Strengthening the Grassroots US Transition Network

On September 22, Transitioners from across the nation participated in the third of an ongoing series of National Network Strategy Conversations, part of Transition US’ new campaign “From What Is to What If: Reimagining and Rebuilding Our World.”  

The goal of these conversations? To draw upon the knowledge and experience of those who have been doing the work of Transition out in community in order to inform and refine the strategic direction of Transition US. 

This third session, entitled “Strengthening the Grassroots Transition Network,” was co-facilitated by Sari Steuber, Transition Media (PA) and Kaat Vander Straeten, Transition Wayland (MA), both members of a Transition US National Working Group aimed at supporting local Transition Initiatives. The conversation sought to understand how we can enhance communication across the movement, help establish and better support local Transition Initiatives, demonstrate community impact, and develop strategic collaborations. The background context for this call is found on pages 10-16 of the Transition US Strategic Planning Input Paper

Background & Context

In the winter of 2019, a nationwide survey of Transition leaders and stakeholders identified several areas of need:

  1. Starting and running a group: How to run effective meetings, make decisions as a group, engage the broad community, develop new leaders, and avoid burnout.
  2. Training and mentoring: Training for core teams, mentorship for those just starting a group, ideas and help for getting projects off the ground, and classes on topics that help groups go deeper.
  3. Financial issues: Guidance on whether to become a 501(c)(3), how to find fiscal sponsorship, how to fundraise and write grants, legal advice, event insurance, donor management, volunteer/data management, finding and supervising interns and employees.
  4. Messaging and outreach: Training, examples and support with communicating the Transition message, help with websites, social media, video production, and newsletters.
  5. Programming: Finding ways that work in a local context to incorporate key Transition concepts such as REconomy, emergency preparedness, energy descent, inner Transition and social justice. 
  6. Networking: Creating and maintaining connections between local groups and the national office, among groups so they can learn from one another, and between Transition and allied organizations. 
  7. Collaboration: Successfully partnering with local groups, nonprofits, and government units in order to effect policy and programs.

Participants on this strategy call were asked to reflect on these survey results and to identify 1) if anything was missing, and 2) what was most urgent? The conversation was wide-ranging, and a few themes emerged. Some of those themes are not closely related to the survey results, but the context of our work has changed dramatically since the survey results were compiled earlier this year.

What is Our Niche? 

Galen Meyers, of the Inner Resilience Network and TUS Collaborative Design Council, offered the idea that Transition groups can – in addition to offering unique programs – be the connective tissue of community collaborations, creating systems of communication and repositories of resources that can be shared.

This could be the next phase of Transition in a movement landscape where Transition is competing for engagement and membership with groups like 350, XR, Sunrise Movement, Citizens Climate Lobby, Sierra Club, and hundreds of other local groups.

Unique and Urgent Programming

Participants identified the following common Transition programs as particularly useful, appealing, relevant or needed right now:

  • Mutual aid networks
  • Alternative or complementary currencies – not common but of interest
  • Repair cafés 
  • Community gardens, seed libraries, garden skillshares, crop swaps
  • Tool lending libraries
  • Time banking to help meet people’s immediate needs without money exchange

Several participants identified a critical need for the unique work of inner Transition to respond to so many living through crises right now.

 “We’re burning here on the West Coast!” said Linda Currie, from Transition Berkeley (CA). “It was night-time orange all day one day. It was like the apocalypse. It’s depressing, scary, and sad.” She said her group is doing mutual aid within their neighborhoods. “We need to do healing work.”

Brenda Cartwright (ME) agreed: “People are fearful. Our  group [an emerging Transition Initiative] is still meeting, doing meditation and prayer. We are attracting people because it’s positive and there are no politics. It’s a safe haven.” They are using the John Hopkins Psychological First Aid manual.

Janice Lynne’s group in Fort Collins (CO) is doing neighborhood emergency planning.

To Protest or Not to Protest

Not all crises are the result of climate. The nation is convulsing in protest around ongoing injustice against communities of color, human rights violations, and attacks on the environment. With so much anger engulfing our communities, how do we respond? Do our interests compete? 

Erik Lindberg suggested that we don’t. “One of the pithy maxims of Transition is that we don’t protest things, we build things.” Perhaps Transition is the response to the question, ‘What do we do after the protest?’

Mark Juedeman proposed that Transition could partner with and magnify the work of groups like Black Lives Matter or local groups working on issues like living wages, healthcare for all, affordable housing, climate change. These are all part of what is called the Just Transition. 

