Friday, June 27, 2008

Consensus Under Time Pressure

One of the hallmarks of consensus is taking sufficient time to thoroughly consider everyone's views and then balancing the factors to reach the best conclusion about what action to take. What happens when you don't have enough time?

Last weekend Ma'ikwe and I were working with a forming cohousing community in Brooklyn that was struggling with trying to do everything at once. Started about a year ago, the group has six full members plus many seriously considering it. Altogether, there are about 21-22 households currently in the mix, and the issue of the moment was whether to make an offer on a fabulous, but expensive piece of property. And if they decide to go for it, how much should they put on the table? There's a lot riding on this decision and want to get it right.

As new as the group is, they have virtually no process agreements in place (beyond a baseline commitment to make decisions by consensus, which no one in the group has been trained in). Oh boy. The good news is that they realize they need help, and have asked for it well before they've dug a big hole. The tricky part was trying take enough focus away from their immediate issue (what to do about that property!) to learn how to better
work through immediate issues. It was a chicken-and-egg deal.

Stepping back from the particulars of this group, I want to write about how most cohousing groups face something similar: the challenge of needing to navigate a gauntlet of crucial decisions
(site selection, design, and construction management) under considerable time pressure—all of which are front-loaded and occur when the community is least prepared to deal with it. Mistakes made in how this is handled can haunt the group for years, so the stakes are high.

Leaving aside the matter of learning the skill of working creatively through non-trivial disagreements (a decidedly interesting topic, but not the subject of this entry), new groups tend to be weak in two crucial areas: understanding what is worthy of plenary consideration, and how to effectively delegate. Groups often fail to develop a) an explicit understanding of what the whole group should be working on; and b) a concomitant iron discipline about not talking about what is not plenary worthy. (Hint: this problem is often a substantial portion of the root cause for complaints about how much time is spent in meetings.)

The second part of this is understanding how to make committees work in concert with plenaries, such that subgroup work is honored (rather than trashed or reworked in plenary) and that they are given clear enough guidance and a wide enough mandate to usefully act on the group's behalf without everything substantive collapsing on the whole.

With these two caveats in mind, I suggest that forming cohousing groups would greatly benefit from the careful empaneling of what I'll style a Development Committee, which would be asked to accomplish the following:

1. Be the liaison between the community and the professionals who are directly involved with developing the property. This will include the architect, the general contractor, the bank, government officials, and the developers—in whatever combination is appropriate to the project. This committee will be charged with bringing forward decisions that need to be made by the whole group, and act on the community's behalf when there is not sufficient time to consult with the whole group. (Note: this last piece is huge, and needs to be developed with great care and high buy-in.)

2. Create and maintain an up-to-date timeline for the project's development, such that the need for plenary decisions can reasonably be anticipated, obviating (or at least minimizing) the need to invoke the committee's powers for streamlined decisions [see #4 below].

3. Field all member questions about development. If the committee does not know the answer to a question, it will undertake to get answers from the professionals, so that all community-based inquiries are coming through the Development Committee (strict adherence to this protocol will greatly simplify life for the professionals).

4. Be authorized to make decisions on behalf of the community, if conditions warrant. (Remember: when faced with a call for cloture that is based on a sense that delay will be too costly, any group can always ask, "What happens if we don't decide today?" Sometimes, the damage to group relationships ensuing from forcing the issue is more expensive than the penalties associated with non-decision. At least you can weigh it.)

I suggest the following criteria be adopted for invoking the power to make a streamlined decision (this would be about something you'd otherwise take to the plenary):
—There is the perception that taking the time to consult with the entire group would cause an unacceptable delay, by which I mean there would be a serious financial or relational consequence (that is, significant cost penalties or damage to working relationships). Note: you may need to define, at least broadly, what people consider "serious" and "substantial."
—The Development Committee needs to be in consensus about invoking this power.
—The committee will be expected to make a prompt
report (with 48 hours?) to the community whenever it invokes this power, explaining what conditions justified the invocation, and what action was taken.

