Sunflowervillager's Blog

Growing into community

Simplify! Flow charts help! Find the Milestones! October 22, 2017

Over the last month, I’ve made real progress on the business plan with support from the board, my advisor, and an architect! This post is primarily on what I have been learning through the process of developing the business plan. The short short version is: Simplify! Consult the experts. Flow-charts (even miniature ones) help table conundrums, and figure out your project Phases & Milestones!

Simplify!

The conversation started with Market Research. I had been focusing on the intentional community movement and how Sunflower Village is different from other communities. My advisor helped me realize that this section needs to be much more powerful, and I can do that by clarifying what are markets are and who our competitors are in those markets. With the help of the board, I realized that our main markets are housing, tiny house placement, and intentional community. Housing, especially affordable housing is a major issue in Southern Vermont. People with tiny houses are looking for places to put them, and people want their lifestyle to deeply incorporate community. My advisor also pointed out that focusing on the term “intentional community” may not be helping us. We draw on audiences who may not be familiar with the intentional communities movement, and they do not need to be in order to appreciate the benefits of Sunflower Village. I still include it in the marketing section as people with an interest in cohousing and intentional communities may find what they are looking for in Sunflower Village, but we need to avoid having language that feels exclusive.

My advisor also suggested removing much of the philosophical language and putting it in a “Paper Basket” or aPhilosophy document. I am finding this helpful as I kept feeling like I had to explain the why for everything. I think this is a useful thing to have available, but I want the Business Plan to be focused on the logistics of how Sunflower Village will work, not arguing why they should be that way. Shortly after this discussion, I went on a weekend retreat with my extended spiritual community. I came home with a fresh perspective on building community and some of the core principles of Sunflower Village. Combined with the discussions with my advisor, I realized that I needed to drastically simplify my approach in other ways too. I saw that the Triad approach to governance is ridiculous for a very small group, which Sunflower Village will be at the beginning. Essentially I came back (again!) to David Grant’s point about the life cycle of organizations. I need to figure out how Sunflower Village will work for each phase if I am going to give prospective Villagers and investors any meaningful understanding of what I am asking them to be involved in.

I also saw that the idea of having each board member be a key person for the different components of the buisness plan was not effective, as some members were waiting for clarification on earlier pieces before they could make any significant progress. At our October Board Meeting, I proposed that, once I pulled out some of the philosophy parts and work on developing phases, we can go through the sections together, using Google Docs collaboration tools to edit, comment, and make suggestions as a conversation between us.

Consult the experts

On Monday, I had a great meeting with Aviva. She is a friend of mine and an architect who has worked on developing cohousing communities. We talked for three hours on dinner about planning for common houses, community social dynamics, the importance of site plans, least expensive ways to place tiny houses in keeping with building code, and a little bit about kibbutz. Overall, my conversation with her was full of key insights and useful reminders, including components I had researched some years ago.  For example, Aviva reminded me that existing land trusts can be useful not only in obtaining land, but in doing some of the ground work research, negotiating with towns, and finding funding. It was an inspiring conversation, and it bounced around my mind throughout the week.

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The Common House Conundrum.

I got stuck yesterday. Blocking out Phase one was easy for me, but as I tried to dig into the rest of them, I was having a hard time figuring out what would happen when between the beginning five years of Sunflower Village and the ideal Sunflower Village I imagine. I knew there was a lot to do and grow between those places, but I struggled to break it down. I found that a contingency was holding me back: the land. What kind of property will Sunflower Village look for? Undeveloped property open to shape according to our needs, or a place with a building? Aviva had pointed out to me that cohousing communities have to decide whether to build a Common House from the beginning or later. If they build it later and focus on individual dwellings, they often do not have the funds or plans for it later. She also said that it is generally harder to try to fit an already existing building to the needs of a community and can require remodeling which can ultimately be just as big a project as building a Common House. I liked the idea of finding an existing property because it will already have space and utilities, offering the opportunity for people to live there while they construct tiny houses. I basically created a little flow chart for myself on the issue, and that let me refocus on developing the phases.

