As social architects, we are very interested in how to create sustainable communities. We utilize the principles of our book, Conflict Resolution: The Partnership Way, to create a sustainable community governance process for intentional communities. This includes Co-housing Communities and Ecovillages that will transform both others and ourselves. From our perspective, the task is not just about teaching skills or transferring information to other people. Rather, we see that the task is to deeply engage people in a facilitative, reciprocal relationships and serve more as the guide on the side than the the sage on the stage.
We believe that helping people create an effective community governance structure requires activities that are person-centered rather than authority- and content-centered. This approach could begin by meeting with new and prospective members and engaging in a group dialogue aimed at helping them discover their current stages of awareness regarding personal issues or concerns that might inhibit their full participation in the community governance process.
By doing this early on, people are able to identify issues that could eventually derail the community governance process. This reciprocal discovery process is both provocative and engaging, and stretches people slightly beyond their current levels of social, emotional, and cognitive development.
Need For Both/And Thinking
One of the important factors in this process is the capacity of community members for inclusive both/and thinking vs. polarized either/or thinking. This very valuable cognitive skill helps people get past what we call premature hardening of the categories. If people have not developed both/and thinking, there are activities designed to help them develop this skill. Another important skill is the ability to be personally responsible (able to respond effectively to the issues that affect them), a skill that also can be learned.
Learning these skills sometimes shakes up people a bit in their thinking, can raise doubts about the completeness of their current ideas on a topic, and opens them to look at new ideas. We believe it is important for people in a community to commit to surfacing the best ideas on a topic being discussed and to reach mutual consent about how to implement these ideas. This process must provide people with the kind of social and emotional support that makes it safe for them to have mutually transformative decision-making experiences.
There are effective decision-making processes and structures such as consensus building and Dynamic Governance that strive to build consent on all decisions. We have discovered, however, that they can work effectively only if there is also an effective agreed-upon structure for resolving conflicts and the members are skilled in using conflict resolution tools. Without that component, many of the inner conflicts of the members will not be fully addressed during the consentprocess. Unfortunately, they emerge after-the-fact in people’s passive resistance to the decisions that were made by consent.
The Principles of the Partnership Way of Creating Community Governance
Our approach to community governance, which is based on ThePartnership Way‘s social architecture, contains some of the following principles:
1.People actively construct their ideas out of interactive social experiences.
2.People come to the process of community making in different stages of social and cognitive development, which influences how they shape their learning experiences.
3.The process of social learning and interaction generally involves gently deconstructing what people previously accepted as true and gently reconstructing newer and more complete definitions of what is true for them to consider.
4.This transformative process never offers a complete and final answer on what is true about somethingonly a more complete understanding of a topic or situation.
Simply put, people construct their ideas from their experiences and then they assimilate them according to the current level of their awareness. As their conscious awareness evolves, so does their ability to construct and assimilate newer and more complex ideas. Community governance requires a certain open-endedness that allows the community residents to revise and amend their decisions when they discover new information or ideas.
In our approach, new ideas emerge during interactions among people who display mutual respect and trust for each other. When there is mutual respect and trust, learning happens in the context of discovery in which there are no predetermined right answers. The interactive process itself reveals the answers that are appropriate for the current level of understanding and
awareness of those involved in the process of discovery. This is in contrast to a directive social/learning environment in which some right answer is imposed on others as some predetermined truth or theory. A discovery model of group facilitation allows for new ideas to emerge and be tested rather than trying to validate or justify a preexisting idea or theory.
Although we as social architects may have a more complete understanding of the subject matter we are discussing than others. However, we anticipate that those involved in the governance process will bring new perspectives for us and for others to consider. This is a radically different approach to facilitating group social/learning experiencesone that increases feelings of cohesion, connectedness, mutual trust, safety, interdependence, and a sense of belonging and participating in a social/learning community.
The Partnership Way increases the possibility of generating new ideas through group questioning, discussing, and sharing. Weve learned that group discovery that emphasizes dialogue encourages responsible participation and improves individual learning and overall satisfaction.
The Positive Outcomes From Using The Principles of The Partnership Way
Our approach values people’s ideas and experience, promotes their active learning, engages them in self-reflection, expects them to participate in a self-learning process, offers and receives feedback, promotes equalitarianism, and invites dialogue. ThePartnership Way has helped us become secure enough in ourselves to recognize that our ideas on any subject may be incomplete. Through this discovery process we are able to find a newer and deeper understanding of a subject. While not everyone may be as secure in their own life development to allow this level of open-endedness, it is possible to learn this by applying the principles of The Partnership Way.
In order to meet the challenge in building new forms of community and building sustainable relationships, it is necessary for people to learn how to engage each other more fully and at a deeper level. The first thing that typically shows up when we open at deeper levels is that our wounds become more visible.
Compassion and empathy toward each other are easier when these wounds are framed as the result of living in old forms of community that did not understand how to meet our needs, respect our values, nurture our essence, and help us heal our wounds. Therefore our old wounds travel with us until they are healed. We believe that people need social structures that allow them to be fully seen and to heal their wounds, particularly the process of building new forms of sustainable community.
A Vision of Sustainable Communities
We live in very precarious times were we can see the breakdown of the old forms of community everywhere we look: in our families, in our neighborhoods, our schools, our workplaces, our churches, our government and in the international community. What we need desperately more than anything else at this time are positive models of new sustainable forms of community.
People need models that give them hope for a better future. Yes, some of the earlier efforts at building these new forms of community were messy and failed,but if we look closely at why they failed, it is possible to learn from their efforts.
The evolution of human consciousness has brought us to this place where we must either grow or die as a species. We have enormous problems that we collectively and individually have helped create, and they are coming at us at an increasingly rapid pace. While some engage in negative predictions related to 2012, we see this date as a possible marker in the evolution of our consciousness.
The mythos associated with this date also encourages us to visualize the healing of our individual and collective wounds in every sphere of our lives. Our time is now and we welcome the opportunity to help create new forms of community that will help sustain humanity for centuries to come.