The Power of Networking

“Our group collapsed twice,” said Janice Lynne. “Then we started collaborating with a lot with other groups and individuals and this worked well.” Sari Steuber’s group found the same thing. She said a lot of churches have youth groups that want to cooperate on projects, especially around local food. Why reinvent the wheel when you can build upon what is already working?

In order to create effective collaborations, it helps to know who’s on the map. Who is already working in this space? What is the existing capacity? There is so much expertise in our communities, how can we facilitate skill linking and communication across networks? Resource mapping is one useful tool.

One participant said his group collaborated on a project with a Land Conservancy and a Jewish congregation. The Conservancy had money; the Transition group did not. But the Conservancy brought with it an hierarchical structure and way of working, and the Temple had its own agenda.

Working in collaboration and working with diverse communities will require learning new skills. What are some best practices for developing strategic partnerships? When our own communities are homogenous, how can we reach out appropriately to partner with more diverse communities? 

Representatives from Local 20/20 and Cooperation Humboldt talked about their groups’ roles in creating new partners by operating as incubators for new organizations or small businesses.  David Cobb, Cooperation Humboldt (CA), said his group has incubated worker-owned cooperatives and that they partner with the city and county. Government officials look to them to get things done.

Networking across Transition groups is also a challenge. Most groups are not well connected to Transition US, but they would like to be. One breakout group, composed of Karen Tuininga and Ruah Swennerflet of Transition Charlotte (VT), Chuck Lynd of Simply Living (Columbus, OH), and Marissa Mommaerts (TUS staff) suggested TUS could help strengthen the grassroots Transition movement through:

  • More short videos of cool, happening activities,  
  • More brief communications between national, regional, and local. Keep it short and digestible.
  • Mapping what local groups are doing so we can connect with and learn from one another.

Growing Leaders & Attracting Members

Despite the excellent framework provided by the global Transition network, it is difficult to get new Transition groups off the ground and to keep them running – especially since most groups are made up of volunteers and have few financial resources. Challenges include:

  • How to attract and retain new members, and how to deal with a difficult team member, 
  • How to build and support effective leaders, and then how to weather a change in leadership when the founders leave,
  • How to communicate to diverse audiences and how to market events,
  • How to use technology and how to find the best technology for your group,
  • How to set up a bank account and manage finances, and
  • Whether or not to become a 501c3

These challenges can seem overwhelming, but the fact is, every group has had to deal with these issues. How can Transition US and all of the groups in the network help local initiatives survive and thrive? 

David Cobb shared that his group has a strategic plan. They use Sociocracy for decision making. And anyone who wants to be part of the leadership team needs to complete an internal study group so they have a shared understanding. The group in training is large.

David’s experience appears to be unique. Far more common is Sari’s challenge of getting more people involved. “We have a strong core group, but lots of work is done by a few people.” She wants to see more people take on project leadership. And she’d like to see her group be more strategic about what they do and how they do it. 

Clayton Horsey said a majority of his Woodstock, NY, group are people in their 70s, or older. They’ve lived in the area a long time and now it’s become too expensive for young people to move into, so with a lack of younger members, the group struggles. “It affects what we can do. It’s limited our effectiveness.”  

The core team for Linda Currie’s group is also middle-aged and into their 70s. They were able to recruit one member in his 30s and they’d like to get interns, but it is challenging to train new members.

Mark Juedeman spoke to the crux of the problem. Those who have time are often retired. This unintentionally excludes people who may want to participate but can’t because of financial and time issues. He wondered how groups could provide financial support to those who want to be involved? 

Many groups spoke of the need to overcome financial challenges. They needed support to do fundraising, or to set up their group as a 501(c)(3). Tax-exempt status and fiscal sponsorship could be valuable in ensuring long-term stability to groups. 

National Success Relies Upon Local Groups

“Local Transition initiatives are the North Star of our work,” said Don Hall, Transition US Interim Executive Director. “If we have hundreds of thriving Transition groups throughout this country, we will make it into the mainstream conversation and start to have a larger impact.”

With a staff of only three part-time workers, Transition US will need everyone’s help to build a stronger, more effective movement. There are several ways volunteers can plug in at the national level, including national working groups, intern and volunteer positions, and by serving on the Collaborative Design Council. If you would like to expand your involvement and your impact, contact Don Hall at to learn how.