AVBP accepted an assignment to invent a rapid process to set up intentional communities.
An intentional community is a planned residential community designed to promote a much higher degree of social interaction than other communities. The members of an intentional community typically hold a common social, political or spiritual vision. They also share responsibilities and resources. Intentional communities include co-housing, residential land trusts, eco-villages, communes, kibbutzim, ashrams, and housing co-operatives.
Typically, new members of an intentional community are selected by the community’s existing membership, rather than by real-estate agents or land owners (if the land is not owned by the community). Though intentional communities do not claim to be utopias in the sense of perfect places, many do attempt to live a different and better sort of society, and as such many draw on historical utopian experiments or ideas in utopian fiction.
We are entering a new age. Although there have been many earlier warnings on the limits to our way of life, the signals are becoming more frequent and stronger. Within our lifetimes we are likely to see drastic effects of oil depletion, ecological deterioration and financial system collapse.
Where Business as Usual lets people down, the stronger the social cohesion, the better the chances of handling the crisis. We like to say that in the absence of financial capital, social capital will pull you through.
Yet the skills of creating social capital – being able to operate in a group as a group – are not common. The experience of intentional community start-ups is that members go through many personal development stages – joining a community is an exercise in personal growth.
So a platform is needed where individuals can come together to experiment in being part of an Intentional community.
In terms of rewarding relationships – the art of conversation and developing true loving relationships with others – we also recognise our culture of consuming popular entertainment and working alone have not provided us with the opportunity to develop deep, lasting, supportive relationships.
Two groups I am involved in to set up Intentional communities, one in Second Life and one in Real Life, have been going quite a while. The real life one has been going about a year. It is OK it’s taking time, we are learning, there is a lot of material to help that needs studying. However, we believe a lot of people get impatient with this, who would otherwise join an IC. There is a danger that the project simply runs out in the sand and there is no result.
Furthermore, as signs appear on the horizon to that we are entering a world changing for the worse, the sense of urgency will grow. It would be good to offer the possibility to people to join an IC fairly quickly.
First question: what is “quickly?” Well realistically, a study circle is ten meetings over ten weeks. We’ll take ten weeks as a maximum. Some courses, like weekend courses, stretch three weekends or six days of meetings. We can have that as a minimum. We are not looking to make it happen in an evening although I find that idea really appealing so I’d like to try that too.
The Quest: visit an advanced civilization that has methodologies in its culture for bringing people together to create IC. (Thinking about it, this skill seems to be missing or forgotten in our culture.) I want to come home with practical tools and ways to set up an IC rapidly – to achieve visible results to keep the initiative going.
I start in the departure area. I look up and admire the high glass roof. As soon as I sit down on a bench, the facilitator joins me. He wants a word
‘You finally understood this.’
‘Yes,’ I say, ‘this is a facilitation situation – a process that needs facilitation.’
‘Come on, lets take the train’ he says.
We go to the station and get a large cream coloured train with red stripes. We sit opposite each other.
‘Brief me’ I say,
‘It doesn’t work like that and you know it,’ he says.
‘Enjoy the journey, I’ll tell you when to get off.’
We enter a tunnel, come out the other side, and the train stops.
‘Come on, we are getting off,’ he says.
I recognize the place immediately; it’s the Center of Relocalization from earlier visits. The center is municipally- backed with the purpose to inform and assist inhabitants to switch to a more localized life style.
A meeting is going on. We enter and sit down. People are sitting in rows listening to a person up front giving a presentation.
I get the feeling they have been invited here because of Intentional Communities.
The presenter is asking people what they believe about the future and about the world situation. Of course, I personally believe communities need to relocalize. Someone is talking about the whys and wherefores of relocalization. And why you need to be a certain number of people.
This meeting is one of many that the Center of Relocalization holds regularly. I get the feeling that the center has simply put out an advertisement that they are holding the course, and had some explanatory texts on their web.
The presenter shows a diagram of the area and what needs to happen. People here seem to be on the same page. THAT something needs to happen is accepted. THAT it is better to do it with others is what is being discussed.
‘Is it right,’ I ask the facilitator, ‘that these people have been invited?’
