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We have just formed a Co-housing group, here in Findhorn, called East Whins.   We would like to set it up with a Sociocracy governance model as our basic structure, but I am finding it difficult to see how we can do that because of the complexity of the group. And so, I am asking as many as I can to see if I/we can get any clearer.

How can we apply a sociocratic governance structure into our particular setting.  How do we structure ourselves in a simple and effective structure in order to be a successful cohousing group that caters for the needs of us as a resident group as well as owners.
I would appreciate any thoughts on this anyone may have.

My understanding of how we are is as follows:

 

  • Co-housing of 25 proprietors who own private property, 24 own houses/flats and 1 non-resident owns a pottery studio, as well as share in the costs of common facilities such as laundry, common room and gardens.  These proprietors make up the members of the only just formed legal entity, the Residents Association (RA).  If a couple share ownership, they are allocated only one vote. We were legally obliged by contract to set up n RA  a corresponding RA committee from the "proprietors".
  • However, there are about 34 residents. Some houses/flats have single people, others have a couple or a small family. Most are owner occupiers, but some are rentees (of which some are likely to be short term and others very long term).  In addition, some houses/flats have shared equity ownership (the resident owns a part share and Park Ecovillage Trust own the remaining majority share). Park Ecovillage Trust also own two flats that are rented out as affordable homes.
  • We have only just formed a Resident's Association (RA), by creating a RA committee, and this was done because of legal need. Not all houses have been completed yet so not everyone has moved in.    There are a number of working groups (eg. the laundry group who volunteer to look after the laundry, the Common Room group who look after the Common Room and so on). This includes our group, the Governance group, who are tasked with comming up with a proposal for our constitution and structure (and decision making procedures).

The question for me is: How do we set up a structure for the Residents Association (RA) that includes takes into account the mix here?

Do we need an RA and another group or can it all be within the one RA. How do we decide who has consent or who can be in which circle.  What kind of circles do we make and how do we best link them in order of abstract to concrete (hierarchy). When do we have issues and decisions brought to the whole group of residents or the whole group of owners or both?  What issues do owners have consent in and what do the residents and what do both? Do couples and families all have consent or are there times we limit it to one per household/property   etc. etc.  It feels rather messy at the moment and already there has been some conflict about whether non-committee members attending the committee meeting should be allowed to vote.

Any thoughts?

Cheers, Martin

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 Hi Martin, sharing some of my thoughts on your situation - indented paragraphs

You may also wish to contact Bridport Cohousing in Dorset. They’ve created Sociocratic Articles, and have constituted themselves as an Industrial and Provident Society, Limited by Guarantee as I recall.

“Co-housing of 25 proprietors who own private property, 24 own houses/flats and 1 non-resident owns a pottery studio, as well as share in the costs of common facilities such as laundry, common room and gardens.  These proprietors make up the members of the only just formed legal entity, the Residents Association (RA).  If a couple share ownership, they are allocated only one vote.”

  • If you were to constitute yourselves Sociocratically, then there would be no reason that all residents couldn’t have consent rights as it would remove any perceived potential for supremacy from the shoulders of individuals and onto the argument. (more on this later)

“We were legally obliged by contract to set up n RA  a corresponding RA committee from the "proprietors". “

  • Do the 25 proprietors include the renters (1 share per property) and the shared equity owners (1 share per property/)? Are you legally obliged that it be one vote per household?

“However, there are about 34 residents. Some houses/flats have single people, others have a couple or a small family. Most are owner occupiers, but some are rentees (of which some are likely to be short term and others very long term).  In addition, some houses/flats have shared equity ownership (the resident owns a part share and Park Ecovillage Trust own the remaining majority share). Park Ecovillage Trust also own two flats that are rented out as affordable homes.

