An important message to all transitioners in Aotearoa

As many of you will know I offered to support the transition work in New Zealand, while facilitating the first transition workshops at the October 2007 Eco Show. The speed at which the work grew took me by surprise and I found myself running to keep up. 15 months later it is time to make some changes. I can no longer be working alone in the role of national facilitator, and it is urgent that the transition work gets more support. While I have received some financial support (for which I am most grateful) and also a little practical support, the time has come to widen the circle of people who assume some key responsibilities for this work in order to make it sustainable, and to rightly honour what has been an amazing response by many, many people all over the country.

I have been calling some people to see if they would like to attend a gathering to form a shared leadership team, and assume key roles in supporting the ongoing growth and development of the Transition work for New Zealand.

The response has been fantastic and the dates have been set as March 5th and 6th on Waiheke, as this is what works for most of the people who want to be part of this dialogue.

So far there are about 10 people who are able to come, and Helen Emmerson has generously agreed to come up from Wellington to facilitate the two day event. If you have something to offer and time to commit to serving the transition work, and if you would like to be part of this gathering, please call me so I can tell you more about what the thinking has been so far, and so you can share your thoughts and responses.

My numbers are 09-372 8737 and 0274 373 082 or email - or post a comment here.

If you are interested in knowing what comes out of this gathering, the essence of it and the agreements which are made will be offered here on after the event.

Scott Willis's picture

National TT body: it's purpose

The decentralised, autonomous network of transiton initiatives throughout New Zealand Aotearoa seems to be one key facet of the TT network's success.

However there is also value in a simple national function for TTNZ, something to enhance the diverse initiatives.

This would probably take the form of a Charitable Trust. The trust might provide a basic adminstrative role for the diversity of TT initiatives around the country - some of which might have legal governance structures and would just benefit by linking to the national TT trust, others might need to use the trust's legal framework to secure funding to do actual projects. Along with the adminstrative role (again - simple simple, just the basics), the trust would secure funding for one or probably two key workers: a national spokesperson and a national dogs body (someone who keeps an eye on initiatives, stays in close contact with the spokesperson, talks with the diverse groups, signals funding opportunities, ensures the trust meets/talks when it says it will: this person might otherwise be called a co-ordinator).

The trust would take on essentially two main roles: providing basic adminstration if needed (which might include some governance where more input is required for less autonomous groups) AND securing funding for one or two key workers.

It would need in its deed (Trust Deed) the precision that it expects a demonstration of self organisation and capacity building from groups it represents, or something like that.

What would this acheive/provide?

1. A secure wage for James or another key worker

2. A secure wage for someone else

3. A body providing a service for TT initiatives throughout NZ. The scope of this service needs to be carefully considered: if providing governance, or an umbrella function, it would probably need to cost some time for this task, to allow the necessary work to be done. If being moral support, and a moral partner, then this could probably be managed with a voluntary board of trustees and one or two workers, agreeing to offer support in terms of promotion, etc.

We have created a trust to enable our initiatives and it has been incredibly empowering, enabling us to secure several hundred thousand dollars to undertake retrofitting and do much more, including streamlining our initiatives to make them work well together. There's some information on the Blueskin Resilient Communities Trust here, and more general information on Waitati here. Our strategic plan has a practical focus that allows us to get stuff done.

The key thing to keep in mind is the purpose. A national TT body in the form of a trust would allow continuity, momentum and visibility. The key value for us in Waitati is having the TT site as a tool, enabling us to communicate widely, demonstrate our actions to the public, policy makers and funders, and provides a place to log things. Being able to communicate widely is useful in itself - more efficient than email to specific groups. It is also very valuable to be able to reach people we wouldn't necessarily reach, and the 'random' interest. However keeping the TT site itself visible and active probably requires more than just a diversity of volunteer and or funded groups and talking about some of it online. It also would benefit from someone to actively promote what is happening, to keep it visible, to keep people's enthusiasm from flagging and to keep people contributing in meaningful ways. There is always the danger that the tool (TT website) becomes a proxy for action. So a spokesperson would ideally concentrate on keeping specific actions visible, while using the tool.

The Trust would need a simple vision, and mission and some clear objectives

Happy to talk further about this.


Scott Willis's picture

TT National body: parallel governance

I think we have to ask what would a national body do, and keep asking this question.

