I had two opportunities to interact with intentional communities last month; one as an observer and one as a participant.
I am taking a second round of facilitation training for communities, this time with Laird Schaub, who originated the two-year program. (Regular readers may remember that I did seven sessions with Tree Bressen in 2006 and 2007.) We had our second weekend together, and I am totally hooked on the high of being with 18 other people who are just as passionate about facilitating in communities as I am. I am also really amazed at all of the community-oriented activities that are happening in Asheville, NC.
Over the course of this, I got to observe a cohousing meeting. They were discussing what they could do with a plot of garden to grow more of their own food. First we had them visualize the garden five years down the road. Then they spent a long time brainstorming, and we had two scribes noting everything down. They were a pretty savvy group, and ended up covering all of the bases that a permaculture consultant would have addressed. I know this because DH and I recently had permaculture consultants develop a plan for our yard.
As the brainstorming wore on, I found myself thinking "why don't they just hire an expert and be done with it?" Which is not like me, as I have a high tolerance for brainstorming-type of activities. But 45 minutes pushed even my limits. However, I thought about a basic principle of organizational communication that I learned years ago: participation = buy in. The ideas they generated were their ideas, not somebody else's, who was telling them what to do.
The next part of the meeting was very lively. Our scribes cut up all of the flip chart pages so that each idea was on its own strip. Then we spread them all out, face up, on the floor. In the next 14 minutes, the cohousers put them into clusters. They moved the strips around, looked at what they had done, discussed, argued, negotiated, and moved them again. Then the facilitator had them review each cluster one more time, and come up with a label for that cluster. This exercise is called "snow cards" or "blizzard" because all of the white pieces of paper blanket the floor or wall like snow.
Now the clusters were manageable, and the group figured out where they would start, and who would shepherd the process until they figured out exactly how it would continue. The whole thing took three hours, and they were very satisfied with the work they got done. And how much fun they had.
Meanwhile, I was at the back of the room scribbling notes about the structures the group had and processes they were using to make this kind of decision. Another principle of organizational communication is that structures influence behavior. However, most people don't think about this when they are frustrated with the way somebody is acting. They usually attribute it to a deficit in that person. So it can be very useful to look at the structures and processes, and make sure they are aligned with the organizations purpose, values, and assumptions.
What I have learned from Laird and Tree and Diana Leaf Christian is that there are some very specific recommendations they make for intentional communities, gleaned from their years of experience living in and facilitating them. And as they haven't published their books on this topic yet (ahem!) I am creating my own process maps. Ultimately I am hoping that we can create an open source library of these maps that communities use, so that they can diagnose problems and don't have to reinvent the wheel.
I'll talk about my other adventures next time.
PS. Happy New Year!