The Blogs of Twin Oaks

by Paxus

bread formula winnie.jpg

I was surprised to discover that Winnie had a blog.  She is an amazing cook, so it should have not be a surprise that she blogs about cooking for 100 people at Twin Oaks.  Her blog called Sustainable Sustenance for Existence

winnie and bread.jpg
Winnie:  The baker is a blogger

It also begged the question:  What other blogs and social media presences are there in the community and shouldn’t i write a meta-blog about all of them?

Here’s the ones that i know of:

Also new to the scene is Reynaldo’s Dairy Instagram account, taking pictures of our most prosaic cows.

Double Rainbow
It ain’t paradise, but on a good day you can see it from here.

Running in ZK is the name of the community’s unofficial blog.  It is ironically named, because one of the things you most often hear parents or primaries saying to our kids when they are in the dining hall (which is called ZK) “No running in ZK”.  About a dozen Oakers contribute to this blog, which has been running since May of 2013.

slow speed limit sign TO


Two of the Running in ZK contributors, adder and Keegan, have spun off on their own internet presence called Commune Dads which is actually a pod cast more than a blog site, but these things blur these days.  

commune dads

Commune Dads is up to its 6th podcast now (which is on the mixed blessing of grandparents).  And while the lessons are drawn from commune life experience, as with many of the things we find here, important elements are exportable to mainstream life.

Pam was the garden manager for 20 years.  She has written a book called Sustainable Market Farming and there is a blog site to support the book with the same name.

pams book cover

Last and certainly least is my blog, Funologist.  First off, it is only about 20% about Twin Oaks.  The other parts are on polyamory, the evils of nuclear power, Point A adventures to start new urban communities, impeding Trumps latest madness, or curious thought pieces on constructing super memes. This all said, I still get people who friend me on Facebook because they searched for communes and kept finding my stuff.

Blogger and his muse

If Facebook is your preferred point of entrance to the world, we have several presences there, including:

Toms flowers





The Blogs of Twin Oaks

The O&I Board – too many options

by Paxus Calta

Around 50 years ago the founder of Twin Oaks decided that they were going to radically depart from conventional decision-making techniques.  They disliked voting, consensus had not been secularized by the feminists yet and waiting for everyone to agree seemed time-consuming, so they thought they would develop something new.


Almost everyone in community makes decisions in meetings, but Twin Oaks was founded by writers.  They thought a dynamic writing-based decision system could get around some of the big problems associated with running a complicated community.  To this end they developed the O&I Board.  O&I stands for Opinions and Information.  Critics of this system occasionally quip that the name really comes from “Oh am I bored”.


The way it works is pretty straightforward.  There are 2 dozen clipboards placed on a wall and anyone can put up a paper with a proposal for something new on one of them.  At the end of the proposal you have posted you leave blank pages of paper so that other members can make comments or suggestions.

There are several advantages to this system.  The first is that you don’t need to gather everyone in the same place at the same time to discuss something.  On our busy, large farm this is significant plus.  People can read everything that others have written, or skim it if that is their interest, or skip it completely if the topic doesn’t resonate with them.  Readers can comment in whatever length they feel appropriate, from multiple pages, to simply dittoing something someone else has written and signing your name (this is a pretty common practice).  Members can make alternative proposals or point out unaddressed problems and hopefully the proposal becomes stronger for all this input.  The pressure to agree with someone who is talking to you and who you want to make happy as well as some groupthink problems are decreased.

Less groupthink on paper.

But there are problems as well.  Written communication is much more likely to result in flame wars than face-to-face communication.  If you can see how what your saying is upsetting someone, your humanity kicks in and you may tone down your words – the O&I looses this important control.   Because you are somewhat more likely to be attacked on the O&I than in a meeting, some members shy away from this format not wishing to be in the center of a controversy.   Written communication is difficult for some people.    If there are many comments on a proposal, the later ones do not get as much attention as the earlier ones and there is no notice that new important comments have been added, so you have to keep checking on papers with which you are concerned.

