The Agroecology Land Trust (ALT) is registered with the Financial Conduct Authority as a community benefit society. Our rules can be downloaded here:
“To steward land, resources and technology towards the creation of co-sufficient community farms grounded in food sovereignty and rooted in agroecological production of food, fuel and fibre.”
We aim to create a governance process that distributes authority to individual roles and working groups. As we do so, the purpose of the organisation becomes an anchor for decision making at every level, it is a key tool and reference point for focusing the collective work of the co-operative.
The importance of the purpose becomes clear as we structure the work of organisation by fragmenting this general purpose into more defined supporting purposes. In this way the complexity of the organisation can advance by diversifying into constituent groups and roles that act with their own authority but align with this general purpose. Alignment to the purpose and awareness of it while distributing the work of the organisation becomes a duty for every member.
The co-operative has both community/user (colleague) and non-user members (investors and advisors). The community members are the main beneficiaries of the co-operative and play the principal role in the direction of the co-operative. The non community members do not have such an active role in the organisation and are limited in their level of participation.
All members may have shares in the co-operative and all members have the right to participate and vote in the decision making process of the co-operative. A member only has one vote irrespective of how many shares they might have in the co-operative.
There are three classes of membership of the co-operative. The user/community member class:
1. Colleague Member: eligible to play an active role in the direction and activities of the co-operative.
The non-user/non-community membership:
2. Investor Member: main shareholding class; shares are withdrawable but non-transferable (with some exceptions) minimum shareholding £250, maximum shareholding is £100,000.
3. Advisor Member:
The mutual commitment between the co-operative and member is defined in our Membership Agreement. Colleague members are required to consent this agreement as part of their application process. It is an attempt to layout the general principles conducive to the formation of agroecological co-sufficient community farms while allowing for the greatest possible diversity of cultural expression within those communities. You can download our membership agreement here:
The definition of roles is of fundamental importance in the structure and function of our organisation. It is through the creation of specific, functional roles that we share the responsibilities for the ongoing activities of the co-operative and manage particular tasks and projects. A role is defined by a purpose, accountabilities and domains. A role is not a fixed and static “job description” it is a purposeful function of the co-operative that can be adapted and redefined at any time according to changing needs and opportunities. These needs and opportunities can be described as “tensions” and in response to these tensions a role may be created or redefined at a governance meeting.
A role may initially just be a purpose, to facilitate, for instance, an aspiration for a desired outcome. This purpose might involve specific ongoing tasks and activities. Such activities become the defined “accountabilities” of the role. The role may also require access to specific areas, resources or equipment. Such things are described as the “domain” of the role. Authority to manage these domains is explicitly delegated to that role. A role has complete authority over its domain and may create policies that affect the use of the domain by other members.
A role may not necessarily belong to one member but may be shared between members. Furthermore a member may hold more than one Role. The important distinction here is that the role is a function that serves the purpose of the organisation. It is not a job or a set of tasks that a member should identify with but rather a function that a member chooses to steward. This becomes important when we consider the delicate balance of creating a work/ organisational space on the one hand and a personal, domestic space on the other.
A working group is basically a group of roles that work together towards achieving a particular purpose. A group is defined in much the same way as a role. In fact, a role may develop into a group when the work and or domain of that role becomes too much for one person to manage. If this is the case the function of the role is sub divided into a several roles. A working group must have a Co-ordinator, a Secretary and a Facilitator and may also require a treasurer role. Alongside these core roles a working group has the authority to define other roles and through the governance process elect its members to these roles.
The group may also create policies that affect the way roles work together and the control of its domains. A group’s roles may go on to develop into more groups and if so these “sub-group” are “owned” and accountable to the original group or “over-group”.
The main body of the Co-operative, the General Co-operative, constituted by the society’s Rules, is in effect the “over-group” that contains all sub-groups. All members work together to define and elect roles through the governance meetings (General Meetings) by adapting the governance structure; and the Roles (director and officers) meet to co-ordinate and resolve tactical issues through operational meetings (board meetings).