There will never be a perfect solution - once the purpose has been decided, but at least beginning, once we have decided on what is needed for the purpose at hand is a good start.

Currently I believe the NZ Transition Town network is simply a loose network of diverse local initiatives, some of them quite active, some nascent, some just 'place-holders'. All will, by nature, take their own paths, because that is the nature of local initiatives: they must meet local conditions.

The network exists because of a). a general structuring model (Transition Towns); and b). a tool ( The range of TT initiatives exist because there are people engaged in making positive change (in any case), and it just may be that TT particularly has given a larger number the enthusiasm to take action.

If the general goal we can all agree on is to 'create positive solutions to the converging crises of our time' and 'weave [local responses] together', then we need a body, a national body.

Essentially what we are arguing for, because of the need to work on finding solutions when our traditional governance structures and institutions are in denial, is to create parallel governance. However, realistically, we lack the human capacity to do this at anything like the scale of the current governance.

The single thing that a national TTbody could do is allow greater co-ordination so that the action is unified in purpose, despite its diverse forms. This co-ordination would require also a spokesperson to speak for the whole, and ensuring support for the diverse initiatives, through such mechanisms as funding advice, networking, and high profile encouragement. I don't think anything greater than this need be attempted in the short term: what is needed is something to maintain and reinforce the existing momentum.

I've been encouraged to think about this after reading again the Kim Stanley Robinson Trilogy "Red Mars", "Green Mars" and "Blue Mars", a future history on the colonisation of Mars. From pp. 88 - 130 in "Blue Mars" there's a discussion on creating a constitution. The main upshot of what these fictional characters work out is that 'tent towns and covered canyons become the principal political units' (pp106) - small autonomous and dispersed areas analogous to Transition Town initiatives arguably. The other side to this is a global government (no nation-states), which in the end really comes down to an environmental regulation authority and not much more. In effect, the larger global authority (think National TT body) ensures that the tented towns (TT initiatives) do not work against each other or the viability of the whole.

Now the real situation here is different, granted, but similar nevertheless. I suspect all the initiatives would be better off if a legal body with legal responsibilities were able to secure funding to employ one or two people to be 1). Spokesperson (internally and externally) and 2). Co-ordinator, and also that a legal body (a Trust, say) was able to define strategy, write the job descriptions and ensure that tasks set were achieved (accountability).

Think the current fundraising to keep the websites functioning: it is great that donations are coming in, but if there was a trust, we could be assured of some kind of objective clarity, i.e: this essential work has been done and we need each logged TT initiative to contribute X to allow it to continue - rather than hardworking volunteers having to politely suggest that it would help if the huge effort they've put in was  supported  so that they can still  eat (until of course they get a fully functioning garden and create a strong barter economy for all essentials - then we can just supply them with a little money for luxuries).

Likewise, having a spokesperson with a profile is advantageous in that the media can have someone to go to when they want to do a story, and that spokesperson can actively recruit information on intiatives and promote them independently of the initiatives themselves, further enhancing both the local initiatives and the TTnetwork. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to offer a spokesperson a small wage?

In the first instance, a national TT body could do these two things, small steps to maintain momentum and build resilience into the diverse local initiatives. Providing some strategy (Trust) and some employment for one or two key people to fulfill national roles and do tasks for the TTNZ network, not one single initiative. Tasks: ideas to be sorted here, but I'd anticipate employment of one or two people being the first task of the legal body, and then, such things as funding assistance for initiatives (advice to using the trust as legal body), promoting TT generally, ensuring transparency and continuation of TT services through effective fundraising.

Hope this contributes to the discussion.



TT National body: some thoughts

Hi Scott,

I'm writing this at work so only skimmed through your posts.  Could you perhaps summarise your thoughts as to what the role of the national body would be in a few bullet points, and we could then add to it and see what we come up with?

With my Community Development Officer's hat on, I have three initial thoughts/experiences to share:

  1. I recognise the benefits that a incorporated structure would provide in terms of accessing funding, public exposure etc and in our case, setting criteria and providing training perhaps?
  2. Beware of making a communityinitiative reliant on public/government funding that then gets cut (like the Enterprising Communities Fund or the funding of Enviroschools just did)
  3. When Trust's employ staff it often means they stop "doing things" and download everything on the staff (who then often burn out). Is TT in a position yet that it requires a Trust with a purely governing role? My feeling is that it is not.

