How to Plan a Transition Town

The great thing about the Transition Movement is the Open Source and community spirit! Rob Hopkins entire career is based on sharing the ideas that various Transition Towns have experienced. The reason is obvious. If we are going to change the living communities in a fundamental way with a grass roots approach, we cannot be adopting the very model that has resulted in global unsustainability. We must cooperate rather than compete, share rather than hoard.  In this spirit, Transition Network has a template for their model available for download.

An excellent PDF format primer on building transition community is available from Rob Hopkins and Transition Networks here.   Another excellent action plan by the Irish town of Kinsale produced by permaculture students at the Kinsale Further Education College and edited by Rob Hopkins is also available here.

Below, InGienous Designs has exerpted some of Rob’s main points from his Transition Initiatives Primer manual.

Twelve Steps

Energy Descent and Transition Communities are synonomous. In the Transition Initiatives Primer, Rob Hopkins recommends following these twelve steps to setting up a Transition Community (Source: Transition Initiatives Primer) to bring about Energy Descent within a community. Watch Rob’s Youtube Video on the interactive mind map menu above as well.

Step 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.  This group is recommend as an expedient tool for getting through stages 2 – 5, and agree that once a minimum of four 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 in order to put the success of the project above the individuals involved. Ultimately the Steering Group should become made up of 1  representative from each sub-group.

Step 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 later 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. (See next section for the lowdown on all the movies – where to get them, trailers, what the licensing regulations are, doomster rating vs solution rating) Talks by experts in their field of Climate Change, Peak Oil and community solutions can 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.

Step 3 – Lay the foundations

This stage is about networking with existing groups and activists, 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 honour 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.

Step 4 – Organise 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 estimate that 6 months to a year after your first “awareness raising”movie screening is about right. The Official Unleashing of Transition Town Totnes was held in September 2006, preceded by about 10 months of talks, film screenings and events. Regarding contents, 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 doom and gloom. 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, opera, break dancing, whatever you feel best reflects your community’s intention to embark on this collective adventure.

Step 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 are required by your community to sustain itself and thrive. Examples of these are: food, waste, energy, education, youth, economics, transport, water, local government. Each of these working groups is looking at their area and trying to determine the best ways of building community resilience and reducing the carbon footprint. Their solutions will form the backbone of the Energy Descent Action Plan.

Step 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, we have run separate Open Spaces for Food, Energy, Housing, Economics and the Psychology of Change. By the end of each meeting, everyone has said what they needed to, extensive notes had been taken and typed up, lots of networking has had taken place, and a huge number of ideas had 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.

Step 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. In Transition Town Totnes, the Food group launched a project called ‘Totnes – the Nut Tree Capital of Britain’ which aims to get as much infrastructure of edible nut bearing trees into the town as possible. With the help of the Mayor, we recently planted some trees in the centre of town, and made it a high profile event.

Step 8 – Facilitate the Great Reskilling

If we are to respond to Peak Oil and Climate Change by moving to a lower energy future and relocalising 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 some of these 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 are: Prepairing, cooking, cycle maintenance, natural building, loft insulation, dyeing, herbal walks, gardening, basic home energy efficiency, making sour doughs, practical food growing (the list is endless). Your Great Reskilling programme will give people a powerful realisation 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 truly be fun.

Step 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 too far unless you have cultivated a positive and productive relationship with your local authority. Whether it is planning issues, funding or providing connections, you need them on board. Contrary to your expectations, you may well find that you are pushing against an open door. We are exploring how we might draft up an Energy Descent Action Plan for Totnes in a format similar to the current Community Development Plan. Perhaps, one day, council
planners will be sitting at a table with two documents in front of them – a conventional Community Plan and a beautifully presented Energy Descent Action Plan. It’s sometime in 2008 on the day when oil prices first break the $100 a barrel ceiling. The planners lookfrom one document to the other and conclude that only the Energy Descent Action Plan actually addresses the challenges facing them. And as that document moves centre stage,
the community plan slides gently into the bin (we can dream!).

Step 10 – Honour 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 (the oil crises of the 70s excepted) has been underpinned by more energy than the previous years. In order to rebuild that 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, what the invisible connections between the different elements of society were and how daily life was supported. Finding out all of this can be deeply illuminating, and can lead to our feeling much more connected to the place we are developingour Transition Initiatives.

