Municipalities in Transition

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Municipalities in Transition (MiT) is a grassroots policy innovation that promotes collaborations between community groups and local government. It uses systems thinking and a flexible framework to find innovative ways to facilitate transformative change.

Background

Municipalities in Transition is a project of the Transition movement,jointly led by Transition Network and the Transition Hubs group).[1] Transition Network had identified the municipal level of scale as a space where people can engage in the need for systemic change in a meaningful way, spotting connections, building trust, countering social and economic inequality and fostering a stronger and more practical sense of environmental stewardship. The Municipalities in Transition System fosters this potential at municipal scale, as an approach to help communities and municipalities engage in a collaborative transition towards a more sustainable future, using a flexible framework based on systems thinking.[2]

History and Development

Municipalities in Transition began life as an action research inquiry in 2017. It has so far had two main phases:

  • Multi-method background research leading to creation of a collaboration framework (2017).
  • Piloting of the framework in six pioneer municipalities (2018-2020)

Background research began with a global survey of existing cases of collaboration between communinty groups and local government, launched at the beginning of July 2017. Cases were selected on the basis of two main criteria:

  • Involvement of both local governments and civil society (not necessarily Transition Initiatives) in a transformative process
  • Being part of a wider systemic approach to the design and management of the collaboration, including:
    • Use of the Head, Heart, Hands Transition movement principle (acting on the basis of the best information available, taking care of relationships and emotions and looking for tangible results), or some equivalent
    • Demonstrable long-term vision.

Survey dissemination used a snowball methodology: the survey was initially send to all Transition Hubs (national or regional networks within the Transition movement) known to Transition Network, who were asked to pass it on Transition initiatives and practitioners in their own networks. Data were collected mainly by people connected with the Hubs (63%) and/or Transition Initiatives (48%). Questions related primarily to the dynamics between actors involved, including governance models and tools used to foster collaboration.

By the beginning of October 2017, 71 cases had been documented, from 16 countries: Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom and United States (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Geographical locations of survey respondents

In terms of their maturity, most of the cases described themselves “well established and running” (40), while some were still in the design stage (10) or just had started (21). Most were located in urban contexts (around three-quarters) with populations ranging from 200 to 12,000,000 (most between 1,000 and 40,000). Regarding beneficiaries, most targeted a general public (65%), followed by (44%-32%) adults, families, elders, young adults, teenagers and children. Other target publics mentioned included: ethnic or social minorities, people with disabilities, LGBTQ+, mothers heads of household, peasant families and cooperatives, people with respiratory problems and nonhuman beneficiaries.

Based on responses to a multiple choice question, the main area of activity were raising awareness (77%). A majority of cases (>50%) also reported activity relating to: food and agriculture, education, participatory democracy, planning and community work. Other topics mentioned included: inner transition, aboriginal culture assessment, empowerment of women with a vision of peace, social innovation, ethnography, volunteer nature conservation, cooperativism and solidarity economy, tourism; commons, international relations, air quality, sustainability pollinators and adaptation to climate change (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Main domains of activity of survey respondendents (n=71).

Eight cases were selected for further in-depth study, based on a combination of analysis of survey responses and reported self-assessment of local impacts, with a final decision made by the core project team. Cases with mainly sectoral approaches or deemed to be very context-specific were avoided. Location and population were also used as criteria in order to maximize the contextual diversity.

24 cases were assessed as not demonstrating a framework (a structured process to promote collaboration), which was the main criterion for further investigation, but nonetheless to offer tools (concrete solutions to solve specific problems). Further information, based on a guided online questionnaire and interviews, was collected from four of these.

Of the eight case studies selected for further research on the basis of identified collaboration frameworks, all were “well established and running” and reported relatively high impacts (within the full sample of 71 case studies). They are located in six geographical regions (Northern, Central and South America; Northern, Western and Southern Europe), and half have concrete connections to the Transition movement.

The objective of deeper case study research was to look deeper into existing frameworks for collaboration between civil society and local governments in order to:

  • Inform the design of the framework to be tested in pilots
  • Share to all interested parties detailed descriptions of interesting and effective practices.

