MIC ProcessMy article last month proposing Model Intentional Communities (MICs) as a means of showing young people a better, more natural way to live provoked a strong and positive response. Many readers commented on how important it is to teach by showing (or better yet, by letting young people experiment themselves with some intelligent, structured but light-handed facilitation) rather than by telling. So I’m encouraged to go on to the next step to try to assess how we can (and should) create some MICs.

First, some definitions: An Intentional Community (IC) is an autonomous, self-managed, democratic association of people with shared social, cultural and economic intentions and aspirations. A Model Intentional Community is an Intentional Community that is:

  • exemplary — it works well, and represents the best of what ICs with similar focus and talents have to offer
  • egalitarian — it is non-hierarchical, has no dominant leader, and is free of the coercive characteristics that can cause healthy communities to decline into cults
  • replicable — other successful ICs could be created by following its example
  • educational — by spending time in it, you can learn a great deal, including how and why it is successful
  • responsible and respectful — there is no reason why ICs can’t be selfish or arrogant, but I think we’d want the models we show our young people to be communities where members took responsible for, and were respectful of, the welfare of other members and their neighbourhoods
  • sustainable — it’s not dependent on the largesse of outsiders, or on subsidies or low commodity prices
  • diverse — substantially different in focus, style, and/or structure from the other MICs

There is no cookie-cutter mechanism for creating ICs, but in reviewing the various websites of successful ICs and the umbrella organizations like the FIC, the FEC, and the CCS and CCA here in Canada (cooperatives are somewhat different from ICs, but they share some important principles of formation), you can identify at least a skeleton formation process, which I’ve diagrammed above. I wouldn’t presume to say exactly how to accomplish each of these steps (ask me again when I’ve set one or two up), but the steps are:

  1. Find Members: Select the people who you would love to have in your community, and live and/or work with. Just as in any other activity that involves social networking, this is by far the hardest step. We desperately need better social networking tools and processes.
  2. Set Intentions & Principles: Collectively, the members decide what the objectives of the community will be, and what principles it will live by. These may include principles that define its responsibilities and values, how new members are admitted, a size limit for the community, how resources will be owned and ‘profits’ distributed, the decision-making process, required contribution and participation from members, and many others. Like the membership itself, these principles may be fluid, at least until the community has been operating for awhile.
  3. Design the Community: Now collaboratively the members design what the community will look like and how it will operate.
  4. Obtain Needed Resources: Acquire what the community needs to achieve its intentions
  5. Create the Community: Together, make it happen.
  6. Connect & Outreach: Connect with other communities, with the outside, and with schools and other organizations and people looking for models of a better way to live. This is the step that too many communities, fearing contamination or destruction by contact with the rest of the terrible world, so often omit. We all need each other. Isolation deprives the communities of some of the benefits of technology, innovation and civilization, and deprives the rest of the world of much-needed learning about living alternatives.

If you have set up, or belong to, an IC, please share with us what you’ve learned about the process. I’ve made arrangements to visit a local IC just north of where I live later this month, and I’ll report what I learn after they show me around. The more I find out about ICs, the more attracted I am to the concept. And what’s interesting is that they seem to have figured out the principles of Natural Enterprise as well, by trial and error, so I’m going to feature some of their stories in my upcoming book.

So suppose a bunch of us built a set of MICs with varied intents and specialties. We might categorize them in some way to reflect their diversity and their principal focus, for example:

