Community Futures Planning

Community-Based Co-Laboratory of Democracy

On January 11, 2003, thirty-four residents of the Bryn Gweled intentional community in Bucks County, PA, applied the Co-Laboratory of Democracy process offered by the Institute for 21st Century Agoras to define intentions for the future of their community. The session was sponsored by CWA Ltd. The Inquiry Design and Facilitation Team involved Tom Fetterman, a member of the community for over ten years, Ken Bausch, the Executive Director of the Institute, Diane Conaway and Aleco Christakis. The session took place in the Bryn Gweled Community Center.

In a one day working session, the community stakeholders generated and clarified 42 distinct intentions, such as:

* Restore the intentional diversity of the community.
* Learn to have fun together as a community.
* Encourage members to act on the saying “It takes a village to raise a child.”
* Develop effective ways of resolving disputes so that no one feels like a winner or a loser.

They subsequently selected those intentions that they thought were of higher relative importance. In the voting, 39 out of the 42 received one or more votes from the participants. The 5 most important intentions were:

* Make the transition from our early stage of growth to one of stewardship.
* Identify better ways to improve our decision-making process.
* Re-explore ideas to allow elderly members to remain on the Bryn Gweled Homestead.
* Re-unite less active members of our community with an invitation to participate anew.
* Use our past knowledge to enlighten our future planning.

In the afternoon, the stakeholders engaged in a strategic dialogue exploring the influences among the 12 intentions that received the most votes.

This influence pattern is a kind of “tree of meaning.” The intentions at the base of the tree are the most influential ones. In other words, if those intentions at the base of the tree were neglected, the community would be greatly handicapped in its efforts to accomplish intentions higher on the tree. The stakeholders were intrigued by the discovery of the most effective intentions, which were the following two:

* Use our past knowledge to enlighten our future planning.
* Identify ways to improve our decision-making process.

Shown above: interpreting the influence pattern. The implication of this discovery was that the Bryn Gweled community should focus its energy on meeting those two intentions. If it fulfills these two most influential intentions, it will be much easier for them to accomplish the other intentions higher on the tree. In looking at the map, it became clear to the participants that the intentions they voted most important were not the most effective for attaining their goals. This is a recurrent phenomenon when stakeholders use the Co-Laboratory of Democracy process.

The two other intentions that should be given serious consideration by the community, because of their positioning in the influence map, are:

* Identify ways to involve children in the decision-making process.
* Reunite less active members of our community with an invitation to participate anew.

By working on the four intentions mentioned above, the community will be able to make significant progress towards accomplishing all the other important intentions shown in the influence pattern.

The commentary at the end of the session was very positive, including statements by the stakeholders that the map made explicit and transparent their long tradition of decision making. The community has been using Robert’s Rules of Order for many years, and they appreciated the Co-Laboratory of Democracy dialogue, in the sense that it enables them to have a true dialogue instead of a debate.

Bryn Gweled Homesteads was created in 1940 to give 80 families enough land to raise their food. “Homesteading” is no longer practiced, and the community is now completely surrounded by Philadelphia suburbs. But Bryn Gweled has never lost sight of its founder’s dedication to cooperation, to environmentalism, and to racial, economic, and religious diversity. This Co-Laboratory of Democracy was called to reinvigorate processes dedicated to those ideals.

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