Thursday, April 14, 2011

Any Portland in the Storm

I attended a gathering last night of intentional communities in the Portland OR area. Representatives of nine groups met for three hours over dinner and dessert to discuss ways to parlay the various beachheads of cooperation they've established at home into more robust options for the entire city. It's a cool model. Cooperative terra forming.

Like a lot of the US, Portlanders have been trying to weather the current recession, and the communities reported various struggles (as well as various successes). They came in the hope of seeing how the boundaries of cooperation could be extended out another ring, and how they could help each through hard times.

The FIC has talked about regional networks for years, trying to figure out how to promote them and support them without trying to steer them or control them. We're convinced that networks don't thrive unless driven by grass roots energy, which, by definition, a continental organization is not going to be able to supply. We can midwife networks, but not birth them.

How can we effectively encourage regional networks and then resist the temptation to cherry pick their best people in an effort to enhance the Fellowship—which also needs to grow? It's delicate.

While last night's meeting was all about planting seeds. The meeting itself was the germination of something first sown 11 months ago, when Board member Tony Sirna, Communities Editor Chris Roth, and I spent half a day visiting Cedar Moon (a community of 18 adults plus kids embedded in
Tryon Life Community Farm, an educational project on the edge of town). This chance meeting immediately followed the FIC's spring organizational meetings—held at Daybreak Cohousing in Portland last May. Our hosts that day were Brush & Jenny, and in the course of our conversation about shoes and ships and sealing wax, we touched on the idea of those two dynamos putting out a call for a regional network of Portland communities, with FIC serving in the capacity of cheerleader and resource (we could, perhaps, occasionally supply out-of-town cabbages and networking kings).

I promised to remind Brush & Jenny of our May conversation whenever I'd next be in the area. My first chance was last December (when I returned to deliver process consulting to Daybreak as part of FIC's barter in exchange for meeting space and room accommodations at the organizational meetings), but Brush was in Ireland and the timing was off. Undaunted, I tried again when Trillium Hollow hired me to work with them the weekend of April 9-10. This time we clicked, and the April 13 soiree ensued. All I had to do was show up.

Like most hopeful starts, it's hard to say what will have legs. I thought Brush & Jenny did an excellent job of facilitating the conversation (making sure everyone spoke and the conversation was a balance of inspirational and practical), yet much will depend on who is inspired sufficiently to pursue any of the various ideas that were generated—website development, skills exchange, social events, cross-community facilitation guild, bulk buying, pooled insurance, joint marketing, car sharing, etc. I offered that FIC would be happy to offer our event-in-a-box package to support a Portland area community gathering (if that was desired and we were given sufficient lead time).

Toward the end of the evening, I added a cautionary note based on my three decades of community networking: it will make a enormous difference if they can find a way to compensate one or two people to be coordinators or administrators of the network's efforts. In my experience, if you rely solely on the dedication and goodwill of volunteers and groups to make use of fledgling connections and to keep information updated, it doesn't work that well. People are busy and work at home tends to trump opportunities and hopes that are out of sight. While you don't have to pay someone enough to send their kids to college, it needs to be a living wage if you want a significant fraction of that person's vital life force devoted to the cause.

While no decisions were made about that last night, they seemed to take this suggestion seriously. I'll be on the email list arising from this get together, yet have made no commitments to doing anything (excepting things like writing about what happened and responding if I'm asked for FIC's assistance). While the Fellowship can be relied upon to provide some second-hand clothes and moral encouragement, the baby will essentially have to grow up on local milk.

It'll be fun to see what develops.

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