Our future depends on collaboration. Civil society has been taking the lead in bringing attention to the situation of the world we inhabit and striving to change the way we relate to the planet as a species, regenerating the damage we have caused and looking for alternative ways of living. Increasingly, municipalities are starting to join the global movement for change. Examples exist worldwide where collaboration between civil society and local public administrations is a reality. The Municipalities in Transition project aims to bring these experiences together to learn from one another and help other territories begin their own path in a collaborative transition towards a more sustainable future.
This project has been collaboratively designed across borders and will map existing experiences of effective and systemic-change collaboration between local authorities and transition initiatives, worldwide. Our theory of change for this is inspired by the increasing evidence that top-down approaches alone cannot achieve sustained behaviour change. As new approaches arise through bottom-up experimentation, effective sharing of learning and inspiration is critical to supporting replication, evolution, scaling up and ultimately enabling us to reach a tipping point whereby the emerging culture becomes the new normal.
There are increasing numbers of engaged communities working for positive change who feel unsupported, even blocked, by local government. There are also many municipalities with positive goals and a determination to act who are struggling to build genuinely collaborative relationships with local citizens. Excitingly, there are places where these different actors are coming together to try and respond to these challenges in new spaces for dialogue and decision-making.
Inspired by the increasing evidence that top-down approaches alone are not sufficient, we look to do more. This type of collaboration between civil society and municipalities is still a relatively new experiment, where behaviour patterns begin to change through the creation of relationships of trust and different approaches to respond to what is needed.
However, much remains to be discussed and understood if the different organisations of civil society and european institutions want to support this work towards systemic change. The invitation for this European Day of Sustainable Communities is to participate in a dialogue where we can bring our experience and knowledge to continue feeling into the barriers and opportunities in terms of this type of collaboration between civil society, community-led initiatives and municipalities. During our day long conference in Brussels on the 20th of September, we want to focus particularly on how to better align community-led and municipal actions. The latest information from the ECOLISE network will also be shared with participants, including the latest research findings from the ongoing project on Municipalities in Transition (MiT). The event will bring the clear message to EU policy makers and stakeholders in Brussels, on how citizens and communities can work with municipal authorities to can create sustainable change together, preserving natural resources and biodiversity, and creating a fairer and more equitable society. Our objectives for this day are: 1. To draw the attention of policy makers (again!) to the fact that there is a lot happening at community/grassroots level across Europe that is mostly off the radar but making an important contribution to global goals (ECOLISE Status Report); 2. To explore the potential of communities and their municipal authorities working hand in hand to respond to the challenges of our age (MiT). 3. To provide and receive suggestions/recommendations as to how policy makers (at all levels) can support this happening and scaling it out to make it more replicable (ECOLISE/MiT). A few communities and municipalities are experimenting with Transition-inspired approaches and tools to help them move beyond the current paradigm, align around a strong place-based vision and collaborate to create sustainable change. For example: Transition Italy have a built a partnership with the Emilia Romagna branch of Italian Association of Municipalities. 300 municipalities (previously 40) are now in the Covenant of Mayors carbon-saving network. In the UK, Transition group Sustainable Frome are the basis of “Independents for Frome” elected to control the Town Council. “Flatpack Democracy” describes the more participatory way they make decisions for a sustainable future for the local area. In Ungersheim, France, Transition has been taken on by the municipality, with outcomes including a local currency, PassivHaus co-housing, local food businesses and the largest solar project in the Alsace. The Transition Spain Hub has given Transition Training to several municipalities and is starting to work with them on connecting to civil society and applying Transition approaches.
It looks like Belgium is rich in inspirational cases of great interest for our Sustainable Communities Programme: besides what 21Solutions does with http://quartiersdurablescitoyens.brussels , http://vilco.brussels/ which tries to answer the question 'how community-led initiatives and municipalities or local institutions can better cooperate in order to strengthen the resilience of local dynamics in favour of environment?' and http://www.cocreate.brussels, which is a programme supporting citizens to care for urban resilience through participatory action research.
It is part of a project of the same name, in which transdisciplinary case studies in two regions are conducted, one in Germany, the other in Romania: https://leveragepoints.org/td-case-studies/transylvania-romania. This looks like another interesting reference for a potentially productive research-civil society interface at regional level.