The real problem with the O&I board is none of these described above, nor is it a problem with the board itself, but rather with it as an entrance ramp to our decision-making process in general.  The real problem is once you have posted on the O&I board, if there are any significant number of comments your next steps are unclear.


Sure, if everyone says “This is a great idea, lets do it!” then it is clear, but this very rarely happens. If your proposal is contentious or has several sets of recommendations on how you should change it, you as the author of the original proposal are at a crossroads. Should you push on with your proposal? Should you do a community survey? Should you call for a community meeting? Should you go talk with the people who seemed most upset about your proposal and see if you can find a compromise? Should you talk to the people who are most supportive of your proposal and ask them to help you advance it unmodified? Should you talk with the planner or the council about it? Should you just give up and drop it completely?

This is, for many members, simply too many options. Especially since, if the proposal is at all controversial, no matter which one you choose some critic is going to call “bad process” on you for not having done it the way they want it done. Perhaps this is why after 50 years no other community has decided to mimic the O&I board as their central decision-making tool.


Pictured is Gil Cambia, photo credits Paxus

The O&I Board – too many options


by Rejoice

Notes help bring communities together. On the Acorn board, communards are told that they can help Living Energy Farm get their corn hoed, Cambia to build the foundation of their barn, their across-the-street neighbor Mike to find his cat, and the strawberries put to good use.
The Acorn board of clarification of names and pronouns helps keep people informed about how to refer to each other.
And what do you do if you forget someone’s new pronouns?  Don’t worry, Taiga made this simple chart to help you out.
Notes are useful for communicating between parents and children.
And sometimes they can simply be used to express appreciation of each other.

Questions Groups Should Ask (But Probably Haven’t)

by Laird Schaub, from  Laird’s Commentary on Community and Consensus, Tuesday, June 16, 2009

I just finished doing a weekend Introduction to Facilitation Workshop at Heathcote Community in Freeland MD. Friday evening through Sunday afternoon I worked and laughed with 16 participants as we explored a wide range of group situations and typical challenges that facilitators face. As a student of group dynamics and a teacher of facilitation, I am frequently in the position of describing the pitfalls that groups fall into by virtue of not having discussed and made explicit agreements about how they want to view to handle certain things.

By Sunday afternoon the workshop participants were all over me to give them a list of these questions, so here goes.


The main thing to understand about this is not there is one right way to address all of the questions (indeed, different groups come up with all manner of good answers). Rather, it’s to understand that having no answer is guaranteed to be a problem. Sooner or later, the ambiguity will to bite you in the butt, and it’s much worse to attempt to sort many of these things out when you’re in the midst of tension resulting from members proceeding from different assumptions—or guesses—about the group’s position.

Almost all groups have some basic agreements: for example, about common values, how one becomes a member, and how the group will make decisions. While that’s a good start, it isn’t nearly enough. Here’s a much longer list of things that groups should discuss—preferably before the water gets hot: Note that none of these questions is limited to residential communities: they are meant to apply to any group trying to function cooperatively.

Meeting Culture
1. What is the purpose of meetings? To what extent is it to solve problems, and to what extent is it to build relationships among members?

2. What topics are worthy of plenary attention? Absent clarity about this, groups tend to drift into working at a level of detail that is beneath them rather than effectively delegating. This is directly related to the phenomenon of meeting fatigue.

3. How do you want to work with emotions that surface in meetings? Hint #1: Ignoring them doesn’t work. Hint #2: You can allow expression of feelings while at the same time object to aggression.

4. How do you want to work with conflict? (This is the most volatile subset of working with emotions.) While asking conflicted people to “take it outside” can work some of the time, it won’t always. What’s more, at least some of the time progress on the topic that triggered the distress may be held hostage to resolution of the upset. It can be very expensive to not have an agreement about how to work conflict.

5. Under what conditions, if any, is it OK to speak critically of a member who is not in the room? Caution: Be careful here. You don’t want people to be able to control by their absence what gets examined.

