Community-led initiatives

From Communities for Future wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Community-led initiatives (CLIs) are any form of action undertaken by self-organised groups of people, often but not always living in the same geographical location, to improve their social and environmental conditions.

Use of the term community-led stresses the leadership of and within communities that take initiative to bring about the changes they wish to see. They don't just speak out against problems, they take concrete action to address them and help create a better world.

Community-led action doesn’t automatically imply a concern with issues such as sustainability and social justice, although that is often the case. The CfF wiki is specifically concerned with community-led initiatives on sustainability and climate change, supported by a defined set of values that stress caring, solidarity, cooperation, equality, inclusion and ecological integrity.

Meaning of Community-led Initiatives

The first "Status Report on Community-Led Action on Sustainability and Climate Change in Europe" describes CLIs as follows:

Community-led initiatives (CLIs) arise whenever people self-organise in the places where they live to take action on issues that concern them. These issues may range from local to global in scope, and often bridge these levels of scale. They may, for example, address local sustainability issues directly and at the same time consider them in global context, or pay attention both to the direct local impacts of climate change and its global causes and solutions. As well as being effective and important in their own right, they often inspire other people, within their home communities and elsewhere, to question and transform their ways of thinking, acting and being in the world.[1]

CLIs, as a concept, emphasises the role of “communities” as transformative actors and drivers of societal change. However, the meaning of the term “community” is ambiguous. As in the status report, it is understood as referring to collectives of individuals in both rural and urban contexts that intentionally join together to initiate a project that serves themselves, their wider community and their natural environment. This could for example be a group of committed people from an urban neighbourhood, inhabitants of traditional village communities or workers associations.

The concept of CLIs, as used by ECOLISE, depicts a wide range of activities. At the same, several defining criteria and common principles can be identified to unify all initiatives that fall under this umbrella term. Most fundamentally, CLIs are:

  • community-driven
  • targeting the restoring of social and ecological qualities
  • operating at a the local or regional scale (small-scale and place-based)

Furthermore, CLIs’ orientation ranges from adaptive approaches to transformative approaches. Adaptive CLIs aim to address specific societal challenges as a direct response to a perceived threat.[2] Transformative CLIs take a more systemic approach, as they do not only address societal challenges, but also challenge the systemic structures and institutions that created those challenges in the first place.[3]

Terminology and Related Concepts

Use of the term Community-led initiatives here derives from the wording in the full name of ECOLISE: the European Network for Community-Led Initiatives on Sustainability and Climate Change. Its usage here is independent from, but has some overlap with, the use of community-led as an adjective in other contexts, and in combination with other nouns such as development and action.

In the context of EU policy, the Local Development Network offers the following definition:

The term ‘community led’ is closely related to ‘public engagement’. It encapsulates practices of ‘empowerment’, ‘mutual learning and ‘consensus building’ between citizens’ groupings and public authorities as key principles of ‘bottom-up’ development for designing ‘citizen-driven’ services.[4]

The Movement for Community-led Development (MLCD), following the Inspiring Communities Network in New Zealand, employs the following definition:

Community-led Development (CLD) is the process of working together to create and achieve locally owned visions and goals. It is a planning and development approach that’s based on a set of core principles that (at a minimum) set vision and priorities by the people who live in that geographic community, put local voices in the lead, build on local strengths (rather than focus on problems), collaborate across sectors, is intentional and adaptable, and works to achieve systemic change rather than short-term projects.[5]

MLCD attribute the origin of the term 'community-led' to a report developed on behalf of various first nations groups by the Caledon Institute for Social Policy in Canada.[6] Its usage in European local development dates from 2014, when the European Commission's LEADER programme was extended from its previously rural focus under the broader term Community-Led Local Development (CLLD).

Our use of the term community-led initiative here on the CfF wiki is closely related to our understanding and use of the term community. It is related, with various levels of overlap in meaning and associated values, to many synonyms for community-led used in different contexts. Some of the most important of these are as follows:

Bottom-up Civil Collective Community-driven
Grassroots Social Commmunal Community-level
Civic Citizens' Community-based

These and other adjectives are used in combination with various nouns, such as:

Initiative Project Network Intervention
Action Movement Organisation Innovation

Understanding Community-Led Initiatives

From conceptual work undertaken in planning the 2021 Communities for Future Status Report emerged the following framework for understanding community-led initiatives, which can be used to explore key principles and other concepts. Community-led initiatives are:

Spaces for and of...

