Transition Towns & Future Search

on Apr 19 in Essays & Reviews by

In the late 1980s, Marv Weisbord, a pioneer in the field of organizational development began to develop from group psychology theories and his experience in business a process or technology for bringing disparate, often contentious groups together to act in coordination toward loftier, often previously obscured objectives. Marv and his business partner, Sandra Janoff, developed and defined this technique, which they called Future Search.

I met Marv and Sandra in the early 1990s and contracted with them to bring Future Search to my family’s ailing manufacturing company. By then, Future Search had been used by communities, utilities, companies and government agencies and I was eager to hold a 3-day conference with owners, employees, customers, suppliers and industry experts associated with my company.

We made plans, sent out invitations, and set up the conference in accordance with Future Search methodology; however, as with many of our most serious (though perhaps not urgently felt) problems today, there was no deep-level agreement about the nature or extent of the problems and the conference, though interesting, powerful and even transformative for many of us, and the company ultimately failed. Yet over the past twenty years, Future Searches have been sponsored and conducted by many big, worthy and noble government and non-profit scenarios all over the world, having a great deal of success addressing many problems.

In 2005, Rob Hopkins, a British teacher, effectively described the biggest problems facing humanity today — global climate change, resource constraints and the fragility of virtually all the systems we rely on — and devised a process or methodology for communities and towns to face these problems without having people fall into fear, despair and paralysis. Central to transition culture theory is the attitude embodied in the phrase thrivalism: that while our survival is threatened, we still have a chance and that there’s hope for the future if we plan and provide for it. Over the past few years, several hundred cities and towns have embraced the Transition movement with perhaps the beginnings of varying degrees of success.

To keep things in perspective, what lies ahead for our civilization will not be materially altered by a superb planning process administered by skilled practitioners. What’s been set in motion has been running for a long time and the transition, as it’s euphemistically being called, necessarily involves a diminution in the quality of life, or perhaps life itself for thousands, perhaps millions of people. Still, wouldn’t it be grand if trained Future Search facilitators, many of whom are brilliant and deeply conscious people, helped the canaries in the coal mine who’ve declared themselves Transition towns.

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