How Many Circles Does it Take to Make a Community?

Posted May 1, 2012 in Blog, Featured, Press hits, Resource

By Dave Pollard, “How to Save the World
March 27, 2012

Read the full blog post here.


What would happen if each of us were to call up, out of the blue, our immediate neighbours (whether we know them or not), invite them to a “block party”, and gauge whether there is sufficient interest among them to self-organize a Resilience Circle? This kind of “cellular organization” has worked well for others.

Then, instead of the primary role of Bowen in Transition being Island-wide awareness-building and member recruitment as it is now, it might evolve into a much simpler role of visiting on a rotating basis the 20 or 30 Resilience Circles on the Island, during their get-togethers, suggesting Transition-related activities to them  and sharing “success” stories between/among the different circles. If we could link and network, say, 25 Resilience Circles of a dozen people each, that would be 300 people in the Bowen in Transition network, instead of 40.

The question is whether such a network of circles could evolve into a true model “community”. That raises the question What exactly is a “community” anyway? If we mean it in the sense that we need to “build local community” to be able to take on additional responsibilities when local crises hit and central authorities are no longer able to respond, and to be able to collaborate and share and make decisions in our collective interest, and support each other, then I would say a community is a group of people (around 50 if Christopher is right) who collectively have these attributes:

  1. They know and care about each other, and help each other actively and voluntarily rather than out of a sense of obligation or contract.
  2. They collectively have the capacities to make a life together in a relatively independent, self-sufficient and self-managed way, and to support each other.
  3. They care about the same things. That may be shared values, or shared longer-term objectives, or may be just the result of being thrown together to cope with one or more shared crises.
  4. They live in a geographically contiguous area and have a shared sense of place and connection to the land. (I know this proviso will be controversial among “virtual community” fans, and I am not saying that virtual groups can’t do some of these things well, but they can’t do all of them, especially if the crises at hand take from us much of today’s taken-for-granted technology, which I think they will.)

So today 50 people in an area of 500 people could constitute a community, if it was not too far-flung. And then if and when we find ourselves in a world of multiple crises or total social collapse, these 500 people could re-form into ten communities of 50 people each, with 5 people in each of the new communities having already learned how to live in community, and hence able to show and teach the other 45. They would make natural community “federations” of 500 people, and these federations might, as with indigenous confederations, be granted responsibility and resources from the individual communities for doing certain things that are impractical for a group of only 50 to do.

How many circles, then, does it take to make a community? If a circle is 5-7, it would take 7-10. If a circle is 15 (as in the Resilient Circles model) it would only take 3-4. We can’t prescribe it — it needs to evolve to suit the needs and culture of the people and place, and will probably vary.

But I’m intrigued about the possibility of creating a viable, self-sustaining and intimate Resilience Community from neighbourhood cells up instead of from municipality down. And I’m intrigued about the idea of “Working Toward” Transition not by compiling a plan, but organically by developing commitment, compassion, capacities and a sense of urgency in small federated groups, and allowing their collective wisdom to percolate across, until, in our collective wisdom, we are ready for whatever we, and coming generations, must face in the years and decades ahead.

Read the full blog post here.