Democratic political practice
Environmentally and socially destructive economic systems are inherently connected with centralised and inequitable political systems capable of co-option by those who already hold wealth and power. Moving towards sustainability and social justice requires more inclusive and democratic forms of decision-making and allocation of rights over shared resources. Approaches to inclusive governance already in use by many communities of place and/or practice provide potential models for a wider democratisation of society.
Economic pluralism
It is increasingly evident that current economic paradigms - particularly the capitalist premise of perpetual growth in GDP - are fundamentally incompatible with sustainability, including fulfillment of existing highlevel political agreement. However, diverse and abundant alternative ideas and models now exist, which abandon theoretical dogma in favour of the practical question of how to live together in shared prosperity on an ecologically finite planet.
Living values
Incumbent economic and political systems implicitly embed values at odds with sustainability and social justice, and hence build these in operationally as both operational features and inevitable outcomes. Community initiatives seeking to create and enact alternative economic and governance paradigms operate according to very different sets of values. Making these values explicit enables critical self-reflection (and formal evaluation) on whether and to what extent they are, or are not, being upheld, and at the same time highlights contrasts with dominant systems.
Regenerative cultures
Values of sustainability, justice and care, in the context of accelerating social and ecological degeneration, oblige us to move from exploitation to regeneration as the cultural premise for human societies. Regenerative cultures take many different forms, rooted in place and responsive to local and regional environmental, ecological, economic, social, and cultural conditions. They represent diverse possible responses to current crises, and indicate potential trajectories towards human presence on earth becoming something that safeguards and enriches the biosphere.

Organised as...

Translocal networks
Locally rooted action that remains local in perspective and scope is limited in its potential, in itself, to contribute to wider transformation. Collaboration among those working towards regenerative cultures in different places allows them to become more than the sumsome of their parts. Through networking, mutual inspiration, shared learning, diffusion of ideas and practices, and strategic action at national and international levels, local and regional initiatives connect, spread and grow into broad-based movements for change.
Local to bioregional partnerships
The specific thematic focus of any translocal network is never by itself adequate to navigate the complexity of local realities. When multiple networks converge in a single physical locality, broad partnerships of actors working at local-to-regional scale can emerge, each bringing its own set of perspectives and competencies. Their combination in multi-stakeholder partnerships working towards agreed broad goals creates the greatest potential for both rapid local transition and catalysing wider societal transformation.
Social solidarity economy
An economy based on principles of competition and self-interest puts provision of basic needs at odds with regeneration of social and ecological value. Collective, democratically organised action through inclusive place-based partnerships, connected via translocal networks, can be the basis for reshaping economic life at all levels on the basis of solidarity, cooperation and care for people and other living systems.

Exploring practical sustainability through

Social innovation
The modes of thought and action accessible through dominant regimes can only ultimately reinforce the material and subjective structures of oppression that are the root causes of inequality, injustice and ecological degradation. Niche actors able collectively to understand, organise themselves and act upon the world are capable of innovative forms of action that challenge dominant logics and provide alternatives to them. Their transformative potential is particularly evident in the face of game-changers: radical shifts in conditions that bring into question the viability and desirability of current systems, demonstrating both the possibility for and necessity of radical change.
Working with nature
Conceptual and material separation from nature is a key root cause of current crises. Recognising that human economies are living systems, embedded within and dependent upon biological processes, is key to their sustainability. Understanding the principles that allow ecological systems to combine productivity and resilience can also inform the intentional design of human systems.
Transition design
Environmentally and socially destructive impacts are not incidental or contingent side-effects of capitalism, but inherent, if unintended, consequences of its need to extract surplus value. Recognising this raises the converse prospect of deliberate design of socio-economic systems for sustainable and equitable outcomes, through inclusive and democratic processes and as unique expressions of local biocultural conditions, and in mutually beneficial interrelationships with other localities.
Commons ecologies
Basing production on private property disincentivises social responsibility, while centralised state control undermines individual and community autonomy. Commons, in which users self-organise for the stewardship and allocation of shared resources on the basis of need and capability, are the basis of all known cases of human societies living within local ecological limits. Commons ecologies existing in mutually generative relationships with each other are an outcome of Transition design that provide a potential model for global sustainable society, rooted in diverse local specifics
Growing edges
Community-led initiatives have not, on any large scale, halted or reversed environmental and social damage or the economic and political systems that rely on them. In some cases and respects, by decontextualising normalised and accepted behaviours and conventions with socially and/or environmentally perverse outcomes, they make them more visible, indicating where more work is needed (including within community initiatives themselves) to become consistent with expressed values. Barriers and constraints experienced by community initiatives working towards environmental and social outcomes supported by broad social and/or political consensus but impossible to achieve in practice, reveal the contradictions and points of intransigence in dominant systems.

