Social Relations

Introduction

So you are thinking about starting an Eco-village? That’s great! Now it is time to make other people as enthusiastic as you. Of course your idea is great, but if you do not succeed in making other people agree on that, your Eco-village might never get the chance to see daylight. Because when it comes to making big changes, such as creating new sustainable ways of living, other human beings will be affected. And if they do not like how the changes affect them, they just might decide to stop you.

So to make sure no one will try to stop you from creating your Eco-village you need tools for how to handle and manage stakeholders. Stakeholders are the people who have an interest in your project, they are the people who are affected by your plans and on the other hand may do things that affect your plans. These are tools for analyzing before acting. Tools for creating good relations with the people that might get affected by your plans and that might affect your plan.

I start of this part of the ecovillageideas blog with looking of ways for you to organize yourselves. Then I present a way for you to do a Stakeholders analysis. So that you can get a better understanding of whom the stakeholders actually are and how you can interact with them. After that, we will go into a way of managing one of the most importanr stakeholders of any Eco-village project: the people already living in the area/nearby.

We are going to look into some good ways of creating participation and sense of community – in theory and practice. And we are also going to get some good advice from some folks who have already done what you are dreaming of: that is to create an Eco-village.

Starting an organization: different ways of managing an Eco-village

The first thing you may want to do before involving others is to make sure that at least those of you starting the Eco-village is on the same track.

Erik is working as an advisor at Coompanion – cooperative development. His advice to a group of people wanting to create an Eco-village is to start a non-profit organization. By doing that people who are interested can formally join and the responsibilities within the group can be structured. What is more, as an official organization you get the possibility to apply for grants and funds. For example, within the European Union, Leader is a fund providing subsidies to organizations doing projects related to rural development.

In this non-profit organization you could do a “study circle” where you learn more about Eco-villages for example by reading books or blogs like this one and then discuss it within the group. You can also just gather and brain storm your ideas about how you want to live and then try to find common dreams that you can work on fulfilling together.

Getting serious

After working together for some while – maybe you have done a pre-study, vision work and study circles – the time has come to move from words to action. Probably you have figured out who of you are actually on the same track and who would prefer to do something different. Maybe you have found out pretty much where and how to build your Eco-village. With other words, it is time to get money involved.

At this point, a non-profit organization might no longer do the work since you are no longer serving a public interest, but the interest off the group. It is time to start a economic or cooperative society (which is also not-for-profit). The cooperative society’s aim is to serve its’ members economically.

This does not mean that you have to abolish your first organization since it can still be good for future study circles, vision work and for supporters. However, if you are now going to start investing in the Eco-village, you probably only want the ones investing to decide what is going to happen with your money. When starting a cooperative society you can feel safer about legal matters.

However, there are many different forms off cooperative societies (often country specific as well). And it is your job to decide which kind you prefer.

Private ownership

If you are planning to own you houses/apartments individually it is easy. The society just buys the piece of land and re-sells its divided parts to the different members of the society. Then the job is done and you can all start building privately and individually as you choose. This is probably the most common ways conventional villages are organized. But it is rarely how an Eco-village is organized. There are many reasons, firstly an Eco-village has a common vision of being eco-friendly and if there are no common rules you might end up having something very different from what the different people at first agreed on. Secondly, an Eco-village does usually have the aim of being socially, as well as ecologically, sustainable. Eco-villages try to create strong social ties through cooperation, common activities and ownership. Also, the idea of co-ownership is kind of eco-friendly itself because it means that by sharing, each individual will not be forced to buy new things. By doing things together costs are shared, which makes the sometimes more expensive organic options more affordable.

But even when owning the Eco-village together, there are many different options. We are going to look at three different examples from real life:

Blenda – community tenement house in Uppsala, Sweden

In central Uppsala you find a large apartment house with 24 apartments looking like any other apartment house. But there is one difference. Though the apartments are individual flats, on the ground floor you find a big dining hall and kitchen. This is where they eat supper. Each person living in the apartment house is some day per month cooking for the rest of the families. There are also other community activities such as meetings, cleaning and cultural events.

The house is owned by a rental company so there are no initial costs for people living there. But to be accepted as a tenant you have to join the non-profit organization Blenda. Once a member you will pay your rent to the rental company and a monthly fee to Blenda to cover costs like electricity and insurance. But to be able to join, you will first have to go to an interview with a committee from Blenda. At the interview they inform you about the special rules and relations at Blenda and only after they have seen that you understood and agreed you get the chance to join. In this way the people living in the community try to make sure that there common values and visions are maintained.

Sofia has been living in Blenda for many years and she thinks that there is a very nice mix of people living at Blenda, partly due to the fact that it is a rental tenement. The organization form makes it possible for students and people without savings to join the community. But the best thing about living at Blenda is, according to Sofia, the fact that she really gets to know her neighbors. That is thanks to living in a community house.

A big advantage with this form of organization is that there are no big initial costs directly carried by the people living there. On the other hand, there is a company that will demand a monthly profit from your rent. Initially you must find a company that is willing to build and let out the apartments to you, which might be difficult in some cases especially if your demands are unusual. You might have to compromise a lot.

