Re: Feedback on Participation Policy
From: Elizabeth Magill (
Date: Tue, 14 May 2019 17:46:59 -0700 (PDT)
I'd like to speak on behalf of the personality type that likes to know
I don't actually care (very much) if everyone else is doing what they
should, and I don't care (very much) if work or participation rules
are "enforced"

But I want to know what the community's expectations are of me.

So stating a number of hours, one that the community has put some
thought into, would be something I would love.
I would love that whether or not there was also a tracking system or a
way to have accountability.

Just saying.

Mosaic-Commons Cohousing in rural(?) Berlin, MA.

On Tue, May 14, 2019 at 10:54 AM Mac Thomson via Cohousing-L
<cohousing-l [at]> wrote:
> Chris,
> 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.
> Cheers,
> Mac
> --
> 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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> >
> >
> >
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(The Rev. Dr.) Elizabeth Mae Magill
Pastor, Ashburnham Community Church
Minister to the Affiliates, Ecclesia Ministries

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