Thrive: what's it all about?
Let's have a look at the Transition journey of the imaginary town of Little Moaning: they started up about 3 years ago after somebody from a neighbouring transition initiative came and gave a talk on Peak Oil and Transition for an open meeting of the WI. Within weeks they had a core group of six people, one of whom was also a local council member and soon they were constituted and running their first event: a movie called “The Power of Community”. They were overwhelmed by the local response; nearly a hundred people turned up and the movie was followed by a lively discussion. This set Transition Little Moaning (TLM) up for a busy two years of awareness raising events, the creation of a community garden which is currently in the process of becoming part of a larger CSA, a project headed by their food group in collaboration with the town council on abandoned allotment land. They've also formed an energy group, which has managed to draw down some funding for a feasibility study looking into the viability of a community biodigester at a local farm.
Exciting stuff, you'll say, looks like a really successful initiative. But in the last year they've had their share of troubles. Two of their core group, Jason and Katie, are now involved in an acrimonious divorce and it made meetings very tense for a while until Jason withdrew from the group. Problem is, he was the powerhouse behind the biodigester project which was gaining them a lot of support from the local farming community and is now left in a kind of limbo. Due to the unpleasant atmosphere in the previous months, the core group meetings are now poorly attended, events had to be cancelled because there was nobody volunteering to do the preparatory work, the members who are still active are putting all their energy into the CSA and there's several thousands of pounds with an expiry date in the bank account. New blood is needed, but who would wish to enter such an ants nest?
Fortunately, it is just around this time that the Transition Network announces the creation of another course: Transition Thrive! This course seems to have been built with the predicament of groups like TLM in mind and after a quick consultation with the others, Katie (feeling an unreasonable level of responsibility for their group's troubles) contacts neighbouring Transition initiatives to see if they would be interested in joining together to run a Transition Thrive course. It feels like this could be do or die...
So what can Katie and the others expect to achieve by putting themselves through this course? It is certainly no silver bullet, but for groups who have become “stuck”, lost their “vavavoom” or are simply out of ideas, Thrive has a wonderful diagnostic tool or “Dog-nostic”, as it has become known. I asked Mandy and Naresh, the co creators of the course to explain:
Naresh: “We distilled the initial stages of a TI to 7 area's: Awareness Raising, Networking and Partnerships, Groups, Practical Projects, Vision, Fun (or Evaluation) and Context. This gave rise to the image of an animal, or dog with four legs that stand for the four key activities of a TI ( Awareness raising, Groups, Networking and Partnerships and Practical Projects), it has a wagging tail, which represents having Fun and it is looking forward, which means it has a Vision, it also stands in a place and that represents your Context. We then developed a series of questions, a kind of check-list which identifies the areas which a TI has done well or not. The theory behind this is that if you have done all these areas well then you will have a functioning, viable TI. So the diagnostic is about finding out what your initiative's strengths and weaknesses are, where the blind spots lie and which areas need attention, so that you can move forward, build a better initiative or in some cases resurrect initiatives that have become stuck.”
Mandy: ”Part of the reason for doing the Dog-nostic like that, emphasising those six area's, is that when the Transition Companion came out, it gave so many different ingredients to Transition, it became very big and we were looking to make it so that people could get to grips with it in a practical way.”
Naresh: ”There might be 48 ingredients, but some are more important than others, there is a hierarchy. We tried to pick out the most important ones.”
Mandy: “The reason we chose those ingredients is, that as trainers, we go out and work with T initiatives and activists quite intensively for two days at a time during the Transition Launch trainings and we have gained a good understanding from groups on what works, what doesn't and what's important to them.”
It came as no surprise to the members of TLM that, after going through the diagnostic, they found that their dog didn't have a tail at all. They'd forgotten about celebration, having fun. No wonder everybody in their group was experiencing a deep sense of fatigue and overwhelm. One of the other two initiatives on the course with them, Elmsbridge in Transition (EiT) found they were trying to go it alone and hadn't bothered with partnerships. The other, Transtion Totterdam (Tdam) was severely hampered by a lack of funds, while all three initiatives found that their long term vision and strategic planning could do with some work.
Mandy: “One of the interesting features of Thrive is that it doesn't have a set program. Whatever comes out of the dog-nostic as being the most important issues for that group will then be what we take forward and work with. We have different modules and activities that we can adapt to meet the needs of the people who are there.”
Naresh: “Yes, the course is highly responsive to the participants' needs, but also to who turns up. We've had several sessions within the course that ended up being taught by participants who were real experts in their field, we had for instance a spontaneous session on communicating climate change and that came about because people wanted to know about communicating and this was what one of the participants did as a job, another session happened on how to create partnerships in transition and was taught by Tina Clarke, who was a partcipant on a Thrive in the USA.”
As it happened, the core group member of TLM who was also a local counsellor, Mary, was able to give some really useful tips to the Elmsbridge group about communicating with local councils and finding ways to work together.
At some point during the course, TLM took out some time, separate from the other groups, to look at their group dynamic and how they were going to improve things. They went around the group and heard how the tensions brought up by Jason and Katie's divorce had been affecting everybody. This was the first time they had brought this issue in the open, which was difficult for Katie, but also something of a relief and the course gave them both the time and the safe space in which to make a start with this. Afterwards, they all felt al lot more positive and the session on Social Entrepreneurship got them really fired up. Some of the members of Tdam thought that this might be the way for their initiative to become financially viable and make it easier to create strategic partnerships, others were more sceptical and felt it would make it all “too serious”. Tdam had been a lot more focussed on having fun, at putting together great events and workshops and not so much on creating resilience. This gave rise to a brilliant all group discussion on context, place and goals.
The session on Personal Resilience affected the participants quite powerfully; the issues of overwhelm and burnout were known to this group and the exercise showed them how to look after themselves and “thrive” personally as well as a community.
It had been a very full two days, but to make sure that the hard work and insights gained would not get lost in the general busyness of life there was a session where the participants had a chance to focus on how they would take the things they'd learned back out with them and put them into practise in their initiatives. Everybody felt quite excited about their plans and ideas for the future and TLM looked forward to taking some time out with the members of their group to go on some walks, share a few meals and a lot more laughter.
When I attended as an observer at the Transition Thrive course in Peterborough, what struck me was that by the end of the second day, the participants were really buzzing with ideas and excitement. Here was an example of an initiative that was doing quite well, but who just wanted to take things that little bit further. Transition Thrive gave them that focused time together, as a group, to find their growing edges and explore what it was they really wanted to achieve. I look forward to contacting them next year to see what they've been up to. If you feel inspired to take your group through this process, contact Kat at the Transition Network office on 05601 531 882 or email her: firstname.lastname@example.org