Because trust in this group is essential, considerable care should be taken in determining who will serve on this committee. It is important that it be a representative group (by which I mean every member feels there is at least one person on the committee whom they can easily approach with their concerns, and the community collectively feels it is an appropriately balanced group—however the community defines "balanced"; perhaps gender, age, parent/non-parent, risk averse/risk tolerant… that kind thing). Here are qualities I think you'll want members of this committee to have:
—Skill at understanding finances and evaluating contracts.
—Good communication skills and ability to collaborate well with others.
—Availability to do the work.
—Responsiveness on short notice.
—Ability to work under time pressure.
—Good at problem solving.
—Has at least a rudimentary understanding of group dynamics and good group process.

In deciding who will serve, I dis-recommend simply asking for raised hands (volunteer roulette). I suggest something like the following, which is much more deliberate:
o Post the committee job description and desired qualities for the members who serve on it.
o Ask all community members if they are willing to serve and create a written ballot listing all those who agree to be available.
o In plenary, select an ad hoc Ballot Team from among those members who have opted off the ballot. These people will be the only ones seeing the filled-in ballots and must agree to divulge to no one else how people voted.
o Distribute printed ballots to all members, asking them to mark all those whom they find acceptable to serve (people can pick none, all, or anything in between).
o After a set period of time (72 hours?) ballots are due in and the Ballot Team tallies them in private.
o After ranking people by the number of votes received, they privately approach people (starting with the top vote-getter and working their way down the list), asking them one at a time if they are willing to serve. As slots are filled, additional people are asked if they would be willing to serve with others who have already accepted the calling. This process continues until all slots are filled.
o The Ballot Team announces the composition of the team (which does not require cmty ratification), the ballots are destroyed, and the Ballot Team is disbanded.

• • •
My motivation for working on this is that groups often stumble when trying to make a transition from the decision-making style they adopt during the craziness of development (when there's barely enough time to chew your food before swallowing and being asked to open up for another mouthful) and the more leisurely pace of decisions after move-in. If the one doesn't fit with the other, there can be hell to pay in the transition (where the heroes of development—celebrated for their quick-thinking solutions—are trashed as powermongers afterwards, when calls for quick action tend to be met with more suspicion than support).

I'm offering this advice as an attempt to take into account both the real need to act with alacrity during development, and the long-run need for accountability. I'm trying to balance the advantages of quick action with the advantages of inclusivity. The answer, I think, is crisp delegation and prompt disclosure. It can be done.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Three-Hour Electron Diet

I live on a farm that emphasizes self-sufficiency. And while it's true that we raise about 80% of our own food (a fact I'm proud of, and love to share with others), today I was reminded about how much my commitment to self-sufficiency is more an illusion than an accomplishment...

I am home for just one day. Back last night after two weeks on the East Coast, Ma'ikwe and I head out for New Mexico in the morning, where I'll help her wrap up her life in the Land of Enchantment and move to Dancing Rabbit in Missouri (where, theoretically, we won't have to travel as much to see each other). We'll be back with a U-Haul the evening of July 11.

Catching up on phone calls and mail, I was having a conversation with a friend in Colorado this morning while simultaneously closing programs on my laptop in preparation for rebooting to install a software update. Just before shutting down, my friend asked me for contact information for my son. "No problem," I told her, "I'll just reopen FileMaker Pro and give you that right now." Except that I couldn't . When I double clicked on the FileMaker icon, nothing happened.

Oh well, I thought. I need to shut down and reboot anyway. Maybe that'll clear the cobwebs and get everything running fine again. Only it didn't. Oddly enough, I could open Firefox, iCal, and iTunes, but not FileMaker Pro, Eudora, or Microsoft Word. Weird. Given that I do 98% of my computer work in the three programs I couldn't open, this was not a good sign.

Luckily this occurred during the one day I was home in a month (a classic silver lining), and I called my friends and neighborhood geeks at Skyhouse Consulting (a Dancing Rabbit business). First Juan and then Tony tried to walk me through some diagnostics, but nothing worked. This was getting serious. It was not reassuring that neither of them had encountered this particular set of symptoms ever before. Still, Tony knew how dependent I was on my laptop and invited me to come over after lunch, so he could work on it directly. Although that wasn't how I had thought I'd be spending my one day home (I thought I'd be picking berries), suddenly there was nothing more appealing than a trip to the neighbors, and the hope that my machine could be revived.

