• Mike Brown

What Does "Well-being" Look Like for a Community?

Looking at the pictures of our building under construction is fun and inspiring. But as one of our mentors likes to remind us, “The people and the relationships are more important than the building.”

So, in addition to the necessary work of marketing, finance, construction, etc. needed to plant a great big wood-and-concrete structure in the ground, BCC is now turning its attention to the community of people who will live there.

In February and March, BCC’s Community Well-being Circle will lead a series of focus group discussions with members of the community. The goal of the discussions is to define … “well-being.” What will life for us look like after we move in this fall? How will this all work?

One aim of the Community Well-being Circle is to foster good relationships among all BCC members and facilitate healthy communication between residents. Community Well-being Circle leader Maria Martin and delegate Lauree Hersch Meyer talk in this Q&A about the focus groups, defining what makes a thriving community, and why well-being doesn’t necessarily mean liking everyone.

• • •

We’ll start with an easy question: what is “well-being”?

Maria

That’s what we’re in the process of defining!

We all want BCC to be a thriving community – but what does that mean to be thriving? It definitely doesn't mean that we're all going to agree on everything all the time, that we're all going to be friends with each other, or that the entire community is always going to be socializing with each other.

Maria
Maria

But it does mean that there's a community cohesion that results in reasonable interactions with each other and the ability to have fun with each other. And that there's a sense of trust that builds among us so that when there are problems, the relationships are just as important as the outcome of what's going on. And so the purpose of the focus groups is to try to articulate that.

One outcome may be that we have a community well-being report card that we can check into every so often and say, How are we doing? Are there areas that we need to pay attention to? Are there new areas that we haven't thought of? So I see these conversations as an ongoing development of that definition of well-being and we're definitely not there yet. We're really just starting out.

Lauree

The only thing I might add is that the difference between whether we do or don't really all like each other is secondary to the fact that we wish each other well, and want to support one another. So it's really a common set of values and caring that we need, more than a liking.

• • •

One of the interesting ways the circle is going about its task is holding focus group discussions with no more than 5 or 6 people per group. What’s the idea behind the focus groups?

Maria

What we wanted was for people to talk to each other and hear each other rather than just fill out a survey. The format of the focus groups is not a traditional focus group format, because we're using one aspect of the sociocracy model, which is talking in rounds. But the idea is that we can get small groups of people together, for as close to a conversation as we can have on Zoom.

Lauree

We have several overarching areas we want to talk about in the groups.

One is asking people to picture that we're already living in the place, and we’re a healthy, thriving community: what does that look like? How do we interact? How do we relate? We know that we all have expectations, we all have personalities, we all have hopes, we all have our limits.

Lauree
Lauree

And speaking as an individual: What are my needs? What are my expectations? And what are my boundaries?

One question I love that Maria brought up is: what are my pet peeves? What are the things that are almost sure to hit my buttons? And it might not be reasonable. It might not be anything. But it's a fact. So how do we live in the community in such a way as to account for those things, to deal with them, to come to terms with those kinds of questions?

Which leads to another area to talk about: we're bound to have some conflict. When those things happen, what do we do? How do we handle it? When should we get involved? Or not get involved? How do we know if we’ve done some good? How do we want to think about helping resolve conflicts in the community?

In our culture – and of course, people bring their own cultures with them – we really have not had a lot of experience in dealing with what happens when difficulties arise. So we not only don't know how to talk about it very well, we're much more inclined to push it aside unless it is a really big problem. And neither discuss it, nor ask, What is called for here? What would I like? What would I like to offer? And I think that's not something easily talked about.

And last, we want to talk in the focus groups about what activities should we put into place to support community well-being.

• • •

We’re scheduled to move into our units this fall. Why is now a good time to have these discussions?


Maria

We have all had lots of work to do on building the building, selling the units, and so on. From these activities, people start to get to know each other, they start to be successful working together or not, they get to know each other's personalities a little bit. And you need to have that before you can go to the next stage of having these deeper conversations about well-being. In terms of where we are in the process, now seems like just about the right time to start thinking about deeper conversations.

• • •

What’s the next step after the focus group discussions are done?

Maria

After we compile the results, there will be some kind of written report that we will share with the circle and the Plenary. It can be a basis for ongoing conversation.

And within the circle, we're going to be using that report as a basis for prioritizing what our activities are going to be over the next six months or so.

Lauree

The interaction we will experience in the focus groups is part of what well-being is about: keeping in touch, being able to listen and being able to hear, but also being able to speak.

Maria

It’s about keeping the conversation going. And also being able to have difficult conversations.