Newsletter No. 3 / October 2015

Welcome to the latest TESS Newsletter, with updates on recent research findings and dissemination activities. Learn more about TESS through our animated video and hear others’ perspectives through the TESS Talks. Enjoy reading, watching and listening!

Table of content


The TESS video

A quick animated guide to TESS, which shows how community-based transitions can contribute to societal change.


A framework to assess community impact

A growing body of research is exploring the role of community-based initiatives (CBIs) in the promotion of sustainable regional transitions. While existing research and policies acknowledge the relevant contribution of community activism in providing a soft, self-governed and bottom-up path towards sustainability, much of this work has a clear normative intent, is based on individual case studies and rarely provides a systematic assessment of their actual effects.

In order to fill this gap, TESS has developed a methodological framework for the standardised assessment of different dimensions of impact for CBIs.

An important initial step of research was to delimit and define the scope of the assessment, i.e. what a community-based initiative is. In this regard, the TESS project consortium agreed on including all those collective actions initiated and managed by communities in the assessment, i.e. any group of individuals – not necessarily located in proximity – who feel that they share something in common, be that a connection through interest, place, lifestyle, culture or practice, and self-organized in order to deliver some benefit to its members, to engage in socially innovative activities, and to reduce environmental impacts, by committing their time and/or sharing their resources and/or implementing projects which serve the community. These initiatives may have received public money but are not managed by public authorities; they may be not-for-profit as well as for profit; but their revenue-model should serve the community. According to this definition, and in order to face some methodological issues related to complexity of the wide range of possible outcomes of the CBIs, the unit of analysis for the comparative assessment is the initiative as an organizational unit, not the single participant to the initiative.

Subsequently, the TESS project provided an extensive review of the literature about the social, economic, political, environmental, and technological impacts of CBIs, in order to ground the definition of potential key variables, indicators and criteria for the assessment, and a methodology for the comparative assessment has been developed.

In order to operationalize the framework, an assessment data sheet (see figure) that includes a wide range of qualitative and quantitative information aimed at the estimation of a set of indicators has been elaborated. The data sheet has been used to design a survey aimed to collect standardised information among TESS case studies.


Considering the challenges of the research, the novelty of the adopted framework and methodology is in its proposition for a cross-sectional, cross-regional and multi-dimensional comparison of case studies. The assessment data sheet, in fact, not only provides the basis to uniformly estimate relevant indicators across the various domains for all TESS case studies, but can also provide a methodological and operational tool-kit for the monitoring, evaluation and assessment of others CBIs in Europe and beyond. The methodological framework as well the data assessment are described in detail in the report Assessment data sheets for community-based initiatives including the ecosystem services and green infrastructure (ES-GI) assessment toolkit which you can download here.


How community-based initiatives spread

TESS assesses the trajectories of community-based initiatives over time and how they spread in space, i.e., across communities and their members. The project examines the processes and conditions that favour the emergence of bottom-up initiatives, evaluates the societal, social, attitudinal, and behavioural transformation processes involved, and assesses the persistence of initiatives beyond the original project and potential spin-off projects for different sectors and domains. We also assess the limiting factors and constraints for initiatives’ institutionalisation and up-scaling, including factors at various scales. Last, we analyse how institutional arrangements and change influence socio-technical systems aiming at transition, while enhancing prosperity and wellbeing. This part of the TESS research pays particular attention to the extent to which initiatives contribute to social and environmental equity and the constraints they face to be more environmentally just.

Currently partners are analyzing the collected data (see article below) around the five most salient themes that emerged from an initial data exploration and from internal team discussions.

  • The first theme is the evolution, trajectory, and growth of community initiatives and the factors that contribute to their persistence over time and space.
  • The second theme is related to the way in which initiatives address diverging aspirations and rationalities among CBIs’ members – which could be constraints for their institutionalization and survival.
  • The third theme is linked to the way in which initiatives build – or not – relationships with governments and position themselves as new – at times autonomous – actors in the overall governance of transitions.
  • The fourth theme examines the extent to which intended/unintended or invisible/visible exclusionary patterns (such as power structures, hierarchies, discourses, dilemmas and imaginaries) constrain CBIs’ ability to engage with and benefit a diverse range of people and be truly transformational in their societal impact.
  • The last theme addresses initiatives’ relationships with money and funding, most specifically the way in which initiatives decide to build and use alternative funding schemes, work outside mainstream market mechanisms, and creatively use sources of external funding.

This analysis will lead to the write-up of analytical memos in November 2015. We then expect to produce some final reports that bring all the cases back together.

More information on the methodological background and the questionnaire can be found in the report Data collection database for success factors and constraints which you can download here.


Community interviews completed

The interviews with community-based initiatives (CBIs) for the collection of qualitative and quantitative data for further analysis were concluded in early summer 2015.

The CBIs to be interviewed were identified in the first phase of the TESS project (for further information see Inventory database of community-based initiatives and selected case studies) and include 14 key case initiatives and 47 supportive case initiatives.

