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A Filing Cabinet in the MIddle of Our Kitchen

Laird's Blog -

Our house is a wreck.

This past week I finally completed moving out of my old bedroom at Sandhill—a process I'd begun right after Thanksgiving and had been dragging my feet about completing. Partly I was waiting to see how well it worked out with Ma'ikwe and me living together. Nine months and one marriage recommitment ceremony later, the answer is that we're going to stay together. Unfortunately, the "yippee!" associated with that decision is inextricably commingled with the grief of letting go of my home for 40 years. This is exactly what people are talking about when they use the phrase "mixed emotions." 

Mind you, I'm not questioning my decision, I'm just heart sore. 

At a Sandhill meeting July 28 I announced that I'd made my decision (I was technically on a leave of absence for one year), and agreed to complete my relocation to Moon Lodge by the end of last week. It took me three trips, but I finished Saturday evening. Whew! There are undoubtedly some stray items lurking in other locations around the farm (it's scary how much one can "spread out" in four decades) and I haven't touched the attic yet, but I've completely liberated my bedroom and that was huge.

Removing everything from my room, layer by layer, was like conducting an archeological dig of my adult life. It was tender, and the memories flooded in much faster than I had time to dwell on. It was all I could do to keep my consciousness floating with the tide, and not stop my hands from putting the next item in a box. I had kinda been hoping that I could avoid this and die in place (leaving the detritus of my life to my survivors), but this has more integrity and, in the end, I'm glad to have done it. For one thing, it's sobering to have my nose rubbed in the reality of all that I've accumulated despite my conscious choice to lead a non-acquisitive lifestyle (where did all this shit come from?). It's a first-world morality play.

While significant chunks of my material life were siphoned off to either Sally Army or the landfill, Sandhill's loss has largely been Moon Lodge's gain—and I don't necessarily mean in a good way. Ma'ikwe's and my house is now bloated with my stuff. (I had no idea I owned that many pairs of shoes!) Hence the awkward (temporary) location of the legal-sized filing cabinet that Ma'ikwe just snagged off Craig's List. 

As if it weren't challenge enough to absorb with grace the disgorgement of Laird's possessions from Sandhill, we're staging things for Jibran's imminent departure for college next week, are entering the height of canning season (we have to put all those jars of sunshine and goodness somewhere), and still have to figure out a permanent home for Ma'ikwe's four-drawer inspiration of boxy metal (which, ironically, was purchased in the hopes of decluttering the living room furniture—that Ma'ikwe is in the habit of using for file storage). 

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that we're closing off a 4'x4' firewood pass-through in our west wall this week. Nothing like a little strawbale retrofit to ensure that we don't run low on dust motes.
 

On the subject of imposing order, we hardly know where to start.

While a high percentage of things have day-to-day utility, there are some curious oddments—such as:

—My collection of board games (still growing). These are in active use—I typically play something once a week.

—Our semi-serious investment in kitchen gadgetry. The frequency of their use varies widely, but some are absolutely precious.

—My cosmopolitan liquor (and liqueur) inventory. For some reason, I buy bottles of alcohol like I buy books: faster than I consume them.

—My stamp collection (inherited at age 10 from my mother's Uncle Art, whom I never met), but which has now been dormant for the past 15 years.

—My camping equipment (all together, I've spent about a year of my life in a canoe and I have a sizable assortment of clothes and paraphernalia that are strictly reserved for that use. I even have a homemade map drawer that contains a lifetime investment in Canadian topos at 1:250,000 (four miles to the inch) which is what I guide with when serving as the bourgeois on a canoe trip. Just as a large part of my heart remains at Sandhill, a smaller, though still significant portion of my heart resides in the boundless wilderness of the Canadian Shield (pre-Cambrian granite, the oldest rock on Earth) that stretches across much of central Canada. Though my last trip was in 2006, I may yet have another one in me, and retaining my camping gear keeps that flame alive.

Luckily, Moon Lodge is a big house (900 sq ft) and my wife and I are resourceful—in the sense of: a) having a lot of resources; b) possessing the ingenuity to figure out how to store the damn stuff; and c) having the resolve to let go of what we no longer need or use.

