Friday, December 05, 2008

Starting a Transition Town Initiative

One of the things that I have been exploring is what would organizations, communities, and even life be like if we adopted the principles of Open Space Technology? There are four principles that apply to the break out sessions in an OST meeting:
  • it starts when it starts
  • whoever comes are the right people
  • it ends when it ends
  • whatever happened is the only thing that could have (happened)
Imagine how much more relaxed Americans would be if we didn't expect meetings to start on the dot, but emerge from the flow of the day for everyone who showed up? Imagine if we did not feel blame or guilt about who showed up and who didn't? Imagine if we let whatever happened be totally okay? I have found that adopting these principles actually puts me in a different place, a different mode of thinking and feeling. It is a place where I am less judgmental, less anxious, more at ease. I don't always do it, but when I do, I like it.

It is also a place of letting go. When I first started this journey, I knew that I wanted to be a part of a community that was actively working towards relocalizing. But back then (was it only three and a half years ago?), not many in Atlanta had heard about peak oil. Even among that tiny community, I couldn't find anybody who was interested in joining the Post Carbon Institute's Relocalization Network. I was scared, I was frustrated, I felt powerless, and alone. Eventually I had to let go.

But now I am "getting it"... it starts when it starts. For whatever reasons, it was not the right time, and the right people weren't yet available. Now three of us have found each other. We had our first "Transition Town" meeting today. I am realizing that a small part of me was "holding space" for this to happen someday, which is what had me notice the opportunity as it came up.

Three is enough to start. It is the first iteration of community. It is the very center of the spiral, that will circle out to encompass many more. And our first task is to bring in three more burning souls. In order to start a Transition Town Initiative, we need to have 5-7 people who will commit to working together on this. It is too big a job for any less than that. And this is a good size for a small group, as everyone can have a direct relationship, or at least direct communication, with everyone else.

So we have given ourselves a month to do that. A month to study the Transition Town model, to talk to the folks that we know that might be open, willing, maybe even excited about volunteering for kind of thing. I am not very connected to my immediate community, so this will be an opportunity for me to follow up on some of my initial contacts and try to track down the people who might be interested in this. "Turn over rocks," as DH says.

So now, the applicable principle is "whoever comes are the right people." And this means creating a clear and compelling invitation, and putting it out there, so the right people can find us. Yoo hoo! Where are you???

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

transitioning to a new paradigm business

If you ask my husband what he does, he'll tell you he "drives nails." But what this really means is that he is a subcontractor for new home construction, doing production work. Or he did that until recently. Last year, there was a sharp drop in new homes being built. He went from running five to six crews down to one full-time in-house crew plus one part time crew he subbed out. But now he can't keep one crew busy. He was getting homeowner contracts, because people realized that they couldn't move, so they would upgrade their existing home. But now, nobody is spending any money on anything. We have only so much money left to cover payroll, and then, we have to call it quits. It's heartwrenching. His guys have been with him for decades. They are family.

Fortunately, he saw the writing on the wall a long time ago, and has been searching for a new line of business for the past year. And it was a relief, in a way, because it hurt his heart to work in such an unsustainable business. In fact, he started the "turnkey" model of subcontracting, because he couldn't stand to see all the waste that was produced when the builders bought the materials and just hired the labor. Turnkey Decks, Inc. was born.

Then one night, while listening to Coast to Coast, he heard David Blume speak about distilling alcohol for fuel. Suddenly the lightbulb went off. If this model could work, it could answer all of his needs. He could disconnect from "the system" and become not only energy independent, but contribute to his own food production as well. Blume is a permaculturist, so his model is completely integrated, with no "waste products" at all--only streams to fuel other processes. In fact, alcohol is not the "cash crop"--it is the byproducts and what are derived from them, that is what is sold.

So today, we had a big powwow with his crew. Our dear friends, DF-F and DF-J, hosted the event. (DF-J is also on the crew.) We brought donuts, and watched 2.5 hours of video. After having pizza for lunch, we talked. I "scribed," to use facilitator's jargon, using a modified version of the Dynamic Facilitation process. I took down all of the pictures of DF-F's family on one wall, and put up six flipchart sheets. Each one had its own heading:
  • data
  • problem statements
  • solutions
  • concerns
  • questions/research
  • action items
As the conversation went on, I scribed the content, sorting each one onto each flipchart, and adding sheets as we needed. Scribing is a particular skill all to itself, but I happen to be very good at it, in part because I am a "kinetic" processor. It actually helps me to listen to do things like write on flipcharts, which can be handy for the group.

Having the record of the conversation up on the wall for all to see helps the group be conscious of what has been said already, which has many benefits. One is, nobody has to repeat themselves--they are secure that their input has been captured. Another is, they can build on what has been said--answering questions, coming up with solutions, etc. The "wisdom of the group" is not only captured, but affirmed, for all to see, which generates confidence and even more contribution.

On a side note, I have found that the category of "concerns" is one of the most important to include. Just having the blank sheet on the wall "opens space" for people to speak about their concerns, which is incredibly important in group process to avoid "groupthink" and running into problems later that were not addressed because people did not feel comfortable bringing them forward.

Besides the "questions/research" and "action items" categories that I mentioned above, I have also found it useful to add the "decisions made" category in some situations. In our situation, we hadn't agreed to be a decision making body yet, so I felt that was premature.

In our meeting today, I witnessed new possibilities being born. We have a long way to go in terms of finding out whether we can pull an "energy farm" off--we need to do a lot of due diligence before we find out if it is even worth investing in--but there was a lot of hope in the room.

I'll keep you posted.

Monday, November 24, 2008

19 months later: Back in the saddle

Hi everyone,

After a 19-month sabbatical, I am rejoining the blogosphere. I look forward to discovering the new faces and voices in the green- and communities- arenas. I'm guessing that there will be more than I can keep up with, but I will make a stab at it!

I think back to the day of my last post with a lot of emotion. We were disappointed by the turnout at our StepItUp event--Obama decided to have a rally at Georgia Tech the same day, and 20,000 people showed up for it! Even our own organizers snuck off to participate in that historic event. Now, of course, I wish I was one of them.

How far we have come since then. On so many levels. The Atlanta Beyond Oil Meetup Group, which sometimes only had three people at the meetings "back in the day," is now very popular. JoJo has done a fabulous job of hosting the meetings at his beautiful home. The last time I was there, he showed me where he was expanding the garden. It was inspiring.

I feel like there has be a shift in consciousness... not only at the political level, but also in my own circle of friends and aquaintences. People understand the importance of sustainability. There certainly has been one in myself.

I have spent the last several years learning how to facilitate in communities, because I believe that this is where I can make the greatest contribution--creating an environment that supports people in having the conversations about the issues that challenge their communities. I believe that change is going to happen in communities, not only because relocalizing makes sense, but because human beings are community-oriented beings, and working at this level will satisfy a fundamental need.

I have been exploring forms of facilitation and meeting design that I believe are cutting edge, and embody the values and principles that I hold dear--maximum freedom, maximum choice, self-organization, respect, inclusion of the emotions and the intuition, right and left brains, as well as all learning styles, and trusting the wisdom of the group.

On the home front, we put in a garden this summer, and hired Isabel and Bob from Georgia Permaculture to walk our land and give us a plan for developing it using permaculture principles. DH has been studying David Blume's work about distilling alcohol for fuel, and we are hoping to start program, either on our acerage, or nearby.

So I will slowly be revising the links on the blog to reflect my new pursuits, and sharing what I learn along the way. I also see that Blogger has some new features, so I might be incorporating those as well.

Thanks for reading, and I look forward to connecting!