Two types of interviews were performed:

  1. For the evaluation of the environmental, social, economic and political impact of CBIs as well as the greenhouse gas accounting TESS partners interviewed 61 community-based initiatives (CBIs) for gathering standardised information that was transferred to a standardised data assessment sheet (see article on methodological framework above). It forms the foundation for the evaluation of the various areas of impact of CBIs by qualitative/quantitative analysis, in particular for case studies integration and multi-criteria analysis, which will allow a detailed comparison between initiatives, typologies of initiatives and study regions.The data gathering took place on the basis of one questionnaire divided in two parts: a general questionnaire (covering over 100 questions) addressing the wider social, political, technological and economic dimension of the CBIs as well as on their internal processes and aims. This questionnaire focused on basic information (e.g. contact person, type of organization), composition (e.g. founders, members), users (e.g. beneficiaries of activities and benefits), activities (e.g. face-to-face interactions, engagement in local community), internal organisation (e.g. decision making process, participation), external networking (e.g. networking with other CBIs or political actors), political mobilization (e.g. involvement into political activities), innovative effort (e.g. innovative efforts, new goods or services created), skills (e.g. professional and technical skills of active members), benefits (e.g. goods or services the CBI creates, savings of users), finances (monetary budget, costs). More questions (app. 30 questions and data tables to be filled in) addressed the environmental dimension, including GHG accounting, ecosystem services, biodiversity and green infrastructure. The questionnaires were translated into the native languages of the TESS partners and were filled during several interviews with the key and supportive TESS CBIs. In total 200 hours of interviews were generated.
  1. For the analysis of trajectories of CBIs in order to assess the factors behind the emergence, institutionalization, and replication of initiatives and behind their broader – perceived or resulted – social and environmental impact (see article before) TESS partners conducted interviews with individuals associated with 14 CBIs and with important stakeholders around them, as well as field visits and participant observation. Overall, we obtained a total of 116 interviews, ranging in general from 45 minutes to 3 hours for a total of 147 hours of interviews. Researchers from TESS partners also attended community events, initiatives’ regular meetings, celebrations, or work days, and at times volunteered in some of the initiatives’ activities. There were a total of 46 side meetings conducted among all partners, for a total of 144 hours.

The 61 interviewed CBIs are active in a variety of countries (Finland, Germany, Italy, Romania, Spain and the UK) and domains  (food, transport, energy and waste). This means that the activity of TESS case studies can vary from food production (e.g. community gardens), to food distribution (e.g. solidarity purchase groups), from recycling, to cohousing, bike/car-sharing, community energy, etc.


First findings on TESS Case Studies

A preliminary data analysis of the interviews (see previous article) with the more than 60 community-based initiatives (CBIs) covers the following areas:

  • the CBIs’ enrolment process;
  • the CBIs’ member characteristics (age, sex, belonging to categories at risk of social exclusion);
  • the CBIs’ legal forms and longevity;
  • the CBIs’ participation in political activities;
  • the CBIs’ capacity to innovate and main innovative outputs;
  • the skills perceived as needed for running a CBI;
  • the CBIs’ motivation and audience for greenhouse gas accounting;
  • the CBIs’ perceived impacts on Ecosystem Services and Green Infrastructures.

The preliminary results are based on parts of the sample, so they will be further analysed when the complete data sheet is available.

First findings are:

  • Considering how CBIs regulate their membership, it emerges that 3% of the respondents charge a membership fee to adhere to their initiative, and that 60% have a formal enrollment procedure.
  • The number of participants in a CBI is between 10 and 50, which is relevant to understand the optimum size for successful operation of community-based initiatives.
  • Another interesting statistic is that the majority of the interviewed initiatives have begun their activities in the last 15 years, 44% of them in the first decade of the current century, and one third in the last five years.
  • Considering then the initiatives’ involvement in political activities, it emerges that 65% of the initiatives are not involved in political activities, even if 40% of them underlined that their core targets are political in their essence, and initiatives’ members are not able to take on specific commitments mostly due to lack of time, while they often pursue political goals through other channels.
  • Most CBIs appear to be innovative in some terms: 73% declared to have introduced a service, product or process which was new within the local context and which provided to the local communities real and needed opportunities for improving the quality and quantity of accessible goods or services.
  • Going through some qualitative details about the kind of innovation that the interviewed initiatives are able to provide, food and energy are the two main domains in which they are engaged.
  • Interesting data emerged about the main marketable goods or services offered by the initiatives: four out of 44 initiatives answered that this question was not applicable to their activities, because the concept of “marketable” does not correspond to the way in which they manage the goods and services flows. Answering that question was often not easy also for the other 40 initiatives, and one of the main qualitative findings to emerge from this part of the questionnaire is that most of the CBIs are not calculating the economic value of their activities and opt for a non-market, share-based model of consumption.
  • Lastly, among the most relevant skills required to run the activities, one out of five belongs to the “Technical skills relevant to the CBIs goals” category, which means that many of the interviewed organisations tackle very specific issues, requiring proper expertise. The second most cited skills were management and financial ones.

The first findings as well as a selection of illustrative case studies can be found in the report Knowledge base of the TESS case study initiatives which you can download here.


TESS Talks

In the TESS talks policy makers, researchers and activists give their personal views about the big-picture economic importance of community-led initiatives, their role in filling the democracy gap and the realities of day to day management. Five interviews were carried out with Bill Slee, Tom Henfrey, Wladislaw Senn, Wendy Price and Ottmar Edenhofer. They were conducted alongside the keynote talks, lightning pitches and poetry of the TESS unconference, organised in Edinburgh end of May 2015.

One example is the interview with Wendy Price from Transition Black Isle. She talks about what her initiative has achieved, what it needs and her motivations for attending the TESS event in Edinburgh.

Watch all the other TESS Talks in the Resources section.