Tony labored for two hours before he finally hit on the successful strategy of using my back-up drive to re-install a faulty security file. So my electrons are flowing freely again, and I even managed to pick two gallons of gooseberries before the light failed. But I had a wake-up call.

For a while there I got to imagine what my immediate future would be like if I didn't have access to my laptop. Oh, I've experienced technological failures before and I knew I wouldn't die, yet it's amazing how much of my life is sandwiched in this little 5-lb box, and how much my work would be stalled out—or at least seriously inconvenienced—if everything wasn't available pretty much every time I lifted the lid. I'd be reduced to picking berries as my main work, or using a pencil to communicate. (Do people still write letters?) Maybe I'd read more.

In truth, I like picking berries and helping harvest and process the bounty of Sandhill's strong commitment to food. Yet I'm also heavily invested in the Age of Information. While spiraling gas prices may shortly crimp my robust travel schedule (yet another good reason for my wife and I to live within walking distance of each other), I cannot imagine a computer-less future, and the reality is that I know practically nothing about how to fix the damn things.

When it comes to computers, I have plenty of attitude, but not much aptitude. Basically, I'm self-insufficient. It's humbling, yet ultimate good, I think, to have one's vulnerabilities exposed from time to time. If only one could schedule the surprises for slow days...

Friday, June 20, 2008

Pizza with Mildred

Yesterday afternoon Ma'ikwe and I had lunch with Mildred Gordon and her husband Dave Greenson at their apartment overlooking Brighton Beach in Brooklyn on a gorgeous summer day in the mid-70s, with a delightful onshore breeze. Dave made salad and pizza and the two hours went by in a blink. It was the first time I'd seen Mildred since she'd moved from Ganas' main residential complex in Staten Island in 2001, and we had some serious catching up to do.

While fibromyalgia and hypertension have slowed her down physically, her mental acuity and curiosity remain as robust as ever and it was wonderful to trade stories with one of my mentors in group dynamics. As much as anyone, I learned from Mildred—and my many visits to Ganas during the 90s, when my daughter lived there part time—about the interplay of emotions and rationality and the incredibly devious ways we humans have learned to deflect feedback about how we are perceived (information we desperately need, yet consistently resist).

Like social activists everywhere, Mildred and I are both interested in the question of how to use our time, experience, and energy most effectively in helping to manifest a world that works better for everyone. Not surprisingly, we are going about it in different—though hopefully complementary—ways. Mildred has been working for years on a book that will represent a distillation of a lifetime of work in group dynamics. At the same time, she's trying to inspire political activism among people who think deeply about the issues of our times. She's testing the waters through a website, Activists Solutions, which she and Dave launched last fall. While she's experiencing the same challenge we all face (how will would-be activists distinguish the wheat of her site from the chaff of so many others?), she's determined in the attempt. Her hope is to inspire a number of small groups (think in terms of Margaret Mead's fundamental unit of social change) to undertake the articulation and implementation of solutions to societal challenges, while at the same time staying linked with one another. I wish her well.

For my part, I'm excited about what we've been learning in the crucible of intentional community about how people can respond with curiosity and openness (rather than combativeness and mistrust) in the presence of non-trivial disagreement. To the extent that we've learned how to turn around these classic moments of divisiveness, I have hope about social change. While I think that separation is always an option, too often groups choose it because they are afraid of conflict, or have not yet discovered or mastered the skills to remain open in the heat of the moment. I believe we can (and must) do better.

I don't know if we've learned enough (or if I can teach it fast enough) to a world going to hell in a handcart, yet I can think of no more pivotal contribution I can offer in the service of a better world—one group after another, one meeting at a time.

I don't know when I'll see Mildred next, or what she'll be thinking about when I get there, but I can be certain there will be both nourishing food for both thought and something good to eat. Jewish radicals are like that.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Unsettled Forecast: The Cohousing Movement in a Soft Housing Market

I'm just done with four days at the national Cohousing Conference in Waltham MA, and it seems appropriate to reflect on what's happening with that dynamic segment of the Communities Movement.

