Collaboration across scales
This page summarises the interactions and synergies between community-led initiatives (CLIs) and local, regional, national and international decision-making institutions, highlighting enablers and barriers of this partnership across scales, including a strong focus on common set of values and visions as well as innovative collaborative methodologies.
In recent decades local governments have proactively faced the sustainability challenge by adopting policy innovations. Their role is crucial since, at least in cities and developing countries, they are responsible for most of the public spending.
The leading action of local governments concerning sustainability have been facilitated by transnational nongovernmental organizations and initiatives like ICLEI, who provide tools, networking and services and promote advocacy. ICLEI’s status as a founding member of ECOLISE, and collaboration in projects such as Urban A. Researchers support collaborations among community initiatives and local authorities in cutting-edge research and knowledge exchange projects such as ClimAdaPT.Local, in which a transdisciplinary team based at Lisbon University supports 26 Portuguese Local Authorities in the development and implementation of Municipal Climate Adaptation Strategies, and Municipalities in Transition, whose project team includes an embedded researcher based at FCiencias.ID and DRIFT.
Municipalities are affected by numerous factors that can act as barriers or enablers. Besides the obvious access to resources (financial; human) and information, there is a great dependence on issues like leadership, institutional context and competing planning agendas.
Drawing on the direct experiences of community-led initiatives, activists associated with the Transition movement report:
many examples of engaged communities working for positive change who feel unsupported, even blocked, by local governments. We also see many municipalities with positive goals and a determination to act who are struggling to build genuinely collaborative relationships with local citizens.
The EU-Funded BASE research project (Bottom-Up Climate Adaptation Strategies Towards a Sustainable Europe) studied 23 European cases of climate change adaptation (including Tamera ecovillage in Portugal, considered a case study by the European platform Climate-Adapt), in order to assess interactions of top-down policies and processes, and bottom-up responses and initiatives. The key finding was that participatory approaches and other forms of stakeholder engagement, such as institutional changes, networks or formal collaborations, are key to overcoming barriers to community-led action. These findings reflect a more general rise in policy and research interest in collaborative and participatory governance in multi-level systems, despite a scarcity of empirical evidence. A report prepared by the European Environment Agency notes that meaningful stakeholder engagement and public participation are necessary, but remain rare. It calls for new forms of collaboration, along with governance innovations, and concludes that innovative partnerships with civil society actors are needed as a source of new approaches to adaptation. Similarly, a World Bank report emphasises importance to resilience of civic dialogue, flexible funding allocation, and the incentivisation, scaling up and institutionalization of community-led action.
A decisive step in collaboration between local governments and grassroots movements may be community coproduction of transformative public services. Bovaird proposes the establishment of a “coproduction development officer (…) who can act internally in organizations (and partnerships) to broker new roles for coproduction between traditional service professionals, service managers, and the political decision makers”. In the field of community energy, three factors identified as essential for initiating and nourishing initiatives are trust, motivation and continuity. Collaboration between local governments and communities also raises various ambiguities and potential conflicts.  One one hand, being institutionally and politically independent, and so potential freer from structural constraints is a key strength of community-led initiatives. On the other, self-organised action at community scale can create practical and ideological conflicts with policy. Depending on context, interactions with municipal authorities can thus act as either enablers or constraints.
Interactions between local governments and community-led initiatives in the context of the Transition movement include a range of examples. Independents for Frome, for example, is case of citizens taking over the municipality administration by supporting independent candidates standing for elections. At the other end of the spectrum are example of town councils that completely appropriate the transition action.. In some cases, municipalities have put in place programmes to support and enable, or even initiate, community-level action.
The current framework for Transition practice, released in 2016, includes creating networks and partnerships and collaborating with others among seven essential actions for a transition initiative. Earlier, collaboration with local government was one of the Twelve Steps of Transition, noted for both its importance and as a source of endless frustration.. Findings of several major European research projects confirm this ambiguity, leading to the conclusion that interactions between civil society and government have both positive and negative effects (…) and a systematic understanding of both the potential and the tensions of civil society actors in sustainability transitions is currently lacking. With the aim of facing these challenges and creating synergies, Transition Network in partnership with the network of Transition Hubs initiated the Municipalities in Transition project in 2017. The main objective is to create a clear framework for how Transition groups and municipalities can create sustainable change together.
Regions, including bioregions, have been identified as key scales of action for transformative change in both theoretical studies and empirical research. Solidarity economy initiatives become a powerful force for transformative change towards economic resilience when networks of mutually supportive cooperative enterprises reach a critical mass at regional scales..
