Starting a project
Getting one started whats involved--an overview.

A couple of people with a vision and a bunch of time to spare can be a suitable catalyst for a project's conception. In fact there are very good reasons to start small.

The clearer the stake in the sand, then the more in tune people that later join are going to be. Obviously that vision cannot encompass every single detail of the project as many things jell as it progresses, but if the basics are covered then this will help avoid the group splintering later.

In hindsight there are a number of tasks that are better accomplished early on when the group is small. Then the group can grow in a timely manner to tackle the tasks ahead.

The following is a list of important early tasks.

1. Realize the magnitude of the task
Get clear that you are about to become something akin to a property developer, and that likely as not you are not trained or experienced as such. You are also going to be making these nice big complex decisions as a community, also something you are not likely to be able to do instinctively. You are treading new ground, allow time, patience and prepare to learn a lot, both about human settlements and about yourself.

2. Defining the vision of the 'village'

  • aligning with parts of predefined visions, eg cohousing, co-op
  • getting clear (and realistic) about location, urban/rural, size, legal / title type, environmental aspects, degree of privacy vs community, any philosophical alignments
  • the development process, do it yourself or developer led
  • write a vision statement, and description so it is accessible and clear
3. Establish processes
  • meetings procedures?, facilitation? (get some training), consensus?, rituals, communication agreements, conflict resolution tools
  • praise, praise, praise, handle criticism very carefully
  • talk about money early on, there is a tendancy to avoid money as a subject, but it is a measure of the groups realism to ba able to do so.
  • rules for spending group money
  • write these all down , and print an info package, it'll save you a lot of questions
  • remember to have fun, food, songs, games and outings.
  • don't reinvent the wheel, draw on other groups
  • Hanson, McCamant, Norwood, Gillman are all expensive but essential reading
4. Establish effective membership procedure
  • this is impt to avoid newcomers continually slowing the project. Also people need to know what they are getting into before they will be willing to join.
  • the best way we found was to hold regular or ad hoc orientation evenings followed by attending 2 meetings as an observer. At this time a membership fee is paid (say $100) and an initial organizing agreement signed which ritualized the above agreements.
5. Now it is time to think about the groups growth
  • plan and prepare to grow, as it can be a little unsettling
  • grow when the project needs to, ie need money and/or energy to work on project. Waves of growth work well
  • get very business like about promotion strategies to find cost effective marketing tools
  • establish subcommittees or task groups to tackle the work
  • get clear what the task group relationship is and good process for giving feedback
6. Assemble a team
get one thing straight, you cant do this without employing the appropriate professionals. Groups will likely have a strong DIY attitude which will hinder the groups progress. Now is the time to make connections with lawyers, development/ financial consultants and architects. These people are essential to a projects success and you are not in a position to even look at land until this team is together. This is really important, development is a complex industry. They are not as wicked as we often seem

Once this far, and with land optioned a group is pretty much assured of success. I think it would be fair to say that the secret lies in the ground work. And remember that the way that it is gone about is as important as what you do, so enjoy the ride.

Author: Peter Scott WENCP 1998

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