A real-life experience by John Buck, founding partner.

Once I was asked to help an ecovillage resolve a thorny issue. The “thorns” helped me get the villagers to see their underlying needs.

The issue was around the ecovillage’s policy that every adult living in the ecovillage should do four hours of work a month on ecovillage-related tasks or pay an assessment of $18.00/hr not worked to build a fund to hire contractors. The elderly mother of one family had Alzheimer’s and was deteriorating badly. The family wanted to exempt her from this work requirement. 

Clumps of people supporting various ideas about this issue arrived at the meeting with sour looks, barely talking to the other clumps. Right away, multiple proposals emerged and everyone was tense. I picked one of the proposals using my intuition, knowing that whatever I started with would get objections. In a consent round, I asked: “Does anyone object to exempting ‘Sally’ from the work rule?” The people who felt there should be a doctor’s certificate objected as well as the people who felt that they could help Sally work until the week that she died had paramount objections – several objections. 

I asked if anyone had any thoughts about these objections and let a “popcorn” style discussion go on for about three minutes until I thought I heard a new idea – general guidance from a doctor that the Ecovillage’s general governing group could use to assess the request. I quickly modified the proposal and again asked for objections. Of course, there were more objections – different ones and from some people who hadn’t objected before. 

I repeated the process and did a third objection round. And repeated again for a fourth, fifth, and sixth consent round. At this point, I noticed that everyone was starting to relax. We were making progress. People started to build on each other’s ideas. By the eighth consent round I heard a bit of good humored laughter as everyone could see a generally acceptable proposal starting to take shape. Ninth round? CONSENT from everyone. People left the meeting, some arm in arm, everyone chattering. 

What was the final solution? The family would ask to meet with the Social Committee. The Social Committee would meet with the family in the role of a coach, exploring options with the family. After the meeting, if the family still felt that their mother should be exempted from the work requirement, they would notify the general circle (main governing body for the Ecovillage) and the general circle would grant an exemption without further review. At the beginning of the meeting, of course, no one had thought of this solution! In all, the decision took about 45 minutes. It established an important policy precedent for the Ecovillage and showed everyone how to use sociocratic objection resolution procedures to create a “container” to allow “emergent self-organizing” decision making.