6. How do you protect the rights of members to have an opportunity to have input on issues examined at meetings they missed? Conversely, how do you protect the right of the group to move forward on issues when members miss meetings? This is a balancing act, and a good answer here probably involves clear agreements about advance notification of draft agendas, advance circulation of proposals, and standards for minutes.

7. What authority do you give facilitators to run meetings? Hint: If they’re not explicitly allowed to interrupt people repeating themselves or speaking off topic, you’re in trouble.


8. What are your standards for minutes? What should minutes include? Where will they be posted? Are they indexed? Are they archived? Do the same standards apply to committees that apply to the plenary?

9. Do you have protocols for how email is used? Hint: Email is great for posting announcements and reports; OK for discussions; dangerous for expressing upset; and downright thermonuclear for trying to process upset.

10. What are the rights & responsibilities of membership? While groups tend to be pretty good at being clear about financial aspects, they tend to be less good at spelling out labor, governance, or social expectations. Hint: It generally works better if you think of these two questions as being paired.

11. What does membership imply about how much you want to be in each other’s lives? How much does membership imply a social connection beyond a business connection? Big gaps in answers (or assumptions) here can really hurt.

12. What are the expectations around giving one another critical feedback about their behavior as a member of the group? Caution: Is a member allowed to refuse another member a request to discuss their behavior?

13. What are the conditions under which a member may involuntarily lose rights, and by what process will that be examined? Caution: While it’s hard to get excited about tackling this delicate topic before there’s a need, it’s a nightmare to attempt to clear it up once the need has arisen.

14. How much diversity can you tolerate? While most groups aspire to embrace diversity (in fact—given that human cloning is illegal—some degree is unavoidable), there is always a limit to how much a group can tolerate and it’s important to have a way to talk about it.


15. How do you select managers and fill committees? Caution: Simply asking for volunteers can work fine for some positions, yet can be downright foolish in others, where a definite balance or skill set is critically needed.

16. How do you evaluate the performance of managers and committees? This includes how, how frequently, and overseen by whom? Hint #1: Have people self-evaluate before the group takes a crack at them. Hint #2: This will tend to work much better if it includes both a chance to identify what’s not been working well and a chance to celebrate what is.

17. What is the group’s model for healthy leadership? Absent an agreement, cooperative groups tend to be much more critical of leaders than supportive, suppressing members’ willingness to take on leadership.

18. Do you regularly discuss how power is distributed in the group? Do you have an understanding about how to discuss the perception that people are using power less cooperatively than the users think they are? Caution: Tackle the first question before the second. Absent a clear sense of the need to talk about power, and an understanding about how to go about it in a constructive manner, this topic can be explosive (think Krakatoa).

Questions Groups Should Ask (But Probably Haven’t)

Community Honeymoon

by Paxus Calta

In many ways starting a community is like going into a new romantic relationship.  There are as many styles and techniques as there are individuals, but there are practices and agreements which can help increase your chances of success.  In a romantic relationship, if you do it right you create a honeymoon.  If you do it starting a community, you create this experience we don’t have a single word for, but feels something like, “Wow. Together we really are greater than we are individually.  I was right to put all this work in.”

And like a deep rich romantic honeymoon, there is a tremendous premium to being clear and self reflective going in.  Communities are basically personalities plus agreements. On the personality side, we have a little bit of flexibility with many people (if they are happy they are more generous, if their needs are getting met they are more likely to go the extra mile).  On the agreements side we have huge scope, we can design whatever types of agreements will serve us and then edit them as needed.  When you are designing your communities communication culture there are several things to include:


Commit to deep listening:  I am guessing 75% of relationship problems could be solved if people really focused and listened to each other.  This means not getting stuck by our past scars and holding on to a compassionate mindset.  There is an art to deep listening and it is not enough to just sit quietly, committing to learning this skill and applying it regularly may be the longest lever you have for building community.


Commit to self reflection and critique:  If there is a problem in the romance or the community, you have a part in it.  It might be an apathetic part, where you are not willing to help someone who you see struggling. In an intentional relationship we are all committed to fostering the well-being of ourselves and the others we are dancing with.  Part of this has to be admitting our faults and a willingness to work on them.


