Proposals from the Co-ordinator Support Group
November 2008 (Revision 2)
Summary of Key Recommendations
•· Transition Stroud (TS) could be more effective (and could offer more support to its member groups) if it were to be more organised – but at the same time it needs to avoid the pitfalls of over-organisation.
•· TS should set up a new TS Council (TSC) with responsibility for management and decision making on behalf of the whole organisation.
•· Each member group should nominate and send a representative to the TSC.
•· Once or twice per annum there should be an open meeting for all TS members to guide the decisions of the TSC.
•· TS would benefit from involving the working groups in the development of a shared vision, a practical strategy for achieving this and a set of values and working principles.
•· The activities of the working groups would be expected to be consistent with the agreed TS purpose, vision, strategy, working principles and values, but the working groups would be in other respects unconstrained.
•· The TSC should identify any additional central TS groups (eg IT, external communications) required to support the working groups.
•· TS should seek funding in the short term for a paid co-ordination and development post.
•· TS should establish an appropriate form of corporate entity that would bring access to funding and enable TS to enter into partnerships with other organisations.
•· Other organisations with overlapping aims should be encouraged to become affiliate members of TS.
What happens next?
The CSG recognises that, however appropriate its recommendations are in a ‘technical’ sense, no progress will result unless these are actively supported by TS members.
Adoption of the report
The immediate actions concern the process for adoption of this report.
•· The report will be circulated to TS members through the usual channels and posted on the TS website and members will be asked to comment.
•· The report will be presented for discussion at the Open Meeting on 4th December 2008.
•· Unless significant concerns are raised by TS members the report should be adopted at the Open Meeting.
The CSG also recognises that adoption of the report is only a first step and a good deal more will be required if momentum is to be maintained.
•· The TS Council should be set up as soon as possible.
•· Interim funding should be sought for office space and a paid post to co-ordinate and develop the organisation.
•· The visioning work started recently should continue from early 2009 and should feed directly into a process to develop a TS strategy and a set of working principles.
•· The options for legal incorporation should be investigated, a suitable form of company identified and ‘TS Ltd’ established by mid-2009.
•· Longer-term funding sources should then be identified.
The following are summaries of the lists generated through the CSG workshop process. The full version can be seen in the report of the September meeting.
Key TS Strengths
Energy & creativity of members
Flexibility, freedom & personal responsibility
Connecting up existing & new environmental & social groups in Stroud
Working group activities and projects
Mix of thinking and doing
Internal communications – we need to talk to each other more
Poor outreach/poor PR/poor external communications – no-one else knows what we are doing
Too hard for outsiders to find the way in
Lack of central support to projects
No decision making process
Most of the work is done by a few committed individuals
Burnout/periods of negativity/groups fade in and fade out again
Duplication of effort between groups
No sense of belonging
No legal status – TS can’t be a formal partner
Website needs improvement and better access
It’s a hobby for the alternative Stroudie – not enough impact
Insufficient connection to the outside world and events – we don’t respond to these
What we need
Better external communications
Better internal communications
Access to funding
Higher public profile/better public interface
Long term overview group
•· TS should commit to a programme of activities to maintain momentum towards the goals outlined in this report.
Full details on these recommendations and the thinking behind them are in the report below.
The Co-ordinator Support Group (CSG) was set up at the Open Meeting of 8 May 2008 with the following remit:
•o develop a job specification for current and future coordinators
•o review TS financial management
•o review organisational structures with reference to other Transition groups and the Transition Network
•o propose a suitable organisational form for Transition Stroud (TS)
•o network with other TS groups
It quickly became clear to the CSG that first two items could not be satisfactorily resolved without addressing more fundamental issues concerning the way TS was organised and we have focused on these in this report.
The CSG Process
The process since May 08 by which we have arrived at our proposals has involved a number of strands:
•o Approximately 12 full meetings of the CSG itself to plan the process, allocate tasks and explore ideas,
•o Many smaller meetings between some CSG members engaged on particular tasks
•o Web research on organizational models, and particularly those used by other Transition Towns
•o Direct contact with Totnes, Bristol & Lewes Transition Towns to discuss organizational issues
•o Direct contact with the Transition Network
•o Phone calls to people active in TS, to gauge their views and encourage them to attend workshops
•o A series of three open workshops for TS members in September, October and November 2008
•o Circulation of this report
•o A proposed presentation to the TS open meeting on 4th December 2008
Why change? The pros and cons of getting organized
In comparison with the other Transition Towns we researched, TS was the least structured. However, the CSG did not assume that this, in itself, automatically indicated a need to change. Indeed, for some TS members, this is one of its main strengths: they saw that it allowed flexibility and creativity and feared that these could be crushed in an atmosphere of greater bureaucracy, leaving us indistinguishable from traditional forms of organisation we are trying to escape from.