We have only just formed a Resident's Association (RA), by creating a RA committee, and this was done because of legal need. Not all houses have been completed yet so not everyone has moved in.    There are a number of working groups (eg. the laundry group who volunteer to look after the laundry, the Common Room group who look after the Common Room and so on). This includes our group, the Governance group, who are tasked with comming up with a proposal for our constitution and structure (and decision making procedures).”

so you haven’t yet formalised your legal structure? – this leaves you a lot of scope to create What determined that you allocate one vote per household re the RA?

“The question for me is: How do we set up a structure for the Residents Association (RA) that includes takes into account the mix here?”

“Do we need an RA and another group or can it all be within the one RA.”

  • It’s probably valuable to consider both/and.  You’ll need to determine the parameters of influence of the RA. These are likely already obvious, by way of limitations defined by things such as - legal rights of owners, the contractual terms with Park Ecovillage Trust, planning limitations etc.
  • All matters regarding ownership issues that are outside of the domain of influence of the residents could be dealt with by an owners circle. This would be double linked to the RA. The owners circle would develop and review policies that safeguard the interests of owners in response to changes in the environment, whilst ensuring a route for objection (inflow of wisdom from the wider system) from other residents, via the RA representative. See also, article on Full Circle meetings – http://sociocracy.info - this may be useful for you in considering your structure

“How do we decide who has consent or who can be in which circle.”

  • Legally it will obviously depend on how you constitute yourselves. Probably you would choose for it to be stated in your constitution that all residents (perhaps 18+) have the right to consent within the predetermined (and consented to) domains of influence – unless there are preordained reasons that you cannot do this in your situation. Note - you may wish to consider strategies to ensure that new members are adequately trained in the principles of Sociocracy before they have full consent rights. (This can be slightly tricky in mixed tenure cohousing, here in England at least, because of limitations on your ability to choose exactly who moves in and when. Waiting lists can be useful, in that people can receive training whilst waiting) If it’s one ‘vote’ per household and your constitution isn’t written in a way that defines you as a Sociocratically governed group, you can still vote to implement policy to use Sociocracy as your decision making and governance method, You’ll just need to formalise policies via your constituted protocols.  In actuality, provided that residents meet their obligation to honour the consent process in decision making, then even if formally you have to gain consensus or majority vote to approve a policy (have you determined this already?) this can be preceded by the standard Sociocratic process for policy shaping, proposal forming and decision making. The final vote then is simply a legal formality.
  • The consent process has safeguards built in. So for example, take a scenario where a couple within a household are in disagreement on a proposal, their arguments can be taken into account during the decision making process within the RA and used to shape policy. You’ll end up with a policy that has evolved to integrate all reasoned objections, despite the one vote per household rule.  

“What kind of circles do we make and how do we best link them in order of abstract to concrete (hierarchy).”

  • Keep it simple. You’ll obviously have the RA and possibly then with an owners circle as a sub circle of this. A top circle which would be double linked with and in service to the RA, the top circle would include a rep from the Ecovillage and other outside orgs / experts.  The RA may well decide to delegate some proportion of its business to a general circle, comprising of Operations leaders and reps for operational circles. Keep operations circles that are double linked to the general circle to a minimum. These few operations circles can always create their own sub circles (even if some of these only actually have one person – defined then as a support role rather than an actual circle)  Bear in mind that unless a circle deals with operations then it needn’t have an OL. Therefore a top circle may not need an OL, nor may the RA.

“When do we have issues and decisions brought to the whole group of residents or the whole group of owners or both?”

  •   This is really for you to determine on a case by case basis. It will be largely influenced by how you all create policy around this and over time you’ll get clearer, based upon your unfolding experiences together. Because all residents are in effect the customer, you need to ensure equivalence and transparency throughout all decision making. You will probably benefit from determining in which specific instances you would like all to come together to decide policy. If you have Sociocracy in place and as people come to appreciate how it ensures equivalence and insists on transparency, you’ll likely wish to make the most of the potential for effectiveness and will thus delegate as much of the decision making as possible to circles other than the RA.

“What issues do owners have consent in and what do the residents and what do both?”