Community-led action on sustainability and climate change in Europe

A wide diversity and growing number of community-led initiatives (CLIs) can be found all across Europe, with documented histories in some cases of over 50 years. Initiatives associated with the Transition, Permaculture and Ecovillage movements, along with Community energy, Solidarity economy and various forms of community food initiative are found across the whole of Europe, though distribution of particular networks can be clustered and/or patchy. Despite significant recent research effort, the full numbers, nature, scope and impacts of CLIs in Europe are not yet documented or established.

Community-led initiatives (CLIs) arise whenever people self-organise in the places where they live to take action on issues that concern them. These issues may range from local to global in scope, and often bridge distinct scales. They may, for example both address local sustainability issues directly and at the same time consider them in global context, or pay attention both to the direct local impacts of climate change and its global causes and solutions.. As well as being effective and important in their own right, they often inspire other people, within their home communities and elsewhere, to re-think and transform their ways of thinking, acting and being in the world.

Increasing numbers of scholars how recognise the present time as a distinct geological epoch, the Anthropocene, in which human impacts significantly and unavoidably affect ecological conditions all over the world [7]. The Anthropocene raises new, complex and often unprecedented challenges, of many kinds: socio-political, economic, cultural, ecological and socio-technological. In light of this, scientists from many different disciplines are now calling for a shift in the premise of global governance to one of planetary stewardship [8].

CLIs represent a pre-emptive response, at local levels, to this call for planetary stewardship. Arising and existing across Europe and focussing on a huge range of local and global issues, they take many different forms. Building and mobilising community through diverse partnerships and innovative initiatives, their work is a vital complement to high-level political action on climate change and sustainability. Through their work towards creating low carbon alternatives to existing lifestyles, local economies and other societal structures, directly reducing emissions of greenhouse gasses and fostering independence from the fossil fuel economy, they can make significant contributions to effective, inclusive and pluralistic implementation of the Paris Climate Change Agreement. Their work often addresses themes relevant to the Sustainable Development Goals, and can provide innovative ways to implement these goals at local levels.

Understanding community-led action on climate change and sustainability is also important from a scientific perspective. CLIs are important agents in processes of sustainability transitions - the shifts in interlinked social and technical configurations in key societal domains such as energy, water and transport. Improved understanding of CLIs - what they do, the effects and the factors that enable and assist these - can help inform wider questions of appropriate technological choices and governance methods for society-wide transitions to sustainability. CLIs are also important to the science and practice of social-ecological resilience. Community-level innovations can increase adaptability and resilience, in ways that both directly affect local-level prospects for navigating social, environmental and economic changes and affecting the prospects for wider transformation.

Community-led initiatives (CLIs) are activities that are self-initiated and self-managed by groups of people at the local and regional scale for the sake of actively sustaining, protecting and restoring ecological and social qualities.