Will think about this more.

I'm not a lawyer but I'm able to help with wording of the Trust Deed if we decide to go that way.



Scott Willis's picture

Trust for TTNational body

Hi Diana,


1. National body might be a misnomer. I believe that aiming for some financial support for a few current volunteers will enhance other volunteer efforts and ensure momentum is maintained. This is the 'rationale'.

2. Action is the key though: if the action occuring already can be maintained via the flat structure, why change? My suggestion is to ask those who are volunteering time and energy at high levels and ask whether some of their work would be more effective if there was an aim of securing funding for it. If not, then no bother trying.

3. A trust (incorp. society, charitable, etc) is simply a legal form that can receive and justify donations, grants, etc and do so in a transparent way. This provides oversight and an ability to work with other formal groups - whereas  a loose largely volunteer network, while very effective at some things may find formal arrangements difficult.

Role of the Trust:

  • A legal body able to provide support (advice, networks, experience) to potential staff
  • A legal body able to provide services to TT initiatives (umbrella and governance role for initiatives that require this, or are unwilling to develop these attributes themselves
  • A legal body able to apply for wages for staff if this is a goal of the trust

I agree that reliance on Govt. funding is problematic, especially when the current Govt. is cutting community funding, however from my own experience, having some small income, no matter how tenuous, is incredibly productive for moving action along and in itself builds profile.



Natalie's picture

What an interesting

What an interesting discussion, and thanks everyone for your contributions.


I'm always here to challenge conventional ways, it seems - maybe because I think that if we do what we have always done... you know how it goes. Rather than looking at structural models in the first instance, I'd like to look at things from a different angle:

Firstly, the facts:

1. We have lots of people out there at the moment that are contributing highly valueable stuff - each using their own particular skillset and following their own passion. James has been invaluable spreading and presenting the transition message and supporting the movement. But there are lots of others, too: Deidre and Helen tirelessly educating us on local currencies, Rimu and Daryl putting together this website, Ruth and others providing training, a group of people who stepped up to form a "national support team", etc etc. The list goes on.

2. Even more so, we have lots of people who are highly active at their local level, putting in lots of work and thought. Their work, too, is invaluable and really the heart of the transition movement.

3. All these individuals, whilst linked by the transition movement and ideas, currently work their own agenda, in that - they do what they think is needed most and what they feel they can contribute. They - as groups and inviduals - communicate via this website and numerous email lists. Also, some skype conferences have taken place on different subjects and undoubtedly there are countless phone converations going on at almost any given time.

4. There are no rules as to who is allowed to do or say what - there is no protected Transition brand or trademark. Resources are mostly shared freely and made available to whoever is needing them.

5. All of this work is currently unpaid.


So, out of all this: what is working well and should be preserved?

1. The diversity of people involved, each contributing their skills and following their passion. This brings with it the best motivation we all can find - our own hearts. It also means, by having many facets and faces, we can respond to and appeal to many different people and groups. I believe with this huge task at hand, it really takes all sorts to make a world.


2. The freedom of invidual initiative. To be able to have an idea or identify a need and respond to it immediately without the need for "official" confirmation. This is very much at the soul of the movement  (don't wait for government, do it yourself).

3. The free sharing of resources - whatever is required to get this big transition task achieved.


And what could be improved?

1. Communication. IN order to effectively respond to needs arising, we need to know about them. The website and email lists are effective to a certain extent, but information still seems to flow quite randomly - you have to be at the right place at the right time, know the right people or be at least on the right list to find out what is going on. IMO, this all needs to be streamlined and made more consistent to ensure everyone knows what is going on.


2. Coordination? - Yes and no. If we wish to preserve the diversity and freedom / spontaneity of the network we can't try and coordinate too much in a top-down way. At the same time, a coordinated approach can be a lot more powerful. My ideal would be to achieve a self-coordinating and organising organisation through flawless communication, supported by a"coordination service entity" - a person or team that has no other task than ensuring everyone involved always knows what is going on. This coordinator would have no role or task in making decisions or setting direction, but merely ensure information flows to allow people to respond in their own way.


