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12 Steps

Note: the 12 Steps to Transition below are now a bit archaic, and not followed closely. However, they still offer valuable ideas, and a possible roadmap to organize around. As of 2017, the current recommendation from the Transition Network is to be found in their document entitled "Essential Guide to Doing Transition."

The 12 Steps to Transition

These 12 Steps have grown out of the observation of what seemed to work in the early Transition Initiatives. They don’t take you from A to Z but rather from A to C, which is as far as we’ve got with the model today. These Steps don’t necessarily follow each other logically in the order they are set out here; every Transition Initiative weaves through them differently. The 12 Steps are still evolving, in part shaped by your experience of using them.

It is important to realize that they are not meant to be prescriptive. You do not have to follow them religiously, step by step, you can use the ones that seem useful, add new ones you come up with, and disregard others that don’t work for you. For this reason the 12 Steps are sometimes referred to as the 12 Ingredients

1. Set up a steering group and design its demise from the outset

This stage puts a core team in place to drive the project forward during the initial phases. We recommend that you form your Steering Group with the aim of getting through Steps 2 – 5, and agree that once a minimum of 4 sub-groups (see Step 5) are formed, the Steering Group disbands and reforms with a person from each of those groups. This requires a degree of humility, but is very important to put the success of the project above the individuals involved. Ultimately your Steering Group should be made up of 1 representative from each working sub-group.

2. Raise Awareness

This stage will identify your key allies, build crucial networks and prepare the community in general for the launch of your Transition initiative. For an effective Energy Descent Action plan to evolve, its participants have to understand the potential effects of both Peak Oil and Climate Change – the former demanding a drive to increase community resilience, the latter a reduction in carbon footprint.

Screenings of key movies (Inconvenient Truth, End of Suburbia, Crude Awakening, Power of Community) along with panels of “experts” to answer questions at the end of each, are very effective. Talks by experts in their field of Climate Change, Peak Oil and community solutions can also be very inspiring. Articles in local papers, interviews on local radio, presentations to existing groups, including schools, are also part of the toolkit to get people aware of the issues, and ready to start thinking of solutions.

3. Lay the foundations

This stage is about networking with existing groups and individuals, making clear to them that the Transition Initiative is designed to incorporate their previous efforts and future inputs by looking at the future in a new way. Acknowledge and honor the work they do, and stress that they have a vital role to play. Give them a concise and accessible overview of Peak Oil, what it means, how it relates to Climate Change, how it might affect the community in question, and the key challenges it presents. Set out your thinking about how a Transition Initiative might be able to act as a catalyst for getting the community to explore solutions and to begin thinking about grassroots mitigation strategies.

4. Organize a Great Unleashing

This stage creates a memorable milestone to mark the project’s “coming of age”, moves it right into the community at large, builds a momentum to propel your initiative forward for the next period of its work and celebrates your community’s desire to take action. In terms of timing, we suggest this take place about 6 months to a year after your first “awareness-raising” event.

The Official Unleashing of Transition Town Totnes was held in September 2006, preceded by about 10 months of talks, film screenings and events.

Your unleashing will need to bring people up to speed on Peak Oil and Climate Change, but in a spirit of “we can do something about this” rather than a doom and gloom scenario. One item of content that we’ve seen work very well is a presentation on the practical and psychological barriers to personal change – after all, this is all about what we do as individuals. It needn’t be just talks, it could include music, food, dance - whatever you feel reflects your community’s intention to embark on this collective adventure.

5. Form working groups

Part of the process of developing an Energy Descent Action Plan is tapping into the collective genius of the community. Crucial for this is to set up a number of smaller groups to focus on specific aspects of the process. Each of these groups will develop their own ways of working and their own activities, but will all fall under the umbrella of the project as a whole.

Ideally, working groups are needed for all aspects of life that your community needs to sustain itself and thrive. Examples of these are: food, waste, energy, education, youth, local economics, transport, water, local government.