Aims of Community-Led Initiatives

According to findings of the TESS research project on community-led initiatives (CLIs), CLIs in Europe tend to be created in order to advance environmental and/or social dimenions of sustainability on the environmental and social dimensions. In a survey of members of CLIs from six European countries (Finland, Germany, Italy, Romania, Scotland and Spain), more than ninety percent of respondents reported that the most important goal of community action for them was one of the following:[9]

  • Providing opportunities for social interaction
  • Using natural resources more efficiently
  • Combating climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions
  • Promoting more sustainable behaviour, life styles and social practices

Nature and Diversity of Community-led Initiatives in Europe

Many CLIs are connected with specific networks, and some of these networks have particular strengths in or focus upon specific domains are activities, it is very common for a single initiative to operate simultaneously in multiple domains of activity. Among 63 initiatives surveyed in TESS, nearly 50 per cent were active in the domain of food, 38 per cent in waste, 28 percent on transport and 27 per cent on energy.[9]

Key networks of CLIs in Europe include the Transition movement, Ecovillages, Permaculture movement, Community energy, Solidarity economy, Degrowth, Community-supported agriculture (CSA) and Slow food. These networks have many historical and present-day associations, with overlap, intersection and collaboration all common. Many can be regarded as some form or another of commoning movement, where communities of co-users or other stakeholders self-organise to create and implement appropriate governance and management mechanisms.[10] Many Transition initiatives and projects adopt methodologies from permaculture and solidarity economy, initiate community energy or CSA projects, and act as examples of degrowth in practice. Since 2014, ecovillage, permaculture and transition networks have formally collaborated at European level as the ECOLISE meta-network. These connections within and across networks promote the translocal mobilisation of social movements called for by, for example, researcher Flor Avelino as a strategy for collective nurturing and empowerment.[11]

Regarding their legal status, the majority of the 63 CLIs studied within TESS were cooperatives, with different organisational forms evenly distributed among the six countries involved.[9] Nearly a quarter of TESS case study initiatives had no formal legal organisation. Governance procedures vary in their degree of formality: some CLIs deploy structured decision-making process such as general assemblies and committees, some base decision-making on full participation and consensus.

Most TESS case study initiatives were initiated around 2010, in the aftermath of the financial crisis. Nearly a quarter had been in existence more than 14 years; another quarter were created between 2012 and 2016, suggesting that new initiatives are being created at accelerating rates.[9] Some of the oldest known initiatives still in existence are Findhorn ecovillage in the UK, founded in 1962, and the Les Jardins de Cocagne, a CSA-like initiative in Switzerland that began in 1978.

Numbers of Community-led Initiatives in Europe

Assessing the number of CLIs in Europe is difficult and depends strongly on the sources and methods used. Even within a single network, national and global maps might indicate very different numbers of initiatives, and different mapping exercises come out with different numbers per network and country. Aggregation of data from maps curated by the permaculture, ecovillage and Transition movements indicates over 1000 documented initiatives in Europe [12]. Rescoop records 250 Community energy initiatives in Europe [13], a survey of solidarity economy organisations reveals over two million in the EU[14], and another nearly 2800 Community Supported Agriculture and similar initiatives, showing the scale of these movements in Europe is already large.

ECOLISE Map.png

Number of CLIs mapped on the ECOLISE website (including only initiatives mapped by the Transition, Permaculture and Ecovillage movements).[15]

Reported numbers of CLIs are very low in many countries in Eastern Europe. However, this may reflect methodological and conceptual limitations rather than actual numbers, if such initiatives take different forms and adopt different labels and forms of networking from those familiar in the west.

Many projects are mapping CLIs on various levels:

International Maps

National Maps

Local Maps

Mapping Tools

CLI as a Concept: Theoretical Context and Conceptual Development

The first "Status Report on Community-Led Action on Sustainability and Climate Change in Europe" describes CLIs as follows:

“Community-led initiatives (CLIs) arise whenever people self-organise in the places where they live to take action on issues that concern them. These issues may range from local to global in scope, and often bridge these levels of scale. They may, for example, address local sustainability issues directly and at the same time consider them in global context, or pay attention both to the direct local impacts of climate change and its global causes and solutions. As well as being effective and important in their own right, they often inspire other people, within their home communities and elsewhere, to question and transform their ways of thinking, acting and being in the world.”[16]

CLIs, as a concept, emphasises the role of “communities” as transformative actors and drivers of societal change. However, the meaning of the term “community” is ambiguous. As in the Status report, it is understood as referring to collectives of individuals in both rural and urban contexts that intentionally join together to initiate a project that serves themselves, their wider community and their natural environment. This could for example be a group of committed people from an urban neighbourhood, inhabitants of traditional village communities or workers associations.

