Coho US Staff
There are a lot of good reasons to hire professional help in cohousing. From areas of focused study like architecture and relationship skills, to the wisdom gained through experience working with many cohousing communities, there is much knowledge a consultant can share that would come at a much higher cost through trial and error. It is this knowledge most communities consider when they are thinking of hiring, but there is a whole other set of reasons to hire an outside professional that communities are wise to take into account.
Most cohousing groups include a lot of smart and educated individuals. It is likely that among your number, your group has someone with knowledge of development and/or someone who has practiced consensus before and/or someone who knows finance and/or someone who has worked in architecture or design. Even more likely, you have individuals who have read everything there is to read about cohousing, visited many cohousing communities, attended conferences and lectures, and done anything else they can possibly do to learn about cohousing and all it takes to build it. Which means, that some of what a professional would tell you is likely stuff someone in your community already knows.
In the effort to save valuable dollars, especially at the early stages, many communities opt to rely on this internal knowledge as an alternative to hiring professionals for cohousing consulting, process support and even real estate advice. They figure they know enough to get by for now, and perhaps they do. But knowing it might not be enough. In most cases what matters is not what one individual knows, but what the community as a whole accepts, and these are rarely the same thing. For reasons best explored in the realm of psychology, communities often have a hard time accepting the knowledge of their own members. This is particularly true regarding consensus process, cohousing practices and anything that involves a member not getting what they think they want.
For all these reasons, it is worth exploring what a cohousing consultant may bring to your community beyond their professional knowledge.
First, a visit from a professional brings your community together. As much as we value our time together as a community, the simple truth is that when we invite our community to spend time together, a lot of folks don’t make it. The presence of a consultant, who is being paid by the community to attend, leads everyone to make the gathering a priority. Typically groups get their best attendance, and often increased involvement of explorers, when they bring a consultant to town. It turns out if people are investing monetarily, they are more likely to also invest their time.
Professionals also come with experience communicating what is needed efficiently and effectively. Whatever their expertise, if they are working with cohousing communities, the are also educators. They have presented this material before and they know how to frame it so that it lands well and can be absorbed by the full range of members in your community. They also know what to present at what stage of development or what might best help a community address a particular problem.
Perhaps the most important reason to bring in a consultant, aside from the knowledge they bring, is that your community members will listen to them. Even if one or several members of your community already know what they have to say, the reality is the community will hear it better from an outsider. This is true even for communities who have cohousing professionals among their members. Any professional will tell you that their own community is the least likely to take their advice. The very fact that someone is not a part of their community makes everyone hear them differently, and give more credence to what they say.
An outsider has the opportunity to bring a community together, to speak the hard truths, to add a dose of reality to cohousing dreams in a way a member of the community simply can’t.
As you consider whether to hire professional help, and how often to call on them, don’t forget to factor in these less-obvious services a professional can provide. While we might like to live in a world where everyone attends every event they can and openly absorbs everything their future neighbors have to offer, experience says this is generally not the case. Wise communities take this into account and make the most of what cohousing professionals have to offer.