Crowd Wise brings out the wisdom of the crowd: the case of Transition Town Lewes

The curse of the consultant is to be forever moving on, often never hearing the results of his or her work. So it was a great pleasure to hear from a couple of people who had been involved in something I helped with in 2010, all the more so as they were so appreciative:

  • I still feel very grateful for the process you took us through as a group and how we formed the Steering group from that time.. it was a brilliant process.
  • The steering group process has worked really well as a collaborative group without being in any way directive or authoritarian.  It was well worth doing.


Transition Town Lewes (TTL ) has a number of working groups, including Energy, Waste, Food, Communications, Finance, 10:10 and Heart/Soul. Up to the time of the event, there had been no overall decision-making body. Representatives from each working group made up a steering group known as the forum. But it had no mandate to take decisions. Nor was it clear how much authority the working groups had.  The result was that some decisions that needed to be made didn’t get made, or only were only made late in the day. Furthermore, the lack of a procedure for making decisions put a great burden on those at the centre who got most involved in trying to resolve problems, to the point of burnout.

In October 2010, in order to tackle this, we organised a two hour meeting, to which 23 people came. To start with, five pre-prepared options were voted upon – using preference voting, which is also known as consensus voting. The existing ad hoc structure came last, and was dropped. That left four options, all involving a steering group. There were two that scored well and which drew the members, at least initially, from the existing group contacts. The notion that the steering group should be elected also did well. The last idea, not scoring so well, was that the Steering Group be run as an Open Space: anyone could turn up and contribute to decision making.

In the next stage, small groups discussed the various options in more detail, identifying the pros and cons, refining them if they wished. A further option was put forward at this stage. One of the options involving members drawn from existing group contacts also proposed that they then put out a call for more members from the whole of TTL, and co-opt anyone who was prepared to commit to attending the monthly meeting. The extra option added the proviso that the initial members could then choose who joined them on the steering group from among those who put themselves forward.

After this discussion, there was a second consensus vote.  The two options described in the last paragraph came equal top, a long way ahead of the rest. So it was decided that they would be merged to create the final consensus option. The rest is history….