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Conference Reflections: REconomy and other ways forward

The Transition Network Conference held a space for four plus days offering a little something for everybody: creative venue, amazing interpersonal experiences, practical knowledge, profound insights, synchronicities and incongruencies, proposals and critiques, Bacchanalian abandon, and an utterly depressing book reading. A successful event by any measure.

I was one among a few hundred attendees and I talked with as many of them as was possible. I immersed myself as participant, as well as, attempted to observe dispassionately. I came away with a heart full of love and comradeship for all the brilliantly beautiful transitioners sharing this work, as well as many new practical ideas and connections I can take back to Totnes.

I was also impressed by deeper considerations about what comes next that have stuck with me and may be worth sharing here, however, my biases should be noted straightaway. Attendees were mostly white, mostly middle class, mostly from the UK, all of which pertain to me, although I’m mostly from California. I’m involved in the REconomy Project and the Transition Free Press and already think they’re brilliant. And of course, I could only attend a fraction of the workshops, open space sessions, and sadly missed the Transition Anywhere exercise on Sunday. That said, here are some big things that stood out for me.

Based on conversations and inputs in various workshops and sessions, there seems to be broad consensus that changing the local economic status quo is a high priority. Working strategically is important and interest in developing the evidence base for local government decision makers was high among some. There was also broad interest in the nuts and bolts of initiating and supporting new enterprise formation. There were several who talked with me about starting up incubators for social and regenerative enterprises. Perhaps by next year there will be several incubators operating throughout the network.

There was also near unanimous interest in a Transition crowdfunding platform at the How to session on Friday. But that topic, as well as other aspects of building a local polyculture of start-up capital – really, a diverse locally-based financial system that bypasses big banks and corporate control – came up again and again throughout the weekend. Perhaps there’s an opportunity for the REconomy Project to focus more attention on building local financial systems.

Generally, economic topics were pervasive throughout the weekend finding their way into almost every discussion. One of the top ones concerned developing income streams for the core Transition work. How to fund an office or a staff member? Do TIs incubate start ups for a piece of their revenue stream? Should they start up businesses themselves? All good questions that anticipate innovative solutions. Perhaps “pay it forward” or revenue sharing schemes will become popular models in the near future.

Working toward a more gift centred economy may hold part of the answer. This was another hot topic and it, too, appears ripe for innovation. Mark Boyle’s talk, as well as Inez Aponte’s session on Manfred Max Neef, Sophy Banks’ on creating “happy, healthy human culture”, and an open space session on balancing the gift economy with the need for jobs, all offered interesting possibilities. Although I missed all of these sessions, they were referenced many times in conversations over the weekend.

A second big thread looked inward at the network and the Network, Transition and transition. Has the growth of Transition initiatives in the UK stagnated? Should we focus on growing the movement? Is there too much top down or “black box” decision making and not enough bottom up “unleashing the collective genius” of the greater Transition community? Should there be a national UK hub, or devolved national hubs - English hub, Wales hub, etc.? Should there be more communication and outreach, both internally, within and between TIs, as well as externally, for regional and national audiences? Good questions that sparked many lively conversations between sessions and over meals. These questions will very likely be considered again by the social reporters the week of October 15th when the role of the Network will be the theme.

Finally, the idea of looking outward and growing this movement was another strong theme arising in the context of the Transition Free Press and the topic of “communications strategy”. Every great movement in the past developed its own media to get their side of the story heard, hence the idea to publish a newspaper. A newspaper could be a tangible manifestation of a Transition as potent movement with its own compelling narrative. A newspaper is a material cultural artefact handed from friend to friend in a real-world sort of virulence. It carries its own gravitas, credibility, and legitimacy in a way a transitory screen of excited LED crystals cannot. Even so, it has its place alongside internet media, but clearly internet media is not sufficient. The Transition Network newsletter has a worldwide circulation of only 14,000. Why not aim for 10 times that number in the UK? This was the stuff of several conversations over the weekend and most often it was accompanied by a sense of urgency – “the time is now”, “we’ve got to grow this movement while we have the chance”, and so on. And while the Transition Free Press may not hold the answer on its own, a robust communications and media strategy would be foundational.

As a first time attendee, I found the conference to be incredibly interesting, rewarding, and stimulating on many different levels. These topics and many others contributed to a feeling of shared investment in a noble enterprise. Will they be deeply explored over the next year, dropped in favour of deeper questions and more urgent issues, or will they remain topics for next year’s conference, too? We shall see.

Many thanks to all the wonderful people who contributed their time and expertise to organise and facilitate the event, to those who contributed to workshops, and to the collective genius of each and every person who attended and participated.

 Images: Installation at Battersea Art Centre; Crowdfunding workshop; Signage from Transition Anywhere; Holy Moly and the Crackers