There are lots of cooperatives in Davis, and their number is growing. Living in a cooperative requires some special skills that living in a non-cooperative setting doesn't require, because you interact with, rely on, and share with your roommates and/or community members a lot more. The rewards are worth it - so here's what you need to know about living in a cooperative.
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Elements of successful cooperatives
Community decision-making is an important part of a functioning cooperative. Some cooperatives use consensus decision-making (in which everyone's agreement is required), which can work well for small groups. Others use consensus minus one (decision can be reached even with one dissenting community member), or majority vote, or other systems. N Street Cohousing, for example, requires consensus at meetings (and non-attending community members may veto decisions within two weeks of the meeting), but if an issue fails to reach consensus and is raised at a series of meetings, it eventually may be decided by majority vote.
If you're starting a cooperative community, think about how your community will make decisions. For a small cooperative household, it's common to meet once a week as a household and make decisions by consensus.
New community member selection
Part of making a cooperative work is selecting new members of the community carefully. There are two important functions of a well-designed selection process:
- Filtering: You want to filter out anyone who isn't really committed to making a cooperative community work. Some people are attracted to cooperatives because they sometimes have low rent, for example. You also want to filter out anyone who won't fit in well with your community's overall culture. This does not mean that you should reject anyone who is different - you should try to filter out anyone who you think will be unhappy, or will make all the rest of you unhappy. A party fanatic probably isn't a good fit for a quiet community, for example. The best way to ensure cultural fit may be to speak openly with candidates about your culture, and ask them to explain how (and if) they think they will work with your culture.
- Setting expectations: The manner in which someone joins an organization or community has a lot to do with how they behave in that organization or community. By explaining at the very beginning of the process what the expectations are in your community, you let people know what they'll need to do and how they'll need to act in a community. The best way to do this may be to explain how the community works, and even invite them to a community meal so they can see it in action. (Since it can take some time to explain how your community works, you may want to write some of this up for applicants to read on their own time, or do group interviews.)