Organising work using the activity matrix

Remember that a community is not a company; doing “work” is a completely different thing in the commons compared to in a company.  (For a comparison see the table at the end of  this article) .

One thing I appreciate about commons is that  there is no  hierarchy of tasks – everyone will get a go at doing the dishes, as well as doing the kind of work they are professionally qualified for. This is one of the beauties of eco-villages: that you get to do healthy stuff like lifting and pulling as well as desk work.

We tend to see three classes of activities: stuff we do – one is unpaid and part of our own daily life, like taking the rubbish out. The other is paid, and part of a contract where we sell our labour (although the nature of that  contract is disputed among experts) . The third is where we do something for someone else – for example we volunteer to help our local charity or just help someone in need.

There are several aspects of these activities that are fascinating to consider when looking at a commons project. For example: depending on what you do with the rubbish the actions can benefit or bruden a commons initiative. If you don’t sort the waste, waste removal will be a cost on you ll, if you turn it into compost it will benefit food production.

Rather than go into depth comparing the three, it can be helpful to start by making a list of all that needs doing. In this way you can start to see how activities can be designed to fit with others and give the bes possible outcome for the community.

When it comes to hours per year there is a rule of thumb that puts the (paid) working year at 1800 hours and the volunteer year at a maximum of 400 hours. Bear in mind that if anyone works more than 50 hours a week it tends to break them down in the long-run and they perform at less than at their peak. Bear in mind too that people thrive on things they love to do and that they can work longer hours for shorter periods. But rest is important even for enthusiasts!

If the commons provides services that you normally have to go to work to get money to buy, then you can aim to reduce the hours you need to work outside the commons proportionately.

The 400 hours a year is really the maximum to consider. You get very little home life if you work full time and do that number of volunteer hours! indeed the idea is to minimize the activities needed by smart design.

The matrix tool above can be useful for planning activities in your commons initiative. Start by asking everyone what they feel comfortable offering in terms of hours per year. (This should be a lower figure … of course everyone can get inspired and give a little more.) You can add all the hours up and enter the figure in the square marked (F).

The tool is aimed at helping you get a control of the year. You can start by identifying, say, three main areas of activity (B). (Or more if you need them, but try to keep it on one page.)

For each area, take a discussion about what needs to happen daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually etc (D). This is a good discussion to have, as it helps you dimension your activities. You don’t have to agree either, you can list alternatives. many might think a weekly meeting is good, others might think monthly will do, for example.

You might want to have reviews of the way you are working. Maybe annually feels comfortable.

Anyway, list the activities in the square provided. The next step is to work out the money you need to buy-in services and materials (E), and the number of volunteer hours the activities need (C). When you have made the first estimates you can add them up per activity area vertically, and horizontally as well, to come to a final total at the bottom. if the final total is close to the original budget that’s great, otherwise you will need to revisit your figures.

Benefits from using the activity matrix.

  • The matrix helps you as a group see what your priorities are by seeing how much work needs to be done in each area. It also helps people see what is needed in terms of effort and when.
  • The matrix helps along one of the important things in a commons, finding ways to ensure that people actually turn up when they are needed and do what needs to be done. The other thing is that people like to be useful, the matrix helps them see where they can “plug in”.
  • You can design tally forms to check how much actual time was put in over the year to check your estimates and monitor that everyone has equal change to participate.
  • Having a chart like this in black and white helps avoid disagreements by being realistic with hard data about the required effort to run the commons.


Download the template in word Hours_template