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

Diffusion and growth of the Transition Movement

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

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.[8] 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.[9] 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.[10]

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[11]. 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.[12] 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 [13]. 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.[12] Other common precursors to Transition initiatives include Local Agenda 21 groups[14] and the Relocalization Network in the USA [15].


  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. 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
  4. Goldring, A. (ed.), 2000. Permaculture teachers guide. Godalming: WWF-UK.
  5. Morrow, R., 2014. Earth user's guide to teaching permaculture. Second edition. East Meon: Permanent Publications.
  6. Hopkins, R., ed. (2005), Kinsale 2021: An Energy Descent Action Plan.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. Seyfang, G., 2009. Green Shoots of Sustainability: the 2009 Transition Movement Survey. University of East Anglia. P. 4.
  12. 12.0 12.1 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
  13. Taylor Aiken, G., 2017. Permaculture and the social design of nature. Geografiska Annaler: Series B, Human Geography.
  14. 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
  15. Shawki, N., 2013. Understanding the Transnational Diffusion of Social Movements. Humanity & Society 37, 131–158. https://doi.org/10.1177/0160597613481799