Each of your working groups looks at their area and tries to determine the best ways of building community resilience and reducing their carbon footprint. Their solutions will form the backbone of the Energy Descent Action Plan.

6. Use Open Space

We’ve found Open Space Technology to be a highly effective approach to running meetings for Transition Initiatives. In theory it ought not to work. A large group of people comes together to explore a particular topic or issue, with no agenda, no timetable, no obvious coordinator and no minute takers. However, by the end of each meeting, everyone has said what they needed to, extensive notes have been taken, lots of networking has had taken place, and a huge number of ideas have been identified, and visions set out.

The essential reading on Open Space is Harrison Owen’s Open Space Technology: A User’s Guide, and you will also find Peggy Holman and Tom Devane’s The Change Handbook: Group Methods for Shaping the Future an invaluable reference on the wider range of such tools.

7. Develop visible practical manifestations of the project

It is essential that you avoid any sense that your project is just a talking shop where people sit around and draw up wish lists. Your project needs, from an early stage, to begin to create practical, high visibility manifestations in your community. These will significantly enhance people’s perceptions of the project and also their willingness to participate. There’s a difficult balance to achieve here during these early stages. You need to demonstrate visible progress, without embarking on projects that will ultimately have no place on the Energy Descent Action Plan.

8. Facilitate the Great Reskilling

If we are to respond to Peak Oil and Climate Change by moving to a lower energy future and relocalizing our communities, then we’ll need many of the skills that our grandparents took for granted. One of the most useful things a Transition Initiative can do is to reverse the “great deskilling” of the last 40 years by offering training in a range of skills.

Research among the older members of our communities is instructive – after all, they lived before the throwaway society took hold and they understand what a lower energy society might look like.

Some examples of courses: recycling grey water, cooking, bicycle maintenance, natural building, herbal medicines, basic home energy efficiency, practical food growing, harvesting rainwater, composting waste (the list is endless).

Your Great Reskilling program will give people a powerful realization of their own ability to solve problems, to achieve practical results and to work cooperatively alongside other people. They’ll also appreciate that learning can be fun!

9. Build a Bridge to Local Government

Whatever the degree of groundswell your Transition Initiative manages to generate, however many practical projects you’ve initiated, and however wonderful your Energy Descent Plan is, you will not progress far unless you have cultivated a positive and productive relationship with your local government authority. Whether it is planning issues, funding or networking, you need them on board. Contrary to your expectations, you may well find that you are pushing against an open door.

10. Honor the elders

For those of us born in the 1960s when the cheap oil party was in full swing, it is very hard to picture a life with less oil. Every year of my life (except for the oil crises of the 70s) has been underpinned by more energy than the previous years. In order to rebuild a picture of a lower energy society, we have to engage with those who directly remember the transition to the age of Cheap Oil, especially the period between 1930 and 1960.

While you clearly want to avoid any sense that what you are advocating is ‘going back’ or ‘returning’ to some dim distant past, there is much to be learnt from how things were done in the past, what the invisible connections between the different elements of society were, and how daily life was supported when less oil was available. Finding these things out can be deeply illuminating, and can lead to our feeling much more connected to place when we are developing our Transition Initiatives.

11. Let it go where it wants to go…

Although you may start out developing your Transition Initiative with a clear idea of where it will go, it will inevitably go elsewhere. If you try and hold onto a rigid vision, it will begin to sap your energy and appear to stall. Your role is not to come up with all the answers, but to act as a catalyst for the community to design their own transition.

If you keep your focus on the key design criteria – building community resilience and reducing the carbon footprint – you’ll watch as the collective genius of the community enables a feasible, practicable and highly inventive solution to emerge.

12. Create an Energy Descent Plan

At the moment there is only one completed Energy Descent Action Plan, the one done for Kinsale in Ireland.*  Although this was a student-led project, it did a very good job of producing a template that other communities could follow in designing pathways away from oil dependency. Some people find the term ‘Energy Descent’ too negative, and have chosen to call their EDAP an “Energy Transition Pathway" or a "Community Vision Plan".

