Notes from NC
From: Bill Bank (
Date: Sat, 29 Jul 2006 16:29:08 -0700 (PDT)
I sent these notes to our forming community - CohoDC - and I thought others
might be interested.
The sessions I attended at the North Carolina conference were
excellent and I came away with lots of useful information on many of
the topics we're dealing with right now. I was impressed with the
willingness of so many veteran Cohousers to share their wisdom and
experience. In recounting our first months, a number of people
encouraged us to continue our work of defining who we are and how we
choose to operate before focusing all of our energy on buying and
developing land. Often, I heard variations of the phrase, "I wish we
had done that in the beginning."

I found that the notes I took didn't always fit neatly into the
subjects of the sessions. So I've created the categories listed below
and included a collection of comments from all of the facilitators,
generally without attribution. If you want to know who specifically
made a certain comment I'll try to find it for you. The names of the
sessions and the facilitators are at the bottom of this email.


Some techniques to consider when people take you off topic, or take
cheap shots at others, or talk too long:
. Refer them to the ground rules. 
. Or say, "I want to make sure everyone has a chance to speak." 
. When two people are arguing, sometimes all that is needed is to
stand between them.
. When someone is having a side conversation, walk over and put a hand
on her shoulder as you continue the discussion on your topic. 
. "Stack" questions so you can tell someone who interrupts that he
must get in line. This also gives the group faith that if they raise
their hands they won't be losing out to the big voices in the room. If
you have difficulty remembering the order of the stack, ask someone to
keep track for you.

When you feel you may be in over your head:

. Have a pre-arranged signal to a process team or member who can
intercede when you feel you can't handle something in the moment.

. Stop the process even if you don't have an idea what comes next.
"I'm feeling lost and I need to stop for a moment. You can sometimes
ask the group for help or another facilitator for help.

The role of the group:

. "The meeting is the responsibility of the community" - Establish
that as a norm.
. Stop Sliding Down a Slippery Slope: If someone is being
disrespectful, it is the obligation of anyone who notices it to name
it. Even if you aren't facilitating the meeting you can say, "I don't
feel we're being respectful. If it continues I'll have to leave. So if
I do, I want to let you know why I'm leaving." 
. Raising two hands indicates a process problem and takes precedence
over other questions.
. The authority of the facilitator must be defined and agreed to by
the group and the facilitator - and preferably be in writing in the
rules of the community.

Miscellaneous techniques:

Altitude: Tell the group what level of discussion you're having. If
you say you are at 10,000 feet - a high-level summary - and someone is
going into too much detail it is easier to intervene. 

When someone persists in disruptive behavior, use graduated
techniques. "From a feather to a hammer." For example, when someone is
calling a member names, start by reminding him of the ground rules; if
he persists, warn him the behavior can't be tolerated; finally, ask
him to leave the meeting. Have many such responses thought out ahead
of time.

Some people like to stand to project more authority.

When you're having difficulty getting to the heart of an issue, try
going around the room and giving everyone two or three minutes to sift
through things and reveal the issues. Let people express their
emotions. Don't interrupt or let others interrupt.

When two or three people feel strongly about something and have
differing views and it's getting hot, sometimes it helps to declare
time for "shameless lobbying." Put them on a soap box - a desk or
chair - and have them really try to sell their idea for a set time -
two or three minutes. Often they end up laughing at themselves while
they are doing it but it gives them a chance to emote.

Don't lie. offers free facilitation.

Vision & Purpose

Defining your mission statement, common values and agreements,
decision style, should be done early in your community's development
or you will spend much more time and have many more disagreements
later on. You will still have many disagreements later on - but not
as many.

Mission Statement, Common Values and Agreements must be accessible to
potential new members. Plus, you must have good, detailed minutes to
show how you arrived at a decision or policy. A cohousing rule of
thumb: "Never underestimate the ability of a Community to forget what
it agreed to - or why." Newbies should be able to read the minutes. It
gives them facts and nuance if they are well-written and thorough.

Tell newbies about your culture and traditions - for example, if you
start a meeting with a moment of silence. These are things that are
not written down but could be embarrassing to a new person if he
doesn't know about them. 


Welcoming diversity is like favoring apple pie. Be specific. What do
you mean by it?

How do you get racial diversity? Start with people of color in your
group; join groups of people of color; build in a community that has
people of color.

Eastern Village: Jesse Handforth Kome said they succeeded in having
racial diversity when they moved in but haven't been able to sustain
it at the same level. 

Jamaica Plains, Boston area, may be the most racially diverse
community in the U.S., at about 25 or 30 percent. 


It is much easier and cheaper than I had imagined to integrate
accessibility into new communities. In this session, Eleanor Smith, a
disabilities activist who has been in a wheelchair since contracting
polio in 1956, explained what's needed to provide minimum
accessibility and "visitability" (which enables wheelchair users to
visit other homes): One zero-step entrance into a first floor;
slightly wider doors; one accessible half-bath and one room that can
be converted to a bedroom on the first floor. That's it. For more
information go to:

Policies & Practices

A policy for revisiting decisions is necessary or one or two people
will always be opening them up again.