I expect Moon Lodge to be my last home. While that may not be the case (Ma'ikwe is an Enneagram Seven, after all), I'd rather not go through the chaos of moving again, and thinking long-term produces better solutions for the here and now.

At the very least I expect to have the ding dong filing cabinet moved in the next few days, so we can once again enjoy a straight path through the kitchen to the side door. Sheesh.

Personal Work or Relational Work?

Laird's Blog -

I recently observed a group that is in the habit of regularly taking time to meet for the purpose of looking into member's reactivity. (Good for them!)

When getting together for that, participants are asked at the front of the meeting if they have anything they want to work on, and to indicate their relative level of urgency—with the understanding that whoever wants it most will get attention and that no one will be pressured into the spotlight. There is the further agreement that each participant is fully responsible for getting their own needs met.

As you are undoubtedly aware, there is an incredible array of options for doing personal work, yet this group has a particular approach that it used most often. It's based on the assumption that if you have a reaction to something that another person said or did, then there is probably a self-judgment in you about doing versions of the same thing and it's useful to root that out—so that you can better understand where you're unresolved; so that you can better understand how you're triggered by others; and so that you can more easily move beyond your reactions. It's powerful stuff.

Let's suppose that Chris had a reaction to Adrian. If Adrian isn't present, then it's turned out to be relatively straight forward maintaining focus on Chris. However, when Adrian is present, things get more complicated.

On the one hand, Chris still has personal work to do (looking for the self-judgment). On the other, Adrian may have a reaction also, after hearing Chris' upset. Maybe Adrian is surprised to learn that Chris had a reaction, or perhaps Adrian is knocked off center by the strength of Chris' expression of upset (while the group may have helped Chris by encouraging them to "get it all out," that may not be so wonderful for Adrian, who is the landing spot for Chris' judgment). Think of it as a multi-car accident.

Where does the group give attention now? Do you stay the course with Chris, and hope you have enough time afterwards to tend to Adrian later, or do you hit the pause button with Chris to give Adrian mouth-to-mouth? What if Adrian asks for attention in the midst of focusing on Chris (putting the group in an awkward situation)? What if Adrian is too overwhelmed to know what to ask for? What if Adrian feels it's too disrespectful of Chris to interrupt the focus that Chris has requested, even though Adrian needs help? In short, it's messy.

I think it's best to approach this dynamic using triage principles: go first where the need is greatest, and work your way through the room. Thus, Chris should still get the chance to do personal work, yet there may be times when that's interrupted to handle an emerging reaction in real time.

While that's my view on how to manage the dynamic where more than one person has something "up" for them simultaneously, there are other ways to see this. For example, you could take the position that if personal work is the primary purpose of the group, then ermergent relational dynamics should take a back seat, and group attention shouldn't be deflected from Chris regardless of what Adrian experiences: it's Chris' turn and Adrian will have to wait.

Further, some hold the view that relational work always proceeds better after personal work has been completed. If you buy that, then examination of the Chris/Adrian dynamic will be enhanced by the delay to focus solely on Chris. 

Of course, going the other way, there is surely a component—perhaps the main component—of the Chris/Adrian kerfuffle that is personal work for Adrian. Thus prioritizing Chris over Adrian may not translate into emphasizing personal work over relational work; it may simply be giving people attention in priority order at the outset and agreeing to not change focus to another person until work with the first is completed, regardless of what bubbles up in the examination

In working with this group there have been two occasions where I witnessed a Chris/Adrian dynamic where the person in the Adrian role was clearly struggling with what the Chris person had reported, yet the group doggedly kept the focus on Chris (which was the norm), even when Chris got stuck in their story and was having trouble getting traction on their personal work. It was excruciating watching Chris flounder while Adrian needed oxygen. In both instances I expressed my uneasiness with the choice to stay with Chris, and the group is chewing on whether it wants to do anything differently in the future.

While I still prefer my approach to this dynamic (giving focus where the need seems greatest, even if that means switching from one person to another before the work with the first person has been completed), it's important to report that in both cases I named, the Adrian character ultimately got attention and the meetings in question ended satisfactorily for all parties. So I'm not talking about disasters; I'm talking about minimizing anguish and what constitutes effective work.