‘This represents the first step for them – an information meeting. They will be asked to put their hand up if they want to go further.’ He says.
‘This guy is one of my best facilitators.’
The presentation ends. Seventy eight percent put their hands up and want to carry on. Each takes a card with contact details and instructions as to what to do next. They are walking away. The next step is to go to the pond. I stroll over with the facilitator – about 30 of us gather there. The rest leave. This is a chance for us to get to know each other. Coffee and sandwiches are served and we walk round introducing each other.
I mingle too. I notice a majority of guys – fewer women.
‘Hi,’ I say to one of the participants
‘How come you are here?’
‘Its obvious. I don’t want to be alone – so much happening in the world I want to be part of a group working on this problem.’
‘What do you do?’
‘I’m a panel beater. You?’
‘I work with facilitation – I’m with this facilitator.’
As I point out who I came with, the guy looks at the facilitator with some respect.
The facilitator is grabbing a megaphone and is in the process of taking charge.
‘We need to go to the next stage,’ he says. ‘We need to take the next step, which is talking about land – estate’. He walks over to a large billboard divided up into smaller squares.
He explains: ‘you have to buy it all – you each buy a share of the land – it is your share. You all work together to solve the situation’. And then the group allocates a house or plot of land for your use within the framework of rules.
The facilitator then points out that there are three areas ready for sale today in the municipality.
A representative then presents the land option in detail. They are really talk each one up; ‘this one is beautiful, this one has existing houses, this one is large….etc’
The facilitator explains: ‘If you DO want to form a group you have to choose one of these places’.
A discussion goes on – people walk around debating the alternatives. I ask the facilitator about the sequence here… why the group should acquire land early on in the process.
He replies that man is territorial – it is so much in the blood – we have to have a common object. It is difficult to form a group without a shared resource like a building or land.
They form “buzz” groups of three in each. I overhear ‘If we don’t have the houses already built we have to build everything from scratch. Another says, ‘I’d rather build the houses myself’. A third replies they could camp in the summer.
They switch groups, one remains, the two who move report from their previous groups. Then they switch again.
The general feeling is it doesn’t matter too much which of the areas are chosen – they trust the municipality – what is important is that they get started.
The facilitator stands everyone in a circle. He asks for a show of hands. It is between option one and two. He asks for people to present their thoughts on the advantages and disadvantages of each. A new round of voting takes place and they put their hand up but it is still fairly 50 -50.
One person comes with a suggestion: ‘Actually it doesn’t matter as long as we are agreement’. He proposes we go for number one and just do it. The facilitator asks is anyone is against the proposal. Two put their hands up and say why they are against it. But they are not swaying the rest so they are left with choosing to come anyway or leaving the group. One leaves, one stays.
The group has decided on the land, now they have to go and buy it.
I whisper to the facilitator, ‘surely this can’t be right – they can’t buy the land before they work out what they are going to do with it!’
‘Do shut up,’ says the facilitator in an unusually rude outburst, ‘this is OK!’
They go over to a table, the bank are offering a loan to them to buy their share.
I didn’t like it, but I see the group needs something concrete like land. They still have opt out clauses in the contracts and no money has changed hands so I suppose it doesn’t matter too much.
Now they are asked to go to the decision ring, which consists of a circle of stone stools. They are sitting in a circle.
The facilitator again.
‘Now you need to elect democratic representation. I will hand over the running of the group to you. ’
So what he is looking for is volunteers. The group needs a legal board to represent it. A chairman, a secretary, a treasurer and three or four others …deputies.
‘Who would like to put themselves forward or who would you like to suggest?’
The committee can choose their own chairman if they want to. Someone has been treasurer before and are happy to do it, so they volunteer. Someone has been on committee before, they step forward.
The facilitator takes care of the group decision to elect the committee. He points our that the committee is only for the set up period and a new one can be chosen later when the community is established.
For each candidate he asks if anyone is against and for their reasons.
It all goes fairly smoothly.
‘So,’ he says, ‘we finally have a formal organization. The minutes and complete set of documents to register the organization have been prepared by the facilitator’s organization. They are ready to be sent off to the authorities.
‘Time for a break again,’ says the facilitator. Group members walk around, discussing the place.
