Experimenting and exploring


We are in our third year as a community and as part of our passion for experimentation we spent 8 months last year experimenting with different styles of governance. Community governance refers to the processing for making all the decisions and plans that affect and govern life in the community. For community governance to be effective, it must be about more than simply process, we believe it must also be about getting things done in the community. 


A little history..

embassy sf


Our community was born in August 2012. We began our days with a somewhat democratic process. After just a short while we realized that this lead to high levels of bureaucracy, took huge amounts of time, in the form of meetings and discussions on every small detail, and that despite this effort, people often weren't fully satisfied with the outcomes. We rapidly evolved our governance system to a Embassy style do-ocracy, and that is how we've remained for the majority of our time as a community. Early last year we committed to running a series of experiments where we chose to live under a range of difference governance structures to see what we could learn about each one, and also what we could learning about the learning process itself! The initial discussion around this was an energetic one - what do we set the goals for each governance system to be, what do we want to incentiveze, what structures should we choose, what issues can each governance system control in the house and so on.  Each month we focused our outward facing events to mirror the governance structure that we were living under, we collected data from residents and guests on how they felt, we had feedback meetings and we allowed our structures to evolve according to those discussions. It was fun, it was messy, it was enlightening! Here we share our experiences with you.

Setting up the experiments


As a group, we'd been interested in experimenting with forms of governance for a long time. Finally on one weekend in 2013, we went away for a weekend working retreat, and there we finally agreed that this was to be one of our house goals for the year. For over 24 hours we sat and plotting and planned. We discussed which systems interested us and why, what the point of this exploration of governance structures was, what kind of data we could collect, what we'd do with the data and so on. There was much enthusiasm, and perhaps even more skepticism. This data was going to be messy. What we were even trying to do? Was this just a game or was this serious? How could we control for anything such that we could extrapolate anything useful from these experiments? 

In the end, curiosity won over skepticism. And so we began! We agreed to put a small amount of money into the pot each month to be used by each system should it need it. We agreed what things each governance system could change and what it could not. What hours of the day it would apply to us. What goals we wanted the systems to optimize for. We made a plan. 



We decided to recruit a live-in political scientist to help us with the day to day running of the experiment. We created and posted an advert to the political science departments at Berkeley and Stanford. Two months later we had our Governance Czar and we were welcoming her into the fray!

2. Designing the data collection

As a group we investigated different ways to collect data. In the end we decided on a combination of methods. We used the reported app to track out whereabouts, to ping us all a set of specific questions at random points in the day and to monitor our sleep. We installed Rescue Me, a chrome extension on our laptops in order to monitor productivity at work. Finally we built surveys, using Survey Monkey, for weekly, and monthly feedback sessions. Our amazing Governance Czar was in charge of collating the data, putting together and over seeing the meetings, and helping design the next governance system!

3. baseline data

All experiments need some baseline to which things can be compared. For us that was the do-ocracy. For our baseline, we decided to revamp our slumping do-ocracy and live under that for one month whilst we collected our baseline data, and learnt a little about how much (or little as the case may be) people will engage in active data collection. 

4. Feedback from the first month


5. deciding on the next system


6. learning about learning


7. close








Goverance structures


After much debate, it was decided that our governance structures should work to optimize three factors: 

1. Personal happiness of citizens

2. Productivity of citizens

3. Community strengthening (internal and external to our home)

The rules

Each governance structure has dominion over the following issues: -

  1. Food purchasing

  2. Use of the allotted monthly budget 

  3. Alcohol

  4. Utilities (cleaner, gardener, getting things fixed in the home)

  5. Use of language in the house

  6. Allocation of all shared space in the house

  7. Delegation of small chores

  8. Total control of house events, and the nature of those events (e.g. their theme)

  9. Some minimum amount of time from each citizen can be directed by the system

  10. Policies on guests and visitors

Things that are outside the scope of the governance structures: - 

  1. Delegation of large chores

  2. Ejecting and accepting guests

  3. Significantly altering resident's lives outside of the house

  4. Private space allocation (i.e. bedrooms)
  5. Acceptance or removal of long term residents. 
  6. The above rules only apply whilst residents are in the house.