“Dear Transition Agony Aunt. What’s the best way to start a Transition group after a previous one has folded? And should you even think of doing so if you haven’t been able to track down at least eight people who were involved in the folded group? LR
I think the first thing to say is that Transition groups have natural life cycles. Many groups have come into existence, slowed down, folded, restarted, and so on. Many groups just start and seem to just keep going, or go from strength to strength. There is no one way. A good way to think of this is to compare them to ecosystems. If you plant an oak tree and it dies, does it mean that oaks can’t survive in this environment, or was it not a very strong tree to begin with or a bad year? You obviously wouldn’t want to plant oak tree after oak tree in a situation year after year hoping that it wouldn’t die even though many before hand did. On the other hand, is it reasonable to assume that if one tree dies then oak trees can’t survive in this situation?
If you are wanting to start a Transition group in an area where one has previously failed then the first thing to do would be to find out why the previous one had folded. There are a wide range of reasons why a group may have folded and they are not always negative, so the first thing you should do is try to communicate with members of the previous group. This can sometimes be easy if you live in a small area, by asking local people who were involved.
Another way to contact an old group is to do a google search for their name and see if they have a website or search Facebook to see if they have a group and contact them through that. If that doesn’t bring up a contact the Transition Network website has Transition nearby search function where you can put in your postcode and you will be given all the groups near to you and often you can contact them through their profile.
If you are successful in contacting them then it would be good to meet up face to face for a chat over a coffee to find out what had happened. Before meeting up it would be useful to read through our guide on how to start Transition to get an overview of what it entails and the ‘How groups develop’ document. Remember that people might still be emotionally invested in the group, so be sensitive and start off by asking what they achieved and don’t come to them with a ‘we can do it better than you’ attitude. Also it may be worth talking to couple to the people who were involved if possible as they may have different views on what had happened. When you meet up these are some of the questions that it would be useful to ask:
What did the group achieve?
What were the main challenges that the group faced?
How many people were involved and how did the group run?
Are there any projects still running that came out of the Transition group (often the core Transition Group ceases to exist as all the people are doing projects, we call this the donut effect)?
Why did the group end?
Do you think people would be keen to be involved if it was restarted with new people involved?
What do you think would help a new group to be successful?
This should give you a good idea of the history of the group and also the environment that the group was operating and the challenges that a new group may also face. If there have been issues that caused the group to split, then it would be useful to think about how those could be avoided, the new support framework we have developed may help you to think about how to be proactive in avoiding problems.
Often problems come from the group not being clear at the start how it is going to operate and not understanding the way that groups develop, these are all issues that are covered in our support section. Another problem that often occurs is that there are difficult people who just seem to create difficult dynamics in a group.
If you can’t contact existing group members, don’t let this put you off. You could arrange a public meeting that just states you are interested in re-starting Transition and asking any people to come along who would like to find out more, you may find that some of the old group members turn up. If they don’t then you would need to consider whether to take the Initiative and form a new Transition Group. If you are going to do this then you should read through as much of the support offer as possible to get an understanding of what it entails, crucially you need to have read the guides how to start Transition and How to start Transition: Developing an initiating group.
Transition groups are only a sum of their parts and the people involved. So each one is actually unique regardless of whether it is in the same place, this means that starting a Transition group in an area where there has already been one does not necessarily mean that it will have the same problems. The environment that you operate it may have the same challenges, but often it is how you respond to those challenges that is key and different groups do this in different ways. To return to the oak tree analogy, it may mean this situation is not right for oaks, or it may mean that particular tree planted in that way or at that time didn’t work, but another will. There probably are some places that are unsuitable or hostile environments for Transition initiatives.
But it is too early in the experiment to say for sure what or where those are. So we would say listen to those whose footsteps you are following in and learn from them, but also realise that yours is a new project often with new people and new dynamics. It is essential to develop your group early on by working through the activities / worksheets of the support offer as this will help you to avoid problems in the future. So, we say ‘just do it and see what happens’ and good luck!
Today’s Agony Aunt has been Michael Thomas, Transition Initiative Support Co-ordinator for Transition Network.