Diffusion and growth of community-led initiatives

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European CLI have emerged, grown and evolved in many different contexts and their number has increased significantly after 2008. Many initiatives were a product of cross pollination from existing initiatives and movements, and in most cases they grow until a certain dimension above which they tend to be replicated. Then they start supporting and partnering with these new initiatives, helping them to thrive, building momentum and robustness to the European local grassroots network.

Patterns of Diffusion and Growth

The ARTS research project identified five mechanisms for achieving acceleration and growth of local transitions through community-led action:[1]

  • Upscaling: increasing numbers of members, supporters or users of a single initiative
  • Replicating: creation of a similar initiative in another location
  • Partnering: creating and mobilising synergies by pooling and/or complementing resources, tangible and intangible (e.g. capacities and competences)
  • Instrumentalising: accessing and deploying resources towards achieving the initiative's goals
  • Embedding: integraing initiatives' novel ways of doing, organizing and thinking into existing governance patterns.

Initiatives studied in both ARTS and the TESS research project consistently favoured replication over upscaling.[2] According to findings from ARTS, this allows initiatives to avoid expanding beyond a certain threshold, but expand their reach by inspiring and/or facilitation replication. It appears to be common among food cooperatives and non-profit initiatives working with volunteers, less so in the field of renewable energy, where economies of scale help to reduce costs.[1] Almost half of 63 initiatives in six countries surveyed in TESS originated via replication of existing groups or initiatives elsewhere.[1]

Diffusion and Growth of the Transition Movement

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 [3]. 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[4]. 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.[5] 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).[6] 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.[7]

Numbers of Transition Initiatives
Date Number of Initiatives Number of Countries Source
Oct 2008 106 'official' Data provided by Transition Network, reported in [6]
Feb 2009 94 in UK and Ireland, 40 elsewhere Data provided by Transition Network, reported in [5]
July 2009 186 'official' (plus 800+ 'mullers') Data provided by Transition Network, reported in [6]
mid-2012 1179 with traceable contact point 23 Data scouring by researchers at Reading University[7]
Sept 2013 1130 43 Transition Network website, reported in [8]

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.[5] 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.[7] 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.[9] In England, this clustering effect became the basis of efforts on the part of Transition Network to support creation of regional hubs.[10]

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).[11] 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.[12]

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[9]. 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.[13] 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.[7] However, many Transition initiatives operate within an ecology of local grassroots action that mostly takes place outside the initiative itself.[14]

Diffusion and Growth of the Permaculture Movement

Permaculture spreads largely via a popular education model initiated by its co-founder Bill Mollison, including two main tiers of training: an entry-level permaculture design certificate and more advanced (professional level) permaculture diploma. National associations exist in many countries to deliver and/or coordinate training at each of these levels, mostly delivered by independent teachers who themselves trained via this route.[15] Permaculture training at both levels has a strong emphasis on implementation, with graduates encouraged to apply their new skills in their own life and community; many people in fact take permaculture training in order to initiate practical projects.[16][17] Many dedicated permaculture practitioners go on to become teachers, often through dedicated teachers trainings or apprenticeship to established teachers, thus increasing the movement's capacity to grow itself. A global survey conducted by the Permaculture Association (Britain) obtained responses from permaculture practitioners, projects and/or organisations in 141 countries worldwide.

Interactions among Movements and Initiatives

Close linkages exist between different movements of CLI, many of which intersect and can be indistinguishable at local or regional levels.

Transition itself began as an offshoot of the permaculture movement, as a final project on community-based responses to peak oil by students on a two-year permaculture design course at Kinsale FE College in Ireland.[18] Many Transition groups were or are started by permaculture practitioners seeking to work more effectively within their community, while many people are motivated to take permaculture training by their involvement in a Transition group. In fact, many Transition initiatives run or host regular permaculture courses as part of their work, and in some places the two movements are very closely linked by common personnel, organisations or projects. For example the Centre for Ecological Learning, Luxembourg (CELL) acts as a regional hub for both Transition and permaculture, acting as host organisation for the Luxembourg Transition Hub and delivering and coordinating permaculture trainings and projects in the country. At local level, this pattern is perhaps exemplified in Bristol, South West England, which became the first Transition city when permaculture teacher Sarah Pugh set up Transition Bristol in 2007. Sarah subsequently founded Shift Bristol as a permaculture-based training organisation equipping with the people with the practical skills in sustainability, training 20 people per year and contributing to the proliferation of permaculture, food growing, transition, solidarity economy and other projects across the city.[19]