It was equally clear that others did not agree and found the relative formlessness of TS a real impediment to its effectiveness and to their involvement. The lack of structure made TS very difficult to navigate and reduced its visibility to the outside world. Some questioned whether the existence of TS has added anything at all to the value of the efforts of the individual working groups and projects – many of which existed before TS was created and/or could probably continue without it.
(Appendix I gives a summary of the strengths and weaknesses of TS identified in the workshop sessions.)
It is evident that there is a price to be paid for being over-organised – and a different price for not being organised enough. The CSG has concluded that, whilst freedom from rules and restrictions has real benefits, TS has erred too far on the disorganised side. As one workshop participant put it, "There is an acknowledged tendency in Stroud towards chaos, duplication, anarchy and hidden power – and a risk of others not tolerating this." Our sense is that the majority (but not all) of those we have heard from agree with this conclusion.
With these opposing forces in mind, the CSG has looked with particular interest at ‘chaordic’ models of organisation which attempt to combine the strengths, and minimize the weaknesses, of both models. The proposals below are intended to move TS generally in that direction although we also need to point out the obvious – that there is no final, "right" form of organisation for TS now and for all time (although there are some we believe to be wrong) and the questions of how we identify ourselves, communicate with each other, distribute our limited resources and so on, will no doubt require attention again in future.
•· The advantages of an appropriate form of improved organisation strongly outweigh the benefits of the current approach. Without change, TS is likely to remain less effective than it could be.
•· Issues that need to be addressed through re-organisation include decision making, access to funding, internal communications, the need for a shared vision and working principles, maintaining creativity, creating a sense of identity, helping newcomers get more easily involved and raising our external profile and effectiveness.
What Transition Stroud wants to achieve
Most of this report is concerned with how TS works, in organisational terms. However, the CSG recognises this is necessarily linked with questions about what TS wants to do. The section below outlines some steps needed to clarify this.
The TS purpose
The following statement of purpose was developed over the course of the workshops and appears to be widely supported:
"Our core purpose is to take, and inspire others to take, collaborative actions that strengthen our local communities and respond positively to the challenges of climate change and declining energy supplies."
•· The statement should be adopted, at least on a ‘good enough for now’ basis, even if there is a need to revisit it in the future.
The TS vision
The September workshop included a preliminary visioning session (see the workshop report for a write-up) but a good deal more work would be needed on this before it could be set out as a coherent, shared vision.
•· A shared vision is one of the main elements in the identity of any group and this should be developed in more detail once the immediate organisational issues have been dealt with.
A strategic framework
Some other transition towns are beginning to develop a strategic approach to ‘the challenges of climate change and declining energy supplies’. The Energy Descent Action Plan (EDAP) is one of the best known, although there may be others.
The CSG recognises that some TS members have misgivings about this and believe that an attempt to set up a TS strategy could take more time and energy than it is worth. Others, however, have expressed strong support for a more strategic approach and suggest that it will bring greater clarity and effectiveness to the work of TS as a whole.
•· TS would benefit from a more strategic approach and should establish a strategy process to investigate this issue in more detail, agree a suitable framework and develop it with input from TS as a whole.
•· The strategy development process needs to be transparent, accessible and inclusive; anyone in TS who has a contribution to make should be enabled to do so.
•· Any strategic framework adopted needs to be flexible and realistic: it needs to be a real aid to the ongoing work of TS – increasing the effectiveness of the working groups – not a just a paper exercise or an additional burden.
•· The strategy should include a set of working principles to guide the activities of the working groups (see Working Groups below).
How Transition Stroud needs to work
This section returns to the main question of how TS needs to organise itself to improve its effectiveness.
Internal structure, communications and decision making
Since January 2008, the monthly meetings have been the designated decision making body for TS, but this arrangement is not working well.
•o Attendance has declined steadily to the point where, at the November meeting, only the TS Co-ordinator turned up.
•o Even when attendance has been higher, it has been patchy, with some groups represented and others not.
•o There has often been a lack of continuity regarding the individual representatives which makes good decision making harder.
•o Decisions have sometimes been expected of newcomers to TS who may have neither mandate for this nor appropriate experience.
•o As part of our consultation process, the CSG set up a data-gathering meeting with working group co-ordinators. Although this seemed to fulfill a need for the co-ordinators to meet and share information (to the extent that a second meeting was set up) it appears to be a duplication of effort to have both the monthly meetings and separate co-ordinators’ meetings.
•o Some TS members have described the meetings as unfocused and ineffective.
•o Some monthly meeting decisions have stuck (eg the TS logo) while others have not (eg the decision to make the monthly meetings the decision-making forum for TS).
The CSG acknowledges that the many other Transition Towns have their own equivalent of the monthly meeting but it appears that some of them work a good deal more effectively than ours.