3. Payment? - Yes and no. We all need to eat, no doubt. At the same time, unless a miracle happens, there won't be enough money to go around at this stage to pay all those people that are putting in the "heart" work. We'd have to start selecting and making choices. This would probably require a vote of sorts or the establishment of a committee to make the decision on who gets paid. All this, I think, requires a heavy structure, processes and still limits us to a small number of individuals. It also brings with it "performance reviews" etc, because how else are you going to know whether your individual is doing the right thing? And what is the right thing in this instance in the first place??

If we are to preserve the diversity, I think we need to develop a model which allows us to remunerate lots of people a little bit, probably based on their contributions on a case by case basis. Our guiding principle herein could be: How helpful was this contribution to the network? (A tough call to make, no doubt). This would mean we don't have to pay "1 FTE" but can - as a network - access the skills of a large number of individuals as required on a needs basis. Who are these individuals? - Those (see above) that follow their passion and volunteer their skills (and if there's more than one, they do it together...).  

What does this mean for all these individuals? - They will be "forced" to not rely on their "Transition job" but also secure other means of income - through barter, other business etc. I think, that is actually a good thing - because it is more resilient than relying just on one source of income, it sparks creativity and probably alternative trading models - and also, these other demands on their time will stop anyone from becoming too dominant or taking over.


So what does all this mean? - In my ideal world, we would - at the core - have a (paid - *sigh!*)coordinating function (this could be more than one individual - as a team or over time) who does no more than "scanning" the network (ie the local groups) and the outside world (eg. media, government) for its needs in terms of communication, support, etc and continuously feeding this information back to the network. At the same time this coordinator would channel the responses to these needs that arise out of the network and coordinate these amongst each other - again, all communication. He/she/it would also administer the remuneration based on whatever schedule of criteria / amounts etc "the network" agrees on. This may sound complicated, but could be as simple as: doing one presentation on Transition Towns at a conference gets $xx network sponsorship. Conducting a training gets paid $xx network sponsorhip. We might have to get creative in some instances when putting a number on things is a bit trickier, but this could be worked out. (A possible tool for this could be an online poll where the network can actually "donate" Transition funds to an initiative or area (like: media presence, training etc). This would essentially indicate a "ranking" of how important people think this is... Don't know - just and idea..)


So, how do we know the coordinator is doing a good job? - Because we all feel that it works. What do we do if it doesn't? - We, as a network, improve the processes until it does.


So, who is "the network"? - Well, in some instances it might be every member of every local intiative through an online poll - this is, where decisions need to be made. In other instances, it will be those individuals within the network who feel themselves drawn to a certain issue or question, who will then form a (temporary) working group to resolve this issue.

So how can we, in all this "mess", protect the "Transition idea" from being misused, abused, misinterpreted - or stop people from taking advantage of it?? - To a certain extent, we can't. But we can communicate until everyone understands the basics of our collective thinking - and then trust that each new development is going to have it's raison d'etre. If this is to be a real "community movement", we're going to have to accept us all as being this "community" and take on our role in it in a responsible and self-critical way - and, as a community, deal with all our faults and errors as well as our shining success stories.


Now (deep breath) - finally: What structure do we require for this? --Simple answer: I am not sure. This is not in the books.

-- Great!

So given the limitations of the "established" systems, we should probably choose the most flexible and cost-effective one (probably a trust if it helps us acquire outside funding better than a company would) and then "creatively" adapt it within the network to allow us to operate in our own way. this might mean having the odd "paper function", but let's just treat it as a necessary evil and a sign of the time.


So, that's my 2 cents worth at this stage. It's probably not all coherent and conclusive, but that's the first stab at this I can get out of myself at 9 pm on a Friday night ;-).

Have a lovely weekend all!


PS: Happy to help with any chosen model, whatever is agreed on, as required ;-)!

Scott Willis's picture

Simple or complicated

Hi Natalie,

I appreciated your thoughts. On your facts, especially (5. All of this work is currently unpaid.), this one isn't the case. I'm pretty sure that there are people in Nelson employed in Transition Initiatives and I am in Waitati. I believe James receives some donations (income) to support his Transition work, and I am sure there are others.

I don't want to propose creating some perfect gigantic Transition beast, I just want to get more done. ONE of the ways of doing this is to aim to secure some funding, both for wages, and projects. I don't expect that all the volunteer efforts will suddenly become funded, much as most of them deserve to be, but some might in a way that enhances and strengthens current and future efforts.

