-wide initiative with a goal of affecting climate change, demonstrates itself as a strong candidate for a social innovation example.


– Mike Unrau


Caulier-Grice, J.; Davies, A.; Patrick, R. & Norman, W. (The Young Foundation). (2012). Defining social innovation. Social Innovation Overview: A deliverable of the project “The theoretical, empirical and policy foundations for building social innovation in Europe,” (TEPSIE), European Commission – 7th Framework Programme, Brussels: European Commission, DG Research.

Feola, G. & Nunes, R. (2014). Success and failure of grassroots innovations for addressing climate change: The case of the Transition Movement. Global Environmental Change, 24, 232-250.

Hawken, P. (2007). Blessed unrest: How the largest movement in the world came into being and why no one saw it coming. New York, NY: Penguin Group.

Hopkins, R. (2010). Localisation and resilience at the local level: The case of Transition Town Totnes (Devon, UK) (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from


Njoroge, R. (2011). Examining why people accept (or reject) the scientific consensus on global warming: The role of demographics, ideology, and cultural cognition (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from


Scott-Cato, M. & Hillier, J. (2010). How could we study climate-related social innovation? Applying Deleuzean philosophy to Transition Towns. Environmental Politics, 19(6), 869-887. DOI: 10.1080/09644016.2010.518677

Ward, F.; Porter, A. & Popham, M. (2011, September 27). Transition Streets: Final project report, September 2011. Prepared for Transition Town Totnes. Retrieved from



[1] The number of initiatives and countries come from the website and it is unclear of the reliability of the numbers or what counts as an ‘initiative;’ ie, were the initiatives formalized or ad hoc (Feola & Nunes (2014) suggest 64% of transition initiatives were constituted in a legal form, based on a sampling of 276 initiatives). The only peer-reviewed article indicating numbers is older (Scott-Cato & Hillier, 2010), and thus, these are the most recent numbers I could find. The number of members comes from Feola & Nunes (2014) suggesting a mean 189 members per initiative of 276 sampled; the number 226,000 comes from multiplying the mean number by the number of initiatives as a working estimate.

[2] Hawken (2007) in his book estimates up to 10 million non-profits dedicated to social justice and environmental organisations across 243 countries, and writes of a website database listing active known organisations at; however, this site has been closed since 2014. Other web reports indicate Hawken’s site had about 500,000 organisations listed, and the site listed here,, is a recent database that may not be fully-up-to-date or well-known enough to create an accurate estimate, and thus, is used as a working example.

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