‘Impressive work,’ I say to the facilitator. ‘You haven’t seen anything yet,’ he replies.
He ushers the group round a large circular sandy area that looks like it may be a circular car parking space. He gets a stick and draws a large circle, which he divides into several sections.
Each of these sections has to do with setting up the community. He draws a heading in each section; housing, farming, water, social development, energy and recycling. This reminds me of the five stresses of Porena. I think to myself that of course the five stresses are addressed. He describes each of the areas then asks people to walk around and think about which aspects they would like to be involved in. They are to volunteer with their feet. They should think about their first and second choices.
He puts a number in the sections for how many are needed. Housing needs fifteen. People shuffle around some go from first to second choice.
Very quickly, all the numbers are made up.
The facilitator: ‘make sure you get to know each other, and choose one representative for your group’.
They stand in circles to choose their representative.
We have a committee and five representatives from each of the areas that need to be worked on.
The facilitator calls on us to walk up the hill towards a beautiful pavilion.
We will sit here just for five minutes. The idea here is to be silent, to still our thoughts and let everything catch you up.
I notice what a lovely day it is. I feel the sun shining on my face, and the breeze blowing in my hair. We all sit and close our eyes.
Just calming down, taking a break. It’s difficult to be silent as there are so many questions. I sneak at peak at the others who seem to be struggling as well. However, I suddenly feel the power of the group in the silence, Because we are all quiet together, because we are coming together and all have one purpose we can feel it.
The facilitator says; ‘look, we can’t go any further today – if we go too fast we will lose you.
A lot is happening you need to reflect on. However, until next time in your groups you need to complete a task. You have to dimension – quantify, each area for how much do you need of what and when. The group is made of 30, and can grow to 50 families. Those of you here who have partners at home should talk it through with them. Then there is the loan application, the bank will be contacting you.
The organization is formed, the land is allocated but not turned over to the group, everyone needs to talk it though with their spouses. And we will see you back here next week for the weekend course.
I go and thank the facilitator for showing me all this.
He says there is some worked involved in working it all out and shows me a manual, a compendium of possibilities of calculations, general experience of working with these groups before. There is a database of experience the compendium is taken from. And they follow how each group is doing.
The bank is essential. In this case the local municipality, who understood the importance of relocalization and forming communities, have engaged the bank to help. The municipality assigned the land and gave the bank the task of liaising with the facilitator group and the Center of Localization.
I borrow the facilitators eyes. One thing is that the moving around the group does is to get members thinking about estate together. I t helps them visualize what it will be like on their own land. And providing some basics like eating together is symbolic. Then there is the sitting down to make formal decision. Being silent together is something very powerful. In the silence the purpose can be felt. This is not religious.
I leave the facilitator’s eyes.
‘I’ll see you next time,’ he says.
I leave and get back on the train.
Things that surprised me
It is so obvious that the group needs to be agreed on the “what” of the gravity and urgency of the situation. The possibility that community is the answer to “how” is what needs to be got over.
Both the sand circle and the moments of silence were quite profound solutions.
That the local municipality and the bank had got together with the center and its facilitator group.
The need to actually speed ahead with the land allocation – I had never realized how important that is to people.
Learnings that struck me as significant
The facilitation structure helped the group to come together – first sitting together listening, then social mingle, then group decision, voting, consensus and then creating a formal organization and finally volunteering.
If you have the land it’s a lot easier to create the group – something inbuilt in humans.
In the silence is the purpose.
The need to go fast but not too fast – humans have the need to reflect.
- File/Database of knowledge
- Descriptions of land available
- Large presentation
- Sand circle
- Circle of decision, formal meeting place
- Contract to buy part of land
- Ready-to-complete documents of incorporation
Things I could use today.
I think in forming the intentional community I am working with just now, I will encourage them to get land as soon as possible. But also to consider all the opt out possibilities along the way.
The moment of silence… could be used in all groups.
The volunteer circle could be used at meetings in all volunteer situations.
Of course I asked to see a culture where ICs were common, I did not specify any conditions like in our world today. Especially, today there is no perception of urgency or gravity. I also like the idea that land is already available. How this could be applied to our situation today is something I would like to come back to, after the next follow-up sessions.