Step 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.

Step 12 – Create an Energy Descent Plan

Each working group will have been focusing on practical actions to increase community resilience and reduce the carbon footprint. Combined, these actions form the Energy Descent Action Plan. That’s where the collective genius of the community has designed its own future to take account of the potential threats from Peak Oil and Climate Change. The process of building the EDAP is not a trivial task. It’s evolving as we figure out what works and what doesn’t.

Energy Descent Action Plan (EDAP)

The Energy Descent Action Plan, also referred to as a  pathway or a  vision paints a picture of the community that Rob Hopkins describes as  “so colourful, so appealing and so irresistible, that anyone not involved in bringing it to fruition will feel bereftof meaning in their life.”

The steps to achieving this superb plan are as follows:

  1. Build a local resource picture: gather data for your community relating to each of the working groups: arable land, transport options, health provision, renewable energy sources, textile manufacturing capability, building materials. This may well have been done in the early stages of the working groups’ activities.
  2. Create a vision for the community in 15-20 years hence: 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 was well on the way to rebuilding resilience in all critical aspects of life.
  3. Backcast from the vision to “today”: list out a timeline of the milestones, prerequisites, activities and processes that need to be in place for the visions to be achieved. The resilience indicators will help shape this phase.
  4. Get the Local Community Plan and Partnership Strategy as produced by the local government. Their plans are likely to have timescales and elements that you need to take into account.
  5. Transition Tales: meanwhile the Transition Tales group is producing articles, stories, pictures and representations of the envisioned community, how we’d get there and what might happen on the way.
  6. Create the first draft of the EDAP: merge the overall plan and the transition stories into one cohesive whole, and pass out for review and consultation.
  7. Finalise the EDAP: integrate the feedback into the EDAP. Realistically, this document (if that’s what it ends up being) won’t ever be “final” – it will be continually updated and augmented as conditions change and ideas emerge.

The diagram below summarizes these steps:

Figure 1: Energy Descent Diagram (Source: Transition Initiatives Primer)

Case Studies

The following Case Studies are very valuable for any communities wishing to start their own transitional community and plot a way towards autonomy, resiliency and creative descent. By studying these, communities will save a lot of time developing their own plans.

Case Study 1: Kinsale, Ireland Descent from 2005 to 2021

Transition Town Kinsale was inspired by Rob Hopkins and his permaculture class after he established the first ever 2 year permaculture program at the Kinsale Further Education Institute in Kinsale, Ireland. The class, guided by Rob, developed a Creative Descent strategy for Kinsale for the year 2021. This plan was premised on the Peak Oil calculations of Dr. Colin Campbell, a noted Peak Oil researcher. According to these calculations, Rob determined that by 2021, Kinsale will have 50% the energy it had at the beginning of the project in 2005, a projection which has profound implications for every aspect of life in Kinsale. With this knowledge, the class went to work to develop a descent strategy for 2021. Authors of the plan were:

  • Anna Aherne
  • Deirdre Barry
  • Jan Brady
  • Diane Carton
  • Ben Girling,
  • Diana Good
  • Carmel Geary
  • Bridget Hannan
  • Rob Hopkins
  • Becci Neal
  • Abbie North
  • Richard O’Callaghan
  • Michelle Walsh
  • Pernilla West 


The vision for Kinsale in 2021 is a thriving community acting as a role model for others.

The Energy Descent Plan will also mean that instead of “relentlessly depleting limited resources and exploiting our fragile biosphere” we will reduce our CO2 emissions, essential if we wish to counteract the effects of global warming. The Kinsale Energy Descent Plan looks at: food; energy; housing; transport; waste; education; youth and community; health; tourism and the Sustainability Centre which will be the hub for putting this plan into action. [ü Indicates this project has been initiated.]



Ireland imports 90% of its food and about 90% of its energy
It now takes on average one unit of fossil energy is required to produce one unit of energy in the food and 10 units of fossil energy to process, pack and transport that food to the consumer

The Vision

Kinsale will be almost self-reliant for food and food growing will be an integral part of town
Orchards and community gardens will be incorporated into parks and green
There will be a thriving local food co-op.

