Friday, November 11, 2011

The Transition Companion Review

The Transition Companion has been released and it looks great.

What The Whole Earth Catalog (WEC) did for its time, I believe The Transition Companion will do for today.  The WEC was about the tools needed to build a new culture in the days oil was cheap and plentiful.  The Transition Companion is about a new era when oil is expensive, the easy oil is nearly gone, human caused climate change is a global game changer and recovery from the Great Recession of 2008 is proving slow at best.

Like the WEC, The Transition Companion is a book of tools.  These tools are for building a grassroots community program.  In my years of work in this field I’ve never seen a better guide.  The Transition Handbook (2008) was a great launch for the movement but the Companion is a quantum leap beyond it. 

What is the measure of success?  How about the growth of the Transition Towns (TT) movement?  The TT movement is only five years old, starting from the founding of Transition Towns Totnes in the UK in 2006.  Since then nearly 400 official Transition Initiates have been formed in 34 countries and 103 of them are in the US.  The first in the US was founded just three years ago this month.  Seven official Initiatives are in Pennsylvania and York, PA has a fabulous hub forming.  More are starting up.  This is what they call viral in the best sense.

Yes, incredible!  Before I give a short review of the book let’s raise a glass and give three cheers to Rob Hopkins and another three cheers to the thousands of Transition Towners around the world.  Hip, Hip…..!

The Transition Companion is 300 pages of superbly illustrated text.  We need to give a hand to Chelsea Green for an excellent product, on “Paper from responsible sources.”  The book uses a form of Christopher Alexander’s “pattern language.”  That means the book is made up of a lot of short parts that are very carefully crafted to unfold in the form of a “pattern,” an encapsulation of community smarts presented in the form of something like a recipe.  Patterns are things that work, not theories.

Let’s use for an example what I consider the very cornerstone of the Transition Movement:  forming the initiating group.  This item (Part Three, Starting Out, Section 1) starts with a challenge:  “How best to bring a group of people together, and lay foundations for their working together successfully.”  There is that magical little quote from Margaret Mead:  “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”  After two pages of tips drawn from numerous experiments in starting TTs this section concludes:  “From the outset, create clear structures and processes that help your group to work enjoyably and effectively – and take some time to get to know each other as people!”  At the end of each section is a small block with links to related topics.  After another four pages of “Inclusion and Diversity,” we get to the first “Tools for Transition.”  There are 21 of these, each a well-tested exercise in community building.

The Transition Companion is divided into three parts.  The first answers the question “Why the Transition movement does what it does?”  Here you will find the history of the movement, the basic philosophy and the plan of action painted in broad strokes.

Part Two addresses “What the Transition response looks like in practice.”  And yes, it is the “what,” the nuts and bolts of the Transition process, a process I call a best practice because it does what I find no other model will do as well.  And that isn’t to say the Transition process is the cure-all for the world’s problems.  A Cheerful Disclaimer puts that claim to rest.  The strength of the Transition model is that it draws on the accumulated wisdom of vast numbers of people and cultures.  It has a built-in desire to learn, to absorb and to form cooperative partnerships.  But it is a systematic and comprehensive game plan in its own right.  It is a very important ingredient in community building.

As they say, however, if it were easy, everyone would be doing it.  Once a forming group comes together there is just a lot of work to do to take a community out of dependence on fossil fuels and build a new culture and a new economy that lets us do a whole lot more, in terms of quality of life, with a great deal less.  This takes us to Part Three:  “How the Transition movement does what it does – Ingredients for success.”

Part Three is divided into five sections:  1) Starting out, 2) Deepening, 3) Connecting, 4) Building, and 5) Daring to dream.  There are 43 topics in these five sections, along with the 21 tools.  That, friends, is a lot of material so perhaps a word about how to approach this book.  My advice is to read the first two parts.  They are fairly linear.  Then skim Part Three.  Each topic starts with a short statement that tells you what it is going to address and at the end comes to a clear closing.  Both of these short statements are in bold colored type.  In between you will find narrative and lists and charts and photos and graphics.  There is no test at the end of the book.  Don’t try to absorb it all.

If you didn’t get to the end without a Wow!, maybe you tried too hard.  Best thing to do is to make a quick first flyover of Part Three and make your own short list of the things you liked and want to work on and then read those more closely.  Part Three is not linear.  It’s about a communal ecosystem.  It does take a little work to get the lay of that ecosystem but it’s like moving into a new neighborhood; you get the hang of it pretty quick.

Where do you go with what grabs your attention?  Next step is to form working groups (Part Three, Starting Out, Section 10).  Connect with your local Transition Town (see initiatives map at www.transitionus.org) and find other people who want to do the same thing.  Once that happens, you and your community are on your way.

The Transition Companion is not a pricy book.  You can get good discounts on line.  If there is no Transition Town near you, get a group of friends to order copies and form a study group.  Then form you own Initiative.
 
Our local Initiative, Transition Towns State College, is offering basic workshops on the updated Transition process.  Check our facebook, Transition Town State College, and the Transition Centre web page, www.transitioncentre.org, for notices of training and other events.

More later.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Transition Centre was developed to help create Transition Towns in Centre County, Pennsylvania.  Out of that effort came Transition Towns State College.  There is, however, a whole lot more to Transition Centre.  TC has been registered as a Pennsylvania nonprofit corporation.  It now has, in addition to promoting the Transition Towns best practice model, the missions of developing an architecture of a sustainable community and developing a New School of Living, a learning institute that will provide the knowledge, skills and abilities to achieve the TT objective of a resilient community and particularly promote stronger local, agrarian economies and communities.

On this site will be found post related to things we are interested in at Transition Centre but they will span a considerably range of topics, news and views.

More later,
Bill