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 Guidstar.org 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 http://transitionculture.org/

shop/localisation-and-resilience-at-the-local-level-the-case-of-transition-town-totnes/

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 http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.library.ubc.ca/

docview/993012656?pq-origsite=summon

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 http://www.transitiontowntotnes.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Transition-Streets-final-report-27-Sep-2011.pdf

 

 

[1] The number of initiatives and countries come from the website www.transitionnetwork.org/initiatives/ 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 www.wiserearth.org; 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, Guidestar.org, 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.

SI Series 13: The Sixth Key Element of Social Innovation

Previously, in blog SI Series 11 (April 24’16), we looked at the five elements of what makes up social innovation: novelty, implementation, need, effectiveness, and enhancement, as described by The Young Foundation (Caulier-Grice, Davies, Patrick & Norman, 2012).

Another key element of social innovation, that The Young Foundation suggests is part of enhancement, but I’d like to separate to give it individualized focus, is resilience. Resilience is the ability of social innovation to adapt to the stressors and dynamic shifts in order to sustain or increase function, structure and identity (Hopkins, 2010, p. 54). Moore & Westley point out three main characteristics: “the capacity of the system to experience a disturbance or change and still retain its basic function, structure, and identity; the ability to self-organize; and the ability to increase its capacity to learn and adapt” (2011, p. 2). Resilience theory was initially derived for the dynamics of ecological systems; however, more recently has been applied to the complexities of human systems (Moore & Westley, 2011). Building resilience depends on increasing different parts of the innovation, in new and unique combinations, with allowance for the separate parts to associate with each other through cross-domain interaction, and a high emphasis on experimentation (Westley, 2013). It also emphasises a whole systems approach, is deeply interdisciplinary, and links global intellectual communities that offer unique pragmatic examples of local successes that have cross-contextual application. Resilience is about the adaptation within the cyclic nature of the system. It focuses on the “balance between continuity and change, a continuous (or infinite) cycle of release, reorganization, growth, and consolidation that characterizes all resilient living systems” (Westley, 2013, p. 6).

An example: a small and cute town with light transient tourism on the coast of British Columbia thrives under its main forestry industry dependant on a single company in the heart of town. A shift in environmental conditions, perhaps caused by climate change, force the company to shut down its downtown plant. The community, reeling in the loss of economic and social impacts, is now left with significant unemployment and a massive empty building that dominates the town’s central horizon. A serious loss of system resilience lies in the cycle of change getting stuck in one place; i.e., the town in its loss comes to a productive and social halt. However, a short while after the loss, a group of concerned citizens comes forward and starts a series of planning sessions that incorporates social innovation strategies they’ve learned from other urban examples. The town turns the empty building into a hub of social and eco-enterprises that draw on the rich regions environment and local tourism possibilities (for an illustration of this is, see Gibson Public Market, 2015).

System resilience lies “in the continuous movement through the cycle, causing the system to adapt or transform in the process” (Westley, 2013, p. 7). Ultimately, resilience is a major component of social innovation, and as new innovations are designed and implemented, should be considered for long term sustainability.

– 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.

Gibsons Public Market (2015). Gibsons public market strategic business plan: May 2015. Prepared by Gibsons Community Building Society. Retrieved from http://gibsonspublicmarket.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/GPM-Business-Plan-June-8-2015.pdf

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

shop/localisation-and-resilience-at-the-local-level-the-case-of-transition-town-totnes/

Hopkins, R. (2015, November 2). The Transition story: Time to stop talking about climate change? [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.transitionnetwork.org/blogs/rob-hopkins/2015-11/transition-story-time-stop-talking-about-climate-change

Moore, M. L. & Westley, F. (2011). Surmountable chasms: Networks and social innovation for resilient systems. Ecology and Society, 16(1): 5. Retrieved from http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol16/iss1/art5/

Westley, F. (2013). Social innovation and resilience: How one enhances the other. Stanford Social Innovation Review, 11(3), 6-8. Retrieved from http://ssir.org/articles/entry/social_innovation_and_resilience_how_one_enhances_the_other

 

SI Series 12: Social Innovation in Transition

Due to the large scale nature of the systemic challenges that social innovations are apt to address, some people are leaning towards social innovations in urban areas that consider a grassroots perspective. An example of this type of social innovation that has a specific goal of addressing complex problems like climate change and the challenges that an oil-based and globalized economy can bring, is the Transition initiative.

