Research Note: Failure and Success of Transition Initiatives: a study of the international replication of the Transition Movement

posted 9 Aug 2013, 01:03 by Giuseppe Feola   [ updated 21 Jan 2014, 07:40 ]


Grassroots innovations (GI) are ‘networks of activists and organisations generating novel bottom-up solutions for sustainable development’ (Seyfang and Smith, 2007, p. 585). They are promising examples of local community responses to global environmental change and have therefore attracted growing attention among researchers and policy-makers. In this paper we examine the success and failure of GIs in addressing climate change by taking the Transition Network (TN) as a case study. The TN is often presented as a case of success due to its rapid worldwide diffusion and increasing public visibility, although recent analyses of individual ‘transition initiatives’ have uncovered some barriers to its development and examples of failure. We investigate how transition initiatives define success, and the factors that contribute to it. GIs are typically researched through in-depth, local, qualitative studies, but there remains a need to better understand general patterns of success and failure in different contexts internationally. We comparatively study transition initiatives worldwide by means of an online survey (sample = 276) in which both active and discontinued initiatives are considered. Objective and subjective definitions of success are compared and correlated, and a range of internal and external factors potentially contributing to success is investigated quantitatively.

We find that the success of transition initiatives is defined according to (i) social connectivity and empowerment (i.e. social links to members of local communities, building capacity and empowering social actors), as well as (ii) external impact (i.e. contribution to improved environmental performance or socio-technical innovation). We also conclude that TI members tend to focus on internal factors of TI success, and overlook external ones, which may be related to a lack of awareness of their environment, of skills to engage with it, or the need to focus on the most controllable factors in early stages of development. Nevertheless our results do suggest that, whilst there is no formula for more, or less success, TIs can be arranged into four clusters of variable success and failure. Among the characteristics of successful TIs are: a large number of founders, a good representation of diversity in the broader community, the presence and size of a steering group, the organization in thematic subgroups, the official TN recognition, the acquisition of a legal statutory form, specific training in transition and permaculture practice, resources (time and external funds), location (rural, rather than urban), a favourable context (i.e. perception of the TI by other actors), and cooperation with other actors (e.g. local authorities, business, media, other TIs). 

Finally, we shed light on some key open issues in transition theory with regard to (i) the combination of different forms of transition, – lifecourse, environmental and political-economic – which assumes a consolidation and standardisation of learning processes that may drive the replication of GIs;  (ii) maintaining the compulsion to act through reiterated narratives of risk-laden futures, seeking to reinforce alternative practices across scales (from local to global);  and (iii) the emplacement or spatial contexts of transition initiatives. First, our research suggests that TIs remain largely determined by situated processes despite their interdependence with a global action network like the TN. In other words local contextual factors largely determine the success and failure of community initiatives. Second, whilst the TN seems capable of generalising organisational principles of ‘transition’ from unique local experiences that may have global application, our results suggest that the transfer of these principles to urban TIs might be less effective due to unfavourable conditions (high social diversity, low attachment to place) that are not compensated by their interdependent links to global action networks. Both observations arguably have significant implications for future research on the growing interest in low-carbon urban initiatives and merit future investigation through longitudinal studies.

Links: Journal article | Research Note | Publisher

Call for papers - ‘Appreciative Inquiry’ and participatory governance.

posted 20 Jul 2012, 06:37 by University of Reading   [ updated 20 Jul 2012, 06:47 ]

Development Studies Association Conference

Saturday, November 3, 2012, London

Call for papers for conference panel on ‘appreciative inquiry’ and participatory governance.

Dr. Richard J. Nunes, University of Reading, Real Estate and Planning (

Dr. Angelique Chettiparambil Rajan, University of Reading, Real Estate and Planning (

Attention to the AI project continues to grow with the recent publication of widely accessible texts (Cooperrider & Whitney 2005, Whitney & Trosten-Bloom 2010). However, it remains a relatively under-explored area of international development practice. It is a form of action research that can be applied to individuals, families, organisations and nations alike (Rogers & Fraser 2003). It transcends the prevailing problem-focus or ‘deficit mind-set’ (‘what’s wrong’) of community development practice to embrace the instruments of creativity and imagination (‘what’s good’), taking the latter forward to promote positive change and participatory transformation.

The panel organisers invite papers that explore the interwoven reflexive processes of ‘appreciative inquiry’, action and evaluation in research, practice and pedagogy. The presentation of papers at the panel will be held at the Annual Development Studies Association Conference in London, on Saturday, 3rd November 2012. Individuals from all relevant disciplines in the social sciences are welcome to submit paper abstracts for consideration.

The call for papers will close on Monday, 6th August, 2012. Individuals who have been accepted based on their abstracts will be asked to submit full papers and presentations by Monday, October 22nd 2012. Selected papers will be submitted to a journal special issue.

Download attached file for full call.

Giuseppe Feola and Richard Nunes at the ISDRC 2012 conference

posted 28 Jun 2012, 02:05 by Giuseppe Feola   [ updated 20 Jul 2012, 07:08 by University of Reading ]

Giuseppe Feola presented the paper 'Voluntary simplicity and Transition Network: A comparison of narratives, practices and strategies' and Richard Nunes the paper 'Transition (Towns) politics. Scaling-up 'grassroots niche innovations' for gradual radical transformation' at the18th Annual International Sustainable Development Research Conference, 24-26 June 2012, University of Hull, United Kingdom.

Giuseppe Feola at the Ecocultures 2012 conference

posted 3 May 2012, 09:05 by Giuseppe Feola   [ updated 20 Jul 2012, 06:51 by University of Reading ]

Giuseppe Feola presented the paper 'Voluntary simplicity and Transition Network: a comparison of narratives, practices and strategies' at the Ecocultures 2012 conference, 17-18 April 2012, in Colchester, United Kingdom.

The Ballerina and Bull toward Transition

posted 2 Mar 2012, 08:45 by University of Reading   [ updated 2 Mar 2012, 08:45 ]

"To what extent and under which conditions can the Transition Movement contribute to the mitigation of high unemployment and hunger in cities of the global north and south alongside its efforts to address climate change and shrinking supplies of cheap energy? Answers to this question raise a number of concerns regarding the ‘scale-up’ of community-based social innovation and enterprise for gradual radical transformation." Read More and Comment on this post to the University of Reading research blog 'The Forum'.

Call for PhD research proposals in 'planning, sustainability and transition'

posted 25 Nov 2011, 19:28 by University of Reading   [ updated 12 Jan 2012, 16:56 ]

This is a call for interest in postgraduate-doctoral research at the University of Reading. Both the School of Real Estate and Planning at Henley Business School, and the School of Human and Environmental Sciences are looking to expand their research portfolio in the broad area of community-based initiatives of the Transition Movement. Research work in this area at both Schools is currently focused on the replication of these transition initiatives and the means through which they are widened from experimental niche projects into more systemic approaches to retrofitting cities. On-going pilot studies include privately funded case-study research in collaboration with partner universities in the UK and overseas. By examining where the institutional and micro-political power bases that support grassroots innovations reside, this research programme seeks to inform community efforts to replicate transition initiatives and policy efforts to scale-up these niche innovations into more systemic approaches to sustainable development. Download the attached call for further details.

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