The role of co-ordinator has particular significance in this process. The Co-ordinator assumes all responsibility for the accountabilities and domains of the group until such time as they are delegated to other roles within the group. Furthermore, although roles are elected by members a co-ordinator role is always elected by its respective over-group. In this way Co-ordinators of sub-groups of the General Co-operative are always elected by all members of the co-operative.
All members can participate in the decision making process of the co-operative by attending the General Meetings, or “Governance Meetings” of the General Co-operative
Any member may also propose a resolution to amend the governance structure of the co-operative. Once a year an Annual General Meeting is held where all the directors and officers of the Co-operative are elected. Any worker/resident member has the right to stand as a candidate for a role as an officer or director of the co-operative. It will be legally required that the co-operative appoints a Secretary and a Treasurer but through our secondary rules we have added the additional requirement to appoint a Co-ordinator and a Facilitator. Usually referred to as officers of the co-operative these “core roles” will be responsible for administrating the board of directors. The General Co-operative also elects Co-ordinators of sub-groups and may choose to define other roles (appointed as directors or officers). All these roles alongside the core roles then serve as the Board of Directors.
The board of directors may convene board meetings, or “operational meetings”, to manage the ongoing activities of the co-operative. Only these core roles (officers and directors) are expected to attend operational meetings, as such these meetings only concern tactical issues and project management. Any decision affecting governance must be referred to a General “Governance” Meeting where all members are invited to attend.
The governance process is designed to resolve tensions through the adaptation of the group structure and its constituent roles. It is an integrated decision making process that works by processing objections to a proposal, it favours action and the testing of potential adaptations so long as the proposal is based on a genuinely sensed “tension” by a member of a group. For a proposal to be valid the proposer must be able to describe the tension and give an actual example past or present where the proposal would have reduced that tension. Other members may raise objections; these objections are then tested according to a criteria; finally an attempt will be made to integrate any objections to amend the proposal in light of the objections.
Through the process of member directed distributed authority all members should be able to see what is expected from particular roles and groups. With this organisational structure there are no implicit expectations. Everything that is expected from a particular role should be made clear from the outset. If a member expects an accountability from a particular role they have the opportunity to make a proposal to amend the role at a governance meeting.
Other than accountabilities a role may take on specific projects. Projects must be designed with a series of “next actions”.
To aid in this objective of self organisation we use an Advice Process when taking autonomous action. To encourage initiative any member can act in anyway they see fit to further the purpose of the co-operative (and their role; the purpose of their group etc.) so long as they ask other members who may be affected by the action and seek advice from someone with experience in the area or field in which they are making a decision. However, the member taking the action is not obliged to act on the advice. This Advice process is a simple but measured decision making technique that takes trust and confidence in our member’s abilities as a given. Of course if it is clear that a decision may be contentious it would be prudent to raise the issue at an operational meeting. The point is that the power to act is there for the taking but we trust our members to have the humility and respect to ask advice from their colleagues when acting in a way they may affect others. This removes that barrier that a consensus model can sometimes create when individuals have to seek permission and “buy in” from other members. Instead the members request for advice is a genuine inquiry about the efficacy of the proposed action. We move away from “I need/want you to agree to this” to “I need your advice and assistance”. Hopefully this will result in members becoming less attached to their proposal and ensure that it is a proposal that furthers the purpose of the organisation/group.
Conflict Resolution Process
Our conflict resolution process provides a basic framework for resolving grievances and disagreements.
We understand that conflict between members will arise form time to time and we are prepared to overcome these disagreements with a positive attitude towards a resolution process. Our conflict resolution process draws from the experience of our members and the wider background of similar community projects and organisations both past and present.
These governance structures provide a safety net and reassurance in times of difficulty. Understanding social dynamics is a complicated and involved process and no organisation can ever truly “manage” human relations. What is important is that members feel empowered to take responsibility for their lives, their emotions and desires. We hope that as an evolving organisation we can learn to understand ourselves better in relation to one another and draw from the depth of experience and knowledge from other similar organisations and initiatives.