Feedback on Participation Policy
From: Chris Terbrueggen (
Date: Sun, 12 May 2019 16:56:49 -0700 (PDT)

Members of Linden Cohousing/ CohoMadison have created a participation
policy that is working it's way through committees. One of our members
expressed the concern below. I would like to get some experienced feedback
on the costs and benefits of starting with a participation policy that
focuses on using a Participation Hub or team of members from different work
groups to get all members involved in the work of the community. However,
our current draft policy does not state a specific hour requirement. We
wanted to build a culture of participation first and not have a team that
monitored each member to see if they completed so many hours of work each

Thanks, Chris Terbrueggen
Madison, WI

"I had a question and concern about what the options are if someone is able
to participate in the shared work, but doesn't.  The group believes that as
a last resort, arbitration will resolve the problem.  Upon reflection, I'm
not sure that arbitration will resolve the situation.

Basically, the participation policy is like a social contract.  However, In
its current form, I'm not sure the policy is "enforceable" in arbitration
or elsewhere.  The policy does not say what amount of time, on average, a
resident member is expected to contribute.  And it does not indicate that
if people don't do their work, there can be an economic cost to the
community, if we have to pay people to fill in the gaps.   Or the social
cost to the community, if some people feel unfairly burdened by the
workload and resent it.

The line about not paying anyone to do work I understand, but it could be
helpful to clarify that part and add a line or two about why we don't pay a
community member to do work.   Otherwise, in arbitration, that clause could
be used against us.

I suggest adding an average time commitment per person, adding that one
person not fulfilling their obligation (a stronger word than expectation)
can have a financial and social cost to the whole community.   And
clarifying the part about why members can't pay each other to take over the
work.   With those details added, the policy/social contract would be more
enforceable in arbitration.  Worst case, the person refusing to do work
would have to reimburse the community for the average hours and that money
would go to offset the cost of hiring outside people so dues don't
increase.  A dues increase would disproportionately impact the lower-income
members, threaten their financial stability, and could threaten the
long-term stability of the group.

I know that we are generally an optimistic group, but good planning
requires looking at the worst-case or bad-case scenario and see what we can
do now to prevent that from happening.   This member non-participation is a
real problem and occurs repeatedly in cohousing.  It usually gets worse
over time as the new less-committed people move in.   It WILL happen
eventually, even at Linden.  What can we do now to minimize the chances of
it happening and minimize the negative financial impact to the rest of the
community if it happens and persists?"

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