Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Strategy for National Transition

Big Question – How does Transition Towns NZ develop a strategy for National Transition?

When big picture questions arise in conversation as this one did with Colleague Laurence the other day I find it hard to resist their challenge.

This question is a tremendously broad canvas and begs several major assumptions:
  1. it assumes that a strategy for national transition is desirable.
  2. it assumes that a strategy for national transition is attainable.
  3. it assumes that Transition Towns have more than two pennies worth to offer.
  4. it assumes that a voluntary organisation with few paid staff can make a contribution to the enormous task of reorganisation of an entire nation that would in the normal course of events be the responsibility of a large well educated well funded public service.
  5. it assumes that those in charge will actually be interested.
Assuming that the answer to the above is generally in the positive we then face the tricky task of defining terms so that the problem can be framed and measures set up so that we might know whether we are proceeding in roughly the right direction. If we can do this and satisfy ourselves that the underlying assumptions are broadly acceptable - then we might have an approach that we can tease out parameters and drill down to the sub-questions below. This approach could of course be caricatured as a classic left-brain, top-down, hierarchical-male strategy, which does not mean it is any better or worse than any other approach, it just is one approach and perhaps the most obvious.

Another approach is to imagine that the whole country has already made a transition to a lower energy future and to paint a picture of what it looks like and how the journey to it was made. This back-cast vision might be a fairly patchy rendering; some bits highly detailed and coloured, other bits barely sketched at all. Like painting a picture without any pencilled outlines this approach requires a good understanding of one’s subject, its structure, details and surface features for it to be more than a wishful fantasy. The more knowledge that can be brought to bear - other countries, towns or cities that have made significant shifts towards resilience, then the more the vision is a projection which is anchored with real world understanding.

A third option might be to develop a strategy by working in a painterly fashion perhaps starting with a splash of paint or a found object, perhaps an old factory or vacant lot and using it as the stimulus to build a picture of the future. A serendipitous “abstract for art sake approach whilst unusual and strangerous could certainly liberate thinking and perhaps tumble out some good ideas that could not be generated any other way.

Prophetic visions have a long and credible history in many cultures which should not be over-looked. Whether prophetic insights are received as a result of spiritual inspiration or the neuro-chemistry of a sensitive individual, (or a combination of both), the visions of gifted prophets have provided guidance for communities struggling to travel from present certainties into uncertain futures. Although the format and content is a little different from a white discussion paper, the raw power of the spoken word can perhaps do immeasurably more than kilograms of carefully weighted discourse. If ever there was a time when so many on the planet face certain tribulation, it will be when oil production peaks and declines along with most every other resource. The need for outside help will become ever more apparent.

My favourite dessert is a sherry trifle – at least it will do for the moment. A combination of sponge, jelly, custard, whipped cream, slices of strawberries & peaches all laced liberally with a rich fortified wine. To see a beautifully formed trifle blended, chilled, set and decorated in its great crystal bowl is to see a vision indeed. Perhaps the best approach is to cook up solutions in every corner of the kitchen and bring them together for a grand tasting and debate. Following which we might (if we are not overfed) concoct a hearty vision of National Transition from some simple well blended ingredients.

Ladies and gentlemen – a penny for your thoughts please.