Transition Michiana Conference Highlights

Here’s a brief rundown of this past week’s Transition Michiana event in South Bend, where more than a hundred people from throughout the region attended an engaging and inspiring experience.

Transition Michiana table group

The Open Space group that focused on how to include folks in Transition that aren’t drawn to sustainability.

The event kicked off with a screening of In Transition 2.0 (we showed this film locally with the Farmer’s Market Film Series, but will certainly screen it again!).  But my personal highlight came before the film, with a lively skit by the Coman family, who catalyzed the recent passing of the city’s urban chicken ordinance.

The Open Space group that focused on non-fossil fuel energy.

The Open Space group that focused on non-fossil fuel energy.

Friday morning focused on a live (Skype) conversation with Transition founder Rob Hopkins.  I’ve heard many of his talks online (like this one), but never get tired of his ability to weave together different stories and ideas, “breathing new life into possibilities”.  He talked for 15 minutes then entertained over an hour of questions.  I think a number of folks new to Transition were concerned that the movement might just be an attempt to duplicate or ride on the coat tails of existing work; they seemed relieved and inspired by his affirming responses to the role of Transition in supporting and offering a model for broader community collaboration and engagement.

Transition Michiana economics table group

Friendly faces at the local economics and currency Open Space table.

I then had the privilege of sitting on a panel with Sara Stewart of the Unity Gardens and Jonathan Geels of the South Bend Municipal Energy Office.  I was impressed by the way our different initiatives overlapped… we’ll hope to post clips of this soon.  This was echoed in Saturday’s panel, which included Jason Shenk of the Maple City Health Care Center and Peoples’ History of Elkhart.

Transition Michiana mapping relationships

A “relationship map” of the folks sitting around the table.

Saturday also included an engaging address by South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg.  But for the most part, Friday afternoon and Saturday morning were dedicated to Open Space interaction, where anyone at the conference was invited to set their own agenda within a self-organizing framework.  The overarching question we addressed was “how to build new networks and relationships to help make our community more resilient”.  We’re looking forward to introducing this “social technology” in Goshen to create a space for fresh ideas to emerge and discern where our passions and energy are focused.

Transition Michiana open space

Gathering topics to discuss during the Open Space event.

The Kroc Center in South Bend was a great host and went out of their way to include local food in the menu.  The event wasn’t intended to be an “unleashing” or launch for Transition Michiana as an existing organization; rather, it created a space for Transition to emerge both locally and regionally while offering it as a model or toolkit for existing groups.  For the South Bend Food Security Coalition that initiated the conference after adopting Transition themselves, I think it created a vital network of like-minded groups over a broad span of regions and disciplines.  I was delighted to make many new connections in South Bend myself, and can’t wait to see what continues to emerge!

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