How to get there?

  • A think tank of food producers and food sellers
  • Appoint a local food officer
  • Set up a Local Food Partnership
  • Prepare a Local Food Plan
  • Set up a Farmer’s Market
  • Set up an Organic Food Co-op
  • Develop Kinsale as a Slow Food Town
  • Courses on organic market gardening by Kinsale College of FE
  • Easy garden scheme in town, seedlings, compost
  • Community gardens scheme
  • Plant orchards – 1601 fruit trees for Kinsale
  • School garden scheme
  • Reward system for using local food – for hospital, B&B’s, Hotels, restaurants
  • New ‘edible’ landscaping policy in town
  • Develop a ‘mini-eden’ project – an eco-tourist attraction
  • ‘Tasty Town’ competition like tidy towns
  • New agricultural developments;-organic dairy herds; aquaculture system in town; niche markets e.g. mushrooms, unusual vegetables and grains



Energy is essential for:

  • treatment of water
  • cooking and storing food
  • heating and lighting

In 2021 people will look back in horror on the amount of energy it took to sustain our lifestyle.

The vision

Kinsale will be a carbon-neutral town with energy supplied by a number of renewable sources e.g. wind.

How to get there?

  • Community awareness has to be raised – everyone has to be energy conscious in their day to day lives e.g. distribution of relevant ENFO (Environmental Information Service] leaflet; Solar panels could be put on public lamp-posts as a very public way of saying that there are other ways to get energy
  • Develop a wind farm in the Kinsale environs
  • Other sustainable energy schemes would include; solar panels; short rotation woodlands and combined heat and power schemes
  • Energy rating scheme to be implemented for buildings



Sustainable housing is usually self-built and self driven

The vision

All houses will be built sustainably, with high levels of energy efficiency and with a high proportion of local sustainable materials

How to get there?

  • Appoint a green buildings’ officer
  • TTK to develop a ‘guide document’
  • New local authority housing to be built sustainably
  • Kinsale Town Council to publish sustainable building criteria
  • Lobby for planning changes at a national level
  • Provide training events for builders
  • Provide workshops for owner on how to retro-fit old buildings to a high insulation standard (Liaise with Cork Energy Agency)
  • Promote research to look at materials that could be sourced locally and used for insulation
  • Liaise with GAP(Global Action Plan), Cork; House of Tomorrow scheme, Sustainable Energy Ireland (SEI)
  • Promote sustainable house heating systems: solar; passive solar, wood pellets/chip
  • Build communities instead of just housing developments



Car-dependent culture

The Vision

Kinsale will have adopted eco and people friendly transport systems.

How to get there?

  • Appoint a transport officer
  • Improve Public transport significantly
  • Centre of town to be pedestrianised and bike friendly routes established, promotion of car and lift sharing via LINKS (see community networking)
  • Walk to school initiatives
  • Biodiesel station in town
  • Horse and cart taxi – tourist attraction
  • Land train



We’re getting better, very slowly!

The Vision

Kinsale will be able to deal with its own waste

How to get there?

  • Appoint a zero waste manager
  • Community education
  • Community composting – training
  • Anaerobic digesters
  • Promote good packaging
  • Local shops to promote sustainable packaging
  • Liaise with Teagasc and Environmental Protection Agency to minimize agricultural waste and develop energy form waste projects

Education and Community Awareness

The whole community will need to learn new skills, revive old skills and reevaluate how we live our lives.


  • Think Tank for teachers
  • Local people with skills to be invited into schools
  • School garden schemes
  • Practical sustainability / permaculture to become a school subject
  • Have sustainability action plan for schools and an energy awareness week where schools/ homes/ businesses try to use 25% less energy for the week
  • Continuous assessment of what has been achieved and what needs to be done to educate the community, especially the youth for a less energy dependent future


The youth of Kinsale are especially important as they need to be empowered with the necessary skills and the focus for their future


  • Establish a youth opinion forum leading to a youth manifesto for Kinsale
  • Photo or Art competition portraying images for the future- best and worst scenarios.
  • Offer sustainability course to young people- after school, transition year
  • Green work experience for students
  • Establish a Kinsale Youth Mayor
  • Establish an international youth conference and festival (by video link!)
  • Youth café/ space in the Sustainability Centre


In the future the establishment and maintenance of good health will be as important as the treatment of the disease. There will be an Integrated Community Health Center, a sustainable Community Hospital and a Community Medicinal herb garden.