  1. Inventors — ICs focused on innovation and development, perhaps applying lessons from nature to invent products and processes that do more with less
  2. Fabricators — ICs focused on ‘ingeneering’ and manufacturing durable, customized, recyclable products
  3. Carriers — ICs focused on distribution of products of other ICs to customers, just in time, and including recycling and returning all materials used, cleanly, back to the Earth
  4. Menders — ICs focused on preventative maintenance and repair of people (health and spiritual wellness) and the things they use
  5. Scientists — ICs focused on scientific discovery, and development of technology and biotechnology drawing on those discoveries, that will allow us to live well with smaller ecological footprints
  6. Artists — ICs focused on arts & entertainment, whose members portray for other MICs the world as it is, was, and could be
  7. Players — ICs focused on sports & recreation, exemplifying and teaching the value of physical prowess, collaboration and play
  8. Designers — ICs focused on cooking, fashion and other design, making intelligent and creative use of natural ingredients
  9. Teachers — ICs focused on philosophy, education and the social sciences, and the dissemination of knowledge
  10. Nomads ñ ICs focused on travel and continuous learning

These would not be exclusive specialties, of course. Each community would need some expertise in the other areas, and all communities would be self-sufficient in growing their own food and producing their own clean, renewable energy. And people in each community would doubtless have hobbies outside their MIC’s focus. But having models that fell into each of these diverse types would provide the perfect basis for showing young people the diversity of opportunity, work focus and intellectual and emotional pursuit that is open to them. Instead of four years sitting in classes in high school, for example, students from 14 to 17 years of age could rotate through a couple of MICs of each of the above focuses, for, say, a month at a time, observing and trying things out and contributing as much as possible, at the end of which they would have acquired the kind of exposure, learning and experience that no classroom could ever match. My bet would be that many, perhaps even most, graduates of such a system would want to join one of the MICs they had lived in, or would want to set up their own, with other members of their graduating class and people they had met along the way.

Who knows, we might even start a movement, launch a new, sustainable economy, and create a new culture. Education, done correctly, can be that powerful. But first we need to create these MICs, these new dynamic ‘educational institutions’. And that isn’t going to be easy.

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  1. eef says:

    I know of at least one such an MIC, but it’s only temporary. It’s called Ecotopia and it’s happening right now in the Netherlands. It’s more of a festival and a meeting point for activists, but it is trying to show how a sustainable community could and should work. Next year it’ll be in Eastern Europe (the location isn’t known yet). It’s based on consensus based decisionmaking and sustainability.

  2. eef says:

    I know of at least one such an MIC, but it’s only temporary. It’s called Ecotopia and it’s happening right now in the Netherlands. It’s more of a festival and a meeting point for activists, but it is trying to show how a sustainable community could and should work. Next year it’ll be in Eastern Europe (the location isn’t known yet). It’s based on consensus based decisionmaking and sustainability. url: Sorry for the double post: my html didn’t work.

  3. Av says:

    I grew up in Columbia, MD which was the first planned community in the US. It was developed by James Rouse (grandfather of Columbia’s Edward Norton) and his Rouse Corporation and Columbia Association. We used to call it the “Columbubble”, because it seemed that many social problem just didn’t exist in Columbia like they do everywhere else. When Columbia was formed in the late 60’s a lot of interracial families moved there, and there is a sense of tolerance and diversity. Subsidised housing was devolped near upper-middle class homes, so I went to school and was friends with rich kids, poor kids, and everybody in between. There are no free standing religous temples, only interfaith centers. No individual mailboxes, usually one per cul-de-sac. This makes it easier to bond and interact with neighbors. Columbia is split into different villages (usually 1 high school per village), each with a village center that has shopping, and villages split into neighborhoods (usually with 1 elementary school). Neighboorhood centers have a Columbia Association run swimming pool, meeting center, and sometimes an interfaith center or small store. There are some not so good features though. Public transportation sucks, and it is a really spread out town. There are many many bike paths, but for the most part you need a car to get around. You have to get permission from Columbia Association before you can paint your house or stuff like that, and no antennas on houses. The roads are much nicer in Columbia, than anywhere else I’ve seen in suburban MD, and it has one of the countries best educational systems (Howard County, MD). It is a prime location, midway between Baltimore and D.C., but because it is planned out, it doesn’t resemble the urban sprawl of older towns in the area.I’m not sure if this kind of planned community is what you were talking about, but I know I’m really glad that I grew up there, and would love to move back and raise my own kids there someday (not a good place to be a hip twentysomething, thats for sure).