There is integrity to any of the approaches I've outlined above. The important thing is reaching agreement in the group about how it wants to handle it, which includes an analysis of what will ultimately serve group members best, helping them be more fully actualized and aware.
• • •Finally, I want to add a contextual comment about working with relational tension in cooperative groups. As a for-hire facilitator it's common for me to encounter unresolved tensions among members (who hires outside help when everything is going well?), but it's rare that there is an agreement in the group that all members are committed to doing personal work, so I am expected to navigate the tension without reliance on self-awareness among protagonists. (The range I've encountered over the course of my 27-year career as a group consultant is startling: all the way from it's never my fault, to the second coming of Saint Francis of Assisi.)

While I firmly support the view that doing personal work will enhance one's ability to respond constructively when encountering relational tension, when I work conflict in cooperative groups I proceed without reference to personal work (since there's no agreement to go there, and I'm not a therapist). Instead, I work directly with how people are feeling and thinking (never mind how they got there) and try to bridge differences what's available in the room. With diligence, compassion, and good intent it's almost always possible to get the job done. While that work may benefit people on a personal level, I make no claims that that will happen.

I operate from the premise that everyone wants and deserves to be heard and understood, and that unresolved tension among group members is both unpleasant and expensive. Let's see what we can do to restore flow without anyone being "bad." While this approach would undoubtedly be more potent if everyone were committed to doing personal work, it still works.

Tragedy of the Commons in Community

Laird's Blog -

In 2009, Elinor Ostrom came out of nowhere to win the Nobel prize in Economics. A jill-of-all-trades political economist, she'd conducted considerable research into the dynamics of managing the public good. Her research ultimately led to her publishing in 1990 her seminal piece, Governing the Commons, the Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action. In this she laid out eight principles for self-governing common elements.

I have listed these below as they appear in David Sloan Wilson's 2011 book, The Neighborhood Project, which includes David's explanatory text:

1. Clearly defined boundaries
Members of the group should know who they are, have a strong sense of group identity, and know the rights and obligations of membership. If they are managing a resource, then the boundaries of the resource should also be clearly identified.

2. Proportional equivalence between benefits and costs
Having some members do all the work while others get the benefits is unsustainable over the long term. Everyone must do his or her fair share, and those who go beyond the call of duty must be appropriately recognized. When leaders are accorded special privileges, it should be because they have special responsibilities for which they are held accountable. Unfair inequality poisons collective efforts.

3. Collective-choice arrangements
Group members should be able to create their own rules and make their own decisions by consensus. People hate being bossed around but will work hard to do what we want, not what they want. In addition, the best decisions often require knowledge of local circumstances that we have and they lack, making consensus decisions doubly important.

4. Monitoring
Cooperation must always be guarded. Even when most members of a group are well meaning, the temptation to do less than one's share is always present, and a few individuals might try actively to game the system. If lapses and transgressions can't be detected, the group enterprise is unlikely to succeed.

5. Graduated sanctions
Friendly, gentle reminders are usually sufficient to keep people in solid citizen mode, but tougher measures such as punishment and exclusion must be held in reserve.

6. Fast and fair conflict resolution
Conflicts are sure to arise and must be resolved quickly in a manner that is regarded as fair by all parties. This typically involves a hearing in which respected members of the group, who can be expected to be impartial, make an equitable decision.

7. Local autonomy
When a group is nested within a larger society, such as a farmer's association dealing with the state government or a neighborhood group dealing with a city, the group must be given enough authority to create its own social organization and make its own decisions, as outlined in points 1-6 above.

8. Polycentric governance
In large societies that consist of many groups, relationships among groups must embody the same principles as relationships among individuals within groups.

The reason I bring this up is that intentional communities—almost by definition—manage common elements, and in practice, issues with that not going so well are widespread.

Where is the line between the individual's purview and the group's purview? (I'll give you a hint: there's overlap.) There is awkwardness here both in knowing whether the group is a stakeholder, and in knowing how to proceed when it is decided that a group conversation is appropriate

I want to start with a couple of general observations:

o  Adjusting for Scale
This operates at two levels. 

