7 Characteristics Of Doing Transition In A University

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Above Photo: From transitionnetwork.org

Last week we published our new guide, ‘How to do Transition in your University/College’ by Maria Cooper.  Today we share an excerpt from it, which sets out seven key characteristics of doing Transition in a University setting.

It’s holistic

A Transition University is a holistic approach to sustainability within a university and its surrounding community, looking at how sustainability can be integrated in operations, research, education, governance etc. It tends to involve academic and non-academic staff, students, Estates/Facilities management teams, and in some cases also local community members, and its projects can embody many different aspects of sustainability and resilience.

It’s practical

The projects of a Transition University tend to focus on positive, practical action, such as building community gardens, local bike or car sharing schemes, re-use and upcycling projects, awareness raising on climate change, peak oil, and malfunctioning economic systems, reducing personal and institutional carbon footprints. The advantage of running practical projects is that they do not require participants to selfidentify as “greens”, “environmentalists”, “engaged citizens”, “socially aware” or anything at all. Practical activities are an open, inclusive way to engage with a broad segment of the university community. Over time, engaging in activities that allow them to live a more sustainable lifestyle can empower participants to develop stronger pro-environmental attitudes in other aspects of their lives and develop a positive, “green” identity.

It’s personal

Transition is not just about projects and the outside world, it is also about changing the way we relate to the world and each other, and about considering the values as well as practices of the world in which we live. Changing our worldview from separate to interconnected, from scarcity thinking to enough for all, from competitive to collaborative, all form part of the Inner Transition landscape: As individuals, we may experience a wide range of emotions as we imagine and work to build the future we want – or fear a future much worse. For many, the scale of the problems is simply overwhelming and distraction or denial feel safer. Inner Transition is designed to help support us face a world that is changing faster and more profoundly than most can imagine or absorb.

It’s designing resilient groups

It is not only about what we do, but also how we do it. It is not just about delivering carbon reduction or cutting food miles, but learning how to design a sustainable and resilient group that remains energised, motivated, and inspired, and can deal with conflicts and personal issues in a constructive and meaningful way. Typically, a participant in a Transition University project will not only learn the practical skills for sustainability, but also social skills to help them engage with others, carefully exploring how these skills influence their own and others’ well being.

It’s responsive to its community

Ideally, Transition Universities are responsive to the interests and priorities of the members of their community. What defines a Transition University community is very much dependent on the people involved and can take many forms, for example:

  • It can be a community of place – perhaps just consisting of the people who are on university campus every day, or even just in a specific building, or indeed include local residents living in the town/neighbourhood/city
  • It can be a community of interest – consisting of all those people who share a common interest in specific sustainability areas, such as food growing, bike riding, or social enterprises.
  • It can be a community of values – made up of people who share broad values and ideals

Most probably it will be a combination of these. But as a result the Transition University community can refer to:

  • A particular grouping or project within a university
  • The whole university
  • A particular group or project within a town/city that incorporates representatives (students, staff, or both!) from a university

The important thing is to make sure that the priorities and interests of the Transition University community, however it is defined, are listened to and continually inform the activities of the Transition University.

It takes on some university characteristics

Transition Universities often demonstrate the following characteristics that may distinguish them from other town or community based sustainability projects, particularly because of the nature of tertiary institutions with a strong teaching aspect.

  • Seasonality – the academic year imposes a rigid time structure for projects and engagement. For example, many students leave the university community during winter and summer holidays, and are extremely busy during exams, so it is difficult to get any engagement in projects during these times
  • Authority – any projects taking place in, being organised by, or involving a university may need to be approved by some authority within the university structure, which to some extent limits the “Just Doing Stuff”-nature of projects taking place in the university
  • Transient community – many people relocate to attend the university and only stay for a few years. They do not necessarily have any long-term investment, whether it be in terms of money, interest, time, or energy, in the place around them. Successful projects and initiatives therefore tend to focus on skills, ideas, and values that can be of use in different places and environments, as well as promoting the development of structures to ensure continuance of any long term projects or initiatives at the University over successive generations of students.
  • On the other hand, universities are a place where young people “come of age”, make big decisions about the type of person they want to be and form lasting behaviours, friendships and convictions. So the community may be time-limited but the engagement with it is often very intense.
  • Thinking – because of the emphasis on critical analysis and engagement with literature at any university, Transition University projects are often highly reflective and produce new thinking as well as practice in the pursuit of sustainability

It’s unique

A Transition University can take many different forms and no two are the same. It is up to you to define your own vision of Transition in your University. This is why the definition of a Transition University needs to be open and flexible, so that different groups have the opportunity to define themselves and adapt to the particularities in their communities.

You can download How to do Transition in your University/College: a guide to making your University more sustainable: environmentally, socially and academically here.