You must develop and articulate the way you communicate with one
another, how you process things, and how you resolve conflicts in the
early stages of your development as a community. 

Sunset Guidelines: When two policies conflict and nobody is sure which
is best you can decide to do one for six months, then switch and do
the other for six months.

How much do you want to be in each others' lives? There is a range
from hermits to joined-at-the-hips. You've got to discuss this and
reach some sort of agreement early in your formation. For example,
around group meals, group meetings, committee participation, and
recreation. A potential new member should be able to have a good idea
about which kind of group he is considering joining. 

The perfect policy or set of guidelines doesn't exist. You can't
anticipate every variation. Do what you can in the time you have and
move on. Revise when appropriate.

What behaviors could result in loss of rights or expulsion? It could
be patterned problems. For example, calling people assholes all the
time in meetings. It could be a clear and present danger - someone
threatening a child. It could be a persistent violation of various
standards of behavior. Define the behavior and write it down.

Rights and Responsibilities: Be specific. If you have a work policy:
how many hours? What kind of work qualifies? How do you monitor it?
What are the consequences? How can someone appeal a decision? This
stuff must be written down. You will still have governance problems,
but fewer of them. 

When people disobey rules, use a graduated series of responses; for
example, first a comment, then a warning, then a written warning with
expulsion being the last on the list if the problem is serious enough.
People must know how the discipline process works.

Governance Team: Resolves disputes and has an extensive written record
of policies and procedures to refer to.

How do you measure values? Take racial diversity, for example. It can
range from "we welcome it," to "we require it and will exclude others
in order to get it." Greenness: from "we recycle" to "we don't own
cars", to "we don't ride in cars" to "we don't even look at cars." Put
down as many ways to define the value as you can think of and then
have each member identify the spot on the scale that most closely
matches their personal definition.

Rules of Engagement - these are all about process.
What license do facilitators have? Be specific. How are agendas set?
How are they changed?

What is worthy of the whole group's time? Define it.

Changes to existing agreements: Always ask why. You must be able to
answer that question to the group's satisfaction before reopening the

Involuntary Loss of Rights: By what process will behavior be examined?
How will you protect privacy of people? How will you protect people's


Should a group have a policy for rejecting potential members? Yes, say
the facilitators who talked abut this issue. This is why you need
guidelines. Does someone fit with your mission, values, and rules? If
not, you must tell them why. Don't wimp out on this. They have a right
to know why. Make sure they know your expectations in the beginning. 

Have someone take new visitors to a meeting aside to explain what the
group expectations are and who can participate in dialog or

Membership requirements should include: 

. An agreement to be available for feedback from every other member of
the group about their behavior as a member of that group. 

. A willingness to work on conflict.


Working in the full group on a conflict between two people allows the
whole group to experience the visceral reaction of resolution.

Conscious Healing: After a big conflict, even though it has been
resolved, it still may be necessary for people to get their feelings
out and to apologize if necessary. This creates a sense of safety and
is cathartic for the whole group. Sometimes it is appropriate to bring
in an outside facilitator who is a skilled healer - or someone in the
group may be good at that if they weren't a party to the conflict.

Willingness to work on conflict should be a membership requirement.

It is helpful to learn some things about each member before there is a
conflict. How do you like to be responded to when you are upset? Some
people like a momentary pause so they feel they've been heard. Some
like a measured, unemotional response. Ask what works so people can
effectively ask questions or request something.

Disputes will arise around labor. Usually between "martyrs" who think
they do far more than their share of the work and "slackers" who may
not be doing their share.

You need a model for dealing with big conflicts. 

Carol Robinson, Shadow Lake, Blackburg, VA. []
She has a model for dealing with conflict that can work even if it
doesn't involve your adversary in the process. (I have the model but
haven't used it yet).


Family of Origin: You bring that culture with you and it affects your
behavior in many ways. For example, people from the Northern
hemisphere are more likely to be calm, reasoned, moderate. Those from
the Southern hemisphere are more likely to include lots of talk and
interruptions. It is helpful to know this stuff because it will be an
issue in your meetings.

What is your meeting culture? What is your style? How do you work with

Tell newbies about your culture and traditions - for example, if you
start a meeting with a moment of silence. These are things that are
not written down but could be embarrassing to a new person if she
doesn't know about them. 


Learn consensus before practicing it.

Muir Commons was first coho community in U.S..

National Coho is looking for volunteers - people who are good with
websites, designing, editing or hosting. Talk to Neil Planchon,
co-chair of the national conference and a member of Swans Way in
Oakland, CA.


WORKING WITH CONFLICT (and not having anyone die)
Tree Bressen & Laird Schaub

GOOD FACILITATION: The secret ingredient in building community
Shari Leach & Annie Russell

MEMBERSHIP: Questions you should have asked before joining
Laird Schaub

COMMUNITY VISION & PURPOSE: What it is, why you need it
Diana Leafe Christian

Elizabeth Magill

WELCOMING COMMUNITIES: Designing for accessibility
Katie McCamant & Eleanor Smith

CONFLICT RESOLUTION: What to do while you're waiting for the other
person to change!
Carol Robinson

  • (no other messages in thread)

Results generated by Tiger Technologies Web hosting using MHonArc.