Commit to not stewing: If you are upset with me, come tell me.  Don’t talk to someone else who might be struggling with me and tell them the thing that i did which frustrated you.  This is an anti-gossip norm thru fast remedial action.

The trick is how do we keep these types of agreements?  Getting together, face to face, creating a safe and comfortable environment and talking or doing other types of trust building exercises together.  My personal favorite flavor of this is transparency tools,  but other techniques include clearnesses, Nonviolent Communication, and Co-Counseling.

Different tool sets fit different cultures.  In the Point A work we advocate for the transparency tools, because most of them are “soft tools”, meaning that an amateur using them is unlikely to hurt themselves or others in the group.  This contrasts some more daring and powerful communication tools (ZEGG Forum jumps to mind) which can do amazing work, but if operated by people who are not yet experienced or are clumsy can result in people getting emotionally or psychologically banged up.  When considering a set of communication tools it is often wise to look for versatile tools like the Clearness technique used at Acorn, which serves both as a regular universal check in and connection building device and something to be used when there is an acute problem with a member.

You can’t make a honeymoon last forever, but good communication practices will provide resilience and functionality to your community and your relationships.

Community Honeymoon

What communities can learn from marriage therapy

by Gil (from Cambia)

There are very few disciplines in psychology that could claim much success.  The obvious one would be advertising and other forms of brainwashing. The next one, surprisingly, is a marriage therapy.

In an awkwardly mathematical and computerized manner, a psychologist and a mathematician at the University of Washington have studied newlyweds for many decades and essentially “cracked the code” on what predicts divorce. Their “formula” can predict with 95% accuracy whether newlyweds would stay together or break up in a span of the following seven years. The following article is mostly a repetition of their main findings loosely translated to communal living situation.


Communities, like marriage, can fall apart for many different reasons, but there is one thing that can serve as immunization against most of those reasons, and that is love. And I don’t simply mean the feeling of love, I mean the practice of it. Couples and communities can have a lot of love between them, but if there is no effective way or circumstances of expressing and acting in a loving affectionate way, the relationship will be doomed. The question is, “What stands in the way of expressing and acting from love?”

     1. Stay committed

              a. This is an important but tricky one to translate: uncommitted relationships gradually drift apart once the honeymoon phase is gone.

              b. While people are community members, provide and expect full commitment. This is commitment to their well-being, to being respected and understood, to participating fully. Avoid thinking: “We don’t need to deal with her issues.  She’s probably going to leave soon anyway.”  Even if not for her sake, other people will hear this attitude and will reduce their commitment to each other.

Couples 1

      2. The four horsemen of the apocalypse/ Four ways of relating that were found to be particularly corrosive to relationships:

                  a. Contempt: Displays of disdain, hatred, ridicule, disrespect, or eye-rolling are found to be the most destructive expressions in relationships.

                  b. Defensiveness: The unwillingness to accept critique, to be curious about the other person’s perspective, and instead aggressively deflecting blame or reacting with counter-blame.

                   c. Stonewalling: Ignoring, or otherwise checking out in a conversation.

                  d. Criticism: Criticizing people’s personalities, traits, preferences, looks or anything else that they can’t really change. Focusing on critique of actions or consequences is probably more accurate and effective.

      3. The 5 to 1 ratio of positivity to negativity: Every negative expression needs at least 5 positive expressions to balance it out. Otherwise, people enter an emotional debt and recession. Here are some ways of expressing positivity. These are to be applied to any members of the community and, the less you know them, the better to do these.

                a. Show interest: Be curious, try to get to know members in your community, ask questions aimed at simply knowing other people more. They might be surprised but will be flattered. Listen attentively, and say things like: “I was thinking about what you said the other day and wanted to understand it more…”

               b. Be affectionate: Touch, smile, say: “Yay! You’re back!” when someone returns, make something for someone.   You get the point…

                  c. Show you care: Ask ,“Did you feel resolved after the meeting?” and “I was wondering how you felt when…”

               d. Gratitude: Show appreciation to other people as well as pointing to anything that you all share, like, “I love that we have a garden now” and “There is an angel that keeps taking out the compost.  Whoever you are, I love you.”