First, for the purpose of exploring how Ostrom's work (and Wilson's interpretation) applies in the context of intentional community, we can safely set aside Principle #7 as a significant factor because virtually all intentional communities comprise autonomous units (excepting those that are outposts from the mother ship), and principle #8 is aimed at larger scales (such a city, state, or nation).

Second, intentional communities are purposeful attempts at greater involvement in each other's lives, which translates to greater intimacy even with the same size group. (Thus, you'd expect it to be easier to handle common assets in an intentional community than in a Thursday night duplicate bridge group, or a softball league of the same size.)

o  Group Identity 
To the extent that a person identifies with the group, they are internally motivated to be respectful with commonly held assets—because anything that degrades the common assets degrades their resources.

The converse is that if group identity is weak than so will the sense of collective responsibility. While no intentional community that I know of intends to have weak group identity, many do. And one consequence of that is a greater incidence of tragedy of the commons (the concept whereby commonly held assets are poorly treated because the members are acting more in their individual best interest than in the group's best interest).

Now let's drill down on the six remaining principles, as seen through the lens of intentional community:

1. Boundaries
I always think it's a good idea to spell out the rights and responsibilities of members. While all groups don't do this, most do a fair job of it and it's not a common problem that people are confused what assets are commonly held or who has access to them.

A more subtle problem is the way some members will forgo using jointly held assets (saving them for a time of greater need, or for those in greater need than themselves) while others use them whenever they want, because they can. People will naturally vary in whether they are consumers or savers, and this variance will show up in how frequently members will avail themselves of commonly held assets. This may be a source of tension and it may not, but you'd be advised to be sensitive to the possibility.

2. Costs and Benefits
This one has subtleties as well. While straight forward on the surface, it's not unusual for an imbalance in one arena to be compensated by an imbalance somewhere else (like the person who does more cooking in exchange for another raking more leaves). Community is full of such creative arrangements and sometimes you need to look at things broadly enough to understand whether something is truly out of kilter.

3. Self-determination
The key to this is making sure that the people affected by usage of a common asset are the ones making decisions about its management. While this is eminently sensible, there's are a couple ways groups can go astray.

First, not all common assets are of interest to all members who might have a right to their usage, and it often makes sense to limit decision-making power to those who are interested in using the common asset. (It will not tend to go over well if non-users want to wade into management issues, possibly complicating things for users.)

Second, you can also get in trouble going the other way, when management is delegated to a subgroup, but the boundaries of authority are murky. In those instances you can have a subgroup making decisions that adversely impact members who have a right to the common asset and interest in using it, yet do not have a voice in the subgroup.

4. Monitoring 
Often intentional communities are not so good at this, mainly because there is hyper-sensitivity to anything smacking of the "resource police." If people are watching resource use, then they'd be expected to speak up if there were a problem and that can be an uncomfortable and unpopular position—especially with anyone caught with their hand in the cookie jar. Thus it's tempting to simply trust that no one will abuse the resource, which often doesn't work that well either.

5. Sanctions
While I thoroughly support the notion of graduated consequences for persistent coloring outside the lines, I want to underline that punishment should be the last resort. Sometimes communities are unwilling to even consider options such as fines or exclusion. Better, I think, is that you put the possibility in place—which means defining the conditions under which sanctions are conceivable, without mandating that they be levied. That makes it clear up front (pre-need) that consequences can occur, yet doesn't tie the group's hands, or lead to anyone rushing to reach for the hickory switch.

Note: if you go that route, be sure to spell out the process by which you'll determine: a) whether a sanctionable offense has occurred; and b) if so, whether to actually impose a sanction, which one, and in what degree of severity.

6. Conflict resolution
Who could be opposed to swift and effective response? That said, the Ostrom/Wilson standard is geared toward binding arbitration, yet that's rarely how communities address conflict. Instead, in community there is generally a decided preference to seek a resolution that all parties accept energetically (rather than embrace a solution that is thrust upon them).

