Communities that work on consensus and participation don't have rules. They have agreements.
Kat and Andrew working together on a 'chook tractor' at Maleny Eco Village
One of the first tasks that a community needs to do before buying property or anything else, is to come up with the community agreements. This can be a creative and interesting process, so enjoy it and take the time it needs.
The agreements are the guidelines that the community choose to live by.
Many people want to live together, but some communities want to ban drugs and some want to grow them.
It's best to talk about that! Any many other things too, before you buy that piece of land.
Of course, if your community is governed by one or two people, they may reserve the right to make the rules. Many intentional communities do work this way, with a so-called 'benevolent dictator'. Trouble is, who is going to be the dictator? We strongly advise against this governance model.
The Eco Villages Australia vision, is that stewardship of each EVA community will centre around 'community agreements' that are created through consensus decision-making. These agreements are based on trust that people enter into the agreements in good faith. If agreements are broken, it can undermine that trust. Empowerment is possible when people make choices and own those choices. Eco village stewards are trusted to hold the vision of the community (and uphold the agreements of the community) because they choose to enter into the community as a trusted member.
The community agreements can be changed over time by consensus. However, there must always be respect that many people have chosen to be part the community because of the culture which, in large part, is due to the community agreements. For example, some people may have joined a non-smoking community and this may be something that the residents are unwilling to change. The agreements are part of creating safety and clarity for all residents and visitors. The agreements play a large part in shaping the culture of the community.
We always ask potential members to carefully read the agreements and then discuss any issues they have. Again, it's best to have that discussion early on! Be honest about it, as any points that 'jar' today, can cause a lot of tension down the track.
The Community Agreements for the Maleny Eco Village are here. If you are thinking about joining, please read it carefully.
Community agreement proforma
Andrew, from Eco Villages Australia, has developed a community agreement pro-forma. Its a 'tick and flick' word document that asks founding members some oft forgotten things. Waste, wifi, food, land ownership - many details that founders often neglect to communicate to potential community members. It is our hope that this gives people a good starting point. Items that are not so important to your founding group can be decided by the community later. The document can be condensed and changed (add some photos if you wish) to create a unique "seeding document" for your community that can be shared as you start building your group.
You can save your own time and that of potential residents, by being very clear up front and giving people ample opportunity to opt out if the vision doesn't match the way they want to live. When casting the vision for the Maleny Eco Village (originally dreamed up as the 'Brisbane North Eco Village'), a clear vision for the community really helped bring the right people to the project. Who are the right people? The right people for your group. Some people wanted to invest money then and there, but as they re-read the details, they decided it wasn't for them.
Don't underestimate the power of joining an existing community. We can learn a lot from each other and this can be a great way to learn before starting your own community.
The EVA Model
If you like the Eco Villages Australia model, just a reminder that we invite you to take advantage of it. We have spent more than our fair share of time in front of lawyers, tax accountants and consultants so that you don't have to. The legal and financial model is important - crucially important if you are to avoid systemic conflict - but it's also the most dull, which is why many intentional communities fail to get off the ground.