Setting community goals and values in a vision statement
A vision statement clearly defines to prospective members what you are trying to do. Most communities have found that defining the expectations, hopes, and aspirations of the group is a critical first step toward building the community.
This definition is crucial, because it will filter the right people into your group, and filter the wrong people out. For example, if you want a community that shares a strong environmental orientation, you should define this clearly enough so anybody considering joining the grows knows, without a doubt, what it is you are trying to accomplish. Next to cost and location, the social and ideological structures are the most important aspect that prospective members will notice and evaluate before joining.
Although some forms of community, like cohousing are not as ideological as other types of communities, in any community there are often values and assumptions which drive the participants. Define the goals and values clearly and carefully and write them down. You need to give this document to every prospective member. The more detail you can flesh out in a vision statement, the better it will be at filtering in like minded people. This document is very exclusionary. You can have diversity of many kinds in the group, but it really helps you down the road, to have people who share the same vision. For example, if the group vision is to create low income housing, you may need to make a number of tradeoffs and decisions to accomplish the vision. If several people in the group do not share the vision of low income housing, when you get to the point where you have to make those trade-off decisions, you will very likely have problems, big messy group conflict problems, because those who do not share the vision, will NOT want to make the trade-offs required. Working in a group to form a community is a very challenging enterprise, and the more vision and common goals the group shares, the easier it is to move ahead.
This isn't fast or easy
It may take quite a few meetings of discussion to create your vision. Remember that the vision will evolve over time so you will want to re-visit the vision statement occasionally to ensure it still reflects the groups beliefs and direction. So don’t be afraid that you will have to think of everything right at the start. If you are a founder of the group you may find yourself in a difficult position. If you have specific values or goals that you want to live with, and those who join don’t share some or all of these, what do you do? This is not an uncommon situation community founders find themselves in. You may find it very helpful to create a personal list for yourself of your "non-negotiable's". These are the values you hold very strongly and would not be willing to live without. If that list is long, you should create the vision first, incorporating these, then find people who share the vision.
The vision statement is a personal question to each member which asks: "what do I hope and want for this community?" Expressing the goals and expectations that are shared by all the membership and writing them down is a good way to start building a community, and is a good first experience at collaborative decision making, something you will do a lot of as time goes by. For example one way to get started is to ask the group to answer the question: "I want this community to be a place where:…"
As you explore your community dream, examine where expectations and goals of the membership overlap and where they differ. If one member wants a very close community, and another wants just a low-key sharing of tools, their approaches and efforts will reflect that. Recognizing expectations helps members understand one another's motivations. Establishing expectations in writing communicates the level of commitment required.
Your goals and vision statement will filter newcomers so carefully review your statement before you hand it out. It may be a good idea to have someone not in the group read and react to it so you can get an unbiased check of what the language you use conveys.
Define specifics in your vision
If your vision statement contains social and ideological beliefs, you should try and define an example of what you mean with each statement of belief. For instance, if you want to promote environmental concerns, you might list some specific ways you want to accomplish this such as by composting food waste, recycling building materials, using non-toxic materials when feasible. If you are looking to create an Urban group, then specially define the geographic area you will consider.
Exercise: Discovering Your Group's Values
- Yellow Stickies OR Index Cards and tape
- Pens - dark markers work best
- Pass out enough yellow stickies or index cards so everyone has several.
- Place extras in a pile in the center of the group.
- Tell everyone to write an answer to the question on the card or yellow sticky
- Write one answer per card
- Writing BIG so people can see
- Use as few words as possible
- This works best if it is done without talking
- The question is: What values do you think we share in common?
- Give everybody 5 minutes to write down answers.
- At the end of the period have everyone place their stickies on a blank wall.
- Have people rearrange their stickies into groups which are similar.
- After awhile this will settle down with the stickies in clumps.
- The facilitator then summarizes the groups, giving each group a name - they either write it on another sticky or use one that someone created.
Other Values Questions you might ask include:
- 'What is the one thing, you think everyone in the community needs to believe'
- 'What 3 values are important to you to share with the people you live with'
This exercise allows you to collect many ideas and ideals in a short period and also gives a good sense of how many people are interested in the same idea, which is an advantage of using this process over brainstorming.
- Six Ingredients for Forming Communities (That Help Reduce Conflict Down the Road), by Diana Leafe Christian (2000)