The tricky part is whether all players are willing to look honestly at their culpability in what went wrong. If you have one or more interested parties who feel that they are wholly the victim and all the wrong-doing has been done by others, conflict resolution can be an uphill slog.

Further there is an art to discerning the difference between promptness (which is laudable) and haste (expecting people to engage before they're ready); and it can be quite delicate crafting a format for engagement that provides reasonable safety and support for all (because what those concepts mean can vary so widely).

The bar is much higher in intentional community where people have to live in close proximity and share their lives. People living in the same residential neighborhood, or attending the same church, do not have the same degree of intertwined lives, and "conflict resolution" in those lesser circumstances can simply mean negotiated coexistence or an agreement to not serve on the same committees or projects.
• • • Taken all together, this is a fascinating problem. On the one hand, it's a tragedy that common resources are sometimes misused in community. On the other, communities are pioneering some exemplary ways of dealing with issues that don't necessarily mean resorting to rules and punishments. At their best, tragedies in community can lead to deeper understanding and compassion—where everyone benefits.

Co-housing project struggles to sell units - Regina Leader-Post

Cohousing News from Google -


Regina Leader-Post

Co-housing project struggles to sell units
Regina Leader-Post
REGINA — The group behind Regina's first co-housing development is discovering that the idea is harder to sell than expected. Prairie Spruce Commons Cohousing was hoping to break ground on its Badham Boulevard condominium project next month, but ...
Daily Market UpdateCanadian Mortgage Broker News

all 2 news articles »

Relishing Corn

Laird's Blog -

Four days ago I was in Kirksville awaiting the start of our weekly bridge game at the duplicate club—something I do almost every Wednesday that I'm not on the road—when one of the regulars, Chris Buck, came up to me and asked if I wanted any sweet corn. When I allowed as how I did (asking someone if they want fresh sweet corn in July is about the same as asking if they want a piece of hot apple pie with fresh-churned vanilla ice cream—why would anyone say no?), Chris fixed me with his stare and said again, with added emphasis, "Do you want any sweet corn?"

I replied, "I know there's a reason why you're asking me to answer this question twice. What's going on?"

It turns out that he'd set out an enormous patch of corn and it was starting to get away from him. It's been an almost perfect growing year in northeast Missouri. Temperatures have been consistently in the 80s (warm enough to keep everything growing well but low enough to avoid heat stress, on both the crops and the farmers) and a good soaking rain has manifested from the heavens whenever we needed it. The result has been bountiful gardens, and Chris had corn coming out his ears (so to speak).

He told me that he and his wife had already put up 250 bags of frozen corn and they had decided to stop there. (I reckon.) Given that the remaining corn, of which there was gobs, was in perfect condition for harvesting—a window that only lasts a few days. Chris was not asking me if I wanted a bag of corn; he was asking me if I wanted a pickup load. Gulp.

Cornucopia
Fortunately, I live in community, where it's actually possible to take advantage of large-scale, time-limited, no-advanced-warning opportunities.

So the next morning Ma'ikwe and I starting talking it through before we'd even gotten out of bed. The first question was how was the corn grown and was it genetically modified (GMO) seed. After some back and forth with Chris we determined that it wasn't organic, but neither was it GMO. While that meant it wasn't fully righteous by community standards, we knew that it was probably good enough to be attractive—especially because the sweet corn being grown in the tri-communities (the three-mile circle that includes Dancing Rabbit, Sandhill Farm, and Red Earth Farms) wasn't yet ready.

So Ma'ikwe and I decided to go for it. That meant signing out the pickup and arranging to meet Chris later in the afternoon to harvest the corn. Meanwhile, Ma'ikwe posted a note to the community announcing that the corn rush was on, and that people could buy ears out of the back of the pickup around supper time at the bargain price of five for a dollar, go as far as you wanted.

At noon I called up my old community, Sandhill, and asked if they wanted any corn relish made with non-organic, non-GMO corn. (Having just moved over from Sandhill last November, I knew the community loved corn relish, that they were out, and that they had a surplus of cabbage—a key ingredient in corn relish.) By timing my request during the lunch hour, Trish (Sandhill's garden manager) was able to canvass the community on the spot and within 30 minutes gave me a green light to use the cabbage and do the processing in Sandhill's commercial kitchen in exchange for jars of corn relish. Deal!

