Back in June, 2011, Transition Town Worthing ran its first World Cafe event.

The purpose was to work on the detail already collected in Worthing’s Transition Timeline, and with input from the local community, start building content and firming up ideas. The Transition Handbook refers to this process as ‘backcasting’. In other words, you start off with a vision of what you’d like things to be like, then take several steps back and work out what actually needs to happen to make that vision a reality.

This all sounded great at the planning stage. Book a venue, organise a lovely cafe atmosphere conducive to enabling discussion, set up tables/people to ‘host’ discussion based on a variety of topics for the EDAP (e.g. energy, transport, food, local economy, wellbeing, re-skilling, waste, and so on), and work out a structure for the 3 hours of the event.

Well. it all sort of worked. We had the cafe with loads of homemade cakes and fairtrade beverages. We even got TTW members turning up to the event, eager to take part. I even took along my 1979 edition of the Usborne Book of the Future for an introduction to thinking about the future, and how it’s often a hit and miss affair . . .

Where we diverged from the ‘vision’ for the event was the backcasting, because getting people to focus on what was already on the timeline and work with that rather than come up with a swathe of new ideas was what happened. So we need to rethink how we approach this sort of EDAP event in the future . . . World Cafe principles worked well. We had separate tables on food, energy, local economy, reskilling, green spaces, housing, transport and waste. Each was chaired by a TTW person with some background in that theme.

It also made me think that backcasting is crucial because it brings work on the EDAP back to the present, and things that are happening now. For TTW this means the Angmering CSA, food mapping, community gardens and woodland, as well as our reskilling and heart & soul activities. Without that anchor to the present, transition towns are at risk of being seen as ‘all about the future’ or ‘dreamers’.

Getting people into the right frame of mind to develop their vision of the future is an art in itself. The work of TTW’s Steering Group over the coming months is going to be focused on the EDAP, with backcasting as a priority. We will clearly need to get external input on most of the themes, but need to have a blueprint in place first.

Hmmm. I’m going to vision my lunch now, and backcast to work out how to make it happen!