Whatever it is called, the EDAP sets out a vision of a powered-down, resilient, relocalized future, and then backcasts, in a series of practical steps, creating a map to get there from here. Every community’s EDAP will be different, both in content and style. However, they will explore a wide range of areas as well as energy: energy descent is an issue which affects every aspect of our lives.

We have identified the following 10 steps in the process of creating an EDAP:

Step 1. Establish a baseline. This involves collecting some basic data on the current practices of your community, whether in terms of energy consumption, food miles or amount of food consumed. You could spend years collecting this information, but you aren’t trying to build a detailed picture, just getting a few key indicators around how your place functions in terms of arable land, transport, health provision etc. Your working groups may have identified some of this information.

Step 2: Get hold of any community strategy plans that are produced by your local government. Their plans are likely to have timescales and elements that you need to take into account, and they will also be a useful source of information and data. You will need to decide how to integrate your EDAP with their existing plans.

Step 3: The overall vision. What would your community look like in 15 or 20 years if we were emitting drastically less CO2, using drastically less non-renewable energy, and it was well on the way to rebuilding resilience in all critical aspects of life? This process will use information gathered in your Open Space Days, from Transition Tales and a range of other visioning days, to create an overall sense of what the town could be like. Allow yourselves to dream.

Step 4: Detailed visioning. For each of the working groups on food, health, energy etc.(although this is trickier for Heart and Soul groups for example), what would their area look like in detail within the context of the vision set out above.

Step 5: Backcast in detail. The working groups then list out a timeline of the milestones, prerequisites, activities and processes that need to be in place if the vision is to be achieved. This is also the point to define the resilience indicators that will tell you if your community is moving in the right direction.

Step 6: Transition Tales. Alongside the process above, the Transition Tales group produces articles, stories, pictures and representations of the visioned community, giving a tangible sense through a variety of creative media, of what this powered down world might look like. These will be woven into the EDAP.

Step 7: Pull together the backcasts into an overall plan. Next the different groups’ timelines are combined together to ensure their coherence. This might be done on a big wall with post-it notes to ensure that, for example, the Food Group haven’t planned to turn into a market garden the same car park that the Health & Medicine Group want to turn into a health center.

Step 8: Create a first draft. Merge the overall plan and the Transition Tales into one cohesive whole, with each area of the plan beginning with a short summary of the state of play in 2009, followed by a year-by-year program for action as identified in the backcasting process. Once complete, pass the document out for review and consultation.

Step 9: Finalize the EDAP. Integrate the feedback into the EDAP. Realistically, this document won't ever be "final" - it will be continually updated and augmented as conditions change and ideas emerge.

Step 10: Celebrate! Always a good thing to do.

This is a living process and we won't know how close it is to reality until a few groups have gone through it. The Transition Network is planning to support this process by providing elements such as a set of standard resilience indicators, and an overarching master timeline covering energy, climate, food etc.


*As of 2011, there were at least 4 published EDAPs.


Kinsale, Ireland (the original, created as a student project, not by the community - it's very good, though perhaps too prescriptive in the implementation timeframe, which may need to be much quicker). Pdf of Kinsale EDAP.

Sunshine Coast Region, Australia (written by two people, incorporated into local council plan, for a whole region instead of one community)

Forest Row, UK (very good, user friendly)

Totnes, UK (very good, freely available online, interactive comments possible with online version)


Videos of the 12 Steps to Transition

YouTube has videos of Rob presenting the 12 Steps at the Transition Network conference in May 2007.

Beyond the Twelve Steps…

The 12 Steps set out a plan of action and you may be forgiven for assuming that Step 12 is the end of the process. On the contrary, it is with the completion of Step 12 that your initiative really begins! The EDAP sets out the work you will be doing in the future and in theory once you reach that stage, your initiative’s job becomes the implementation of the EDAP.

Next: The Transition Whatcom Operating Group ("The TWOG")

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