By servicing both the fresh market with the preserving market simultaneously, I would be able to use every ear, while garnering a premium for those that were plumpest and without blemish. That is, we allowed people looking for roasting ears to pick through the pile to get the ones they wanted, knowing that we could make full use of the slightly damaged or overripe ears in the corn relish. Efficient homestead food management often entails sorting fresh-use from preserved-use as the crop comes in. Everything has a highest use, yet you need choices to take advantage of the gradient in quality.

By the time dinner was over it was time to clean out the back of the pickup (the community only has one and we needed to get it unloaded before the next user Friday morning). By good fortune, there were a couple of Sandhill members visiting Dancing Rabbit for dinner and we took advantage of that to fill the trunk of their car and a good portion of the back seat with sweet corn, reducing the volume of remaining corn to something that would fit into a packed garden cart.

While wheeling the cart from the garage to Moon Lodge—a distance of about a quarter mile—we managed to sell another $15 worth of corn to people we bumped into on the path who'd missed the first rush. (It was like selling honey to bears.)

Friday morning I needed to scrounge up the other ingredients needed for corn relish—onions, sweet peppers, vinegar, sorghum, and spices—plus enough jars to it all into. As they came from four different sources, it took a while and I wasn't settled on site at Sandhill until late morning. The first order of business was shucking about 500 ears of corn. Then I had to parboil them before cutting the kernels off the cob.

While work continued until nearly midnight Friday (with Ma'ikwe joining me for five hours) and for an additional five hours alone on Saturday, in the end we had:
—14 quarts of corn relish for Sandhill
—72 pints of corn relish to eat, sell, or give away
—14 quarts of canned corn for Moon Lodge
—20 quarts of frozen corn
—social capital from all our corn-happy neighbors

When I closed my eyes last night I saw corn. But I'll get over that, and we now have enough savory pickled corn to relish for the next four years. Yeehah!
• • •Typing this, I'm smiling as I think back to Thursday afternoon, when Jibran and I were pulling out of the corn patch with our loaded pickup. Chris asked if I wanted to come back in a day or two and get another load. I looked him right in the eye and said, "Thanks, but this will be enough."

Sometimes, you have to know when to quit.

Autocostruzione e co-housing: otto incontri Senigallia per avere tutte le ... - Senigallianotizie.it

Cohousing News from Google -


Senigallianotizie.it

Autocostruzione e co-housing: otto incontri Senigallia per avere tutte le ...
Senigallianotizie.it
Edilizia: il cantiere dell'autocostruzione a Senigallia Senigallia si candida ancora una volta ad essere protagonista di un nuovo progetto di autocostruzione e co-housing con possibile contributo regionale fino a 50.000,00 euro ad appartamento.

Balancing Transparency and Discretion

Laird's Blog -

I've recently became aware of an evaluation process in an intentional community that raised a poignant question about the balance between transparency and discretion, and what it means to be creating cooperative culture.

The Back Story
In the case of this particular community there exists a Board of Directors that oversees 501c3 aspects of community operations (the portion of community life that donors can receive tax deductions for supporting), and that Board is comprised of a mix of community members and non-community members. This is a relatively common arrangement, designed to ensure both: a) that the community's voice is present in Board considerations; and b) that there are outside eyes making sure that the community's educational activities adhere to mission and long-term goals.

Given that this community's vision is to be a model of sustainable living for the wider culture—as is true for many groups—it further makes sense to include non-community members on the Board because of (hopefully) their ability to see more clearly what it will take to bridge between what the community is offering and what the mainstream is available to receiving, which is no simple thing to navigate.

The Lead Up
In this instance there were two particular positions in the community that were hired by the Board, and it came time to evaluate how well those two people were doing in their roles. For the sake of this story let's cleverly refer to them as Position A and Position B. Having gone through iterations of this before (evaluating how well managers and committees are functioning in their roles) the community had developed some years earlier a standard evaluation form for this purpose. To be clear, this form was an internal document that had not been run by the Board for approval because most roles in the community are not subject to Board review.

