17 August 2004

A Model for Intentional Communities

Once again Dave Pollard has outdone himself on capturing our hearts and minds in his recent How to Save the World blog. When you really think about creating model communities and what could inspire our children to engage, contribute and build these communities, he has established some fence posts to mark the area so all can see.

August 16, 2004

MIC ProcessMy article last month proposing Model Intentional Communities (MICs) as a means of showing young people a better, more natural way to live provoked a strong and positive response. Many readers commented on how important it is to teach by showing (or better yet, by letting young people experiment themselves with some intelligent, structured but light-handed facilitation) rather than by telling. So I'm encouraged to go on to the next step to try to assess how we can (and should) create some MICs.

First, some definitions: An Intentional Community (IC) is an autonomous, self-managed, democratic association of people with shared social, cultural and economic intentions and aspirations. A Model Intentional Community is an Intentional Community that is:
  • exemplary -- it works well, and represents the best of what ICs with similar focus and talents have to offer
  • egalitarian -- it is non-hierarchical, has no dominant leader, and is free of the coercive characteristics that can cause healthy communities to decline into cults
  • replicable -- other successful ICs could be created by following its example
  • educational -- by spending time in it, you can learn a great deal, including how and why it is successful
  • responsible and respectful -- there is no reason why ICs can't be selfish or arrogant, but I think we'd want the models we show our young people to be communities where members took responsible for, and were respectful of, the welfare of other members and their neighbourhoods
  • sustainable -- it's not dependent on the largesse of outsiders, or on subsidies or low commodity prices
  • diverse -- substantially different in focus, style, and/or structure from the other MICs
There is no cookie-cutter mechanism for creating ICs, but in reviewing the various websites of successful ICs and the umbrella organizations like the FIC, the FEC, and the CCS and CCA here in Canada (cooperatives are somewhat different from ICs, but they share some important principles of formation), you can identify at least a skeleton formation process, which I've diagrammed above. I wouldn't presume to say exactly how to accomplish each of these steps (ask me again when I've set one or two up), but the steps are:
  1. Find Members: Select the people who you would love to have in your community, and live and/or work with. Just as in any other activity that involves social networking, this is by far the hardest step. We desperately need better social networking tools and processes.
  2. Set Intentions & Principles: Collectively, the members decide what the objectives of the community will be, and what principles it will live by. These may include principles that define its responsibilities and values, how new members are admitted, a size limit for the community, how resources will be owned and 'profits' distributed, the decision-making process, required contribution and participation from members, and many others. Like the membership itself, these principles may be fluid, at least until the community has been operating for awhile.
  3. Design the Community: Now collaboratively the members design what the community will look like and how it will operate.
  4. Obtain Needed Resources: Acquire what the community needs to achieve its intentions
  5. Create the Community: Together, make it happen.
  6. Connect & Outreach: Connect with other communities, with the outside, and with schools and other organizations and people looking for models of a better way to live. This is the step that too many communities, fearing contamination or destruction by contact with the rest of the terrible world, so often omit. We all need each other. Isolation deprives the communities of some of the benefits of technology, innovation and civilization, and deprives the rest of the world of much-needed learning about living alternatives.
If you have set up, or belong to, an IC, please share with us what you've learned about the process. I've made arrangements to visit a local IC just north of where I live later this month, and I'll report what I learn after they show me around. The more I find out about ICs, the more attracted I am to the concept. And what's interesting is that they seem to have figured out the principles of Natural Enterprise as well, by trial and error, so I'm going to feature some of their stories in my upcoming book.

So suppose a bunch of us built a set of MICs with varied intents and specialties. We might categorize them in some way to reflect their diversity and their principal focus, for example:
  1. Inventors -- ICs focused on innovation and development, perhaps applying lessons from nature to invent products and processes that do more with less
  2. Fabricators -- ICs focused on 'ingeneering' and manufacturing durable, customized, recyclable products
  3. Carriers -- ICs focused on distribution of products of other ICs to customers, just in time, and including recycling and returning all materials used, cleanly, back to the Earth
  4. Menders -- ICs focused on preventative maintenance and repair of people (health and spiritual wellness) and the things they use
  5. Scientists -- ICs focused on scientific discovery, and development of technology and biotechnology drawing on those discoveries, that will allow us to live well with smaller ecological footprints
  6. Artists -- ICs focused on arts & entertainment, whose members portray for other MICs the world as it is, was, and could be
  7. Players -- ICs focused on sports & recreation, exemplifying and teaching the value of physical prowess, collaboration and play
  8. Designers -- ICs focused on cooking, fashion and other design, making intelligent and creative use of natural ingredients
  9. Teachers -- ICs focused on philosophy, education and the social sciences, and the dissemination of knowledge
  10. Nomads � ICs focused on travel and continuous learning
These would not be exclusive specialties, of course. Each community would need some expertise in the other areas, and all communities would be self-sufficient in growing their own food and producing their own clean, renewable energy. And people in each community would doubtless have hobbies outside their MIC's focus. But having models that fell into each of these diverse types would provide the perfect basis for showing young people the diversity of opportunity, work focus and intellectual and emotional pursuit that is open to them. Instead of four years sitting in classes in high school, for example, students from 14 to 17 years of age could rotate through a couple of MICs of each of the above focuses, for, say, a month at a time, observing and trying things out and contributing as much as possible, at the end of which they would have acquired the kind of exposure, learning and experience that no classroom could ever match. My bet would be that many, perhaps even most, graduates of such a system would want to join one of the MICs they had lived in, or would want to set up their own, with other members of their graduating class and people they had met along the way.

Who knows, we might even start a movement, launch a new, sustainable economy, and create a new culture. Education, done correctly, can be that powerful. But first we need to create these MICs, these new dynamic 'educational institutions'. And that isn't going to be easy.

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