Re: Feedback on Participation Policy
From: Mac Thomson (
Date: Tue, 14 May 2019 07:54:50 -0700 (PDT)

I think many of the concerns expressed in the post you shared have some 
validity. Having clear expectations (obligations?) is helpful, as is having 
some way to ‘enforce' them.

Our expectation is 25 hours of community work per adult per quarter. (Being a 
rural community, we have lots of work to do.) So we have a pretty clear 
expectation, but no enforcement. A big part of the reason is that enforcement 
is such a toxic word. No one wants to police their neighbors.

I believe that Pioneer Valley has a hub team that ‘enforces’ work 
participation. I think they stay on top of what everyone is doing and make sure 
that everyone is contributing in some way. Maybe that’s all that’s required — 
some level of people paying attention to who’s doing what.

In our community, we have no hub team and no one paying attention to who’s 
doing what. But of course, people do pay attention, but in a very inexact way. 
Jobs that are highly visible, like cleaning the common house, get seen and 
appreciated. Other jobs are behind the scenes and therefore unknown.

IMO, we would be better off if we all knew that someone was paying attention 
and making sure that everyone was contributing. As it is, many people form 
assumptions about what others are doing based on very incomplete observations.

I’m intrigued by Tom Smyth’s Gather system that makes participation more 
transparent. Maybe that’s all it takes, for people to know that others are 
paying attention. I think it’s human nature, and not the best part of our 
nature, that we behave differently when no one is watching from when someone is 
watching. Sad, but true, we tend to behave better (do our share of the work) 
when we know someone is watching.

So in my mind, some way of monitoring work that is subtle, kind, and 
transparent would be good. Mind you that the transparency doesn’t have to be 
available to everyone in the community, but just knowing that someone is paying 
attention gives others security. Just like in our community financial system. 
We don’t all need to see all the monthly household billing details, but it 
provides great security and comfort knowing that our bookkeeper is making sure 
that every household is paying their HOA dues. Imagine the discomfort and angst 
if we simply said everyone is expected to pay their share and then payments 
were made anonymously with no one keeping track. That would likely lead to lots 
of unpleasant assumptions and judgements.

One other thing…
We do allow members to hire other members to satisfy their 25 hour work 
expectation and that has worked well. Members with lots of time and little 
money can work for members with lots of money and little time. Seems to be a 
mutually beneficial situation. The thing that would make it better for us is 
more transparency. Right now we only hear through the grapevine who is being 
paid to do work for whom so we’re left guessing who’s doing their work share 
and who’s not.

Work participation in communities is one of the top 5 tricky community topics. 
Good luck.


Mac Thomson

Heartwood Cohousing
Southwest Colorado

"Too many wish to be happy before becoming wise."
           -- Susanne Necker

> On May 12, 2019, at 5:56 PM, Chris Terbrueggen <christopher402 [at] 
>> wrote:
> 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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