The Acorn difference

In a couple weeks, i will start my visitor period at Acorn.  Acorn is Twin Oaks younger sister community, just 7 miles down the road in the town of Mineral.  At first glance, Acorn is quite like Twin Oaks, perhaps like the Spanish language is similar to Portuguese.  Both communities are income sharing (meaning members don’t get “paid” but all their expenses are covered), both are egalitarian (meaning work is valued the same and resources are accessible to all), both are non-violent, both have elaborate sharing systems. Both are largely free of crime.  Both select their members and charge nothing to join.  Both grow much of their own food, run their own businesses and build their own buildings.

When Willow and i were recently on the train from Berlin to Prague a strange thing happened.  Two twenty-somethings with backpacks came into our compartment.  They spoke to each other in what we suspected was a Slavic language.  Willow whispered, “Are they Russian?”     I knew enuf Czech to be fairly confident that this was not what they were speaking.  When i asked they said they were Portuguese.  This surprised me because i speak a little Spanish and it did not sound at all the same.  Despite the numerous similarities, there are key differences between these sibling communes.


Acorn was founded by a collection of Oakers and some of the people from our long waiting list at the time.  The idea was to create another egalitarian, income-sharing community,  but not necessarily saddle Acorn with the same systems that Twin Oaks had.  And the devil is definitely in the details.

Acorn uses consensus, Twin Oaks uses a mind numbingly complex decision system which tries to be better than simple voting, but faster than getting everyone to agree.  Acorn has two weekly face to face meetings, which often run long as they hammer out their agreements.  Twin Oaks uses a written system of internal communication, with very few community-wide meetings that have its own advantages and disadvantages.

compromise graph

One key difference is that Acorn has a communication culture which requires people to work things out.    This is the first part of the Acorn Communication Covenant (which i was just sent as part of the incoming visitor package):

  • We commit to speaking to others respectfully both in meetings and outside of them.
  • We commit to giving and receiving constructive criticism that affects the well-being of the community and its members.
  • We commit when something isn’t going well for us to ask for help or try to talk about our experience and needs rather than the wrongness or rightness of someone else or their actions.
  • We commit to actively address conflict and resolve issues through discussion, mediation, intervention if necessary, and creative problem-solving.

Twin Oaks does not have such a covenant.  If you have a problem with someone, you don’t need to engage with them, and the community can not force you to.   There is not a commitment to resolve.  I don’t know how this evolved – tho not having communities meetings regularly and not requiring community-wide agreement likely played a role in this, but much prefer the Acorn approach.

Do we have to work it out?

Do we have to work it out?

And we become elements of our culture.  While i prefer the Acorn system, i have taken advantage of the Twin Oaks culture to not work out my communication failings with some members.  Or perhaps it has taken advantage of me.

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About paxus

a funologist, memeticist and revolutionary. Can be found in the vanity bin of Wikipedia and in locations of imminent calamity. buckle up, there is going to be some rough sledding.

19 responses to “The Acorn difference”

  1. Bliss says :

    So are you doing the visitor period to consider membership or for comparison? Either way lease kiss Ken for me!

  2. Scott Busby says :

    I believe that as a community scales up in size, the Acorn covenant becomes less feasible. There are 3 communication paths between 3 people, but the number of communication channels mushrooms quickly as the number of people increases. Imagine everyone having to constantly resolve dozens of conflicts of various degree at any one time! Twin Oaks values getting the work done.

    • paxus says :

      Dearest Scott:

      Thank you for your thoughts. And i must confess i compleely disagree with you. Having used consensus in much larger circumstances i think it can scale nicely, and we could make decisions at Twin Oaks with 50 people in the room, if we were willing to listen ot each other and work ou tour differences

      Paxus in Prague 6
      19 Postcards 2012

  3. Rob says :

    This should be a life model for all, not just Acorn. It is refreshing to see that Acorn uses this approach. I can understand how size of the group could offer more obstacles, but hopefully they will still follow a similar approach. I have always believed that if a person does not partake in the solution of a problem that they are connected to in some way, then they become yet another part of that problem. Wisdom is fine, but actively using that knowledge to the greater good is so much better. Wishing you the best in your transition to Acorn.

  4. Jacqueline Langeveld says :

    Great post Paxus. As a member of Acorn, I must confess that our system doesn’t always work. Sometimes people choose to just avoid each other rather than discuss disagreements. It is still a work in progress. See you soon!

  5. moonraven222 says :

    Having recently visited both Twin Oaks and Acorn, it’s interesting to look at both the similarities and differences. I’m happy that both exist and I’m also happy for their differences. I think we need many different approaches to community and I don’t like the notion that one is somehow better than the other.

    Honestly, I was more comfortable at TO but I know that’s because I find the structure there easier to deal with than the more open approach at Acorn–but I can see how that would work much better for other folks. I appreciate the differences and want to see more variations of egalitarian community emerge.

  6. germanbini says :

    Paxus, I wish East Wind would work a little more like Acorn seems to work, and a little less like Twin Oaks seems to work. After you have it all figured out, maybe you can come down and show us how it’s done. 🙂

  7. Flame says :

    Wow! I hope you enjoy your visit. I’m glad Jacqueline shared her thoughts. I was wondering how things really operate these days. I’ve been gone a long time though I lived at Acorn six years (95-01). In that time it seemed only some people advocated and practiced a commitment to communication, resolving conflict and creative problem solving. It was a key characteristic that attracted me in the 1st place. Ultimately the resistance to it being whole heartedly cultivated by the majority, was a big part of why I left.I’d love to hear it is predominantly how life operates at Acorn now.

    As for Twin Oaks, I never lived there. I was however closely connected and heard of this comparison by others. Some Acorners moved to Twin Oaks and some Twin Oakers moved to Acorn. I think people find their way to what fits. Plus we change, our needs change and what worked in one decade may not be what you want in another. So good luck and keep going for what you want to co-create.

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