Blomstret – community condominium in Gävle, Sweden

Blomstret is very much built on the same principles as Blenda. The difference is that the people living at Blomstret own their flats. By co-financing the building costs the chance is probably bigger that a company will want to invest in a community house. It can also give the people living in the house more power and control over the management of the house.

When buying a flat at Blomstret you sign a contract about following the special rules of the community, such as to regularly cook the joint dinner. However, this organization form involves a legal problem: Since the people living at Blomstret have the right to sell their apartment on the open market they might find that the buyer with the maximum bid is not interested in taking part in the community activities. In this case the housing cooperative can say no to the buyer. But in a recent court case (not involving Blomstret specifically) a seller sued a housing cooperative due to lost profits. This would never be the case with a rental flat.

Annika was one of the persons who founded Blomstret and she still lives there. She is very satisfied with who the community housing cooperative works. However, she claims that there is a new even better organization form for community houses: cooperative tenancy.

A cooperative tenancy would work like a tenement house. However, the tenant is obligated to make an initial deposit. In this way the people living in the house contribute to the financing of the house, which lower the running costs. But when they move away they get the deposit back from the economic society instead of selling the flat on the open market.

Suderbyn – Eco-village with joint ownership in Gotland, Sweden  

Suderbyn is a recently started Eco-village on the island of Gotland. They have a piece of land where they are building houses with eco-friendly techniques. They started off pretty much like Erik at Coompanion advises. However, a community condominium was not a good organization option for them, since it is not made for managing land ownership. Instead, they have decided to own everything together. So the members invest in the cooperative economic society. Then the association as a group is responsible of taking care of housing, water supply and so on for everyone. In this way they try to get rid of private ownership and speculation. Most of the people living there are members. In the spring of 2011 they had eight members.

Robert is one of the members and he says that it has been surprisingly difficult to get new members. But on the other hand he emphasis that it would not be worth it to get new people quickly with the risk of getting people who do not fully support the idea of the Eco-village.

Stakeholder analysis: getting the big picture

This is a tool which aims to analyze the stakeholders related to your Eco-village project in terms of their importance, decision making power, position in the community, the possible role they might play in future development including establishment of partnership and further to understand the partners or/and conflict relations among them.

How? The tool is composed of several interactive exercises which in are implemented in the following logical order:

· Venn diagram of stakeholders considering importance, decision making power and position of stakeholders in the community development

· Communication action plan.

 Exercise 1: Identification of participants in the partnership

This exercise is to help with the identification of all important partners in terms of their formal or informal reputation, involvement in the decision making process, the opportunities of co-financing or any other possible sources that would contribute to successful implementation of the development process.

 Objectives

A list of all important stakeholders of the region development should be drawn up

 Steps

1. The working group draws up a list of the local institutions, social groups, individual representatives and external organizations that should have the stake in the process of creating the Eco-village through a brainstorming.

2. The working group draws up a list of these stakeholders and numbers them

3. The participants must identify as many institutions/partners as they can and arrange them on the flip chart as truthfully as possible in terms of the relationships the participants have with them.

Exercise 2: Identification of partners through the method of Venn’s Diagram of stakeholders

 Description

Venn’s Diagram of stakeholders will help us to identify and determine the significance/importance of any particular partner included in the planning process. The Diagram facilitates the assessment of the relationships, connections, conflicts among the partners and their influence on your project.

Objectives

1.     To find out who is more and who is less important for the development of the area.

2.     To find out who has the right to take decisions in the region (formally and informally) and who should be included in the process of development.

3.     To identify the relationships and connections among the local institutions, social groups and independent representatives and find out what could be won or lost from the implementation of the actions planned in relation with the regional development.

Steps

1.     Setting up of working sub-groups.

2.  Each working group draws up a list of the local institutions, social groups, independent representatives and external organizations that should take part in the process of developing the Eco-village (Alternative: the list is drawn up by the whole group through a brainstorming). The result of previous exercise can be used for this purpose.

3.     Each working group determines the extent of importance of each identified partner by writing his name/appellation on one of the cut circles: large circle – great importance, medial circle – average importance, small circle – small importance. This is done for each sector separately. The results are three sizes and three colors defined partners.

4.     The participants place the circles on the flip chart paper (in which are two circles drawn (one inside the other). The central circle means the centre of the decision power, the surrounding circle means less power.

5.     Participants place colored circles around these two circles respecting their mutual position. This means the connection between such partners is stronger and therefore the circles should be arranged on the flip chart as follows: separate circles – no contact, circles that touch – exchange of information, small overlap – certain cooperation in taking decisions, large overlap – intensive cooperation in taking decisions.

6.     The participants should identify as many institutions/partners as possible and arrange them on the flip chart as truthfully as possible in terms of the relationships the participants have with them. After the work at groups the participants compare Venn’s Diagram of stakeholders and try to analyze the differences (a certain institution can be presented by different circles at different working groups – for example small and large). In this case the whole group should try to come to an agreement by discussion.