  4. Mike says:

    Personal experience suggests researching, discussing, planning intentional communities is a lot more fun than actually building one. Building such, or moving to one, involves a substantial element of risk. One hidden psychopath can disrupt and probably destroy the entire community. OTOH it seems such would need at least a few strong-willed leader personalities. How to resolve this?The Ecotopia approach sounds great, if I had the time, I’d be there now.

  5. Derek says:

    So is “The Natural Step” working in the same direction you’re thinking?http://naturalstep.cathere’s also: like other minds have been working on this problem. (Which would be encouraging.)Derek W.Thanks to:

  6. Dave Pollard says:

    Eef — thanks; I love their name for Local Solar/Wind Energy Co-ops: Non-Oil, Petroleum Exporting Communities (NOPEC) ;-)Av — this is certainly on the right path, though I would hope MICs would have a bit more community autonomy, more communal spaces instead of single-family dwellings, and more wilderness. But you have to start somewhere, and its track record is remarkable and worth study.Mike — not sure why you think strong leaders are needed in MICs; the whole idea is to have true egalitarian democracy, with no tolerance for demagogues, tyrants or psychopaths — when admission is by unanimous agreement of existing members, it seems unlikely that one bad apple would spoil the community, unless, of course, the bad apple was the founder. The danger of cults is what worries me most about MICs, which is why I think its important that members of MICs be well-connected with outsiders.Derek — I’ve studied the Natural Step approach and I believe it’s a more pragmatic program to make existing communities more sustainable, rather than something as radical as an MIC (self-selecting, self-managing, self-sufficient, purely democratic and harmoniously integrated with nature and wilderness). All grist for the mill, however, and important work from which we can learn.

  7. DRH Computing says:

    I am not sure about this – sound like a rehash of the Utopian Movement..However – many of the principles are in practise today in many listservs – and virtual assocaiations that have grown out of them.Same human issues present..DRH

  8. I was a founding member of the Farm in Tennessee. For over 12 years I lived in a collective arrangement on this intentional spiritual community. Most of us left in the early 80s because we never really got a handle on self governance. We relied for too long on the guidance and power of the Farm’s founder and spiritual teacher, Stephen Gaskin, and we basically went bankrupt. With growing families, most of us struck out on our own. But now, 20 years later, there are still over 200 people living on the land in Tennessee and many of us emigrants still stay in touch via the Net. We learned a lot about cooperation, purpose, “sorting it out,” and the basic living skills required of a self-sustaining community. Though we all have memories of the worst parts of the experience, we also remember the best parts and our relationships to this day are family-like. I agree that the future will bring a growing need for the lessons learned through such long-term experiments, and in a conversation I had with Stewart Brand recently, we agreed that a book about what was learned on the Farm would make an invaluable manual for future survivors in a world fractured by population shift, political upheaval, economic chaos and global warming.

  9. Philip Dodd & Sharon Macdonald says:

    When the student is ready, the teacher will appear! We have initiated an “innocent” project to bring active-learning to deeply rural schools in South Africa. Our initiative is focussed on bringing materials and equipment, and teacher-training to five existing, but underserved schools in the Eastern Cape Province. After one year and two visits we see a need to expand our intervention from the schools into the primitive communities that are completely without any physical infrastucture beyond the local school buildings; no potable water, no sanitation, no electricity. Most adults are engaged solely in subsistance farming. For most families a small government child welfare or old-age pension is their only source of cash. We have rented an abandoned general store and have begun to stock it as a community learning resource centre with books, woodworking tools and sewing equipment, DVD’s and a television and DVD player, and solar equipment to provide some electricity. We are modestly supporting one kindergarten teacher who is fluent in English, and acts as the Director of the centre and our contact while we are back in Canada. We would love to hear your ideas on how we can help these people to come into the 21st century sustainably and intentionally.

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