How to build a global social movement from the bottom up

Hey T,

In September I spent an intense 5-day period in Devon, southern England, attending the International Transition Conference. As part of the conference, the national Hubs, consisting of representatives for Transition in specific countries or regions, met to discuss what the Transition movement is, how we are doing, and where we should be heading. It proved to be an interesting example of how a global social movement can organise itself: Strategic matters were discussed such as the role of the Transition Network, the Transition movement’s stance on COP21, and what support local initiatives may need from a national hub. There were more practical discussions as well, such as whether we can develop a Transition exchange platform similar to wwoofing, or how we could incorporate more Inner Transition into the organisation of our movement. But most of all, the meeting demonstrated the value of coming together and supporting each other as a group.

The main conference took place over the weekend of Sep 19th and 20th. It in turn was “hugged” by the International Hubs meeting, taking place a day before and two days after the conference.

Coming from a political theory background as I do, the evolution of the Transition movement is truly interesting, and it is definitely a child of its time. With Transition groups springing up all over the world, in all kinds of different circumstances, and with a range of different interpretations of what Transition actually is, it is no wonder that considerable amount of time and effort is spent in the movement on figuring out its governance structure, cohesion, and future development. An integral part of this is the development of something they call International Hubs – basically nodes in the Transition “web” that are responsive to their local region needs, acting in a supporting role, and facilitating communication between the local and the global level. What we can see is the development of an international movement, trying to be non-hierarchical, self-organising, and creative, simultaneously setting global trends and responding to local needs.

In some way or another I got roped into representing Scotland at the International Hubs meeting and thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about how such a social movement can work in practice.

Something I realised during that meeting is that the Hubs constitute a platform that increasingly holds and shapes the identity of the Transition movement, its vision and direction, and its practices. Now, in practice that means lots of people (I think we were about 50), from lots of different countries and cultures (26 different countries to be exact), speaking different languages, and having different interpretations of what Transition is, all trying to communicate, deliberate, and agree on things. Wow!

Here I thought I’d share with you my experience of what such a process of building a global social movement looks like.

Landing and connecting

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The Hubs meeting started with a long process of landing in the space and connecting with each other. We were sitting in a large circle around a beautiful mandala and had a ceremony of sorts: we had been instructed to bring some soil from our country (I had completely forgotten but found some good Scottish mud on my boots). When we felt ready for it, we were invited to put our soil in the middle of the mandala while also stating what we were bringing to the meeting in terms of intentions, experiences, and expectations. This was followed by mapping out which countries we’d all come from and finally remembering all those people who are important to the Transition Hubs but who could not attend the meeting. All of this gave a deep sense of how diverse a group we were, how many different countries were represented, and how many people were standing behind us and supporting us.

This feeling was enhanced throughout the days as we would often start and end sessions with someone reading aloud a poem in their native language and its translation.

We spent a considerable amount of time connecting and tuning in, to ourselves and to each other. One tool for this that I especially liked was Pinakarri, meaning Deep Listening, that is used in Dragon Dreaming. We had a bell at the centre of our circle that anyone could ring when they felt the attention drop or the energy change for the worse in the room. When the bell was rung, everyone stopped and took 30 seconds to reconnect with the earth, feel gravity and feel how we are all being held in the space we inhabit and are part of something bigger, remember to breathe and relax out of the momentary tensions that long meetings can entail. Then we would continue or discussions.

The effect of all these connecting practices was profound. At first I was surprised that we spent so little time on “content” and so much time on our personal connection to each other. But I came to realise throughout the days that the bonds and trust these activities were creating made us understand each other on a much deeper level, and when we came round to actually discussing “business,” we did it with more clarity, more efficiency, and less tension than I had anticipated.


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A lot of time, especially during the first day, was spent discussing and defining process. Emphasis was placed on how we are all co-responsible for the meetings rather than being “customers” of a service the facilitators provide. That meant we had to collectively agree on the process of the meetings. Basics of sociocracy were introduced – everyone tried out the funky hand signals – and we went over the facilitator contract and group rules. The common Transition meeting practices such as keepers of time, heart, and record, and housekeeping, were also introduced. These are circulating roles and greatly helps the facilitators.

This was a fairly long process, and I could sense that some of us were rather keen to move on. But I think the fact that we had taken the time to agree on this and talk it over made the rest of the meetings run more smoothly.


2015-09-18 14.35.00The afternoon of the first day was then spent harvesting experiences from the Transition Hubs during the past year. We had all been instructed to make a poster about our hub with key events and facts, such as energy levels in the group, volunteers/staff, funding, etc. We were then given 3 minutes each to present to the rest of the group, instructed to focus on one success and one challenge of the previous year. This may seem like a very short time, but when you are so many groups presenting it was more than enough!

Afterwards we had time to mill about and look at each other’s posters and ask more specific questions if we wanted to.

At first I was surprised at this element – how could anyone communicate their learnings in only three minutes? But what I realised is that there is not too much value in learning the details of everybody’s initiatives and activities. We are all experts in our own regions, but that does not necessarily mean that our knowledge is applicable anywhere else. So although sharing experiences in detail is well meant, it can consume a lot of energy and not be very productive.

During the main conference the Hubsters took part in the workshops and didn’t have any separate meetings. There was however some energy put into communicating what the Hubs are and do to the rest of the conference participants.