The more detailed information collected during this phase included:

  • How and when the cases emerged
  • Methodologies and tools used
  • Activities undertaken and their impacts
  • Governance models
Figure 3. The structure of the governance experiment within the Municipalities in Transition project, in an effort of creating synergies between community-led initiatives and local governments.

In addition, insider and outsider perspectives on the case studies were documented via semi-structured interviews with people active in the project (one from the local government and one from the community initiative) and a third person without any coordination role, usually a beneficiary of the project or participant in the activities. Questions included topics such as benefits, challenges, support amogn different actors and potential for replication. Interviews and other data collection took place in November and December 2017. Data analysis sought to identify patterns (e.g., challenges, power relationships, processes, values).

From March 2018 to April 2019 the Municipalities in Transition System was piloted in six pioneer municipalities in five countries:[3]

  • Valsamoggia, Italy
  • Santorso, Italy
  • Telheiras, Portugal
  • La Garrotxa, Spain
  • Kispest, Hungary
  • Ecobairro São Paulo, Brazil.

These pilots sought to bring together LGs and CLIs to jointly address the transformation challenge by experimenting with this system as an instrument for reflexive governance.

The experiments consisted of a learning agenda supported by a common project structure (Figure 3) and set of activities (Table 1). The experimental framework was designed to stimulate interaction and collaboration among local actors.

Processes and activities Description Participants
Facilitators meeting An in-person training to learn about the MiT system Representatives from all pilots (LGs and CLIs)
Governance model Agreeing in each pilot on the process of steering the experiments Local action groups on each pilot, supported by a tutor
Baseline Collecting data on local transformative actions already happening Local action groups with the participation of the community
Planning cycle Setting a basic initial systemic plan for the community Local action groups
Action Implementation of planned actions Pilots’ communities
Evaluation Assessing impacts Local action groups
Learning meeting An in-person gathering to debate on learnings Representatives from all pilots
Community of Practice Creating a space for sharing experiences Practitioners on local transformative collaborations

Table 1. Municipalities in Transition pilots: the processes and activities developed to experiment with the collaborative system created.

Impacts

The “beta” Municipalities in Transition System, trialled by the pilot communities in 2018-2019, shows the key functions of Evaluation & Diagnosis; Co-design; Co-Implementation; Toolbox; and Cultural Leverage.[4] The new system includes also the function of Governance. The System is recommended for use with a skilled facilitator, or “tutor” to ensure that the process is participatory and inclusive, and help navigate the complexities of cultural and behavioural change. The Municipalities in Transition System is inspired by system thinking, recognising and working with local variables, resources and opportunities, pursuing the purpose of creating deep cultural and practical changes towards sustainability and wellbeing through the implementation of the Transition Principles. It also uses the concept of fluxes: narratives, actions and social structures that can move and influence wider portions of society in a transversal way, informing, connecting and fostering as many groups as possible at the same time. This was partially inspired by the work of the economist David Lane on complexity and social interactions.[5]

The Municipalities in Transition system has the following key features:

  1. It has a purpose
  2. It’s closely linked to the principles of Transition
  3. It’s implementable in a top-down and/or a bottom-up approach
  4. It’s powerful enough to cope with high levels of complexity and uncertainty
  5. It’s simple enough to be relatively easy to learn and to use in real life
  6. It has a low level of preconditions for adoption (low resources, low technology)
  7. It’s easily adaptable to a wide variety of very different contexts and cultures
  8. It’s designed to be iteratively evolved through its use
  9. It’s suitable for use in a context of shared/diffused governance
  10. It’s capable of improving the quality of the cooperation between the involved actors
  11. It’s preparatory to a deep adaptation community strategy

The Municipalities in Transition System challenges power relations through the process being led by a collaborative group where community and municipality representatives are equals in decision-making. This aims to empower a broad range of actors to see beyond their immediate needs, short-term interests and professional preoccupations, connect to their longing for transformational change and come together to design and implement activity with the potential to shift the system.

