Human relations

marker Publication Date: 2020-07-20
There is a major issue that any collective must face during its history to have the chance to last over time: it is about human relations.
In an individualistic society where we are not used to cooperating intensely, setting up a community and bringing it to life can often turn out to be a real obstacle race, on which many communities come unfortunately unstuck with... This is also the reason explaining that about 9 collective projects out of 10 collapse after only 5 years.

This issue is often referred to as the PFH in French. PFH is both the acronym for "Fucking" Human Factor, as it can be the source of tension and can shatter a very promising collective project, leading to interpersonal situations sometimes close to chaos. On the other hand, PFH stands for Precious Human Factor to illustrate the fact that this aspect of the collective must be particularly preserved and that, when it is protected, it leads to sustainable and flourishing projects.

Human relations in communities

Diana Leafe Christian has spent a long time studying the ecovillages that have experienced conflict. In Creating a life together (to find here ), she indicates that it seems that, in the majority of cases, appearance of conflicts is due to structural problems in the group, as problems linked to the absence of process or structural organization in the group .
These problems remain unspoken in the group until they emerge violently, with a risk of explosion of the group.

In order to limit the risk of major conflicts in an established collective, several means exist. These means are widely shared as effective solutions to allow the continuity of a collective.

Definition of the community intentions

The motivations for living in an ecovillage can vary from one inhabitant to another and these differences are the first risk of conflict in a community. It is therefore essential that the community define its intentions: the community intentions give direction to the community project and an identity to the group of inhabitants.
The community intentions are a key element of any ecovillage as it allows to determine which newcomer can be included in the project and which newcomer should not be, depending on his personal motivations.

The community intentions must be defined from the start of the project: it must be discussed and shared by all the founding members. An inner work must be done and each member must make sure that his own intentions are in accordance with the intentions of the group. Once the intentions of the collective are defined, they should be written and then shared with the all new members wishing to get involved in the project.
It is of great importance that the community ensures that new members share these intentions. Most of ecovillages put in place an inclusion process for new members: the needs and wishes of the newcomer are gradually assessed, during several weeks of community life.
Some ecovillages also ask for participation in "experience weeks": these immersions in the collective are accompanied by a personal development workshops and group work, so that everyone can define their intentions, develop their personal project and check its compatibility with the community's vision.

These community intentions are often put in the form of one or more sentences. The intentions of Arterra Bizimodu are, for instance the following:
"Support the development of societies capable of generating community collaboration and social well-being
Take care of ecological sustainability to protect the planet
Engage in the transformation of current global economies towards local economies capable of preserving individual and community interest
Participate in the transition of the culture towards sustainable societies"

Establish agreements between members and put in place an appropriate legal structure

All agreements made in the community, from the most basic to the most engaging one, should be written down and well-detailed: indeed, we all have different ways of understanding and interpreting what is agreed. If the community works fine, all agreements, even the ones taken informally, will not be a problem. On the other hand, when disagreements between members start to appear, misunderstanding on what has been agreed in the past can quickly reveal disagreements and spark a conflict: it is therefore better to avoid trusting the collective to take decisions when the problem will occur and it is better to write down as many agreements as possible.
It is thus extremely important to clearly define the various relational agreements: code of conduct between members, a conflict resolution process and even an exclusion process.

It is also particularly important to implement a legal and financial structure that is appropriate to respect the community intentions. To do so, many means are made available to assist new communities to choose their structure.
In many countries, a national network of ecovillages can provide training and support for new groups, so that they can choose the correct legal structure to put in place to carry out their activities.
The GEN ecovillages network also has a specialized training program for setting up new collectives: a lot of information can be found on the website and trainings are regularly offered.

Choose and implement a fair decision-making method that works for everyone

Diana Leafe Christian indicates in her book that, in any community, some people have naturally more power than others, power being defined as the ability of one person or a group of people to influence other people. This imbalance in the exercise of power can have several origins: it can come from differences in the ways of communicating (a person comfortable at speaking will have more power), from an inequality of roles (the voice of the founders is, for example, often better taken into account) or differences in resources (financial or spare time).

Imbalances in the exercise of power can, however, be corrected thanks to different methods of shared governance, which make it possible to better distribute power among the members of the community. Sociocracy is such a method, more information can be found here .

To set up shared governance in a collective, some conditions must nevertheless be fulfilled by the collective:
  • all members of the collective must be fully ready to distribute power
  • confidence in the governance mode and in collective intelligence is mandatory
  • all members must work to make the best decisions for the group
  • time, necessarily longer, needs to be taken for collective decision-making
  • it is necessary to train and take the time to set up the decision-making mode

Follow trainings in group communication and conflict resolution methods

Being able to express calmly on subjects of great importance is necessary for a community, also knowing how to receive a remark or a criticism and make the most of it. These aptitudes are not innate and that requires the group to be trained to these methods. For example, trainings in Non-Violent Communication or conflict facilitation is particularly useful for communities in creation.
It is particularly important to tackle the topic from the creation of the group and not to wait for the first conflicts to appear, in order to have time to get used to these methods.

Several ecovillages also have the constraint of being regularly trained in these communication methods in order to always improve the way to express their needs in the collective.

Rely on external reviews and support

As indicated above, in the paragraph concerning the establishment of agreements and appropriate legal structure, it is possible to rely on networks of ecovillages which provide many services to new (but also less recent) communities: the national networks and the global network of ecovillages GEN can thus be contacted. Depending on the needs and purpose of the community, other associations can also help.

When conflicts start to appear in a community, it's important not to hesitate to ask support from external persons: they will have the opportunity to provide a fair and neutral framework for carrying out the mediation, which will allow better resolution of problems in the group.

Many collectives also have, in addition to members living in the collective, many external partners to whom they can ask for a more global vision of the community: these partners can be called upon to provide a critical review of the activity of the community, and check that the group intentions are respected: if this is not the case, they can possibly propose several changes in the community intentions.
Hosting external people in the community, with visits or trainings for example, is often a way for the collective to have external feedbacks: it is then necessary to know how to collect feedbacks and use them to improve what should be improved.