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Phases & Milestones

One of the great questions Aviva had for me was “How will you know when it’s time to transition to the Triad?” That was a great thing for her to ask me! This question helped me when I was feeling stuck in making progress on developing the phases of Sunflower Village yesterday. It reminded me of some of the tools from my Outcomes and Evaluations class at Marlboro. In particular, I needed to incorporate Results-Based Accountability. This tool was developed as a way to help organizations with social missions measure their impact, and I love its directness. It asks people to answer three questions:

  1. What did we do?
  2. How well did we do it?
  3. Is anyone better off?

I developed a variation of this in future tense to help me think:

  1. What are we doing?
  2. How will it show that we are doing it well?
  3. How will we know if Villagers are better off?

Using these questions to inspire my thinking, I dug into the social & economic components, and finally got a flow going. I now have a draft of  three phases that includes for land, governance, social, and economic  milestones. I believe that having these phases outlined will clarify the whole business plan! I certainly feel a lot more clear!

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Back to Big Big Dreams February 27, 2012

Filed under: existing communities,redetermination — Saera @ 7:45 pm

So it’s my fourth month at my new job. I’m getting better at the job, which is good. I really am grateful to have it during these tough economic times, but I also long to do things which are more fulfilling and make a bigger difference in the world. Fortunately, I’ve started to have more energy after work and on my days off, so I am trying to get going on projects again, namely the Sunflower Village Initiative. This is the most important thing to me, it continues to be what I want to do with my life. I still feel like I spin around in some of the same circles with it. Increasingly I recognize this as my own need to change and grow. I have to deepen my commitment and persistence. I need to take action much more consistently. I need to nurture relationships with people who are doing what I want to do. I want to develop humility but also make sure that I am finding opportunities to incorporate myself into the movers and shakers of this movement. Recently I’ve been encouraged by some news about how solar, wind, and other energy endeavors are making substantial progress. I guess I feel like there are a lot of people in the world doing and working on what I want to be doing and working on, but I’m not really in that realm. I’m not going to quit my job for now. Daniel really does need to go back to school and have that opportunity to get his own education. But I want to work more on my days off on making this happen. Right now the main thing I’ve decided is that I need to take some advice I’ve recieved from a lot of people over the years: go check out existing and forming intentional communities. I’m finally not limited by school work or not having a car. All that’s standing between this and me is my own laziness and lack of focus. I’m aiming to change that. Started working on a database today, prioritizing intentional communities nearby. Once I have a list, I’m going to start making plans to visit, and invite others to join me. I’m hoping for a multiplicity of effects: 1) Get ethnographic observations that will serve as examples 2) Increase my involvement in the community of W. Mass in the realms of intentional communities, sustainable agriculture and economy, and hopefully solidarity with less privileged groups/communities, 3) Increase the bond between myself and people I might potentially create a community with, and let them see other intentional communities first hand. I’m hoping that this last one in particular might lend itself to encouraging us to find out how we want to follow up on this dream, individually and collectively.

 

Conceptions of Intentional Communities July 18, 2011

Filed under: community structure,existing communities,values — Saera @ 11:30 pm

Just had a great conversation with K.R. about intentional communities (IC). We talked about what we think one is, how I came to realize that this was my big interest, and the place where she is about to be interning/living, which some define as an intentional community and others don’t. Apparently there are those who really want it to be an IC and then there are a few, more powerful people, who seem to be mainly interested in the space for running programs. This is the sort of thing that makes me wish SVI was all ready to go, because it shows me that my work really is needed.

I’m thankful to L.O. for the time she took to read over what I have of the founding docs so far. Her editing is always so helpful. So I’m polishing away at that.

I’m about halfway through Walden Two. So far my favorite parts are the section on how work is managed and the part on how children are taught to deal with obstacles. The part on work management is very interesting because it is one of the aspects of the book that comes across very clearly in the way that the Twin Oaks community was able to actualize the concepts of Planners, Managers, and work-credits. Of course many ICs have developed some kind of labor system, but Twin Oaks has long been my favorite example. Although I disagree with some parts of the system of child-raising in the book, I do appreciate how there is an effort to teach children how to deal with obstacles as a growing opportunity rather than a frustration, annoyance, or cause for jealousy. Overall, I think the book is interesting and definitely has some valuable thoughts. However I also see it as strongly influenced by being written in the period immediately after WWII, when science, the scientific method, and scientific approaches were supposed to solve so many of our problems. In some ways, Skinner (the author) seems to try too hard to make Walden Two an absolutely “scientifically” run community. While there is value in the ways science has allowed for the improvement of life, it is not a virtue in itself, but a tool or an asset. The most important values for a community lie elsewhere. Although Skinner has alluded to some of them, so far he has not been explicit.