Ecovillage also have close linkages with both Transition and permaculture. Many are initiated by permaculture practitioners as a route to deeper commitment to a sustainable lifestyle.[20] Ecovillages and other intentional communities commonly apply permaculture design in their layout, building design, site management, social processes and operations, many also host permaculture courses and related trainings, and some versions of the Ecovillage Design Education course include substantial permaculture-based components. Transition can be seen as form of diffusion of the ecovillage concept to urban settings.[21] Dense networks of transition and permaculture activity in urban and suburban areas can create a form of 'distributed ecovillage', interwoven with conventional infrastructure and lifestyles and creating new possibilities for transformational change.[22]

Research at initiative level shows that in many places Transition built upon, and reinvigorated, pre-existing initiatives, networks and movements.In a 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[23]. 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.[24] 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 [25]. 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.[24] Other common precursors to Transition initiatives include Local Agenda 21 groups[26] and the Relocalization Network in the USA [27].


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 A. Hof, A. Holsten, H. Berg et al, 2016. Sustainability Transitions to Low Carbon Societies. TESS, ARTS & PATHWAYS Common Policy Brief.
  2. TESS Project, 2017. Final publishable summary report.
  3. https://transitionnetwork.org/transition-near-me/initiatives/. Last accessed March 5th 2018.
  4. https://transitionnetwork.org/transition-near-me/hubs/. Last accessed March 5th 2018.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Seyfang, G., 2009. Green Shoots of Sustainability: the 2009 Transition Movement Survey. University of East Anglia.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 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
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 9.0 9.1 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
  10. Hubs workshop report
  11. Shawki, N., 2013. Understanding the Transnational Diffusion of Social Movements. Humanity & Society 37, 131–158. https://doi.org/10.1177/0160597613481799
  12. 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
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. Henfrey, T., 2017. Permaculture education as ecology of mind: the head, hands and heart of transformation, in: Mass Intellectuality and Democratic Leadership in Higher Education. Bloomsbury Academic, London, pp. 171–184. https://doi.org/10.5040/9781474267618
  16. Goldring, A. (ed.), 2000. Permaculture teachers guide. Godalming: WWF-UK.
  17. Morrow, R., 2014. Earth user's guide to teaching permaculture. Second edition. East Meon: Permanent Publications.
  18. Hopkins, R., ed. (2005), Kinsale 2021: An Energy Descent Action Plan.
  19. Henfrey, T., 2017. Resilience and Community Action in Bristol, in: Henfrey, T., G. Maschkowski and G. Penha-Lopes (Eds.) Resilience, Community Action and Societal Transformation. Permanent Publications, East Meon, Hampshire, pp. 47–56.
  20. Pickerill, J., 2013. Permaculture in practice: Low Impact Development in Britain, in: Environmental Anthropology Engaging Utopia. Bioregionalism, Permaculture and Ecovillages. Berghahn Books, New York, pp. 180–194.
  21. Lockyer, J., 2010. Intentional community carbon reduction and climate change action: from ecovillages to transition towns, in: Peters, M., Fudge, S., Jackson, T. (Eds.), Low Carbon Communities: Imaginative Approaches to Combating Climate Change Locally. Edward Elgar, Camberley, UK, pp. 197–215.
  22. Haluza-Delay, R. & R. Berezan, 2013. Permaculture in the City: Ecological Habitus and the Distributed Ecovillage. Pp. 130-145 in Lockyer, J. & J. Veteto (eds.) Environmental Anthropology Engaging Ecotopia: Bioregionalism, Permaculture and Ecovillages. New York & Oxford: Berghahn Books.
  23. Seyfang, G., 2009. Green Shoots of Sustainability: the 2009 Transition Movement Survey. University of East Anglia. P. 4.
  24. 24.0 24.1 Feola, G., Nunes, R., 2013. 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
  25. Taylor Aiken, G., 2017. Permaculture and the social design of nature. Geografiska Annaler: Series B, Human Geography.
  26. 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
  27. Shawki, N., 2013. Understanding the Transnational Diffusion of Social Movements. Humanity & Society 37, 131–158. https://doi.org/10.1177/0160597613481799