When having a community garden, assemblies become essential in order to ensure real participation of all the gardeners and good coordination among them.
Community gardens are a source of learning: people with very diverse profiles, backgrounds, ideas and understanding of life … that’s where the assembly-based organization gets interesting and becomes a challenge too.
A monthly global assembly supported by working groups or committees is the head of a project, lead by all the people taking part in it.
- Self-determination of the garden by the gardeners.
- Reaching the ability or power to make decisions by oneself.
- Having a non-hierarchical consensus based organization model.
- Reinforcing the sense of ownership/belonging of/to the project of the garden by/from the gardeners.
- Exchanging knowledge among the gardeners.
- Learning from intergenerationality.
- Reaching a high grade of participation in the garden.
- Re/generating social networks in the neighbourhood and the surrounding community by improving social dialogue.
- Acquiring skills in conflict resolution.
Prior to the assembly: Posters for the dissemination (dissemination is mainly by e-mail and website but also on paper for those not having access to internet).
During the assembly: Blackboard to write the agenda and the main dates and topics, notebook to take the notes.
After the assembly: Notes to be distributed and shared (mainly by e-mail but also on paper for those not having access to internet).
The monthly assembly is the decision making tool of the garden, so it is a very important time for it. In order to ensure a good decision making process and good implementation of the decisions, here you can find the steps you should follow in order to prepare a successful assembly in your garden.
Preparation of the assembly:
In the last assembly, the date for the next assembly is decided.
One week before the assembly the “facilitation committee” gathers together in order to compile all the issues that should be tackled during the assembly and to propose a structure for the assembly.
The dissemination of the assembly starts after this meeting by putting some posters around the garden and by updating the date on the garden website and sending some e-mails to the gardeners who have access to internet.
The participants of the garden are all the gardeners who take part in the plots of the garden.
The assembly is facilitated by a group of people and the following roles should be distributed among them: A facilitator, a note-taker and a speaking time controller.
The facilitator is the person who leads the assembly by presenting the agenda.
The note-taker is the person who should take notes of the decisions taken during the assembly and who should share them with the gardeners after the assembly.
The speaking time controller is the person who should take care of how much time can be devoted to each intervention and who goes after each other.
The decision-making process in the assembly:
The decisions in the assembly are taken by consensus. Consensus decision-making is a group decision making process that seeks for the consent of all the participants with an acceptable resolution that everyone can support, even if it’s not the favorite for each individual. Consensus is a latin word meaning “feeling together”, so it describes a sense of community very important in this kind of gardens. It is, thus, not only about what decision is taken but how is it taken: this kind of decision making process allows people to feel the decision is their own and to take more responsibility about it.
Some decisions, though, can’t be taken by consensus because it would take too much time and sometimes the matter in discussion is not worth it. When, for example, dates need to be decided, voting is the simplest method. In this case, it needs to be decided beforehand if it’s going to be voted by simple majority, absolute majority, and how many possible answers there are (only in favour, against or abstention or if there are multiple choices).
Some decisions are so specific that they need prior work from the specific committee. In this case, the committee will develop the issue and present it to the assembly, together with several possible options and the assembly will vote.
It is very important that the gardeners understand that the assembly is the decision-making tool of the garden and that if they don’t participate in it they don’t take part in the decisions nor the decision-making process.
The implementation of the decisions:
Once the decision is taken, the group says who’s going to implement it. Normally the implementation of the decision is done by the committee who’s in charge of that issue. If there’s no obviously logical connection between the issue and just one committee, several committees connected to the issue can be in charge of the implementation or if it’s so broad that it involves everyone a community volunteering working day can be organized.
Even if a person hasn’t participated in the assembly, thus, hasn’t taken the decision, if this person belongs to one committee, this person has to take part in the implementation.
The notes of the assembly:
The note-taker will arrange the minutes of the assembly by writing down the decisions that have been taken and will share them with the gardeners. Tip: notes can be sent by e-mail, shared in some “virtual community” but it is useful to have a notebook somewhere in the garden in which notes can be kept for those not having access to internet.
Evaluation of the assembly:
Before the end of the assembly (if it has been a light one) or in the beginning of the following assembly (if it has been a hard one) a short moment can be saved to the evaluation of the assembly. What was good, what was bad, what was missing, what wasn’t necessary?
Evaluation of the implementation of the decisions:
The facilitation team is the one keeping an eye on the development of the decisions taken and in the following assembly, a moment is taken to update everyone on the situation of each decision taken. If this evaluation or control is not done carefully, the issues will remain on standby for a while until they appear again.
Being careful about the order of speaking and how much time every person speaks.
Assemblies should not be longer than 1 hour.
Ending the agenda with the easiest and nicest topic, especially, if one of the topics has been hard and/or some discussions have happened during the assembly.
Do some games and dynamics to energize the committees.
When assemblies are not well organized by the facilitation team they become boring, chaotic and useless and the group can get burned out. It is, thus, very important to care about the preparation and having a structured assembly with important and interesting topics to tackle.