Kinsale will become a town at the forefront of Active Sustainable Design, and Eco tourism could be used as a vehicle for building the infrastructures that will sustain the town beyond tourism. Kinsale needs to prepare for a time when long haul and even short haul visitors will be fewer and the local economy needs to be less reliant on ‘overseas tourism’. New Eco

Tourist attractions:

  • Mini-eden project
  • Local edible landscaping
  • Cob-house village – to be used by students for 9 months and tourists for 3 months.
  • Green Accreditations
  • Slow Food Town
  • A vibrant example of a Transition Town

Community Networking

Community networking will be essential to galvanise this Energy Descent Plan and to make the vision of a vibrant and thriving town in 2021 a reality.A website LINKS will be developed for the Kinsale Community. This will facilitate CORE (Community Organisations Resource Exchange) based on core community values, core environmental values and core ethics. This will lead to a Time Bank or LETS (Local exchange Trading System) which could function as a local currency. Other features would include:

  • Online Discussion Forum:
    • Freebies Page, that is hand on what you don’t need anymore
    • Community details
    • Listings
    • Youth site
    • The Sustainability Centre – the Hub of Transition Town Kinsale
  • A self reliant Co-operative with a number of posts; local food officer, green building officer; transport officer; zero waste officer; local economy officer and eco tourism officer
  • Organic green shop
  • Market Garden
  • Community Composting system
  • Training and workshop space
  • Youth café

(Source: Kinsale Transition Town Website)

Case Study 2: Totnes, UK

Transition Town Totnes began in September 2006, after a couple of film-showings of ‘The End of Suburbia’ and ‘The Power of Community’. The townspeople came together in a local hall to meet and discuss  areas that were of concern with regard to peak oil and climate change.

These grew into theme groups that concentrated on the following focus areas:

  1. food
  2. transport
  3. energy
  4. business and livelihoods
  5. health and wellbeing
  6. building and housing
  7. inner transition
  • Each theme group sent a representative to the ‘core group’, that met monthly to determine overall direction and report back to each group.
  • Theme groups met regularly
  • From these meeting, many projects were initiated including:
    • Transition Tales (who worked with pupils in the local secondary school)
    • Gardenshare
    • Nut Planting projects
    • Co-housing schemes
  • Projects such as TRESOC came about through the networking at TTT meetings and events


Business & Livelihood

Over the last year TTT, in partnership with others in the town, has been leading on taking an asset based economic development approach to the town, looking at the current base of resources and strengths and can build upon. To date, their work includes:

  • Establishing an Economic Strategy Group for the town which was mandated by Totnes Town Council in January 2012. The aim of this group is to:
    • undertake proactive strategic economic planning
    • co-ordinate economic activity at a strategic level
    • liaise with other groups on an enhanced, multi faceted Neighbourhood Plan
  • Membership of the group includes:
    • the Town Council
    • TTT
    • Totnes Chamber of Trade
    • Totnes Development Trust
    • South Devon College (as the provider of tertiary education for the people of Totnes)
    • KEVICC
  • Begun mapping work to build a picture of the existing local economy including:
    • identifying business size and type
    • identifying current local spend
    • identifying the potential market for existing and new businesses
  • Actively seeking funding for a business incubator
    • This will be a physical space which provides work space and end to end tailored business support, from conception to investment readiness for new businesses. The goal is to make this space the spark that brings people together to inspire and cross fertilise innovation to regenerate the local economy. Users of the hub will be able to access high quality and innovative training and advice through a wide range of add on services offered in the form of a menu of support.
  • Working on the ATMOS Project, a community campaign and development company working to bring the derelict Dairy Crest milk processing plant back to life to provide the heart of this new economy, providing start up units, a school for food entrepreneurs and live/work space


Today, through these proactive measures, Totnes is known globally as a leading Transition Town in the movement. Since 2005, townspeople have been meeting in groups around 8 key themes, initiating over 30 projects to build a resilient community.