Is there a difference between ‘change’ and ‘transition’? This is something that comes up a lot when I present TURAS either in student lectures or with the general public. When we were in the process of applying for the EC funding, this question vexed us! Surely everything is in transition and everything changes – that is the nature of all things. Ecologically and socially, all life is moving and changing, yes, but are we transitioning? Transitioning implies a target rather than a random outcome. So, my feeling is that change is signified by being reversible and subject to continual manoeuvring; transition is not. We can all change, and then change again, and then change back. Transitioning is unidirectional; always in a progressive direction which implies ‘change for the better’ when we use it. When we transition to a new phase we do so with an explicit desire not to go back, and in many ways we cannot ever return to the earlier stage. Just like smoking. When I was growing up people smoked on busses, in cinemas, in hospitals, holding babies, in aeroplanes, in bars, and even teachers smoked in class! Now, this no longer happens. If you encounter a person smoking in a cinema there is going to be trouble. Not smoking in many places and situations is now normative social behaviour, much to the delight of the health promoters and policy makers. Most of us have transitioned, and this has occurred, in this case, using downward regulation and legal force as well as upward social pressure and education. Many people now step outside for the post dinner smoke, and not light up at the table. There is no ‘law’ for that, it is now considered normal behaviour.
By generating sustainability goals, aspirations and targets, society hopes it is transitioning in the right direction; in the direction where (we hope) our inconvenient impact is lessened, our giant footprints softened and our path more easily followed by those behind. We hope that we are progressing, irreversibly, to a new normative behaviours, where ecological and environmental concerns are part of daily function – the new human state. TURAS sees this transition as being driven from within communities in urban areas and facilitated by municipal authorities. TURAS is turning three years old at the end of September. It is four years since we began the process of designing this ambitious project. Four years! A lot happens and priorities change in four years. So, as a project we are now transitioning ourselves. Soon, we will no longer be speaking of work packages, tasks, deliverables and milestones; conveniently using the neatly packaged ‘speak’ of the official documentation. The main research phase of TURAS is drawing to a close. While the researchers will continue doing what they do best, TURAS will start taking their raw findings and using them to propose and then demonstrate transition strategies. Our Integrated Transition Strategy (ITS) is beginning it’s own journey towards taking the data and experiences that we have gathered so far, and transforming them into a suite of tools for building resilience.
One of our cutting-edge researchers, Philip Crowe, has started us thinking of a suite of transition strategies as being like a jar of sweets (or candies)! When faced with a resilience challenge, any local authority, municipality, community or business can peer through the glass, dip their metaphorical hand in and select the ‘sweet’ for the task at hand. It’s a nice metaphor (and ‘suite’ rhymes with ‘sweet’ conveniently enough). For us in TURAS this idea makes the mouth water! But transitioning is different for each urban community. The pace of transition will always be different, as is the degree of difficulty and the timeline too. Sustainable living does not come easy, it does not come cheap, and it does not always satisfy. I suppose everyone likes sweets, just like almost everyone agrees that we should be more sustainable in how we live. But the devil is in the detail! Some of our ‘sweets’ might be bitter or sour, which some people like but others do not. Some ‘sweets’ could be really soft and chewy, others may be hard and crunchy. Toothless people avoid certain sweets, kids fight over the same sweet, and every jar is left with those few sweets that no-body likes at all. Okay, now I’m straining the metaphor a little, but it’s a good way of seeing how transition strategies can be different depending on cultural factors.
From the end of 2014 onwards, TURAS will have transitioned into a new, on-line mechanism for empowering and leading urban dwellers towards ways of changing behaviour. We will need everybody to participate, so watch this space for the how’s and why’s!