                e. Be accepting: Accept peoples quirks, preferences, idiosyncrasies, or even bad habits. It’s okay to despise video games but love it that some people get to bond around them. Even when you have an endless list of everything that’s wrong with the meat or tobacco industries, don’t transfer that judgement to the individuals who are consuming them. You can say: “I think its absolutely wrong to keep consuming them, but I don’t love you any less for doing that.” This does not mean that you have to accept people’s mean behavior.   That’s different.

     4. Recognize irreconcilable differences and stop trying to fix them. Learn to live with them instead. That’s right. Some differences are irreconcilable.  People will not and should not change some beliefs, habits, attitudes, etc. It’s important to realize when things cannot or should not change, and stop wasting energy and generating hostility around them. For example, one member can be very forgetful, and actually forget that they are forgetful. After 3 times of forgetting to close up the chicken coop at night, you might want to ask them: “What’s wrong with you??? Why are you so inconsiderate?” Alternately, you accept that they’re forgetful and leave a special loving note with a special drawing just for them. Or something cute rather than passive aggressive.

      5. Implement repair mechanisms. Have you ever noticed how nobody asks you for “I statements” when you give them a compliment? It’s fine to stay to say, “You’re fantastic” rather than “I feel like I’m in a fantasy when I’m around you.”  It is important to implement NVC and other peaceful languages when there’s a conflict, but is rather cumbersome and even creepy otherwise. I could be wrong, but that’s how I feel. If person A hurt person B, the least that could happen is that person A could
acknowledge person B’s pain, express feeling bad about it to person C if they can’t do it to person A, and have person C reflecting feeling compassion to A’s predicament. Even if the whole thing was A’s fault to begin with, it’s important to try to remain curious and open, even in conflict. Ask something like, “I see you’re upset at what I did, could you say more about what upset you?” You get much more “street cred” for a compassionate apology than for proving you were right.

      6. Change “I” statements into “we” statements. There might not be very many appropriate opportunities for this, and it might be particularly difficult to do given the hyper-individualistic tendency of our subculture but, when possible, use the terms “we” and “us” when talking about the future, about hopes, about gratitude, etc. For example: say, “I’m grateful that WE have a garden” rather than “I’m grateful to have a garden”. Or “We could have close to zero waste some day” rather than “I want to live in a place that doesn’t generate trash”. “We are doing much better than the mainstream” rather than “Nobody here is worse than the mainstream”. Also,
make a flag, make up songs about your community. But as in item 6, its best to abandon this generalizing language when the content is negative.

Couples 2

        7. Have fun with everyone, no matter what you do: research on millions of cases of divorce demonstrates quite clearly that it is not the economic necessity of staying together that protects against divorce. Rather, it is the abundance of quality fun shared time that predicts success. In other words, the efficiency of living together cannot compensate for the lack of love-building quality time together. Budget for fun, both with time, labor, and money. Every minute you spend on building trust and love, saves you 10 minutes of conflict resolution later.

What communities can learn from marriage therapy

Three Essential Agreements

from Laird’s Commentary on Community and Consensus (Monday, May 18, 2009)

Two days ago, the FIC held a Community Building Day at Kimberton Hills (30 miles west of Philadelphia) and about 56 people joined our crew of 12 presenters and support people to create a wonderful experience (while most participants were from the region, one came from as far away as Arizona, and some from Arkansas). During a general Q&A session right before dinner, one woman asked, “What are the three most critical agreements that a community should have in place in order to succeed?”

What an excellent question! Over the course of my 22 years as a process consultant I’ve slowly accumulated an understanding of a goodly number of key questions that healthy groups need to address, so limiting it to three was a challenge. What trio do I feel encompasses the most pivotal issues?