The concept of CLIs, as used by ECOLISE, depicts a wide range of activities. At the same, several defining criteria and common principles can be identified to unify all initiatives that fall under this umbrella term. Most fundamentally, CLIs are:

  • community-driven
  • targeting the restoring of social and ecological qualities
  • operating at a the local or regional scale (small-scale and place-based)

Furthermore, CLIs’ orientation ranges from adaptive approaches to transformative approaches. Adaptive CLIs aim to address specific societal challenges as a direct response to a perceived threat[17]. Transformative CLIs take a more systemic approach, as they do not only address societal challenges, but also challenge the systemic structures and institutions that created those challenges in the first place[18].

The term “community-led initiative” is so far underrepresented in the scientific literature. It has been used by ECOLISE in its publications, such as the Status report, as well as in several other publications. Closely related concepts that appear in the scientific literature are:

CLIs as Real-World Phenomena: Types of CLIs and Exemplary Cases

CLIs as real-world phenomena are as old as humankind and exist all over the globe. In practice these initiatives vary in terms of size, duration, thematic focus, and objectives. The Status report emphasises five major networks and movements of CLIs:

Furthermore, CLIs can be classified according to particular thematic foci. For example, community-led economic initiatives (CLEIs) are those CLIs that have a strong orientation towards sustainable economic practices. Key principles of CLEIs are that they are primarily oriented towards human needs instead of profit and capital accumulation (even though they do not need to be non-profit), the means of production as well as goods and services are collectively owned (“commons”), the non-monetary sector plays a crucial role in social provisioning, and resulting consumption needs to be quantitatively and qualitatively assessed based on ecological considerations[23][24][25][26][27].

The diversity of CLIs in the real world is illustrated by the following list of exemplary cases:

  • "Community Supported Agriculture initiatives
  • (Urban) Community gardens that unite neighbourhoods around gardening
  • Traditional local communities introducing sustainability and climate change action in their strategies and enacting that strategy effectively
  • Local Action Groups (LAGs) from the CLLD programme, especially those that actually uphold bottom-up community-led action in local communities
  • Community-driven businesses and cooperatives
  • Energy initiatives at community scale
  • "Social Solidarity Economy" initiatives
  • Co-housing, communes, squats, spiritual communities, …

