It’s been a little over a month and over 50 of you took our survey! Thank you for your thoughtful responses! We figure we owe you an explanation of what we’ve learned from your feedback.
The next stage of our adventure draws ever nearer. Many who’ve followed us here have watched our plans on the farm develop as we’ve bounced back and forth. Using this business class as inspiration, we’re zeroing in on our goals and dreams for this next stage in our lives. Our business plan focuses on building a partnership between us, narrowing our focus to those things that excite us most and trying to articulate them as a business. We’re still in process, but we’ve come up with some key themes:
- We’re interested in doing things collectively, building on our experience especially with coalitions, activist groups and committees that exist largely outside the established (and often stale) NGO structure. We can support diverse people coming together to build common understanding, set collective goals, and celebrate different kinds of success together.
- We’re interested in agriculture and living a rural lifestyle that is both tied to a sense of place and also invites others to share in our experience of producing what we need to live. Focusing our efforts collectively, our goal is to build shared responsibility and open invitations to others to collaborate on the farm. Maybe you want to trade houses sometime?
- We are strongly committed to social justice activism, especially themes of conflict resolution and restorative justice, immigration and trauma recovery, and local capacity building. We hope to host guests, trainings and projects on the farm that bring new ideas to our community and the world.
So here’s how some of what you guys’ told us plays into that. In the question ranking characteristics of effective group process, obvious things like trust came up very high, as well as respect for diversity of opinions, but interestingly some things commonly driving community living (like spiritual or ideological unity) ranked lower. We know the context of our survey implied a sort of “external membership group” rather than a living situation for this question, but if our goal is to support effective group process in general, wouldn’t we want to model that in our community living process too? Perhaps we don’t need a bunch of like-minded folks to get started after all. Maybe we just need some values and trust in common. A coalition!
Next, we were surprised over a third of you are a part of coalitions in which you are not directly playing a decision making role. We asked those that included their contact information to help us understand more about this, but we’re still unclear. I realize I take for granted that an ideal group process for me involves my input in a least some decisions, but perhaps not for everyone? I also accept that most functional groups delegate some decisions to smaller sub sections, but our question was pretty absolute. I’ll take this a step further now: what keeps you coming back to a group process where you’re not directly a part of making decisions? Discounts? Networking? Sweet t-shirts? We’re intentionally being a bit fluid around our definitions of coalition or group process, but we’re genuinely still trying to figure what this means for you.
Finally, we came to a clincher on the business front. Unsurprisingly, many of you are going to exhaust all free options to improve a group process before paying a consultant to help you. I’m a pretty DIY guy and I know this is true for me about car repair, for example: if there’s any way I can keep my costs down to materials I install myself, why would pay a mechanic to do it? Considering the incredible amount of quality information available online now too, I’ve happily followed very specific YouTube tutorials on installing belts or filters with great results. I’m also completely willing to go to a mechanic after trying and giving up, and we gave you the option to check more than one box. At the same time, I’ve always looked right away for professional help with dentistry or electrical repairs, for example. For me and I bet many others, the difference is my sense of the value of my time spent educating myself on that topic versus the value of someone else’s time just doing it for me, especially for things that I don’t want to invest a lot of time in learning.
So I’m actually really happy to hear that many of you value group processes enough that you’re willing to educate yourselves about making them work well. Early in the survey, a large majority said you have experienced good group process. At the same time, I’m worried that a third of you may be educating yourselves but don’t actually get to weigh in on your group’s decisions. We’ve personally participated in many coalitions, groups representing different backgrounds addressing big goals, that either languish in indecision or defer to major power imbalances in the decision making process. This didn’t work for us and we’re wondering if it really works for you.
At risk of becoming alarmist (you may be a part of coalitions where dentistry or wiring decisions are matters of frequent central importance) we think NGO’s, community groups, activist organizations, etc. who have the least money to waste are often worst at naming dysfunctions within their group process, spending lots of their valuable time going around in circles or disenfranchising their membership. As a radical community oriented person, I’m worried this serves both the purposes of those comfortable with the status quo of massive inequality as well as our own fear of addressing our responsibilities to make the world a better place. I’m not necessarily suggesting the only solution is to pay an outsider to offer solutions (many of you noted that trust and other key group dynamics need time to develop), but perhaps I’m offering a free taste of what we want to offer in our work: the opportunity to fully experience the power of meaningful, restorative and participatory group process. Can we do it? Stay tuned to find out!