We can debate form and shape forever, and we can also decide what we would like to achieve and work towards that. This is my motivation: I know that today, 15th June 57% of funds required for IT domains has been donated, and it is needed by the 18th of June. However how it works is still a bit of a mystery, despite Rimu's helpful precisions, and I think that there may be a better way than just hoping for donations. A trust via its voice (someone with a wage or not) might take on the role of explaining the key tool of TTNZ, for example (the TTNZ Website), ensuring costs covered, wages (if required) paid in full or in part, and ensuring participants know about the how, why and wherefore. I'll happily work with our sense of community if it works, and I love open dialogue, however if the dream of how somethings should work doesn't match the reality I think we need to think of ways to make it all work better. Similarly, if James is acting spokesperson for TTNZ and is spending most of his time doing this, but surviving on donations and savings, then maybe we need to ask a). whether this role is a valuable one for TTNZ, and b). whether the current model is sustainable.

Now I don't want to create issues where none exist. For my part, after years of volunteer work we've finally created a trust and secured some funds for wages and other projects, which has had great pay-off - more than 1/2 a million dollars worth of insulation retrofits in 4 months for example. I've appreciated support - wages which help my family and I survive (despite being a huge drop from my last University job), but I've also appreciated the moral and strategic support offered by the Trust's trustees, and both lots of support have been hugely enabling as mentioned above (getting insulation into about 250 households, along with renewable generation activity and more). Perhaps there are other people in a similar situation who would benefit in the same way, and perhaps the whole TT network would gain.



I feel delighted

I wont even attempt to respond to the details offered by Scott and Natalie in particular, along with all the other contributions.

So what do I feel about all this, at midnight on Friday after coming back from hearing David Holmgren and others speaking at Waitakere City?

I feel delighted at the energy and intention being brought to the discussion, to design something which rightly honours the transition principles, and has the flexibility and resilience built in, keeping it simple and being careful to not add excessive administrative overhead.

If we are honest, and acknowledge that we are looking at legal structures because we see this could help us fund some people and projects to build on the potential of what TT can do to serve the transition, then we won't get too distracted.

What structures can be created to fulfill this need?

A Trust is probably a likely one.

Can we build into it the flexibility for it to evolve into something that more and more closely aligns to some simple and clearly stated objectives?

So that we don't have to have all the answers before we begin.

Can it serve to make the formation of dozens of local trusts for each TT unecessary?

That would surely be a good thing.

Can it serve practical functions for the wider TT community, through offering professional and focused services?

Such as bookkeeping, tracking agreements, timelines, reporting, etc

Can we setup a Skype call between 9am and 12noon on Tuesday?

Where as many of us as can make it, are available for online chats via skype.

Thank you all for the willingness to engage in the clarifying dialogue.

Now I must toddle off to bed.


Scott Willis's picture

Skype on structure

Hi James,

I'm not up on the tech. wizardry of skyping with multiple people and can't do tomorrow anyway but perhaps consideration of a minimalist trust is best, beginning gently and learning along the way?



My thoughts on National Structure

Shouldn't all this happen from the ground up, ie that a National Conference of all the local groups get together and then decide. What mandate do you have to decide all this? Who do represent? How were you chosen for your roles?

Scott Willis's picture


Hi Brent,

I think we create our own mandate by doing what needs doing and I certainly am not participating in the discussion about the form of a national body out of some expectation that I personally or Waitati TT generally will receive something for it: we're busy enough as it is. I don't think there is any 'should' though, just as much transparency and open discussion as possible and then at some point (and let's define that point - a timeframe, a conference - argh the carbon footprint!!, the needs perceived or real, to address), some action.

A national body needn't be decided by all, and perhaps national body is the wrong term.

A 'General TT Group' could emerge as a minimalist  administrative group offering simply a service  to help  small TT inititiaves get off the ground, with  advice and  experience. That's all. Two things to think about, though, I guess: What is needed (if anything), and what can be done to meet that need with the widest possible support (if possible).

BTW, I only represent myself and the trust that employs me, and visit here to get an idea how people in our area get chosen for their roles (often they self-select by doing stuff).



