4 Kinds of Participants and the Questions to Ask Them

by Paxus Calta

Generally speaking there are four different types of people who go to the communities conference:

  1. Communards (who are likely seeking new members for their communities),
  2. Prospective community members (looking for places they might live)
  3. People starting new communities
  4. People are are curious about communities (but are stable where they are)

Communards:  Perhaps 1/3 of the people who come to the communities conference are already members of formed communities.  Last year 27 communities were represented at this event, mostly located in the North Eastern portion of the US with a smattering of other locations including Costa Rica, California and Germany.  The communards often come to recruit for their community and talk shop with communards from other communities.  The first place you will likely see communards (who you dont already know) is the Meet the Community gathering on Saturday morning.  Where they will present about their home in 90 seconds.  If you are talking to people who are in community, regardless of your status, the two most useful questions you can ask are:

  1. What is great about your community that causes you to stay there
  2. What needs changing in your community and what is your strategy for change

These questions will not only give you insight into this specific community, but they will help you to understand how communities work and fail and what type of things bring satisfaction and trouble to community living.  The other thing about these questions is that everyone who has lived in community for longer than a couple of months usually has well thought out answers to them.  These questions allow you to jump in and start a deep conversation with people who are living experts in this lifestyle.

Communards may not always be this easy to spot.

Prospective Community Members:  Almost half of the people attending last years conference were individuals or families who were either looking to move from the community that they were in to a new one, or were looking to leave mainstream life for the more holistic environment of community living.  Most of these people are looking for something in the next year, but i talked with more than one “sleeper” who was interested in this lifestyle, intended to move to community, but needed to finish school, or have kids graduate or some other life transition which was going to take more than a year.

When in doubt, look for violens

There are a whole series of questions you might ask people who are interested in moving to community:

  • Are you looking for something spiritual or secular (most are secular at our event)?
  • Are you looking for something rural or urban?
  • Are you looking for incomes sharing? or Co-housing? or a land trust or some other type of model?
  • What are your dietary requirements (if people are going to eat together)?
  • Have you lived in community before?

There are many more questions you could ask, but these are strong ice breakers.

Founders:  The smallest important group of participants to the Twin Oaks Communities Conference are the people who come with the intention of starting a new community.  Most broadly speaking these folks come in two flavors, those who have land and those who do not.  Founders who already have land selected or (better) purchased or (even better) developed with some housing on it, are quite a lot farther along than the people who are still talking about forming community and dont quite know where yet.  Pioneers of the communities movement are doing some of the most important work.  It is also work that is often fraught with set backs and frustration.  A huge fraction of community pioneers abandon their projects before they even come close to moving onto the land.

Pioneers may not be this obvious

Characteristics to seek in a likely successful founder are: tenacity, creativity, good social skills, access to resources and mechanical/construction skills.  Ideally they would have several of these, and if they dont they have other people in their founding team who do.  Dont be afraid to ask, these questions are bonding, even when the answers are not as fully fleshed out as the pioneer might like.

Community Curious:  Perhaps 1/4 of the attendees are not in a situation where they can move to community anytime soon, but they enjoy community life, they may be a satellite to an existing community where they have some of their social life.  They might be hangers on from the recent Twin Oaks Womens Gathering, itself often a life transforming event.

Are you considering urban living?

Depending on which of these groups you fall into, you are encouraged to think of your own answers to these questions.  Thoughtful responses show that you are connected to the importance of these issues and how they can influence your future paths.

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