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Are We There Yet?

Updated: Jan 31, 2023

Remember that road trip when your dad wouldn’t ask anyone for directions? And everyone knew you were lost? Like, you’d been going around in circles and he refused to admit it? He just went sort of quiet?

Sometimes cohousing feels like that.

Only dad’s not driving. You are. And you’re not sure who to ask.

So where are we?

Well, over the summer Vivian led about half of our group through a series of workshops on sociocracy—the governance system we’ve adopted as our decision-making process—and it’s been revelatory. Sociocracy begins with the proposition that old-fashioned democracy and even consensus share a fatal flaw: there’s always a chance that some participants will feel hard done by when the final decision is made. They’re apt to feel as if the process somehow moved on in spite of their objections. This is not an uncommon feeling in all organizations, large and small. Just ask the 48 percent of British voters who opposed Brexit. (They’re still pissed off.) As for consensus, the process can be interminable, and still there’s no guarantee that everyone’s happy in the end.

Sociocracy ensures that every voice is heard. And if the outcome is contentious it can be made conditional: “Good enough for now, safe enough to try.” And then revisited. The workshops, set up by the organization Sociocracy for All—check out their website—generated enthusiasm from everyone who participated. We may do another series of workshops in the fall.

So we have a decision-making process. We’ve also been looking at the decisions that have to be made.

Decisions about how to recruit new members and bring them on board. Decisions about money, how it’s raised and how it’s spent. Decisions about how we communicate, within the group and with the world at large. Decisions about what exactly we want to build and the facilities we want to share. Technical decisions about how to incorporate and what form incorporation should take. It’s understood that these decisions have to be delegated and, given our governance process, circles (committees) have been set up to figure out what to do. When they’ve done their research and thought through the options, it’s up to the circles to bring their proposals to the group as a whole.

Sound simple? Well, yes and no.

It has taken us eighteen months to get where we are now. We have circles dedicated to addressing all the issues listed above. And some circles have done a prodigious amount of work. We have made progress in a number of areas and we’re working our way toward achieving more. We’re refining the aims and domains of each circle and the process that will propel them to do the research, think through the options, and bring their proposals to the group as a whole. It’s not nothing. The journey is underway.

Except that I haven’t mentioned community-building. Which, in a way, is the point of it all.

We were talking about this at the Process Steering meeting on Friday morning. Wendy said the occasions that have worked best as community-building exercises have been the excursions, the one some of our group (as it was then constituted) took to Ecovillage. And the other one, to the three connected cohousing groups in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The visioning workshop in Guelph was effective too. But as a matter of routine, week in and week out, there hasn’t been a lot that brings the group together as friends.

Community Life—there’s a circle for community-building too—still has work to do.

We’ve taken on a challenging project. We’re bringing together people who have no shared history. We come from different places, different backgrounds, different jobs. All we have in common is a vision of what life could be like if certain conditions were met—and even those conditions have been defined only in general terms. Sometimes I think that buying land and getting houses built will be the easy part. But in my heart I know that part will be challenging too.

Remember when you asked your dad if you were there yet, and you were still on the street where you live? Like you’d hardly even started?

Sometimes cohousing feels like that.


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