Ch 5: Grounding transformation in the local
Richard K. Moore
Last update: 30 August 2010
Table of Contents: 2012: Crossroads for Humanity
The local perspective
Each of the localization-oriented movements we have looked at is based on a large-scale problem-solution analysis. The Transitions Town Movement, for example, sees global carbon burning as the problem, and more local self-sufficiency as a solution. Even the process-based movements are like this. They see non-involvement in public affairs as a general problem in society, and increased community dialog as a solution.
These movements are trying to transform society by launching pre-conceived programs in communities, and communities are responding only marginally. When an approach is failing to succeed on a regular basis, it is not sensible to keep trying harder using that same approach. Some new approach, or some new framing of the problem, is called for.
The fundamental premise of these movements is that society can be transformed by transforming one community at a time. The reframing that is needed is to look at this premise from a broader perspective. If the goal is to transform society, by transforming communities, then we need to step back, and think about how one goes about transforming a community, and what kind of transformation is going to lead to a better society.
Instead of focusing on one desirable characteristic, such as reduced carbon footprint, we need to think broadly about what we want our communities to be like and how we want them to operate. And we need to recognize that every community is different, with different problems and different resources, and different people with different concerns and different dreams.
What the various localization movements have to offer is a collection of principles and tools, all of which make sense, and each of which has a contribution to make to community improvement. Local currencies make sense; co-ops make sense; local production for local consumption makes sense; wise dialog is a good idea. And sustainability must ultimately be achieved.
Rather than pursuing each of these ideas as a separate project, it makes more sense to see them as ‘principles and tools to keep in mind’, in any process of community transformation. In addition it is necessary to take into account the particularities of local circumstances. Any effective process of transformation needs to begin with all of that in mind, and then it needs to proceed with some degree of coherence, not as uncoordinated piecemeal efforts.
Facilitating the process
The previous section can be summed up in one sentence: If the goal is to transform a community, it makes sense to approach the project systematically and holistically.
If we accept that statement, then the question remains as to how such a systematic project could be undertaken. To begin with, there would need to be widespread support for the project in the community. How could we expect to achieve that, when none of the localization initiatives has been able to get beyond marginal support?
In addition, there would need to be widespread support among local activists for the project. Activists are a relatively scarce resource in any community, and it is the activists who contribute the time, energy, and initiative that is necessary for any kind of project to move forward. How can we expect local activists to gather under a ‘transformation umbrella’, when what motivates them, and divides them, is the urgency of their own causes and movements?
In fact it is these questions, the ‘how to even get started’ questions, that are at the heart of community transformation. Achieving the emergence of community energy, and achieving convergence in activist energy — those are the real problems.
If those were achieved, the systematic pursuit of community transformation would become a possibility in that community. Indeed, if the emergence of community energy happens, and convergence in activist energy happens, that would already be a significant transformation for nearly any community.
In this chapter I will be developing what I believe to be a sensible strategy for achieving such an emergence and convergence of energy in a community. And in the very process of achieving these outcomes, the community would already be on the path toward pursuing its own vision of transformation.
The strategy is based on arranging and facilitating certain kinds of dialog and discussion events in the community, over a period of time, involving local activists, leading up to a few carefully crafted public-participation events.
In arranging and facilitating these events, there is no ‘content’ or ‘program’ being promoted by those doing the arranging and facilitating, not even the program of ‘transformation’. The events are aimed purely and wholly at enabling the necessary emergence and convergence of energy to occur. The nature of that energy, and where that energy will take the community, comes from the community itself.
Who then is to do this arranging and facilitating of events? For that we need a group of local activists of a certain kind. As a model, I offer the Wise Democracy Victoria folks. They are what I would call an excellent ‘neutral convener team’. In their case, a series of Wisdom Councils were the events in their strategy book.
They devoted themselves to hosting excellent events, while maintaining total neutrality as to the content of the councils, and the outcomes of the councils. Their job was, among many other things, to publicize the outcomes, not to interpret them or judge them. Their neutrality helped build credibility and trust for them in the community.
The strategy book I am going to outline has lot more in it than just a few standard Wisdom Councils, but the Wise Democracy folks would have been able to handle the project. They have the necessary ‘convener virtues’. Those virtues are as follows:
- able to operate as an effective team, to take on and complete tasks in a timely, careful, and harmonious manner, and to manage projects effectively
- able to communicate effectively and respectfully with all segments of the community
- willingness to choose the most appropriate process for any given event, and to access the necessary resources, professional facilitators, or training, necessary for the event to be an excellent one of its type
- able to raise funds as necessary, or obtain donated services or facilities, to support their work, their time itself being on a voluntary basis
- commitment by members to devote significant time on a regular and reliable basis, within understood limits, and to maintain responsiveness in communication with the team
In the case of the Wise Democracy team, they had already been working as group for some time in a quite different activist context. They had already developed a generic team competence, and were able to apply that to the new venture.
I suggest that this is an instructive precedent. If a group is thinking of taking on the role of a neutral convener team in their community, and they hope to succeed, their chances will be much higher if they’ve already worked together and demonstrated the necessary team virtues.
In any case, I know of no way to approach community awakening and transformation without such a team. And I would count the formation of such as team in a community as being the essential first step toward the goals of awakening and transformation.