•· There is a clear need for a regular, formal, ongoing, management decision making and leadership body for TS and the current ‘monthly meeting’ should be renamed as the ‘Transition Stroud Council’ (TSC) and confirmed in this role, subject to the changes below.
•· Any working group that wishes to be a member of TS must nominate and send a representative to each TSC meeting.
•· Any central support groups must also nominate and send a representative to each TSC meeting. (Currently the CSG is the only central support group, but others are recommended below.)
•· The nominated representative from each group need not necessarily be the group co-ordinator but there must be reasonable continuity of representation, with each nomination to stand for 6 months.
•· The TSC is a closed meeting and only those who have been nominated, plus the TS Co-ordinator can participate.*
•· The TSC agenda is to be circulated in advance to all TS members, who can submit comments via their group representative or via the TS Co-ordinator.
•· Meeting reports will be circulated to TS members after the TSC meetings.
•· The TSC will be responsible for the management of TS, including overseeing the role of the TS Co-ordinator or any other posts, strategic decisions, future developments, internal communications, co-ordination and any legal/partnership issues. (It will not be the body with legal responsibility for the management of the new, legally incorporated element of TS but will give policy direction to this – see ‘Funding and legal incorporation’ below).
•· The CSG will initially provide support for the TSC meetings until the group is clearly established. In the longer term the TSC will need to consider how best to manage these meetings (eg use of facilitation?) as they are likely to involve long agendas and a fairly large group.
•· In addition to the TSC there will be open meetings for all TS members at least once every 6 – 12 months. Agendas for these will be open to requests from members but one function would be to consider any upcoming strategic issues before the TSC needs to make a decision on them, or to review draft proposals from the TSC.
*We anticipate that some people may not like the idea of a closed group. In the CSG’s view it is the only way to make the TSC meetings workable and there are plenty of precedents for it in similar organisations elsewhere. However, if this were felt to be unacceptable, it might be worth experimenting with non-participatory observers, although our expectation would be that the clear distinction between roles would soon break down and the TSC would find it hard to do its job.
Funding & legal incorporation
Because TS currently has no legal status, it cannot apply to the majority of charitable or statutory bodies that might otherwise offer substantial funding. Other transition towns have set up legally registered entities to get round this problem and are then able to pass on funding to working groups or projects and to enter into contractual partnerships with other organisations. It appears feasible to set up a legal entity that would have little or no other purpose than these. Such a body would require a separate management group, but the work involved need not be onerous if its function was limited.
•· Set up an appropriate form of corporate entity (eg Community Interest Company or Industrial & Provident Society) that would enable TS to access funds but without curtailing TS’s freedom of action.
•· Recruit a management body for the new company from the membership of the TSC.
•· The function of the company will be to support TS and it will receive its policy direction from the TSC.
Some Transition Towns have paid staff; TS has a part-time, voluntary co-ordinator.
•· As soon as funding permits, TS should, as a minimum, recruit a full-time, paid co-ordinator/organizational development worker.
•· The CSG will develop a draft job description for the post, for approval by the TSC.
Other central services
Some Transition Towns are set up in such a way that their central body can offer other resources and support (apart from finance) to the working groups, or to the organisation as a whole. At present, TS has very limited capacity to do this.
•· Set up central TS groups to take responsibility for appropriate services and activities, including (as the need arises) external communications (media, PR, events, website, outreach, etc), IT and administration support, risks & liabilities, membership & induction, staffing, finance, internal communications and TS organisation & process.
•· Any such central groups must report to, and be represented on, the TSC.
As things stand, TS working groups operate with little or no support from the centre – which also means they are free to act with total autonomy. As with the ‘organisation/no organisation’ dichotomy explored above, there is a question of where to strike a balance on this spectrum.
No-one wishes to apply a culture of control to the working groups and the question is more one of finding ways in which the centre can help them in their work. Nevertheless, it would be helpful to develop a more co-ordinated approach. There have already been some instances of duplication of responsibilities between groups and this kind of thing is likely to increase if the groups become more numerous or take on more projects and activities. It is also likely that in time there will be statements made, or activities undertaken, in the name of TS which other members may feel they cannot support and the establishment of shared values and working principles would be helpful.
•· TS working groups should contribute to the development of an agreed purpose, vision and strategy, and set of working principles and values, and then work within these if they wish to be included in the TS family or make use of the TS brand.
•· These principles would include a requirement to send a nominated representative to TSC meetings to address cross-group co-ordination and communication.
•· Subject to the requirements above, working groups would be free to set their own goals and would be eligible to apply for central support, including finance.
Other organisations and projects
There are already a number of other organisations and projects in Stroud that appear to share our values but which are not part of the TS family. Closer links with these could be of real value.
•· Other appropriate organisations and projects should be encouraged to become affiliate members of TS.
•· TS may choose to offer resources to these if it wishes.