  • Again, look to the predetermining factors regarding ownership. An analogy may be say a wholefoods workers cooperative, where the building and land is owned by a small number of members under a separate holding company. There would be clear contractual agreements (consent) in place regarding lease and terms. Obviously the non-owner workers could not make policy decisions that exceeded the contractual terms, without the consent of the holding company. Equally, the contract would define the limitations of power to influence by the holding company and they then would be required to honour their side of the contract, with changes only being possible with consent of the cooperative. In this example the lease may be finite. In the case of your cohousing, this may be without end. What’s important is that the boundaries are clear. Ideally this is the case from the beginning so that you all start out consenting to these boundaries as a prerequisite to living there. Otherwise, it can be done in hindsight, with the recommendation to get this clear as soon as feasibly possible.  

“Do couples and families all have consent or are there times we limit it to one per household/property” 

  • I’m wondering what policy decision may benefit from limiting to ‘one per household’. Do you have a specific example in mind? It’s my opinion that its preferable that all residents (trained in the principles of Sociocratic Decision Making) have consent rights – simply because you’ll benefit from ensuring the widest number of routes for reasoned and paramount objections to emerge – as reasoned objections are celebrated equally as much as consent is celebrated! This said, it may depend on the situation – as suggested previously, over time, delegate as much decision making as possible to other circles throughout the structure. If there’s some legal reason why on paper it has to be one per household then I’d suggest that individual households could and would anyway work together to establish any argued and paramount objects to pending policy decisions – thus it probably doesn’t make much difference to the final outcome, only that a ‘feeling’ of inclusivity may be better served with a constitution that recognises the consent rights of all residents.

“etc. etc.  It feels rather messy at the moment and already there has been some conflict about whether non-committee members attending the committee meeting should be allowed to vote.”

  • Yes and I think that this is usual. It’s my experience that if these tensions can be embraced and recognised for what they are, this being - indicators of the absence of, and the need to develop policy by consent, then as a group, you can begin to transform your perspective to a more positive outlook. This is a bit of a paradigm shift as these types of conflicts historically may have often been painful and difficult to resolve. It’s my opinion that one of the strongest arguments for choosing Sociocracy as a governance method is because of the way it facilitates the potential to transform conflict from a hindrance, into a loving indicator that previously unconscious wisdom is seeking emergence into the system. I wish you find my thoughts helpful in your quest for clarity.
  • I’m happy to continue the conversation and look forwards to following how you all decide to move forwards. Please let me know about any other thoughts and input you may get back on this.
  • And wishing you very well with your project. It looks great and well done for bringing to manifestation what has undoubtable been an epic undertaking.

Warmest wishes,

James Priest

http://thriveincommunity.co.uk

email: jamespriest@thriveincommunity.co.uk

Martin,

I'm glad to hear of this initiative in Findhorn.  I know that Findhorn has a car-pooling group that uses Sociocracy.  Has Findhorn embraced Sociocracy in other areas?  I hope you can find some local support from those groups as well as from this forum.  I will be visiting Findhorn for a course with Joanna Macy from 29th June - 4th July, so maybe we can meet up.

Regards

    Mark Dunn

Thanks Mark,

We do have a number of organisations using Sociocracy in some form, mainly experimenting in using the meeting/decision making side of things,. Few are ready to make the leap to double linking circles.  The Carpool is the only one that has Sociocracy in their constitution.  We are hoping we can develop this further.  Will catch you in Findhorn.

Thanks James, very helpful. I am still processing this and hope to give an update soon.

Hey Martin, you're welcome and thanks for the update. I've just, this last hour, been talking with my dear friend Diana Leafe Christian about Findhorn, amongst other topics.

I know that she was there a few weeks ago and presented on Sociocracy to some at the  Findhorn Association. I'm excited to see it's a method being explored there and very much look forwards to hearing how and in which ways you may decide to proceed.

Warmest wishes,

James

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