While the number of attendees at the conference was about 2/3rds of the what the organizers were hoping for (280 instead of 400+), the energy was excellent and the venue (Bentley College) worked pretty well. Although Coho/US has never before held national conferences in successive years, next year they'll test the waters: June 25-28, 2009 on the campus of the University of Washington in Seattle.

Here are three miscellaneous reflections on trends:

Changing of the Guard
I noticed that a lot of familiar cohousing faces were not in Boston. In no particular order, all of the following were not with us: Kathryn Lorenz, James Hamilton, Nick Meima, Michael McIntyre, Barbara Lynch, David Ergo, Rob Sandelin, Sherri Rosenthal, Tom & Carol Braford, Annie Russell, David Wann, Shari Leach, Neshama Abraham, Tree Bressen. (What's more, I'm sure I'm forgetting others who deserve mention; these are just the ones I can name in one sitting.)

While nothing lasts forever, and a certain amount of turnover is healthy, the above list represents an enormous amount of cohousing experience that was doing something else last weekend. I used to know everyone on the Board of Coho/US and now I don't. We'll see where it leads.

Uncertain Future
Over the course of the weekend I had the chance to ask several heavy hitters their sense of the cohousing market. The answers varied widely. One reported that his company had gotten no cohousing business at all the last two years and was in the process of reinventing itself focusing on New Urbanism and Green Neighborhoods. Another reported that he had more business than he could get to. A third said she was getting steady calls, yet mostly it was for offers to develop projects in locations too far away for them to be interested in traveling to.

Overall, I got the sense that there was still significant business out there (a continuing flow of new starts and forming groups), yet the rate of growth was slowing and there were definitely some parts of the country badly affected by the slumping housing market.

Many developers and other cohousing professionals offer an overlapping array of services. Because few can offer a group everything, there is a compelling need for professionals to collaborate in meeting client needs. All the more so in that the core of what they're all selling is community and that's based on a root commitment to cooperation. However, not everyone is equally good at everything they do (it's hard to recommend someone if you're not confident they'll be able to deliver to the standard of quality you set for yourself) and it can be hard to keep up with what everyone is offering. In consequence, there is not the easy flow among professionals as might be hoped for, and in a soft market there can be increasing tensions around everyone getting all the work they'd like.

It's my sense that there is still plenty of work for those with the most established reputations, yet it may be a difficult time for new people to break into the field. We'll see.

Greener and Bigger
The largest buzz at the conference was around sustainability and an intelligent response to the challenge of upward spiraling gas prices. Chris ScottHanson was especially excited about how Jamaica Plain Cohousing (completed in 2005) has been able to reduce its total car ownership by 2/3rds (less than one per unit) by the sharing achievable with community living, and by building on a site that's within easy walking distance of the subway line. They have empty parking spaces which they're now thinking of tearing up and converting to garden and food production.

Chris, Jim Leach, and Zev Paiss were all talking about ratcheting up their businesses to aim at sustainable neighborhood development—especially in urban areas—and not just cohousing projects. There are several pieces to this puzzle. In addition to carbon-neutral construction, they're thinking about what can be done to create vibrant urban lifestyles that are not car dependent. It's exciting stuff. Next year, I'll get to check in on how all this is unfolding.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Selling the Unexplainable

I'm in Boston this week. It's the start of the national Cohousing Conference, happening June 12-15 on the campus of Bentley College in suburban Waltham, and I'll be here for the duration. (I know I promised a series on the Dimensions of Community which I launched last week—I'll get back to it after the conference.)

There was a bunch of opening day activities today, including bus tours of area communities and pre-conference workshops. Tomorrow the full circus opens. The most interesting thing for me today was a "professionals dinner." There were about 30 of us, all of whom regularly earn income working with cohousing groups. After a pep talk from Coho/US Executive Director Craig Ragland—which included new features being added to their website—the after dinner discussion focused on what could be done to increase the numbers of people attracted to cohousing.

While I have uneasiness with the (relatively understandable) tendency among cohousing folks to be "coho-centric" and ascribe to their particular segment of the Communities Movement characteristics which apply to all intentional communities—which parochial foible was in evidence tonight—this was nonetheless a good-hearted and thoughtful group that is interested in expanding community living across the board. It was an agreeably collegial evening.

