Re: Feedback on Participation Policy
From: Tom Smyth (
Date: Sun, 12 May 2019 21:37:51 -0700 (PDT)
Hi Chris! Gather has an extensive work system in addition to meals. It is
based on making all the community's work visible by entering jobs in the
system. Everyone chooses which jobs they'd like and does an equal share (in
hours) of the work. The work committee grants accommodations for those with
limited ability.

We find that by making the work visible in this way, the problem of
non-compliance all but vanishes. The social norm around participation in
the work system is so strong that people flaking out has not been a problem.

I'll be presenting about this system at the conference later this month
(the 'Cohousing as a Social Enterprise' session) if anyone would like to
learn more and discuss.

On Sun, May 12, 2019 at 7:57 PM Chris Terbrueggen <christopher402 [at]>

> Greetings,
> 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
> month.
> 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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Tom Smyth

Worker-Owner, Sassafras Tech Collective
Specializing in innovative, usable tech for social change · @sassafrastech

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