Pedro Macedo, a researcher embedded in the MiT prpject team, reported that in the six Municipalities in Transition pilots 2018-2019, “Even in a short time, quite dramatic changes occurred. This was the product of the reflexive experimentation, the new social relations, the empowerment process, the changing tensions, the translocal connectivity, the discourse formation, the new institutional homes and the strategic actions. New ways of doing, organizing, framing and/or knowing.”[6]


Co-creation

For example, and looking at cocreation, the Ecobairro case in São Paulo started in civil society, bringing inputs from international networks and sustainability educators and designers from all over the world (through the Gaia Education training). But meanwhile a structured collaboration with the municipality was established based on a consultative and deliberative body, the Municipal Council for Environment and Sustainable Development (CADES). The Ecobairro had the opportunity to draft the CADES regulations and to participate in the strategy development (e.g. Strategic Master Plan, Zoning and Regional Plan linked to the Sustainable Development Objectives) and effective joint implementation (e.g. green corridor for pollinators).

In Jungapeo, Mexico, it was the local mayor that invited an NGO to cocreate a common initiative to establish the first official ‘transition town’ in Mexico. Efforts to share understanding and analyses of the problem are evident in cases like the Italian Energy Function (it might be considered the main goal) and MARES, Spain. The latter case is a good example of clearly defined and complementary roles, with collaboration happening between the municipality and consultants (previous experience of working together) and also collaborative platforms and citizens. It is also a case where formal monitoring and evaluation plays a key role. The same happens in Växjö, Sweden, and probably it is the main factor leading to success, also because the monitoring and evaluation comes from a clear purpose, common shared vision and long-term commitments (although restricted to the political context). A similar clear visioning and pragmatic monitoring process occurs in Rubí, Spain, with collaborations between the municipality, schools, industries and other agents. Here transparency and accountability are also clear key factors.

Mutual Support

Focusing on the dimension of mutual support, we can highlight the case of Dresden, Germany. The Municipality is putting their efforts in raising funds for civil society initiatives, and to support and train groups in using them. In Sonoma, United States of America, the Daily Acts NGO and Municipalities are supporting each other, sharing educational skills and funds, and jointly resourcing civil society. In MARES the aim is also on providing access to assets and space (e.g. disused buildings) and sharing knowledge. Rubí uses a very clear approach to further equally shared risks, efforts and benefits, namely with the 50:50 partnerships between the Municipality and schools (savings from energy use collaboratively achieved, are divided equally and reinvested with joint decisions).

Cross marketing is a strategy used in Mexico to consolidate the collaboration: members of the municipality are regularly invited and participate in workshops about Transition and related activities. The previously mentioned CADES, in Brazil, is a good example of a permanent space for dialogue, even though it faces the contingencies of political turnovers.

Co-production

Coproduction efforts are significant in several cases. Daily Acts emphasises social capital, putting great effort in developing networks. They also put emphasis on providing learning opportunities, like Jungapeo. Ecobairro also considers that the most significant contributions are on education, along with the generation of transformative public policies. MARES is equally generating social capital and learning opportunities, with a focus on equity. Rubí and the Energy Function focus on decarbonization, while Växjö looks mainly for environmental improvements. Collaboration between LGs and CLIs is expected to grow based on trust and confidence arriving from joint successful activities, as stressed in Jungapeo’s case.

Open Innovation

The transformative potential is connected with reshaping practices (e.g. Rubí, Daily Acts or MARES) or mainly institutional change (e.g. Energy Function and Vaxjo). Energy Function also aims at cultural change, as well as Ecobairro (“culture of peace”), Jungapeo (autonomy) or others. Transformation through the creation of a networked governance is the underlying goal in Dresden’s Future City. Daily Acts (and MARES) similarly account for the power of working with the entire ecosystems of actors and fostering networks of social innovation. They highlight how “large-scale social change happens through more collaborative approaches to scaling impact” and use tools like a Community Resilience Challenge. These efforts are expected to bring the emergence of widespread change. In Jungapeo they explicitly report the “outbreaks of spontaneous and orderly teamwork among the local population, as if the Transition Effect were contagious”. Social learning can be, in fact, the main outcome of this cases.

