Needs of the Intentional Community Movement

We have permission from the Next Big Step to share a list from the collective wisdom of intentional community founders and advocates. It’s part of an ongoing discussion that at least 10 long-term members of the movement are involved in, about opportunities to foster the creation and well-being of residential intentional communities. This is not from an authoritative body, but an egalitarian discussion across communities of how ICs can progress toward a joint vision. Considering how the variety of online platforms for intentional communities can serve to help coordinate the movement’s needs, one question from the ongoing discussion log is as follows:

What could come from more coordinated effort among intentional communities? The Next Big Step sees possibilities such as these:

  • Facilitating land access, and the securing of land in case communities fail
  • Collaboration on grant and loan funds
  • Mutual insurance programs
  • Access to professionals, mentors, consultants
  • Facilitating mutual aid, like labor or housing exchanges
  • Sharing of knowledge and experience between communities about issues they’re facing (less suffering in isolation)
  • Outreach and recruiting
  • Accountability processes, either for problematic communities, problematic leaders in the movement, or supporting communities in conducting accountability processes for people internally
  • Fund for local/regional organizing, both for intentional communities and amongst allied organizations to influence larger social/economic/government systems

The discussion coordinated by the Next Big Step continues: “Again, intentional communities are not alone in this work, and certainly can’t affect the kind of change that’s needed alone. We believe there is a common, if not clearly articulated, vision that many groups of different kinds are working towards….We would like to see ICs come together so that as a movement we can be a better partner to the larger movement.”

The following sections touch on each of the needs listed above. This information is presented in an effort to help IC-focused platforms and other organizations self-identify as links that could help meet specific needs, and to identify resources to assist them.

Contact us if you want your organization on our list of regional associations (often state or province level) for intentional communities, which can focus on a specific type of IC. To keep focused on intentional communities, we will avoid listing generalized mutual aid networks that aren’t focused on housing or permaculture.

Grant or Loan Funds

ICmatch has compiled lists of grants relevant to intentional communities. Most are included in the pages that are specific to a type of intentional community (see Community Types tab). Some are included in the Financing page (accessible in the footer). Contact us if you have useful additions. A group of intentional communities might be more effective in grant applications for joint projects, because they offer the founders assurance of oversight from more than one organization.

Mutual Insurance Programs

Currently, your local credit unions may be the ideal place to start, as they are likely to work with you to develop a mutual fund for this purpose. There are several national organizations that offer life insurance as a partner with credit unions. Please contact us if you are aware of any specifically IC-related organizations that offer housing, health, or other types of insurance.

Access To Professionals, Mentors, and Consultants

The following lists are free to access:

  • ICmatch listing of affiliated consultants: These independent consultants are searchable by 22 skill specializations, 10 regions, 27 community types, and whether the consultant offers sliding fees. Consultant profiles list fee amounts. It currently covers only the U.S. and Canada. See end of the consultants page for more external consultant resources.
  • ICmatch list combining consultant databases: These independent consultants combines listings by the Foundation for Intentional Community, the Cohousing Association of the United States, Global Ecovillage Network, Upwork, and LinkedIn. Having these combined simplifies your search for the best fit. It currently covers only the U.S. and Canada. See end of the consultants page for more external consultant resources.

Facilitating Mutual Aid, Labor, or Housing Exchanges

The Federation of Egalitarian Communities is a member-run organization that has managed a Labor Exchange and Labor Exchange Travel Subsidies program, a shared outreach program, and a catastrophic health care fund that also acted as a loan fund for its member organizations.

Sharing of Knowledge and Experience Between Communities

The longer version of this topic was about sharing notes about issues ICs are facing. Mastermind groups involving leadership of region-specific ICs or purpose-specific ICs could help cross-pollinate ICs with peer mentoring. A browser search for “how to run a mastermind group” will bring up many quality lists to help you get started. Find the same-region or purpose-specific ICs using ic.org/directory. These could also form the basis of mutual aid networks, labor exchange, and housing exchanges.

