After the pandemic, two directions of debate: The ‘Transition Factory’ initiative & a Forum on « the world after »
Pierre CALAME, April 2020
The idea that the confinement due to the pandemic should be used to prepare the world afterwards, is widely shared. Ideas are flowing from all sides. I do not, of course, have an overall view of all these ideas in the air, but the general impression is that most of the proposals are the negatives of the current situation: economic globalization versus the return to national economies and short supply chains; dominance of the markets versus the return to public services; growth versus degrowth; representative democracy versus deliberative democracy, etc…
It would be important to identify experiences that are based on an innovative approach thus proposing a radical new perspective for ‘the world after’. In this direction, the re-emerging recognition of the major role of the territories and of the involvement of local stakeholders in the route towards transition seems to be a most promising path. The ‘Transition Factory’ experience, initiated by the commune of Loos en Gohelle in France, sounds really inspiring.
1. The ‘Transition Factory’ initiative
You have probably heard of the commune of Loos en Gohelle, in the suburbs of Lens, France, and its mayor for more than twenty years, Jean François Caron. This is the rather unique case in France of a community and a municipal team that worked with the population, starting twenty years and till now, on a territorial transition strategy, ensuring at every step that the population supported it. The result is quite impressive, both in terms of achievements and in terms of public recognition. In a region in crisis, during the last municipal elections of March 15th 2020, the list led by the mayor, Jean François Caron, was elected by 100% of the votes.
This is quite rare as we have seen that participatory democracy experiences that attract the attention of a large public, often end in failure because the « narrative » has prevailed over the field work. That is the case of the community of Saillans, a symbolic icon of a direct democracy experience, where the team that carried this utopia was defeated during the municipal elections.
Two years ago, Loos en Gohelle, together with three other communities that had the same long experience, undertook a rigorous process of capitalizing on their experience. This most interesting effort, collectively hailed, led to the establishment of an initiative called ‘Transition Factory’. Its originality lies in breaking away from the classic associative logic, which leads to the creation of « umbrella organizations » that end up representing only themselves, by constituting an « alliance » simply endowed with an operational tool, an association for the promotion of the ‘Transition Factory’ at the service of all allies. It is this originality that made many organizations and networks, more or less competing each other in the ordinary course of events, participate and recognize themselves in the initiative of the ‘Factory’.
The open call by the Mayor and the ‘Transition Factory’ allies, is an illustration both of its capacity to federate energies, as well as of the convictions of the ‘Factory’ –a piecemeal and step-by-step work– and of the central role that territories are called upon to play in the path towards transition, which implies a change in the relations between levels of governance, particularly between State and the territories. The open call ends with a call to further broaden this alliance.
The diversity and number of signatories seems to be a good illustration of the echo that the Factory is receiving in the most diverse circles. In five days, nearly one hundred signatures were collected. But what is particularly important is the diversity of the milieus and networks that have recognized themselves in this initiative. These range from local elected representatives, such as the vice-president of the Centre Val de Loire Region, to representatives of State services. Above all, the signatories are the presidents or directors of more than thirty networks, each of whom generally act separately in their own field.
Some of them, such as UNADEL (the national union of local development actors), RTES (the network of social economy territories), SSE Lab, TEPOS (the Positive Energy Territories Network), CERDD (Resource Center for sustainable development in the Hauts de France), CITEGO (City Territories Governance), have contributed to give birth to the ‘Factory’, but many others have joined it, as diverse as OREE, the 27th region, Open Democracy, the Institute of Cooperative Territories, Territoires audacieux, the Campus of Transitions, the College of Societal Transitions of the Pays de Loire, Futuribles international, etc. These are names and networks that we are not used to be seeing speaking together. This seems to us to be the major added value, the originality of this forum; it reveals, even in our own eyes, that the time is ripe for a new impetus and a new recognition of the major role of territories in the path towards transition and the new atmosphere of cooperation around this issue.
This federative approach, the stakes of the transition itself and of territorial action, sound really inspiring.
2. A forum on « the world after »
The idea that the confinement due to the pandemic should be used to prepare the world afterwards, referring to the expression of the French Head of State himself, speaking of the necessary rupture, is widely shared. Ideas are flowing from all sides. I do not, of course, have an overall view of all these ideas in the air, but the general impression is that most of the proposals are the negatives of the current situation: economic globalization (often confused with the globalization of interdependence) versus the return to national economies and short supply chains; dominance of the markets versus the return to public services; growth versus degrowth; representative democracy versus deliberative democracy, etc….
Within the framework of the Charles Léopold Mayer Foundation for the Progress of Humankind, FPH, which I directed for thirty years, we launched an « art of peace » program in 1991. The main idea was precisely that peace was not the absence of war: thinking simply the other way round equals remaining in the same framework of reference!
The same is true of the « world after »; the other side of the current situation that is proposed in most case is based on the same framework of reference. Thus « degrowth » as a generic term seems to ignore the structuring role of work in the links to others, or withdrawal behind borders ignores the irreversible nature of our interdependence in a fragile biosphere whose benefits we must share and whose preservation we must assume responsibility for in an equitable manner.
Through our ‘art of peace’ program, we have acquired the conviction that peace-building is an art in itself and that the construction of a united response to the challenges of the 21st century presupposes new forms of dialogue at the international level. Thus, at the apogee of the Alliance for a Responsible and United World, the 2001 World Citizens’ Assembly enabled us to formulate a real « Agenda for the 21st Century » based on how to meet the four major global challenges. I am currently writing a series of four books, each devoted to one of these challenges. The first one, the « little treatise on oeconomy » was published in 2018. The second « metamorphoses of responsibility and social contract » is delayed by containment but will be in bookstores before the end of spring (prefaced by the French jurist Mireille Delmas Marty).
Launching a debate on the ‘world after’, starting not from the reverse side of the existing world, but from these global challenges, wouldn’t this be a way to invite everyone to open their hearts, minds and imaginations to new perspectives?
I hope that these two pathways for a debate will be of interest to the Alliance members and friends.