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Energy Descent Action Plans

The cover of the Totnes Energy Descent Action Plan (published April 2010)


Our leaders, when designing for our future, assume there will always be cheap energy, economic growth, growth in car use and so on – all of which are highly questionable assumptions. Surely we can do better than that?


Energy Descent Action Plans (EDAPs) are provisional, not proven. They are an emerging and dynamic ingredient of Transition. There are excellent peak oil plans and climate change strategies being developed around the world, but an EDAP is different, as it emerges from a community, and is as much about storytelling and visioning as planning.

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Design a creative, engaging and research-based community process to form a powerful, practical story of the future. Start with a vision of a lower-energy future, and then backcast, telling how it was achieved, year by year, setting out the vital first steps and the catalyst projects needed to get the ball rolling.

Full description

Energy Descent Action Plans (EDAPs) are provisional, not proven. They are an emerging and dynamic ingredient of Transition. There are excellent peak oil plans and climate change strategies being developed around the world, but an EDAP is different, as it emerges from a community, and is as much about storytelling and visioning as planning.

An EDAP is a community Plan B, a drawing-together of the visioning and backcasting work done up to that point, focusing on how Transition could happen. It pulls together initiatives and puts them in the wider context of planning for the relocalisation of the settlement. But what is it? Is it a step-by-step plan with stated outcomes? A vision document? A story of how a powered-down future would be? Or a rewriting of council policies, showing how enlightened leadership would promote Transition?

Nobody yet knows for sure, but we have some experience to go on. The first one, the Kinsale Energy Descent Action Plan,[i] was a student project based on the question ’What would it look like if . . .?’ Although much celebrated, it was based on very little community consultation and was largely a student initiative.

The EDAP of Transition Sunshine Coast (in Australia) was also coordinated by students, on a ‘Time for an Oil Change’ course. The final plan, though, had a far wider political effect. It led to Transition being featured in the council’s climate change and peak oil strategy and in its draft Energy Transition Plan, and to the council’s vision being “to build a low-carbon, low-oil, resilient future for the Sunshine Coast”.

[i] This can be downloaded in full from

In 2009, Transition Forest Row (TFR) produced ‘Forest Row in Transition: a community work in progress,’[ii] a short ‘pre-EDAP’, which offered a brief and playful vision of a powered-down future Forest Row. Their budget didn’t allow in-depth research, and they didn’t feel they had enough members of the community on board, so they decided to write a lightweight narrative, combining graphic design, humour and some information.

Mike Grenville of TFR told me that it raised local credibility and awareness, but would have been better with some market research before and after its publication to assess its effect. It is still a source of inspiration, referred back to regularly.

The most substantial EDAP so far is ‘Transition in Action: an Energy Descent Action Plan’[iii] produced by Transition Town Totnes in June 2010. This emerged from community visioning workshops and other activities, and offered a credible vision of Totnes in 2030. It began with an oral history of Totnes in the 1950s and explained the role of storytelling, before presenting a detailed timeline for the decarbonisation and localisation of food, energy, housing, education and much more. It also contained two detailed pieces of research, ‘Can Totnes and district feed itself?’ and an energy budget for the area. Reviewing the Totnes EDAP in i4 magazine , Michelle Colussi wrote:

In short, as impressive a document as Transition in Action is, it falls short of being an Energy Descent Action Plan. Instead, it seems to be more of a vision – a remarkably explicit, exciting and community-based vision that tells us exactly what is to come about, but not how or by whom. Ultimately, the document acts like more of an Energy Descent Invitation than a Plan. It entices other communities to have a go at the process for themselves. Given the time and resources that an EDAP will require, will this invitation be compelling enough?

Be mindful of other past or present community planning processes in your community. Another community group starting another community planning process can lead to people rolling their eyes, and it may be best to work with the process(es) already under way. An EDAP, if just a document, has little value. It needs to have a central role in inspiring, raising awareness, organising the initiative and determining its progress.

What would a Transition initiative need to start creating an EDAP?

You will need:

  • A dedicated group of people, involving and representing the views of as many other organisations in the community as possible (the local council, schools, other environmental groups, community groups and so on).
  • Funds – EDAPS cost money.
  • Strong Transition working groups who pull together.
  • Plenty of early awareness raising.
  • Good web facilities to enable discussion of ideas, joint editing of drafts, promotion of events, etc.

What might an EDAP process look like in a city?