Some movement-specific networks of CLIs already organise at regional level: for example, the Transition Network website lists regional hubs in Istanbul and Paris. Some regional hubs are cross-movement: for example, the North East Permaculture Network links Transition as well as permaculture groups across North East England. Some regional networks are more organic and self-organised: for example, while Bristol in South West England was the first city to register a transition initiative with Transition Network, Transition Bristol itself remained a small entity, part of a wider matrix of intersecting local projects and regional scale initiatives in domains such as energy, food and a city-wide community currency in the form of the Bristol Pound. A 2017 survey of ECOLISE members led to the establishment of the Sustainable Communities Programme as a key initiative, based on creating networks of collaboration and support among multistakeholder pilot initiatives at regional scale.
The ARTS research project took as its focus on inquiry six European city-regions in which collaborations among community-led initiatives, regional government and business create optimum conditions for transformational change to sustainability. In the Brussels city-region, ECOLISE member 21 Solutions plays a key role in the Inspirons le Quartier project, in which Brussels Environment provides central support for Quartiers durables citoyens: autonomous citizen initiatives operating at neighbourhood scale. In October 2018, the project listed 43 participating neighbourhood initiatives across Brussels, including some Transition initiatives.
21 Solutions is also a key partner in VILCO, another Brussels-wide project. Vilco brings together public bodies, community groups, support organisations and researchers that aims to co-create local approaches to sustainable development based on strengthening civic engagement. Local authorities include four municipalities and the regional agency Brussels Environment. Community groups involved are either Transition initiatives or Participative Sustainable Neighbourhoods, groups that since 2004 have received funding and other support from Brussels Environment for small-scale neighbourhood regeneration projects. Public bodies and community groups come together in Living Labs, experimental spaces where they co-create solutions, facilitated by support organisations according to basic values of neutrality, safety, equality and empowerment. Through successive phases of diagnosis, action and evaluation, the project proceeds according to several methodological principles: diversity and equality, starting from lived experience, demystification of public institutions, useability and replicability of tools, use of visual representation, experimentation, creating spaces for interaction and collaboration, and ongoing reflection to allow adaptation and continuous improvement of tools developed and used.
CLIs often self-organise at national level, within boundaries that may or may not correspond to the nation state. Some national structures are specific to particular movements, others cross different movements.
The Transition Network website lists national hubs in Sweden, Spain, Slovenia, Scotland, Romania, Portugal, Norway, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Latvia, Italy, Ireland, Hungary, Germany, France, Denmark, Croatia and Francophone Belgium. Some of these intersect with national permaculture movements: the Latvian Permaculture Association also acts as the national transition hub, and in Luxembourg CELL coordinates both Transition and permaculture nationally. National permaculture organisations exist in most European countries, and often coordinate networking, training and/or project support functions. As with Transition, these often follow cultural and/or geographical rather than political boundaries: Irish initiatives organise across the island of Ireland rather than country of Eire, separate coordination organisations exist for Francophone and Flemish-speaking parts of Belgium, and initiatives in Scotland organise in national support organisations such as the Scottish Communities and Climate Action Network rather than Britain-wide.
GEN Europe's website lists national ecovillage networks in Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Italy, Israel, Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey, with the Iberian Ecovillage Network covering Spain and Portugal. In Portugal itself, ecovillages, permaculture projects and Transition groups collaborate on the Redeconvergir map of sustainability initiatives.
Self-organised international collaboration is best developed in the ecovillage movement, with GEN Europe among five regional groups associated (along with those representing Africa, Asia/Oceania, North America and Latin America) with the global network GEN International. Within Europe, regional networks exist for the Baltic and Balkan regions.
Transition Network began life as coordination and support organisation for the Transition movement when it consisted only of a small number of local initiatives in South West England, and maintained this role as it grew into an international movement. Since around 2016, the network of national hubs has assumed increasing responsibility for governance of the movement, with no single organisation responsible for coordination at either European or international level.
European permaculture convergences have taken place since 1992, initially organised by the European Permaculture Institute, which in 2012 became the European Permaculture Council. At the 2014 EuPC in Bulgaria a process began which led to the creation of the European Permaculture Network (EuPN), whose activities began in earnest at the following EuPC in 2016. The EuPN exists to support networking and collaboration among permaculture organisations across Europe and link them with like-minded organisations and networks. In the run-up to the 15th International Permaculture Convergence in London in 2015, the Permaculture's Next Big Step process was the first attempt to organise coordinated action at a global scale. It led to creation of the Permaculture CoLab to support and explore appropriate tools for collaboration within the permaculture movement at all levels from the local up to the global. 
In 2014, national and international coordinating and representative organisations of the permaculture, ecovillage and Transition movements came together to establish ECOLISE (initially named "European COmmunity-Led Initiatives for a Sustainable Europe") as a common platform for networking, collaboration, learning and policy advocacy.
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