Communication strategy

After having done all these exercises the group should decide on a communication strategy: Who is in charge of and have the mandate to be the spokesperson of the Eco-village group in relation to which stakeholder? Should the group try to create partnerships or maybe even avoid certain stakeholders? Put your decisions on paper and stick to it, or when necessary reevaluate and make a new decision.

Local Economic Analysis:

getting the community on the boat

Background

Probably, the most important stakeholder when creating an Eco-village (except yourselves of course) is the community already living in the area where you want to start building. These are your becoming neighbors. If they do not fancy the idea of living next to an Eco-village they will probably do what they can to stop you.

The whole concept of “going eco”  is still not familiar to everyone and you might be met with suspicion. People may wonder “What’s in it for me?”. As a pioneer, it will be your job to make other people see the benefits involved in creating a more eco-friendly society (whether you like it or not). A key factor in being able to do this, and to be able to fully enjoy living in your area, is to establish good relations with people in the local community.

For many years Swedish Village Action Groups have been working with a community development tool called Local Economic Analysis (LEA). This is a strong tool for networking, community building and participation connected to economic fields such as creating jobs, cooperatives and rural businesses.

Objectives

A LEA will show how the decisions made by locals can effect employment and local growth. The analysis will result in a very valuable report, similar to a market research which can be used by different actors. This LEA report should be used as the basis of a local development plan.

Method

In Sweden there exists a possibility to order statistic material from the Statistics Central Bureau (SCB). The material shows the average and total disposable incomes in a certain village and the main consumption categories that the locals spend their money on.

Using this statistic material a local development group, preferably consisting of representatives of local enthusiasts, associations and businesses, will create a sort of Trade Balance. This balance will show what and how much is consumed locally and what is “imported” from a city. To know this, local businesses must provide some information about their average yearly incomes. The “imports” are seen as a sort of “leakage point” in the local economy. It provides a clue about a demand that possibly could be supplied for locally.

Thus, after the local development group have done the LEA they should ask themselves: “What can we do to increase local supply of goods and services?”, “Is there demand for a new enterprises?”, “How can already existing enterprises increase their sales?”. The answers should be very specific and result in an action plan. Off course, the group can also come up with non-monetary activities that would improve life quality, such as cultural gatherings or a new football team.

LEA “in real life”: Gunnarsbyn

In Gunnarsbyn, a rural village in the municipality of Boden situated in northern Sweden, the locals have used Local Economic Analysis to turn a downwards trend and improve the economy in the village. After using LEA they created the exhibition “Vision 2020” describing their plan for a positive local economic development.

Gunnarsbyn had basic services such as a grocery store, a gas station and a school, but they wished to increase local services. The statistic material, which they had ordered from the Swedish Central Statistics Bureau, showed that the 700 inhabitants of Gunnarsbyn had a total of 80 million Swedish Crowns (about 9 million Euros. 1 Euro is about 8,7 Swedish Crowns) in purchasing power but only 11 million Crowns was spent in Gunnarsbyn. The estimated “leakage” was in others word 69 million Crowns. Furthermore, the locals probably spent an even bigger part outside the village, since tourism provided the village with net incomes.

The concrete plan of the development group was set to increase the share spent locally from 11 to 30 millions. This would be done through expanding local service business, expanding product range in the grocery store, selling more fuel locally, increase tourism and most importantly: increase the conviction among locals that the local economy is important to improve the quality of life of all inhabitants in the village.

The vision for year 2020 would in extent mean about 12-16 new jobs, new businesses, an increased supply of products and also an increase in population. This would be very meaningful for a village that has since long suffered from depopulation.

In the development plan there were also three specific proposals:

  • A local nursing home for the ageing population.
  • Agrocentre. A joint-stock-company using animals to keep the landscape open and produce meat. In this way risk would be shared among many owners.
  • Create a local network for tourism businesses, to cooperate instead of competing about attractive services. They would also work together on marketing and information.

The locals in Gunnarsbyn are still working to accomplish their vision by the year 2020. They are seen as a good example for other villages working on local economic development, using Local Economic Analysis as a tool.

How is Local Economic Analysis related to creating an Eco-village?

Firstly, doing a LEA is an excellent way of getting to know your neighbors, their mentality and their needs. Secondly, since you are going to create something new in the neighborhood, why not incorporate the ideas and dreams of the people living in the area in your plans? Maybe the locals see a need off a local grocery store or a kindergarten for the kids? If so, why not make it eco-style? In this way you get a much greater chance of getting the local community on your side and not working against you.

What is more, creating locals jobs will improve local self reliance and reduce the need of transport. Not only for the people who get employed, but also for the consumers that will no longer have to go far away to do the shopping.

Often Eco-villages are created as a project among friends, sometimes (maybe unconsciously?) carrying the idea that “others do not understand us”. But why close doors like that? The consciousness about environmental problems is constantly increasing and you can take a role in helping it increase even more in your local community. By recognizing the good qualities and capacities within people outside your Eco-village group you will most surely create better relations and get more people on the train towards a sustainable lifestyle.

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