Here are my nominations:

1. Working with Emotional Input
The main model for appropriate group communication in our culture is to offer one’s best thinking. While rational thought is a wonderful tool, it’s hardly the only one available to us, and it really doesn’t make much sense to paint with only one color. As human beings we take in, process, and communicate information in an amazing variety of ways. It’s my view that groups function best when they openly embrace a wider range of input than just what’s available through ideation.

In addition to rational knowing, humans can access knowing that is emotional, intuitive, instinctive, spiritual, and kinesthetic. (While I don’t presume that this is a complete list of the alternate channels available to us, it’s enough to make my point.) Though not everyone operates with the full bandwidth; multiple channels are nonetheless available, and a group’s work will tend to be more sophisticated and dynamic to the extent that it consciously embraces more kinds of information (not just more data).

For the purpose of identifying a key agreement, I will narrow my focus to a single question: how does the group work with emotional input? Sadly, most groups never explicitly ask that question and have no clear answer. In consequence, they are unsure of their footing when emotions enter the equation—and the stronger the feelings, the more unsure the footing. Mostly groups discourage the expression of strong feelings, or relegate that kind of sharing to heart circles only (where they won’t “infect” the business meetings).

Strong feelings can be scary for groups because their expression is often associated with attacks or manipulation, and groups (understandably) want to limit both from occurring. There is fear that the expression of strong feelings may undermine safety and lead to people being afraid to share their full thinking on a topic.

Best, I think, is that groups appreciate that emotions can be distinguished from aggression, and that it’s possible to welcome feelings while objecting to attacks. Emotions can be an important source of both information (people may know something more profoundly on an emotional level than on a rational level) and energy—let’s bring passion into our work!

Too often group banish feelings all together in a baby-and-the-bath-water response to nervousness about how to handle emerging conflict. Surely we can do better.

Image result for group conflict
2. Critical Feedback
In biological systems, feedback loops are crucial to survival. Think about it: if you step on a nail, it’s important that it hurts, alerting you to the need to pull the damn thing out of your shoe. While you’d rather not hurt, you certainly don’t want to be walking around with a nail in your foot.

I don’t think it’s any different in groups. If Chris and Pat are both in a group and Chris is having trouble with something that Pat is doing as a member of the group, then there needs to be a known avenue through which Chris can communicate their concern directly with Pat. Absent a known channel, it can be hit or miss whether Pat ever hears what’s going on for Chris. Not only will this means that Chris doesn’t get the chance to work with the information (which may enhance their effectiveness in the world), but it will likely lead to a degradation in trust and an erosion of relationship between Pat & Chris. This can be very expensive.

While I’m all in favor of people having choices about the timing and setting in which feedback is delivered (some prefer to get it on the spot, others prefer advance warning; some prefer that it occur one-on-one, others prefer to receive it in the whole group), it’s important that everyone offers something and that that preference be known. A mysterious feedback loop is the same as no feedback loop. And no feedback loop means the flow of life-giving information has been choked off. It’s hard to thrive with a poor circulation system.

Image result for feedback

3. Talking about Power
Cooperative groups tend to have trouble talking openly about power dynamics. They typically strive to flatten hierarchies and to share power as broadly as possible. While there’s nothing wrong with that goal, the reality is that power is never flat; it’s always distributed unevenly. The key question is whether the group has a clear way to discuss the perception that someone has used power in less cooperative way (power over instead of power with) than that person thinks they have.

Healthy group need people functioning as leaders. Leaders need to exercise power to be effective, and there needs to be a way to examine how power is being used. We tend to bring into our current cooperative realities damage from past abuses of power and we have to sort out how much of our current discomfort is projection from the past, how much is misuse of power in the current situation, and how much is a misunderstanding about what’s actually happening (never mind what was intended). It can get messy in a hurry and we need a pathway through this morass.

• • •

In the end, if a group fails to address any one of these three issues, I guarantee that the ensuing ambiguity will be crippling. Though I’m not saying that this will necessarily be fatal, it will certainly be expensive, and seriously limit the group’s capacity to realize its potential.

Three Essential Agreements