Cohousing is clearly expanding. The question before us was what we handful of professionals could do to appreciably augment that; to "grow the pie" in Craig's words. While many ideas were surfaced, I want to focus here on two:

Widening the Circle
I was surprised (and pleased) to learn of an initiative in Boulder CO aimed purposefully at increasing the community quality of neighborhoods. Wonderland Hill (the leading cohousing developer in the US) employee John Engel is the Executive Director of the newly formed Institute for Intentionally Sustainable Neighborhoods, and Wonderland Hill's principal, Jim Leach, is an enthusiastic backer.

This nicely parallels FIC's expanded mission to support what we're styling Creating Community Where You Are, and I am eagerly anticipating additional conversations with John in the next two days (supplementing what we could accomplish across the dinner table amidst the din of 30-odd nattering networkers). The key here is scope. There are orders of magnitude more people interested in and available for actively taking steps to increase the sense of community they have in the lives they already have, than will ever seriously consider jointly owning property with others and trying intentional community. This has the potential to reach way more people, and to effect social change on a much bigger scale. (When the day is done, it won't matter how many intentional communities there are; it will matter how much community there is in the culture.)

Selling the Sizzle
In conventional marketing, the key to getting the client's attention is grabbing their attention with what's hot; with the thing that's most dynamic and that directly touches their lives. While there were a lot of good ideas floated about doing a superior job of collecting firm data on how community enhances people's lives (more happiness, improved health, better adjusted children, lower carbon footprint, etc.) and how to get the word out to the wider population (our future community clients), I was struck by a suggestion made by Laura Fitch (a principal of Kraus-Fitch Architects in Amherst MA) , who observed that nothing seemed to her more potent for getting people to understand the potential of community living for improving one's life than having folks over for community meals—where visitors get more than a bellyful of food; they get a bellyful of community. Guests often get a visceral feel for community living, and that touches them in a way that words do not. If a picture is worth a 1000 words; a meal may be worth 1000 pictures.

Laura's comment resonated with me. For all of the good things we're accomplishing with intelligent community design and ecological technology—and there are a lot—in essence we're selling community, not housing. And when you're talking community, in essence you're talking relationship. There's a day-in-day-out quality of authenticity, connection, and value alignment that people simply get when they directly taste it, and which tends to produce blank stares when you attempt to convey it conversationally or pictorially.

Over and over, I've had the personal experience of making a substantive connection with a total stranger within minutes of our having met, simply because we share the lingua franca of community living. This is all the more noteworthy (and poignant) in that the obverse also obtains: there are any number of people in my life who otherwise know me well (my brothers and sisters come to mind) and are unable to understand the essence of my life at Sandhill Farm, simply because they don't speak community.

So how do we market the sizzle of community to an audience not likely to be able to comprehend what we're talking about? Maybe it's fewer conferences and a lot more potlucks.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Dimensions of Community: Party of One

For the next stretch of blog entries, I'll be presenting a series on the Dimensions of Community. It was inspired by an animated plenary conversation on Creating Cmty Where You Are during the last day of the FIC organizational mtgs—just concluded at Hummingbird Cmty in the rarified air of northern NM. (If I'm any good at channeling the ideas and excitement of that conversation, perhaps, at least this once, you won't have had to have been there.)

• • •
For this series, I will not be using "community" as shorthand for "intentional cmty." Instead, I'll be purposefully exploring and defining cmty in its fullest and broadest sense. So think expansively (I am). As part of my FIC elevator speech, I tell people that, "We're in the cmty business." This series is meant as a journey of discovery about all that that can mean.

In essence, cmty is about association. It's about connection and affiliation. While it implies consciousness and reciprocity, I will assume neither.
• • •
This first offering will focus on community and the individual: Party of One

For a connection to occur, two (or more) things need to be linked. One end of that is yourself, and today I'll confine my remarks to just that single terminus. What does it take to be available for cmty?

Premise #1: Cmty is strengthened and enhanced by self-awareness. To be sure, the "knowing" may come in a wide variety of intelligences: the main channels being rational, emotional, intuitive, spiritual, and kinesthetic. And the permuttations explode when you take into account that these are often packaged in combination.