That said, when it came to evaluate the people in Position A and Position B, the Board was delighted to make use of the evaluation form and process that had already been vetted and was familiar to the community. The norm in this community is that evaluations proceed thus:

o  The Personnel Committee announces that the evaluation is underway (for a set period of time), and sends an electronic link to the job description and the evaluation form. Note that everyone in the community is given a chance to evaluate job performance: that includes the Board, other managers who work alongside this person as a peer, staff who work underneath this manager, and even people in the community who are only occasionally affected by this person's work. While it's common that only a small number fill out evaluations, the net is cast wide.

o  After the comment period ends, Personnel makes sure that copies of all evaluations are sent to the hiring entity (the Board in this case) and to the person being evaluated.

o  The hiring entity then meets with the person being evaluated and discusses what surfaced in the evaluations and decides how best to proceed.

o  At the end of this face-to-face review, both the person being evaluated and someone representing the hiring entity sign a form indicating that this meeting took place and that all parties have seen and had a chance to discuss the points raised in the evaluations. This signed document then gets turned in to Personnel to become part of that person's permanent employee record—which is kept confidential, accessible only to Personnel, the hiring entity, and the person themselves.

It is important to note that this sequence is spelled out in the evaluation form.

The Train Wreck
When Person A was evaluated, only a small number of people filled out forms. While more participation had been hoped for, the process went smoothly. For the most part the feedback was positive and it was not difficult to discuss the ways in which improvement was desired.

Things did not go so well with the evaluation of Person B, which occurred right after evaluating Person A. The number of people filling out evaluations was again small, but this time there was considerably more critical feedback. When Personnel dutifully passed along copies of the evaluations to the person being evaluated, a couple of Board members blew a gasket.

What was Personnel thinking when it blithely shared raw critical comments with Person B? While Personnel was just doing its job—as delineated in the evaluation process—the Board members who were shocked had apparently not digested how evaluations were done in the community, and at least one of them rued the candor with which they described Person B's shortfalls. In fact, it seems the complaining Board members didn't even read the evaluations forms, where the process was laid out. Oops!

In fairness to the upset Board members, they were seeing this through the lens of how things are typically done in the mainstream, where critical comments tend to be summarized (and defanged) before being passed along to the person being evaluated. This simultaneously protects the recipient from being overwhelmed by the bow wave of criticism (however large it is), makes evaluators feel safer in being candid, and makes it less likely that bad blood will result between evaluator and employee.

Going the other way, sanitized feedback is more vague (both in terms of the specifics of what has been challenging, and in terms of how it can often be crucial knowing who gave comments in order to frame their meaning properly), which blunts their value. In line with its commitment to direct and honest communication—including the hard stuff—the community has intentionally embraced an evaluation process where feedback is passed along unadulterated. (If you can't say it to their face, don't say it.) If the recipient struggles to take it in, the community will provide support (this is not about treating people as piñatas, letting them dangle in the wind while everyone gets free swings).

Finally, passing along evaluations unedited saves the time it takes to craft a sensitive and balanced summary (no one in community complains that's there's too little to do) and neatly eliminates the danger of someone inadvertently seeing the unexpurgated evaluations at a later date, thus defusing what might become time bombs. (And don't tell me that never happens.)

The After Grow
What makes this a compelling story is that no one is wrong and there's considerable tenderness about which road to take. Which path leads to a fuller transmittal of critical information and which leads to its most constructive treatment?

While I applaud the community for bravely setting a high bar for communication standards by embracing direct feedback, there's plenty of room to question whether that quashes the expression of concerns. This is a nuanced conversation that needs to include both an assessment of what's possible now, and what we want to be possible in the future. (If you are not living the change you want to be, how will you ever get there?)

I think the community gets high marks for having a full-featured evaluation process, yet a lower grade for weak responsiveness to the call for evaluations. There is also work for the community to do in bringing the Board into greater awareness about the ways in which the community is expressly trying to be different than the mainstream culture (as well as work for the Board to do in reading forms before they fill them out).

Like a lot of things in community, robust evaluations—ones that are accurate, comprehensive, compassionate, and constructive—are a work in progress.

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