There is a lot of work within the Hubs group to be inclusive, open, and understanding. But this can mean that there is not so much communication outwards, and I got the impression during the conference that there were many who were unaware of, unsure about, or even uneasy with the nature of the Hubs. As an attempt to combat this, there was a conscious attempt from Hubsters to reflect on how to interact with and integrate into the conference.

I won’t say too much about the actual conference. You can find Rob’s report, complete with little videos, here.

There were many different workshops, on topics such as Sociocracy 3.0, Reclaimed Food Café, Creative Facilitation, Setting up a Community Owned Renewable Energy Company, Conflict as Possibility, Indigenous Arising, Telling the Transition story, Systemic change, Reinventing Democracy, Community Land Trusts, REconomy, and even a global webcast. On the Sunday we had an enourmous Open Space – introduced as a comedy flight safety briefing to everyone’s amusement. It was creative and chaotic, and I think some very good discussions were had.


The main things I took away from the conference were

  • The changing nature of the Transition story. It is not so much about being reactive, i.e. responding to the challenges of climate change, peak oil, and a failing economic system. Rather, the emerging story is much more positive and proactive: Transition is about envisioning and creating healthier and happier communities. You can see more of an elaboration on this here.
  • This was the first truly international Transition conference, with people from every continent. Different places are in different stages (or waves) of Transition, and are emphasising different aspects of it. I especially enjoyed discussing Transition as a well-being concept with the people involved in Caring Town Totnes.
    2015-09-18 11.51.14
  • A lot of thought had been put into the facilitation of the conference. International facilitators gave it a very global movement feel. Inner Transition was incorporated as much as possible, paying attention to our feelings and needs – it was inspiring to see how all this could be done with 350 people! We did a lot of mapping to start out with. We found home groups that we would spend time in, sharing experiences and expectations in smaller groups with people we didn’t previously know.
  • Elders and youngers – Transition is reaching an age where there are people with different levels of experience, and with it comes all kinds of interesting questions. Should they be acknowledged and treated differently? During the conference there was an elders’ breakfast, where the older generation could meet and relate, and there was a youth day, where the younger generation met. But is it really useful to divide ourselves into such age groups? Lots of discussions were had.
  • Main discussion topics throughout the weekend included what stance the Transition movement should take on COP21, and what we can do in the unfolding refugee crisis (see here and here).

At the end of the conference we gathered as Hubs again. Suddenly our very large group felt comfortably small, and we sat in a large circle and shared reflections and experiences from the two days. It was a very deep and rather emotional couple of hours. One of us shared the Prophecy of the Eagle and the Condor, which summed up our sentiments pretty well.

The following day we were back to business. Even more time was spent on connecting to ourselves and one another. We then had an Open Space of sorts where ideas and projects to take forward for the coming year were discussed. Through a sociocracy process some proposals were taken forward for working groups, examples include:

  • Hubs Evolution group – A working group to develop and facilitate a beautiful and inclusive dreaming process, to gather hopes, dreams and visions for the evolution of our network/ web.
  • Funding group – sharing funding proposals across countries and possibly creating collaborative funding bids.
  • Conscious Culture Group – A group of Hubsters to create resources and support for Hubs wanting to access Inner Transition
  • Exchange Group – Working group will sketch out how a network of Transitioin exchanges could work, modelled on e.g. WWOOF and Erasmus.

Unfortunately I had to leave at this point. I gather there were some more discussions around the process of the Hubs. The relationship between the Hubs and the Transition Network is ever changing, and my impression is that it can be problematic at times. There is still an issue of ownership of Transition, and as everything we do really, it is a big experiment and learning process.


What can be learnt from the Transition International Hubs model for organising a global social movement?

International support group for key individuals… 
The Hubs meeting was a very energising and motivating experience. It was of course incredible to get to know people and projects from all around the world. But it was also great to connect with people who are trying to do the same things as me on a deeper, more human level – not having to go into too many practical details but just being there and feeling for each other. I see it as an important source of support for anyone wanting to take a more leading role in any region

…because Growing is actually Deepening
We often think that we need to grow our movements, have people across the globe as interconnected as possible, share as many ideas and solutions as we are capable of, establish networks, nodes, links, working groups, partnerships in order to be successful. This creates huge information flows, overwhelming pictures of action and interaction that at least my human brain can’t keep track of. And when we try to keep track of it, coordinate it, synthesize it, things slow down, get stagnant, decisions and responses are sluggish, everything gets watered down to the lowest common denominator that can unify a wide range of actors from an array of different places trying to tackle their own specific manifestation of what once started out as common issues. It gets disempowering and frustrating.  From my experience with the Transition hubs I would say that, although it is important to share what we are doing, even more crucial is how we are doing it. Tuning in and understanding each other on a deeper level is such a fundamental part of cooperation and coordination. Without participating in that massive information flow covering exactly what they are doing, I can trust the other Transitioners to go home to Brazil, Portugal, Australia, or wherever they came from, and deliver the content that is most appropriate in their locality, in the name of a movement that I have a stake in. That is because I know, through the deep connection that we experienced, that we share values, motivations, and dreams. And so, coordinating a global social movement seems to be not so much about coordinating action, and drowning in the process of monitoring it, but deepening our connections with each other, in order to mutually develop the values that enable us to trust and let go.




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