Topic-organized forums about IC issues are hosted by several long-standing IC-related platforms:

If you are aware of other similar platforms, or other organizations in a position to serve the unmet needs of the intentional community movement, please let us know. Other platforms that don’t include a forum are listed on the page Platforms for In-person Intentional Community.

Outreach and Recruiting

Currently it appears that all organizations in the IC movement are working to attract interest, but are not actively trying to generate interest among the larger culture. Given the challenges of simply maintaining a functional intentional community, acting as examples may be the most important and effective type of outreach possible at present. Many intentional communities host events to which locals are invited. These are an essential recruitment opportunity both for the ICs and the movement. ICmatch is interested to promote your effective outreach effort here if you would like to share it with others.

Accountability Processes

TheNextBigStep discussions noted three levels of accountability: identifying and/or remedying problematic communities, problematic leaders in the IC movement, and accountability of individuals within intentional communities. A commitment to egalitarian forms of governance currently prevails in the intentional communities movement. A distributed leadership model is going to be the only model acceptable to the movement, which makes accountability a challenge, but still possible. Many fields of professional practice have organizations that are given by the practitioners themselves the authority to discipline those that stray from accepted practices (for example, accreditation in medicine or higher education). In this way, the professions are able to keep a greater degree of autonomy; political and legal authorities are less often called on to set guidelines or mediate disputes. Leaders of intentional communities similarly will want to avoid becoming subject to external regulation by adhering to a set of guidelines that protects against the most egregious extremes. Intentional communities have gained wider acceptance as cohousing has become more available, but there is still stigma around income-sharing communes as practiced by more radical counterculture groups. However groups want to structure their communities, the movement will retain greater flexibility and autonomy if leaders of all types of communities agree to hold themselves to agreed-on standards. This could take the form of regional coalitions, in which one elder each from several nearby communities would come together to resolve a dispute or investigate a claim of exploitative behavior, if a group is unable to resolve an issue itself. Groups entering into a regional association may be tasked with presenting foundational agreements in writing, to show they have in place clear agreements among themselves and an internal dispute resolution process. This could help the movement to avoid becoming known for becoming embroiled in frequent lawsuits. As municipalities come to see intentional communities as stable and positively contributing entities, they will be more willing to agree to zoning requests that allow for IC goals to proceed. Similarly, funders will feel more confident in making loans that would traditionally be offered only to a corporation or individual.

Regional Organizing for Intentional Communities and Allied Organizations

People allied with various counterculture movements are often those most drawn to intentional communities. Many communities will resist suggestions to set up authoritative bodies to impose restrictions on intentional communities. Yet, such self-selected and bodies voluntarily allied with may offer the best protections and freedoms the movement can create. For example, when groups try to engage in experimental forms of building or waste disposal, it only takes one unhappy neighbor to put a halt to their plans and possibly put their entire financial standing in jeopardy with fines or legal challenges. There are several clear benefits and uses for contributing modest fees to fund organizations offering oversight.

Sanitation inspectors. Consider a particularly loaded issue that many ecovillages care strongly about: utilizing humanure as a resource for tree crops, rather than sending it into semi-wild areas where it often is a pollutant. If a set of standards could be developed by (for example) the Global Ecovillage Network, based on permaculture research, some municipalities and counties would be likely to accept alternative human waste disposal systems. The certifying organization could be paid a modest fee to train compliance personnel, and to certify compliance of a site each decade. This would likely be no more and no less a hassle than the various inspections that builders of any kind must submit to, and which are intended to protect the public interest. It is a realistic path forward. This could expand the territory in which ecovillages could build, which is currently limited to areas with the most relaxed building restrictions.

Building inspectors. Some ecovillages have done research on use of alternative building materials and methods. If these can be collected into a database, professional consultants could get certified in standard municipal or county training, then more effectively advocate for their competence to certify alternative building materials and methods as being up to code.