Diffusion and growth of the Transition movement

From EcoliseWiki

Precise data on the numbers, locations and impacts of Transition initiatives are not available due to the rapid growth of the movement, the lack of clear boundaries concerning what constitutes a Transition Initiative and who is involved, inconsistency in the extent to which local initiatives connect with coordinating organisations such as Transition Network and national hubs, and the patchy distribution of formal research effort. Transition Network maintains a global register of initiatives on its website, which in early 2018 had around 1000 entries [1]. This list is based on self-registration, and almost certainly includes fewer than the total number of initiatives, as many do not register this way. The Transition Network website lists national hubs in 25 countries: USA, Sweden, Spain, Slovenia, Scotland, Romania, Portugal, Norway, Mexico, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Latvia, Japan, Israel, Italy, Ireland, Hungary, Germany, France, Denmark, Croatia, Chile, Brasil, Francophone Belgium and Argentina[2]. The first academic survey of the Transition Movement reported that in February 2009 there were 94 initiatives in the UK and around 40 elsewhere, principally in the USA, Australia and New Zealand.[3] Data provided directly by Transition Network showed that as of July 2009 there were 186 formally registered initiatives (up from 106 in October 2008), plus over 800 'mullers' (nascent Transition initiatives that had not yet been granted 'official' status by Transition Network, a process that is now defunct). The majority of initiatives in both categories were in the UK and Ireland, with significant numbers in other 'developed' Anglophone countries (USA, Australia and New Zealand), with smaller numbers in Canada, continental Europe, Asia, Latin America and South Africa (the only African country represented at the time).[4] An independent survey conducted in mid-2012 identified contact points for 1179 Transition initiatives, not all registered on the Transition Network website, in 23 countries.[5]

Numbers of Transition Initiatives
Date Number of Initiatives Number of Countries Source
Oct 2008 106 'official' Data provided by Transition Network, reported in [4]
Feb 2009 94 in UK and Ireland, 40 elsewhere Data provided by Transition Network, reported in [3]
July 2009 186 'official' (plus 800+ 'mullers') Data provided by Transition Network, reported in [4]
mid-2012 1179 with traceable contact point 23 Data scouring by researchers at Reading University[5]
Sept 2013 1130 43 Transition Network website, reported in [6]

Growth of the Transition movement has been uneven in both space and time. Perhaps unsurprisingly given its origins in Ireland and England and the preponderance of English-language literature and learning materials, initial growth was most marked in these two countries, followed by other parts of the anglophone world. Data from early 2009 showed there to be 94 registered Transition initiatives in the UK and Ireland, 40 in other countries, mostly in the USA, Australia and New Zealand.[3] Establishment of national hubs in non-anglophone countries capable of bridging linguistic divides, establishment of an international and multilingual network of trainers qualified to deliver Transition training and translation of key documents, including The Transition Handbook, into other languages, have all helped international diffusion.

Patterns of diffusion are also non-uniform within countries or regions, and locally. A global survey conducted in 2012 concluded that less than half of responding Transition initiatives are representative of diversity within their community.[5] Geographical distributions of local Transition initiatives in UK (England/Wales), Germany, Italy and France, which collectively comprised 48% of known Transition iniatives worldwide in 2012, show a marked clustering, with clear hotspots and 'cold spots' in each country.[7] In England, this clustering effect became the basis of efforts on the part of Transition Network to support creation of regional hubs.[8]

Patterns of diffusion of Transition differ from country to country. Comparative and country case study research suggest that common diffusion mechanisms and processes can be identified in different places. However, outcomes of these processes are all highly sensitive to differences of context, so the patterns of diffusion produced vary from country to country, and from place to place, according to specific details. A detailed examination of the spread of Transition in the USA shows it to depend on all three major channels of diffusion identified in the social movements literature: relational (based on personal contact and relationship-building among teachers, seekers and brokers of knowledge within and across localities), non-relational (based on written and other media and learning materials that allow inspiration and guidance in the absence of personal contact) and mediated (based on specific forms of instruction, support and guidance such as Transition Training and the various books and other how-to media created by Transition Network).[9] Detailed studies from Britain and Italy confirm this finding, and show that country-specific geographical patterns of diffusion recur across social movement: diffusion of Transition in Italy for example, shows a similar pattern to that of Solidarity Purchasing Groups in that country, different from that of Transition in Britain.[10]

Aggregated data from UK, France, Italy and Germany show a steady decline in the annual rate of growth (i.e. establishment of new local initiatives), from nearly 180 per cent in 2007 to around ten per cent in 2014[7]. Recent consolidation of data on UK initiatives held by Transition Network suggested their number to have declined from around 430 that at some point registered with Transition Network to 260 that still operated an active contact point by late 2017. Some theorists have suggested this to reflect the Adaptive cycle pattern of change in complex systems documented in resilience theory, which includes regular phases of decline followed by reorganisation and renewal.[11] Disappearance or decline of Transition initiatives can reflect different trajectories. The 2012 survey by Reading University showed a marked and predictable tendency for inactive initiatives to report lower levels of success than active initiatives.[5] However, many Transition initiatives operate within an ecology of local grassroots action that mostly takes place outside the initiative itself.[12]