 

Walden Two and Founding Documents July 15, 2011

Filed under: community structure,existing communities — Saera @ 9:21 pm

I picked up Walden Two by B.F. Skinner again the other day. When I started reading it, I only got a little past the introduction, but I have more appreciation for it right now. The existing community which I most admire, Twin Oaks, used this book as inspiration when it got started, and I am curious to see what I think. So far I don’t have any major objections to the material although I’m not sure how much of it I would personally prioritize in a community.

Over the course of this past week, I have also been working on developing some founding documents for the Sunflower Village Initiative. Some of it is derived from posts here and from some other writings. I am working on a piece to explain the essence of what this Initiative is, and I am also working on some By-laws. I have also been thinking about what a really effective board will be like.

 

Another MA IC January 6, 2011

Filed under: existing communities — Saera @ 9:06 am

Note to self: Look at this Community in MA more. http://www.mosaic-commons.org/

 

Sirius. Huh. Thought I posted this last fall, guess not. June 15, 2010

Filed under: existing communities,Sirius — Saera @ 6:31 am
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On Sunday afternoon late this summer, I went to  Sirius, a well-established community in North Amherst. I was only there a short time, but I got to see a few of the buildings. We spent most of the time at the main building, which, in addition to apartments, holds a huge kitchen, a large dining and living space, and the most beautiful community space I have seen yet. The building was built by Sirius members and friends. The walls are white, with the supporting wood beams showing. On the outside of the dining area is a very large greenhouse, which contains the largest rosemary bush I have ever seen, basil, tomatoes, and some other plants with which I am less familiar.

More on this another time.

 

“Visions of Utopia” documentaries on intentional communities around US December 3, 2009

Filed under: economy,existing communities,geography — Saera @ 10:27 pm

Watching  the “Visions of Utopia” DVDs is an educational and inspiring experience for anyone interested in intentional community and sustainable social movements. One of the things that I found most eye opening was the incredible diversity of intentional community styles. While I knew from reading and study that intentional communities could be very diverse, it was quite a different experience to hear about the development of the communities, to witness some of the physical culture of the communities, and to hear the perspectives and experiences of a variety of community members. A special treat for me was the inclusion of Twin Oaks. I first encountered Twin Oaks while researching sustainable living and intentional communities at the Boston Public Library. I discovered Twin Oaks, a Walden Two Experiment, which is an accounting of the first five years of the Twin Oaks community. I was very inspired by the history and practices I found. Later, I was delighted to discover that the community still exists, now with a membership of 85 adults and 15 children. I have occasionally visited the Twin Oaks website. To see the place and some of its inhabitants in the “Visions of Utopia” documentary was very exciting. In watching the videos, I came to better appreciate the cohousing model. Still, I am most excited about the intentional communities which have a sustainability focus, particularly those which incorporate gardening and other sustainable, self-sufficiency supporting practices. I thought it was interesting that in some communities, founding members were initially primarily interested in the practicality of sharing material resources, but found that one of the most important resources were social, revolving around the deep emotional bonds that formed from sharing high proportions of activities and people’s lives. The multi-generational aspect of all the intentional communities portrayed is an important indicator that this kind of approach to living is something that does not just function for people in any one age group. I am glad that the documentary allowed space for children and young people to talk about their experiences growing up or living in these intentional communities. It demonstrated their appreciation for this lifestyle. All the children appeared healthy and happy, and those who were interviewed had glowing, healthy countenances, and spoke clearly and intelligently. They seemed to share an appreciation for access to many different adults and for the diversity that surrounded them. Parents valued the sense that children were safe in the community, even if they did not watch them every moment. Many people also commented on the value of sharing responsibility for raising children. Some communities do have a low proportions of youth, but they are generally aware of this and taking steps to enable the intentional community to pass to following generations.