Several cases have already manifested capacity for replicating. This is the case of Ecobairro, Daily Acts and more significantly Rubí. In the latter, a political turnover in 2015 become a window of opportunity – the person in charge of the project left the Municipality and joined a cooperative that spread the model to around 30 municipalities in Spain. The Rubí’s bet on 100% renewable sources of energy was also replicated by Catalan Municipalities and others.

Detailed Research Findings

Phase 1 - Global survey

Cases surveyed are quite diverse, including in their governance systems. They span from grassroots eco-neighbourhoods in S. Paulo to a well-structured transformation initiative at city level in Dresden with governmental support, an ecovillage in Colombia managed by women or cooperatives to produce energy and promote local food. Some cases focus on the collaborative promotion of concrete activities or topics (e.g., cycling, circular economy, urban agriculture) or more spiritual experiences (e.g., inner transition). In most of the cases it was possible to identify some novelty in the way that local governments and civil society work together with a transformative aim. Besides partnerships, spaces for dialogue and learning, action groups are quite common (local innovation committee, neighbourhood environmental committee, neighbourhood assemblies, schools of life, living classrooms, future city team…) as well as the creation of networks connecting change agents. Ample alliances uniting municipalities, Transition Initiatives, ecovillages, and indigenous groups are also referred.

Some of the tools used to promote transformative collaboration include sharing land and other resources, demonstrative centres, coworking spaces, convergence events, social currencies, distribution of small grants, shared social media platforms, ethnography approaches, communitarian management of public spaces, etc. Tools like Dragon Dreaming, Sociocracy, Theory U and Nonviolent Communication are also used.

Most of the cases (73%) have some connection to the Transition movement (e.g., partnership with Transition Initiatives or Hub) and several active collaborations with municipalities are presented. Most of the cases also declare to belong to some local, regional, national or international network (e.g., Covenant of Mayors), while a few created their own networks. Funding comes from municipalities, private sector, cooperatives, non-governmental organizations, crowdfunding and users, besides other national and international levels (e.g., European Union).


Table C.2 – Mapping of the collected cases (n=71) according to actors and actions involved. Cells with double borders and bold font correspond to values one standard deviation above mean. Strikethrough numbers correspond to values one standard deviation below mean. Coloured cells are considered ‘leverage points’ (see section xx for description).

Actors Categories
Actions

Categories

Municipality

Political

Municipality

Organization

Controlled

Entities

Suppliers Organiza-tions Public Networks total
Vision 24 18 2 1 35 24 6 110
Organiza-tion 46 46 6 2 55 46 4 205
Planning 26 22 2 1 32 22 6 111
Technical aspects 15 19 4 2 34 25 3 102
Relations 12 12 1 0 33 33 0 91
Cultural change 35 36 5 1 62 63 8 210
Networking 31 26 4 1 39 28 32 161
total 189 179 24 8 290 241 59

We can conclude that apparently the actors that are more actively involved in the cases are organizations and the public, followed by local governments (Figure C.6). Controlled entities and suppliers are not usually mentioned which can demonstrate that initiatives like green procurement or life-cycle assessments are rare. Often these controlled entities manage critical sectors relating sustainability, like water, waste, or energy.

References

  1. http://municipalitiesintransition.org/. Accessed 4th December 2019
  2. Macedo, P. (2019a). Local collaborative transformations - Existing experiences and a new systemic framework for reflexive governance. Porto: Centre for Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Changes, Faculdade de Ciências, Universidade de Lisboa.
  3. http://municipalitiesintransition.org/the-pilots/. Accessed 4th December 2019
  4. http://municipalitiesintransition.org/the-framework-beta-version/. Accessed 4th December 2019
  5. Antonelli, C., 2011. Handbook on the Economic Complexity of Technological Change. Edward Elgar Publishing. https://doi.org/10.4337/9780857930378
  6. Macedo, P. (2019b). Municipalities in Transition - Deep collaboration between community-based initiatives and local governments. Porto: Centre for Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Changes, Faculdade de Ciências, Universidade de Lisboa