In London, Transition Town Brixton has run a big Open Space day, and has started drawing together the visions that have been generated at other events, including their Unleashing. The question they face is what a city EDAP looks like, and whether they should develop a template that other urban groups can use. Can areas of a city power down, or can only the whole city do so? Should the council take a lead and Transition initiatives support their work? (The Bristol Peak Oil Report is an example of such an approach). Would the results justify the effort?

These are all unknowns, to be tested. Some form of EDAP feels sensible, indeed vital, whatever the result. Integral to successful EDAPs should be ensuring that everyone’s voices are heard in the process. Creative consultation events, perhaps using the arts, can gather ideas and feed back in an informed way that can start to create a real buzz around a different way of looking at the future. Oh, and by the way, you can call them whatever you like! Some people prefer ‘Community Resilience Plan’ or a ‘Community Futures Plan’ . . . although ‘Community Resilience Action Plan’ hasn’t really caught on, perhaps for obvious reasons . . .

Transition in Action: Transition Town Worthing’s EDAP

by Steve Last

Transition Town Worthing (TTW) began its journey towards its EDAP in 2010. The process was not planned at the beginning, but started from asking people their views on what the future might look like during awareness-raising events. TTW are expecting that the EDAP will be published in 2012. The process looks a bit like this:

  1. Step 1: Creation of a Transition Timeline for Worthing. This fold-out board on to which people added post-it notes was showcased at every opportunity for over a year, asking people to add a note to a year between 2011 and 2031.
  2. Step 2: Visualising a positive future. TTW has run sessions which have taken the audience on a guided visualisation to a future where the transition to a low-carbon economy has happened. This, along with exercises from Joanna Macy called ‘Meet the Descendants’ have proved very powerful tools to create visions of what the possible future might be like.
  3. Step 3: Oral histories. We’ve had great enthusiasm amongst members for ‘heritage’ issues; we wanted to gain valuable insight into how Worthing operated before cheap fossil fuels.
  4. Step 4: Views from 2030 in the Post Carbon Gazette. TTW’s monthly newsletter has featured numerous articles based on food, transport, reskilling, and energy, written from the viewpoint of someone in a successful decarbonised future.
  5. Step 5: Setting up a Transition Tales group. We wanted to provide a creative outlet for people to express their ideas. This now includes agony-aunt columns, cartoons, poems and news stories. This includes a writing competition for schools.
  6. Step 6: Collecting data. A few TTW members are keen on local statistics . . . Good!
  7. Step 7: Running several EDAP events, including films, a launch evening and an EDAP World Café to carry out some backcasting with the timeline, with local councillors and business leaders invited.
  8. Step 8: Writing funding bids. We’d like to publish the EDAP and distribute as widely as possible. We need some funding to make this happen.

Transition in action - Dunbar 2025 – Local Resilience Action Plan

by Philip Revell

At the start of 2009, Sustaining Dunbar received a grant from the Scottish Government’s Climate Challenge Fund of up to £270,000 to implement its ‘Dunbar 2025’ project, which has two strands:

  • a home energy advice service to achieve short-term carbon savings
  • the development of an action plan for making the structural changes in the local economy required to move to a zero-carbon future.

An ambitious two-year programme of community engagement involved a programme of awareness-raising events, workshops and roadshows with diverse groups across the area, interviews with farmers, fishermen and teachers, and doorstep interviews with over 800 residents. Supplementary research built up a picture of local resources and resource flows.

The research showed that most people do actually want to make many of the changes that will be required as we move to a more localised future, but face many barriers, as well as perverse incentives not to make changes. They are keen to access local food, want to reduce their energy consumption, and would love to be able to work locally, to be able to walk and cycle more, etc. Furthermore, time and again people say that what gives them a sense of well-being are things such as opportunities to share and learn skills, supportive friendships, a feeling of community and the quality of the local environment.

In order to fit in with the approach used by our local authority and community planning partnership, we have used ‘logic models’ to rough out action plans for overcoming the barriers and challenges identified in our research. We are working on creating a network diagram so that it is clear what actions can be progressed in parallel and which are the critical actions to concentrate on initially. One of our first actions is to identify how well our plan aligns with Scottish and Local Government ‘outcomes’ and policies, and where they conflict. Most important, however, will be to hold a shared vision of what a vibrant and resilient low-carbon community could look like and to put in place the local support and infrastructure needed to enable people to self-organise to start creating that vision.

A draft version of our ‘Local Resilience Action Plan’, with sections on Food, Energy, Transport, Health and Enterprise/Skills, has been published as a website (, while a summary leaflet has been distributed to every household in the ward. A full printed version will be presented in August 2011  [UBP] to our local authority, community councils and other local organisations.

[i] This can be downloaded in full from

[iii] See



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