From Julie in Hawkes Bay

Hello all from Hawke's Bay,

Really enjoying the discussion. Hope I can contribute something useful.
I think while there is a huge amount we can discuss, I believe we should try and concentrate at this stage on what appears to be agreed and get on with some action. I am the worst person for not completing the task in hand, but we have been talking about this for a long time and we badly need an organisation set up.

So - can I suggest ...
1. Someone drafts the Trust Deed, maybe Scott, Natalie and I could do that. I have a copy of the Opotiki Coast Transition Towns Trust Deed (its all available on the website) and we can use that and Scott's as a model. 
2. The Trust Deed itself is of limited importance in dictating how the Trust is run, but it is essential from a funding point of view. So we need to get on with it.
3. We all seem to agree the Trust should have a limited role and correspondingly limited powers in keeping with the fundamental principle of decentralising or localising control.

For my own part I believe the essentials of the Trust are:
1. A co-ordinator/communicator role - probably funded by government (ha ha) or charitable funding at this stage. This person should be the channel through which ideas and information flow. Very importantly, this person does not undertake projects themselves (at least through the organisation itself), they try to link together people and organisations to carry out the projects for themselves or draw on the experience of others.
2. The web-site is essential to the communication role and should the subject of a major development project.
3. I do not personally see the need for the role of a spokeperson as I believe this is just another project or projects an individual or group should put themselves forward to perform.
4. There should be a funding manager (or whatever you want to call them) who can provide advice and links to those undertaking projects, and should not just rely on public funding, they should be well versed in business funding and be able to link people up with local organisations to advise them. They could fulfill any reporting requirements for donors and publish everything on the web-site. They will obviously also need to find the funding for the trust too.
5. Therefore I see the need for 3 roles and suggest there are no more than 5 trustees.

While minds are turned to discussion I also ask you all to think about the following:
The UK TT company has effectively self-appointed officers. It is likely in the short term we would have the same. I think its fundamental to TT to move away from a structure which places power, whether it is financial or political, in a  small number of centrally based individuals. We do not have to follow the same old patterns. I may be cynical but I believe even the most well intentioned people are susceptible to improper influence or lack of judgment. Our vision does not foresee bodies filled with power seekers. Let us, for example, consider some examples we might soon come across:
- a petro-chemical company trying to improve its image offers funding for the development of a low energy use vehicle but wants TT branding plastered all over the prototype.
- an officer of the Trust knows there is funding available from his local council for an environmental project, he applies for it and doesn't inform a local group about it.
Democracy is traditionally seen as the answer - but that in fact centralises power. How about trying not to meet a set idealogical standard but instead relying on transparency? If all Trust work and spending is automatically posted on the web-site there will be judgment and discussion but there should not be dogma. We may each disagree about the merits of a particular project, but that is not our business.

Other bodies/organisations 
In due course it might be a good idea to have an incorporated body - its not expensive and it can still have charitable status. We don't need to produce anything, but if we have any financial assets or services it might be a good idea. We might, for example, wish to incorporate the funding advice role and charge a fee or percentage. As far as local bodies are concerned, why not just leave each transition town, street, garden etc to decide for themselves? They can use the central funding organisation (the Service Centre or whatever it is called) as the channel through which to get funding on a charitable basis or do their own thing.

Unfortunately I can't Skype at work, but will be watching the e-mail and the web-site tomorrow.
Looking forward to a low energy future with you all.

Scott Willis's picture

Plan to advance TT

Hi Julie,

You've encapsulated the issues beautifully. I agree with your suggestions, and for the bit that concerns me I will happily provide input into the Trust Deed if that will move things along.

I think you've got the essentials of the Trust just right, and I think you've phrased those more concisely and appropriately than my less coherent thoughts.

On democracy - the issues and theoretical but very possible examples you give are very relevant, and the process of creating a legal body can easily lead to a 'hardening' of power so I agree strongly that this predicament needs to be addressed in the body of the Trust and in the practice of the Trust (transparency).

Organisation: this is not something I know well, despite working within a Trust structure, however whichever form is chosen I think your suggestion to have a form that anticipates that TTinitiatives will want to seek autonomy but is still prepared to offer strategic assistance is the best of all worlds.

Thanks for your concise and productive thoughts!



The evolution is happening now

Please drop over here to the beginnings of the National Team - a new group under the Local Groups Menu.