Relationships with other Movements and Initiatives

In many places, Transition built upon, and reinvigorated, pre-existing initiatives, networks and movements. In the 2009 survey of 74 Transition groups in the UK, 19.2% of responding initiatives reported that one or more pre-existing group were involved in their establishment[13]. Half of the 276 Transition initiatives worldwide responding to a 2012 survey reported that they had been founded on the basis of a pre-existing group.[5] Particularly in the UK, the close association between Transition's origins and permaculture meant that many of the earliest adopters were permaculture teachers. In many places, Transition and permaculture remain closely linked, both conceptually and in practice [14]. In the 2013 survey by Reading University, 82% of responding initiatives included in their steering group someone who had undertaken permaculture training or had permaculture knowledge (compared to 71% in which at least one steering group member had attended a Transition training), with an average of two steering group members with some form of permaculture training and three with some form of Transition training.[5] Other common precursors to Transition initiatives include Local Agenda 21 groups[15] and the Relocalization Network in the USA [16].


  1. https://transitionnetwork.org/transition-near-me/initiatives/. Last accessed March 5th 2018.
  2. https://transitionnetwork.org/transition-near-me/hubs/. Last accessed March 5th 2018.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Seyfang, G., 2009. Green Shoots of Sustainability: the 2009 Transition Movement Survey. University of East Anglia.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Bailey, I., Hopkins, R., Wilson, G., 2010. Some things old, some things new: The spatial representations and politics of change of the peak oil relocalisation movement. Geoforum 41, 595–605. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geoforum.2009.08.007
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 Feola, G., Nunes, R., 2014. Success and failure of grassroots innovations for addressing climate change: The case of the Transition Movement. Global Environmental Change 24, 232–250. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2013.11.011. P. 238.
  6. Henfrey, T. & J. Kenrick, 2017. Climate, commons and hope: the Transition Movement in global perspective. Pp. 161-190 in Henfrey. T., G. Maschkowski & G. Penha-Lopes (eds.) Resilience, Community Action and Societal Transformation. East Meon: Permanent.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Feola, G., Him, M.R., 2016. The diffusion of the Transition Network in four European countries. Environment and Planning A 48, 2112–2115. https://doi.org/10.1177/0308518x16630989
  8. Hubs workshop report
  9. Shawki, N., 2013. Understanding the Transnational Diffusion of Social Movements. Humanity & Society 37, 131–158. https://doi.org/10.1177/0160597613481799
  10. Feola, G., Butt, A., 2015. The diffusion of grassroots innovations for sustainability in Italy and Great Britain: an exploratory spatial data analysis. The Geographical Journal 183, 16–33. https://doi.org/10.1111/geoj.12153
  11. Henfrey, T. & N. Giangrande, 2017. Resilience and Community Action in the Transition Movement. In Henfrey. T., G. Maschkowski & G. Penha-Lopes (eds.) Resilience, Community Action and Societal Transformation.. East Meon: Permanent Publications. Pp. 87-110.
  12. e.g. see Henfrey, T., 2017. Resilience and Community Action in Bristol. In Henfrey. T., G. Maschkowski & G. Penha-Lopes (eds.) Resilience, Community Action and Societal Transformation.. East Meon: Permanent Publications. Pp. 47-56.
  13. Seyfang, G., 2009. Green Shoots of Sustainability: the 2009 Transition Movement Survey. University of East Anglia. P. 4.
  14. Taylor Aiken, G., 2017. Permaculture and the social design of nature. Geografiska Annaler: Series B, Human Geography.
  15. Pinto, M., Macedo, M., Macedo, P., Almeida, C., Silva, M., 2015. The Lifecycle of a Voluntary Policy Innovation: The Case of Local Agenda 21. Journal of Management and Sustainability 5, 69–83. https://doi.org/10.5539/jms.v5n2p69
  16. Shawki, N., 2013. Understanding the Transnational Diffusion of Social Movements. Humanity & Society 37, 131–158. https://doi.org/10.1177/0160597613481799

Also see:

  • Seyfang, G., Haxeltine, A., 2012. Growing grassroots innovations: exploring the role of community-based initiatives in governing sustainable energy transitions. Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy 30, 381–400. https://doi.org/10.1068/c10222
  • Haxeltine, A., Seyfang, G., 2009. Transitions for the People: Theory and Practice of “Transition” and “Resilience” in the UK’s Transition Movement. Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research Working Paper 134.