External Relations and Networks
According to systemic thinking life is a network and collaboration is its essence.
This fascinating discipline tells us about relations and exchange between complex elements, about relations of systems with each other.
A group project is, like any human group, a living system and has a constant need to communicate and evolve in order to adapt to the changing conditions. It seeks not only to survive but to thrive and benefit its members and the surrounding environment.
In CLIPS guide we are suggesting that knowledge developed in close communities can benefit many kinds of group projects. Having written this there is a common misconception about communal living which we have to address here. The misconception is, that community people create a private paradise, an oasis just for themselves, as if community was an isolated, sealed-off reality, separated from the “real” world.
In reality it is quite the opposite: close communities are normally an active part of broader society, that carry the flag of human rights, sustainability and hope for a better future.
It might be that only some of them formally offer training programmes to the wider public, but they all provide a living example that a different life is not only possible, it is accessible and advisable. The is evident from the long-lasting, successful work of the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN).
Whenever a newcomer tries to introduce some changes, the local community responds with scepticism. All new group projects stumble upon this issue when they come up with innovative ideas. So, how to create positive and mutually satisfactory relationships with the neighbourhood is the questions that many groups struggle with. When “the new kid on the block” takes his first steps, he needs to simply look around. Who is there? Who has been there long before the group moved in or started being active? Whose is the sense of ownership of the land, of the buildings, of the local culture and traditions? Buying a property and starting up a really good project is not enough to become the real owner from the perspective to the local/bioregional customs.
Group projects, like trees and forests, need to put roots in the ground and start the cycle of nutrition – growth – exchange – return, with the surrounding environment. They need to recognize, accept and honour the community that has already lived on the land, whether it is humans, animals or plants. Go out and shake hands, or paws, or branches. The new community, as the new element, has the task to make itself known. Being accepted will be the second step.
A universal language that everyone can understand and appreciate is good and fun, so create a social occasion with joyful activities and invite all neighbours, including the next village, for an open day. Do this even if the community lead project has only just started. Present the group vision and mission, talk about plans and projects, and exchange clothes, seeds, food, tools, etc. This is an effective way of building relationships with the local community. It is the key to creating a supportive network around a new group. It has a multitude of benefits, very few disadvantages, and will pay off, even in the short term.
Formal relations with the local administrators, politicians and key people are also essential, therefore it is useful to plan formal events too. But remember: local community, the people close to the new project, will communicate with others about the new project long before the group meets and talks to the mayor.
We each come from an individual background, and bring our connections along when we create a group project. Most people involved in a group project belong to associations, companies, food coops, permaculture chapters, etc. This can be a big asset for a new-born project. Keeping an open flow of information on the development stage of a group will attract attention and energy from fellow-activists who can become a supportive network around the initiative, bringing in fresh ideas and energy and even creating a flow of new members.
Keep in mind that transparency, openness and inclusion do not mean that every group process must be open to anyone. Working in a group project implies many private moments. The balance between inclusion and exclusion is an art that every group must master, especially communities where people live very closely together.