References

  1. Penha-Lopes, G. & T. Henfrey (2019): Reshaping the Future: How Local Communities are Catalysing Social, Economic and Ecological Transformation in Europe. The First Status Report on Community-led Action on Sustainability and Climate Change. Brussels: ECOLISE.
  2. O’Brien, Karen. 2014. ‘Adaptation vs Transformation’. Perspectives on Climate Change. Retrieved 23 November 2020 (https://cchange.no/2014/01/adaptation-vs-transformation/).
  3. Wittmayer, J. M., R. Kemp, A. Haxeltine, F. Avelino, B. Pel, S. Ruijsink, M. Søgaard Jørgensen, and S. Rach. 2016. Transformative Social Innovation: What Have We Learnt in Four Years of Research. Transit Brief. 6. TRANSIT:EU SSH.2013.3.2-1 Grant Agreement n.613169.
  4. Kolosy, Katalin. 2018. Clarifying the EU Jargon: What Does “Community Led” Really Mean?. Local Development Network.
  5. Movement for Community-Led Development, 2015. Defining Community-Led Development. https://mcld.org/definition/. Accessed 2 November 2020.
  6. Torjman, Sherri and Anne Makhoul. 2012. Community-Led Development. Ottawa, Ontario: Caledon Institute of Social Policy.
  7. Steffen, W., Crutzen, P.J. and McNeill, J.R., 2007. The Anthropocene: are humans now overwhelming the great forces of nature AMBIO: A Journal of the Human Environment, 36(8): 614-621.
  8. Steffen, W., Persson, Å., Deutsch, L., Zalasiewicz, J., Williams, M., Richardson, K., Crumley, C., Crutzen, P., Folke, C., Gordon, L. and Molina, M., 2011. The Anthropocene: From global change to planetary stewardship. AMBIO: A Journal of the Human Environment, 40(7), pp.739-761.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Celata, F., Hendrickson, C., 2016. Case study integration report (TESS Project Deliverable No. 4.1)
  10. Bollier, D., & S. Helfrich (eds.), 2012. The Wealth of the Commons. Amherst, MA: Levellers Press
  11. Avelino, F., 2018. Time to ignite the power of Translocal social movements. http://www.thebrokeronline.eu/Blogs/Inclusive-Economy-Europe/Time-to-ignite-the-power-of-translocal-social-movements. Accessed October 7th 2018.
  12. http://www.ecolise.eu/map-of-initiatives/. Accessed 21st June 2018
  13. https://www.rescoop.eu/. Accessed June 21st 2018.
  14. http://www.solidarityeconomy.eu. Accessed June 21st 2018
  15. http://www.ecolise.eu/map-of-initiatives/. Accessed June 21st 2018.
  16. Penha-Lopes, Gil; Henfrey, Thomas (2019): Reshaping the Future: How Local Communities are Catalysing Social, Economic and Ecological Transformation in Europe. The First Status Report on Community-led Action on Sustainability and Climate Change. ECOLISE. Brussels.
  17. O'Brien, Karen (2014): Adaptation vs Transformation. CChange. Available online at https://cchange.no/2014/01/adaptation-vs-transformation/, checked on 5/18/2020.
  18. Wittmayer, Julia M.; Kemp, Rene; Haxeltine, Alex; Avelino, Flor; Pel, Bonno; Ruijsink, Saskia et al. (2017): Transformative Social Innovation. What have we learned in four years of research? Available online at http://www.transitsocialinnovation.eu/content/original/Book%20covers/Local%20PDFs/ 287%20TRANSIT%20brief%206%20final%20brief%20web.pdf, checked on 9/17/2019.
  19. TESS (2017): TESS Final Publishable Summary Report. Available online at http://www.tess-transition.eu/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/TESS-Final_report_2017.pdf.
  20. Wittmayer, Julia M.; Kemp, Rene; Haxeltine, Alex; Avelino, Flor; Pel, Bonno; Ruijsink, Saskia et al. (2017): Transformative Social Innovation. What have we learned in four years of research? Available online at http://www.transitsocialinnovation.eu/content/original/Book%20covers/Local%20PDFs/ 287%20TRANSIT%20brief%206%20final%20brief%20web.pdf, checked on 9/17/2019.
  21. European Commission (2014): Community-led Local Development. Cohesion Policy 2014-2020.
  22. Grassroots Innovation (2020): Grassroots Innovation - Researching Sustainability from the Bottom Up. About. Available online at https://grassrootsinnovations.org/about/, checked on 5/18/2020.
  23. Dawson, Jonathan (2010): Economics of Solidarity. Good Practice from within the Ecovillage Family. In Jonathan Dawson, Helena Norberg-Hodge, Ross Jackson (Eds.): Gaian Economics. Living Well within Planetary Limits. Hampshire: Permanent Publications (Four Keys Series, Economic Key), pp. 192–194.
  24. Esteves, Ana Margarida (2017): "Commoning" at the Borderland. Ecovillage Development, Socio-Economic Segregation and Institutional Mediation in Southwestern Alentejo, Portugal. In Journal of Political Ecology 24 (1), p. 968.
  25. Jackson, Hildur (2010): Designing Your Local Economy. In Jonathan Dawson, Helena Norberg-Hodge, Ross Jackson (Eds.): Gaian Economics. Living Well within Planetary Limits. Hampshire: Permanent Publications (Four Keys Series, Economic Key), pp. 130–135.
  26. Kunze, Iris (2019): Soziale Innovationen aus Gemeinschaftsinitiativen. Grundlagen für eine gemeinwohlorientierte Ökonomie. In Ines Peper, Iris Kunze, Elisabeth Mollenhauer-Klüber (Eds.): Jenseits von Wachstum und Nutzenmaximierung. Modelle für eine gemeinwohlorientierte Wirtschaft. Bielefeld: Aisthesis, pp. 149–172.
  27. Penha-Lopes, Gil; Henfrey, Thomas (2019): Reshaping the Future: How Local Communities are Catalysing Social, Economic and Ecological Transformation in Europe. The First Status Report on Community-led Action on Sustainability and Climate Change. ECOLISE. Brussels.