The Transition initiative (‘Transition’) began in October 2005 with a film screening on the subject of peak oil and the subsequent inspired idea by Rob Hopkins to create a plan for the town of Totnes, England, to ‘transition’ away from oil dependency, act on climate change, and to revive the local economy (Hopkins, 2010). The plan was rooted in permaculture principles, which is a creative design process based on whole systems thinking for agricultural sustainability (‘permanent-culture’). The process mimics natural systems such as interdependence, integration of relationships, resilience and efficiency, and can be applied to gardening as well as economies and social systems. Hopkins’ plan was implemented in Totnes to be a ‘Transition Town’ in 2006, and the idea has since spread to over a thousand registered towns and cities across the world. Transition can be considered as a hybrid environmental and social movement, and has elements of its own culture (Neal, 2013). Transition reacts to oil dependency, climate change and an increasing recognition of the failing aspects of capitalism and globalization, becoming apparent after the financial crisis of 2008 (Feola & Nunes, 2014). However, more recently it sees itself less as reactive and more proactive as a movement rooted in prosperous communal reciprocity to create a more sustainable world (Hopkins, 2015). Transition has two key themes, resilience and relocalisation, which it enacts through the “unleashing” of the creative energy, philosophical alignment and incentive, and the intelligence and local expertise of communities (Feola & Nunes, 2014). “Organic food production, affordable and accessible social resources from heating, health care, education and transport to bottom up, localised and community centred politics which emphasise mutuality and collective action can all be identified as initiatives and/or areas of concern within Transition culture” (Neal, 2013, culture, p. 62). Transition, however, does not purport to opt out of mainstream culture, but rather attempts to change it, “by thinking transversally and embracing more eco-sustainable ways of living to reorient the objectives of material and immaterial production” (Scott-Cato & Hillier, 2010, p. 878).

Transition-Network-logo6

Grassroots and collective organisation of city-wide initiatives serve as interesting examples due to their local and broad impact. The Transition initiative, which as a culture seeks to affect resilience and relocalisation of communities in facing energy decent, globalization and climate change, is a world-wide movement of local initiatives, organisations or programs that is novel, has broad impact, meets an important need, is effective in its projects making change, and engages perhaps hundreds of thousands of individuals to live a life for a more sustainable world. Urban centres, as multidimensional and multi-sector composites of complex social problems with increased concentration potential for negative impacts of climate change, can be positively effected through Transition initiatives. As a social innovation, Transition has elements of creative destruction (see blog SI Series 10: The Complex Social Problem of Climate Change), which through the continuous novel adaptation of dominant social forces, upsets and replaces old systems (such as challenging capitalism and incessant oil consumption) in the creation of new ones (i.e. localism of economies and reducing the carbon footprint).

Indeed, Transition is a social innovation that has broad impact and stimulates grass-roots perspectives of social populations to activate local solutions. It is a classic example of a social innovation. For more information, see here or here.

– Mike Unrau

 

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.

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

shop/localisation-and-resilience-at-the-local-level-the-case-of-transition-town-totnes/

Hopkins, R. (2015, November 2). The Transition story: Time to stop talking about climate change? [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.transitionnetwork.org/blogs/rob-hopkins/2015-11/transition-story-time-stop-talking-about-climate-change

Neal, S. (2013). Transition culture: Politics, localities and ruralities. Journal of Rural Studies, 32, 60-60.

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