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Academic research and Transition

There is a growing number of acadmics and researchers (faculty and students) covering both PhD and MSc levels, engaging with Transition Initiatives and Transition Network. Initially, their work was typically around community involvement in sustainability. Latterly, we're seeing more niche type research into, for example, economic areas such as local complementary currencies. This page:

The Transition Research Network

This network is building mutually beneficial relationships between transition activists and researchers. There's a website and significant levels of participation and action from both sides. Details here:

The wider context

There are 3 key aspects to Transition and Higher Education:

  1. Universities OF Transition - places to learn all the technical and general skills around transition.
    • likely to be virtual "universities" initially. This means it's a list of available courses covering all the necessary elements (delivered by institutions such as CAT, Schumacher, Amazonails, Non-violent communications etc
    • over time, some educational establishments will redesign their curricula to offer a very wide range of courses covering all aspects of transition
    • probably the closest to a "transition university" right now is Cultivate in Ireland ( They're already working with most of the Irish transition initiatives.
  2. Universities IN Transition - places that are adopting the transition model to rebuild resilience and reduce carbon institutionally

    There are a number of universities thinking this way, and a network is emerging thanks to the efforts of People & Planet. A Transition University is an extremely compelling proposition given that it addresses 7 big problems:
    • how do you transition/relocalise a transient population?
    • how do you find the labour to transition a huge institution like a university?
    • how do you give students of (eg international finance) something useful to learn?
    • how can you seed local populations with people who are familiar with the transition principles and can help kick off initiatives in those places?
    • how can you give meaningful work to students so they can be paid to offset their debts to the university?
    • how are universities going to attract students to courses during a period of great uncertainty when it won't be clear how many academic subjects will be relevant in a severely energy constrained society?
    • how can universities truly contribute to the wellbeing of their own locale?
  3. Transition Research - creating a coordinated range of academic and action-based research projects that:
    • are of use to the Transition Network as a whole
    • are useful to the communities that participate in the research
    • fulfil the academic research criteria to release funding for the work

 Research Protocol - for Researchers wanting to work with Transition Initiatives

While we have collaborated with some brilliant researchers and research projects, we have also often encountered researchers operating in an extractive mode, not really thinking about the benefit their research might give back to the subject(s) being researched. This approach does not do justice to the potential gifts that research can bring to Transition. We therefore encourage all researchers to try to identify and agree clear benefits that their work will bring for the Initiative(s) involved and also the wider network of transitioners.

Before engaging with any initiatives, please do the following research:

  1. check the online Transition Research repository at "citeulike"
  2. check the initiative directory for the initiative - you may find information there that materially affects your plans
  3. review the archived education and universities forum and archived research forums (new one here) to check what other academic activity may have occurred or may already be occurring at your target initiative(s)
  4. add a note to the forum regarding your own intentions to alert other potential researchers of your plans
  5. draft up an outline proposal for your research to submit to the initiative(s) that clearly establishes:
    • the amount of effort that the initiative will be expected to provide, and when
    • the benefits they'll get from your research
    • the benefits that the wider transition network will gain
    • when your work will be completed
    • here's a good example of a proposal from a Masters researcher doing a paper on local currencies
  6. engage with the initiative(s) to negotiate the work and timings
  7. update the forum when you know when the work will commence

Once the work has been completed, please:

  1. add it to the resources directory on this site, noting in the resource title the name of the specific initiative (if appropriate)
  2. post your paper onto the Transition Research repository at "citeulike"

Research Protocol - for communities approached by a researcher

You are probably reading this because you have been approached by a researcher or student who wants to do some research relating to your transition initiative.

Not surprisingly, the transition movement is attracting a lot of interest from the academic community. We welcome this as there are many questions that need to be answered and academic research can play an important part in strengthening the work we are doing. However, we are also conscious that participating in research projects can deflect valuable resources from the transition process. We are also keen to ensure that the benefits from research are accrued by both the specific initiative(s) and the researcher.

To this end we have been trying to ensure that when researchers work alongside the initiative they add value to the process rather than undermine it - see the Research protocol for researchers above.

When a researcher approaches you they should send you a brief summary of their work. This should clearly state what they require from your initiative e.g. number of interviews, etc. It should also clearly state what benefits the initiative and the wider transition movement should expect to accrue. We are trying to persuade researchers to adopt participatory methods where possible – i.e. they contribute to transition projects and groups as part of their research methods. This is a direct way in which they can ‘give back’ to the initiative. However, this may not be appropriate in all cases and they may have other ways of reciprocating.

As a core group you need to consider whether you wish to participate in the research project. This is your decision alone. You may wish to speak to the researcher to clarify and points in their proposal. If you do agree to participate then it is important that you then honour what you have agreed to do within the best of your ability. Equally, we would expect the researcher to honour their side of the arrangement.

We have asked researcher to provide abstracts or summaries of their research once it is completed and to keep us informed of their projects. It may also be useful to read the guidelines which we have prepared for researchers which are available further up this page.

The forum for researchers is where we're encouraging people to detail their planned and proposed research.

Transition Research Primer

Targeted mainly at Transition initiatives and other community groups, the Transition Research Primer provides an accessible overview of the potential benefits of working with researchers, along with common pitfalls and advice for successful collaboration. It also serves as a taster for the more detailed resources on or linked from this site.

Download the Transition Research Primer (7MB).

Version 1.0 of the Transition Research Primer was produced with the aid of a grant awarded to Transition Network by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, and officially released at the AHRC's Connected Communities Showcase in London on March 12th 2013.

We have a limited number of paper copies available - get in touch if you would like to request copies for yourself or your group.

Further reading

Additional information and suggestions are available from the Transition Town Totnes website.