Transition planning weekend

We had a vision and planning weekend for Transition Newcastle at our house last weekend. There is a quick summary on the Transition Newcastle website of some of the key outcomes.

I found it a very interesting process and have been reflecting on it quite a bit with Cathy. Gabe Anderson, a member of Transition Newcastle who works for OzGreen, facilitated in a beautifully relaxed, welcoming manner. One of the highlights for quite a few people was that each of us was asked to spend five minutes telling the rest of the group about how we had come to be involved in Transition Newcastle. These introductions were spread throughout the two days and provided a great break from the rest of the process and helped build our sense of connection. As there were 15 people, it did take up well over an hour (out of about 10 hours work time) but it was time well spent.

Gabe essentially took us through a process of Focus (what brings us here), Vision (where we are heading), Change (what needs to change to help us get there) and Action (what we will do to help us get there). I loved his facilitation and I can see the potential of the process, and at the same time it reinforced for me that I do love an asset-based approach.

Like many strategic planning processes I have been involved in, we needed longer to spend discussing what action we would take. (We filled in some of the detail at last night’s meeting which involved 14 people and a lot of energy. Once again we started with diner and the positive atmosphere of the weekend continued at the meeting).

At one stage during the weekend we were a bit bogged down in the visioning process by not being clear in our minds about whether we were visioning what Newcastle could look like or what Transition Newcastle could look like. We started by visioning what Newcastle could look like and we had some common themes. I think it might have helped if we had just captured some of these common themes instead of trying to articulate what the vision was more specifically. In trying to get the vision in words, we slipped into a discussion of a vision statement for Transition Newcastle. This might be helpful down the track, but it wasn’t where Gabe was leading us in the process (nor was it what we were wanting from the weekend).

Essentially I think the process could have been enhanced by replacing the focus on Change with a focus on Assets. I think it might have helped us if we had reflected on all the individual, organisational, community and other assets or resources we can draw on in moving towards our vision. There was some great energy after the visioning and I think that energy could have been harnessed by moving straight into identifying all the assets around us that could help us achieve our vision. By focusing on what needs to change, I feel some of the excitement and enthusiasm was lost.

I’m not sure that everybody would agree with me and maybe thinking about what needs to change encourages critical reflection and deeper analysis. Maybe it depends what we are hoping to achieve. As one of the main focuses of Transition Newcastle is on creating a positive vision of the future, I think the process of Focus, Vision, Assets, Action would have worked well.

Gabe broke the day up with the individual introductions, a few well-chosen games and helped create a positive weekend. It was wonderful really focusing on our work intensely for an extended time rather than the normal two-hour meetings we have.

Cathy and I thought it was great that it was at our house (and it did mean that we had to give the house quite a good clean!) There were 15 adults (with another four joining us for dinner on Saturday night), up to four children (aged 7-10) and three under ones.  Having it in a home helped make it a relaxed atmosphere and it encouraged people to stay for dinner. Catering was low-key – for lunch we bought a whole lot of salad, dips and bread rolls, and for dinner a few of us brought something to share. We had plenty of snacks too.

We enjoyed having children coming in and out. Jasmine and Alexa (our daughters) loved playing with Tully for the whole weekend and it was even better when a couple of other girls joined them for half a day. (In fact Jasmine and Alexa were disappointed on Saturday night when they remembered that everybody wasn’t staying for dinner on Sunday – although as it turned out some did). The kids joined in a couple of the activities, played in another room, checked out what was happening occasionally and joined us for lunch. (Chris my brother helped look after them so Cathy and I could focus on the meeting). On Sunday one of the dads had his nine-month old with him who provide plenty of entertainment during the meeting and another dad (who didn’t participate in the workshop) dropped in at various time with another baby so the mum could breast feed and see their baby. The third baby only made it to the social evening. Yes the kids were distracting at times, but it was well worth it (and they were all pretty low maintenance).

I wasn’t sure if many people would stay for the evening, but all nearly everybody could and four other people joined us. We had considered going away for a weekend but I think that would have discouraged some people from coming (especially some of the new people). We also considered having it at the Family Action Centre but I don’t think it would have been as relaxed and I doubt we would have felt like hanging around as much.

After we finished on Sunday (at around 3:30) ten of us decided to watch a new video “The Economics of Happiness“) and then eight (plus three kids) stayed for dinner. Once again, I doubt that would have happened if we had been in a hall or a meeting room.

A major focus of Transition Newcastle is creating strong local communities and I think that the planning weekend really demonstrated a way of working that was inclusive, welcoming and helped build social capital. There were a few new people and I think they felt welcomed. I think the informal nature of the house was actually quite conducive to a positive working environment. While we worked hard, I think everybody was positive about spending the time together.

For a voluntary group like Transition Newcastle, it is so important that we make our meetings something that people want to come to. I think this weekend worked well in creating an environment that is inviting and I hope we all felt energised and enthusiastic.

The fact that there were 14 people at our meeting two days later suggests it was a successful weekend in harnessing enthusiasm and energy, and providing us with a sense of direction.

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, environmentalist, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace, sustainability.
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