Signs and portents for Transition in Italy
On the second day of the national “Transition Fest” gathering, held in late September 2013 in central Italy, a man ran into the breakfast room, where almost a hundred people were enjoying their tea with toast and honey. The fellow, whom we recognized as a member of the Bologna core group, rushed inside, leaving the wide glass doors open, jumped up and down in place like an excitable five-year-old on a sugar high, frantically called for silence then announced: “Ok. Everyone. You better come outside. Right now!”.
As people of all ages spilled out of the wood and cob building known as Panta Rei (from the Latin for “everything flows”), uhs and ahs filled the air. Also some “oh my gods” and a sprinkling of “what the f...??”. What was happening: for the first time in forty years—at least according to Dino Mengucci, founder and first settler of the project—Panta Rei was visited by the astounding optical phenomenon known as sun dogs (or, for the more scientifically inclined, parhelia).
This is what wikipedia has to say about them:
A sun dog or sundog, scientific name parhelion (plural parhelia) from Greekπαρήλιον (parēlion), meaning "beside the sun"; from παρά (para), meaning "beside", and ἥλιος (helios), meaning "sun", also called a mock sun or a phantom sun, is an atmospheric phenomenon that creates bright spots of light in the sky, often on a luminous ring or halo on either side of the sun.
As for me, as co-organizer of the gathering, what I thought at that moment was: “Well, now I am absolutely sure I can let go and relax!”. Sometimes, in a life in transition, it just feels like something else is on your side.
The story of the first Italian Transition Fest, a three-day gathering of hearts, minds and souls from the peninsula's 20-odd initiatives, began with a phone call. This was Pierre Houben, from Transition Ferrara, my accomplice in many a training and random mischief (such as loading Rob Hopkins on a ferry and transporting him up the river Po from Venice to Ferrara to be greeted by a brass band), calling to say he was feeling a change in the air.
“Transition Italia has existed as a hub for five years now. It was designed to serve a certain purpose: to set things in motion, nationally, promote the Transition process, train some facilitators, help the first initiatives start up. But all that is done now. New people have gotten involved, including me and you... there is a network of initiatives and some of them have never crossed paths. Not to mention, the founders deserve some recognition, celebration, and a break. It's time to start something new. A phase II for Transition in Italy”.
“Sounds about right. And how do we do that?”
“How else? WE PARTY!”
It was five months later, as with tears in my eyes I looked onto the collective creation of a beautifully intricate mandala of multicolour salt, that I suddenly realized what we were doing. This had the aura of an initiation ceremony and was, to all intents and purposes, Transition Italia's Great Unleashing.
I've written a general outline of what we did, and how much fun we had, in a previous post you can find right here but what I would like to share with you today are some insights and stories from the process that led up to our Fest, and on how we worked on its design.
Transition Italia, as a national hub, is an idiosyncratic no-centre organization where, as I've heard its co-founder Cristiano Bottone say: “whoever is online at the moment when we need to take a decision, is the right person to take it”. Yes, that is what Open Space Technology sounds like in this Country! The people interested in networking on a national level are scattered here there and everywhere, and long-distance travelling to meet is very rarely an option in a nation 1,200 kilometres long, graced with an anarchic public transport system. So, to organize the Fest, we came up with an online adaptation of John Croft's Dragon Dreaming design tool, gathered six transitioners from every corner of the land, and got to work. In my experience, the advantage of using a step-by-step design process, such as this one (I am sure there are many others), is the incredible amount of information you get in the end, and the fun ingrained in the process. By the end of about two months of design meetings, in which we picked Croft's approach apart and reassembled it in the form of six two-hour online sessions, each of us knew exactly what everybody else wanted to do, what the people involved could teach and what they wanted to learn, our personal blocks, desires, dreams, needs and ambitions, the resources necessary, each person's involvement in each task, where it would begin, and when it would end. The process was creative and much more engaging than I could have imagined possible using online conferencing tools. We listened to music together, sent each other home-made gifts, celebrated every step of the way, and constantly referred to how supported we all felt. Very far from the oh-too-familiar feeling of “it's all on my shoulders, and if I don't do it, nobody will”.
To design the gathering, we had a few principles in mind. We were looking for a good balance of fun and work, in the inner and outer worlds and, most of all, we wanted the event to embody the idea of an emerging network. To let the old centre, the Hub which had done so much good work, undergo change and give birth to something new. We aimed for inclusion, providing bursaries for far-away initiatives, students and the unemployed, and insisted there be free time for everyone (“free time” for us in the core group was attempted but, alas, at this we failed quite miserably and were in a frenzy of busy-ness from start to finish).
Having communicated these thoughts to the wider network through an open-ended invitation, we invited attendees to suggest activities they might like to experience or could introduce as a “giveaway” to the celebrations. Some magic intervened, with skills and wishes matching each other more or less automatically. Photographers, social reporters, actors and musicians simply materialized. Every morning, the circle dances led by members of the Biellese in Transizione initiative embodied our collective search for productive harmony. With entertaining presentations during the first night, a crowded “marketplace” of ideas and projects on Sunday morning, timelines of local initiatives criss-crossing each other in the entrance hall, and the final creation of the mandala, the idea of an emerging network was explored from many different angles.
Two months have now gone by since that morning under the sun dogs, and a snowy winter is now settling over the Apennines of central Italy. As I write this, I am personally involved in three new projects discussed during the festivities, and have no idea of how many others sown in those days are sprouting, or dormant and waiting for Spring. The national network is growing in size, but even more so in depth and intricacy. To describe my feelings on the outcome of this event, I have been turning again and again to the image of the “web of life” game. As Viola Bertolina, from the Panta Rei foundation, observed: “You could imagine playing this with two nets. One is the old one, and it's getting weaker. But underneath there is a new one, with completely different pathways and connections. And that one is growing, and growing, and growing”.
Deborah Rim Moiso, facilitator and trainer for Transition Italia
Images by Enrico Zampieri and Dario Brivio: Sun dogs!; Organisers taking a breather; Big circle; Event design road map; mandala making