Almost immediately, this leads to two underlying questions: 1) How do you know you know?; and its corollary, 2) How do you accurately assess self-awareness in others? While it is relatively common to judge another's understanding of self based on their ability to articulate what they know about themselves, one's ability to describe or communicate their self-knowing is not at all the same as their self-knowing. Your knowings may be of different kinds; you may be using different "languages"; you may be assigning different meanings to similar terms—there are all kinds of ways that people can miss each other in the attempt to understand. If you rely on other's reflections to refine your sense of your own self-awareness, you must wrestle with distinguishing between the extent to which you are blind or ignorant, versus misunderstood or projected upon. The waters muddy quickly.

A spin-off of this first premise is that you can be desirous of cmty, yet minimally available for it. Tragically, you can know that cmty will be good for you, yet not present a terminus that is easily built to or from. (Some of the most trenchant and poignant dynamics involving difficult people in intentional cmty are of this nature.)

The more you know yourself, the clearer you'll be able to send out signals, both about who you are and about what you want. The more accurate your signals, the better the chances that you'll attract beneficial connections. Among those who understand this principle, the opportunity to enhance self-knowing is one of their prime motivations for seeking cmty.

Premise #2: Humans, as a species, are hard-wired to crave connection with our own kind. That is, we are born wanting cmty. Unfortunately, that does not mean we are born knowing how to get it. Worse, our mainstream hierarchic and competitive culture actively interferes with our ability to accurately connect. We live in a society that emphasizes differences above similarities; that rewards individual initiative ahead of collective success.

The desire for connection can come from many angles. Those seeking safety, recognition, or identity through cmty tend to pursue a buy-and-hold investment strategy. The key trap for these folks—please note that this is not inevitable—is the temptation to bolster their sense of connection through creating an us/them dynamic, which the mainstream adversarial culture will happily reinforce. It's dangerous because it's a sense of "us" pumped up on steroids, an enlarged self image that comes at the expense of increased alienation from those labeled "other." It sets up a fight (which tends to be a distraction, a distortion, and an energy sink), plus, it diminishes your options for cmty downstream. Yuck.

On the other hand, those approaching cmty looking for inspiration, insight, or stimulation are buying a different package.They're looking for return on their investment. Maybe immediate income; maybe long-term appreciation; maybe both.

It boils down to: are you seeking cmty to look good, or to look for Good? While the motivation for most of us is a mix of the two, it's important to b
e sensitive to this interplay—because, if you don't have a clue that it's there, you'll never see it.

Premise #3: Connection can be established unilaterally. While that may not be its fullest potential, it may be no less real or valuable for the projecting person. The key thing to understand here is that the individual has complete control of what they intend and it's possible to realize substantial and genuine benefits from such connections, even if the others being connected with have no knowledge of this happening, or actively reject the association from their end.

Please don't misunderstand this point. I am not saying it's better to establish connections unilaterally; I'm only saying it's possible. For most of us, it's a superior experience to feel that connections are reciprocated, yet you still have choices even when your hopes in this regard are not met.
• • •
In sum, I'm trying to make the case that cmty is:
o Enhanced by self-awareness
o Universally desired
o Desired for a mixture of reasons
o Accessible unilaterally

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Higher Thoughts at Higher Places

Today is Day Two of the three-day FIC spring organizational mtg. Following our successful Art of Cmty Southwest weekend in Albuquerque, yesterday morning we snaked our way up into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to Hummingbird Cmty, located 2-1/2 hours to the northeast, and another 2-1/2 thousand feet up. Hummingbird is our gracious host for these three days of superior altitude and, hopefully, superior attitude. At least we have a lovely setting for it.

Our plenaries are in a yurt located well within the sound of the snow melt rushing raucously down the intermittent stream just 100 feet away. We're in the long daylight hours of summer. The air is redolent with pine resin and the night sky is brilliant with a thickness of stars that can only be glimpsed with the combined advantages of thin air and remote settings. It is, in short, a terrific place to set aside the other parts of one's life and focus on the people and the business at hand.

We are here to have a board mtg… which we intend to be anything but a bored mtg. In addition to the usual suspects, we have an above-average smattering of new faces, some of which were inspired by last weekend's event to tag along at the last minute and see what happens. Yesterday we reviewed the weekend's event and paused to reflect on where we're headed with our Events Program. Paid attendance was disappointing (less than 75), and that meant there was no profit from registrations for the organizing team to share. While the team's esprit de corps was excellent, and the event itself was rewarding, we had hoped for better.

On the plus side of the ledger, the energy was terrific, and we made above-average money on both the benefit auction (where we netted about $2300) and the bookstore (where the gross topped $2000), which means an overall black number at the bottom for FIC. We love doing events (where we get the chance to deliver the tools of cmty, the inspiration of cmty, and a feeling of cmty), yet what makes the most sense (as well as the most cents) as we plan future gigs?

Based on yesterday's analysis, we're leaning toward being more careful about where we hold weekend events (Friday evening through Sunday afternoon). We need these bigger deals to be more consistently profitable, and that means they need to have three key factors lined up: a) location in a place where we know cmty interest to be strong; b) a venue that wants us (as opposed to one that is simply happy to have our business); and c) local people who have the skill, motivation, and availability to be on the organizing team—it's uphill trying to accomplish all this from a distance.

Going in the other direction, we want to do be more experimental with one-day events, where we won't need to deal with overnight accommodations, meal arrangements will be greatly simplified, and we can (mostly) put on a great show with in-house personnel—minimizing the need to locate and schedule outside speakers or presenters. For this concept to work we need to be lean and mean when it comes to budget. We need: a) a free, or very low cost venue; b) we need to already be in the area (perhaps because we're having an organizational mtg nearby), to contain travel costs; and c) we need at least a couple local people to be excited about publicizing the event and jumping into logistics.

(As an example, Ma'ikwe and I did a Saturday Community Day event in Houston last March, en route to a family wedding. While only 20 people showed up, we still made money and had a good time. Organizing was minimal and we only drove about 100 miles out of our way. We were "an event in a box.")

• • •
OK, that was yesterday's highlight (aside from the personal reconnecting that invariably accompanies the gathering the FIC tribe). Here are four of the exciting things on tap for today:

1. Right Relationship to Advertising
When is advertising a service; and when does it cross the line into hype and intrusion? To what extent does our accepting ads from businesses and organizations imply value alignment, and what are our limits around this (taking into account that we explicitly value diversity, and at the same time care a great deal about promoting a cooperative world)? To what extent do we fail to fully develop the revenue potential of advertising simply because we have not yet made peace with making money while promoting cooperation? (And even if we agree that this is happening, what do we do about it?)

We will be wrestling with these demons both for our Directory website and Communities magazine.

2. Honoring Networking
We'll be consider establishing a Geoph Kozeny Networking Award, to honor those who best exhibit the spirit of connection and curiosity of our fallen comrade. While FIC hasn't done this before, can there ever be a better time to begin celebrating the accomplishments of those pioneers out there building sustainable culture? We know what's needed, and (like Supreme Court Justice Whizzer White once said about pornography) "we know it when we see it," so why not take the lead in blowing the horn and banging the drum? (Geoph, after all, loved a good show.)

3. Creating Cmty Where You Are
Tonight, long-time Board member Harvey Baker will conduct a workshop on this—which he's been doing for years. FIC made the decision three years ago to broadened its mission to include Creatign Cmty Where You Are, yet we're still feeling our way about what our product is (as distinct from what other org's offer) and how best to deliver it. Instead of starting (again) in our heads, this time we'll begin our examination experientially, in our bodies. When we take it up in plenary Wednesday morning, we'll be speaking from a different kind of knowing… which we're hoping will offer different insights.

Stay tuned.

4. Collaboration with EDE Southwest
After the successful completion (in May in Albuquerque) of the full Ecovillage Design Education curriculum—the first in the United States—the organizing group: EDE Southwest (comprised of Ma'ikwe Ludwig, Rich Ruster, Zaida Amaral, and Robert Griffin) is interested in talking with FIC about ways we might synergistically help each other be more potent in our offerings.

I just love this kind of cooperating among cooperators, and can hardly wait to close the lid on my laptop, get my first cup of coffee, and let the day begin. There are so many things to do; so many wonders to explore…