Applied research : RCI-E

Measuring the quality of relationships in ecovillages

Logos financeurs projet RCI

Context: the challenge of measuring the quality of relationships in and around ecovillages

Over the last twenty years, numerous indicators have emerged to measure quality of life differently (Sen and Nussbaum, Sen Stiglitz Fitoussi report, Tim Jackson, Picket and Wilkinson). These studies focus on the effects of income and wealth inequalities on social cohesion and on the socio-economic conditions of social cohesion. Making a quality social bond accessible to all, within the constraints of economic resources, is a way of entering into this logic, as a counterpoint to the sole maximization of material goods.

Throughout France, ecovillages bring together people who have chosen a way of life that puts people, communities, and ecology at the core of their lives. More and more of these places are inspiring laboratories for thinking about future trends and scenarios as part of the ecological and social transition.

The ecological impact of ecovillages has already been highlighted, notably in a study carried out by Carbone 4 for the Colibris movement in 2015, which showed that the 100 inhabitants of 6 ecovillages studied emitted on average half the emissions of an average French person. Since this study, the Carbon Footprint methodology has been reused by other places that have set up self-assessment procedures to identify, monitor and reduce their emissions. This is also the case for the Campus de la Transition, which is carrying out an initiative to quantify and reduce its emissions through the MC2 project.

On the other hand, there is no reference tool for measuring the social impact of ecovillages (both internally and externally). However, in the same way as ecology, the importance of human relations is a strong shared value of these places, which emerges from the testimonies collected, with an emphasis on the effects of the quality of relations in a collective on the ability to create supportive relationships.

Opportunity: the Relational Capability Index

The Relational Capability Index (RCI) is based on research carried out for over 10 years by the Codev research programme at ESSEC Business School, then by the Campus de la Transition, with various applications (developing countries, companies, regions). This composite indicator measures the quality of social relations across 3 or 4 dimensions, currently covering 14 to 18 criteria depending on the use case.

The philosophy underlying this indicator is very much in line with the values defended by several ecovillages and by the Cooperative Oasis, which represents them. The idea is to understand good living in terms of the quality of the social link, which has both an intrinsic value (the fact of being in contact with other human beings and with nature makes for a happy life) and an instrumental value (being in contact gives access to other capabilities: health, education, etc.).

The main scientific aim of this study is to characterize the quality of relationships in an ecovillage collective, as evidenced by the RCI, and then to link it with more general considerations of the good life, understood as a sober way of life that respects living environments and people. Our major hypothesis consists of the correlation between the presence of a high relational quality in ecovillages and collective housing, and their highly sustainable lifestyles.

Our research questions are therefore as follows:

Is analysis in terms of relational capability relevant for measuring the quality of life in an ecovillage?
If so, which dimensions and which variables should be chosen to construct a Relational Capability Index dedicated to ecovillages?
Are there other elements specific to ecovillages (low-key lifestyles, management of the governance, activities) that could shed light on the levers and obstacles to the quality of social cohesion?

Exploratory study conducted in 2020

In conjunction with the Oasis Cooperative and ADEME, the Campus de la Transition conducted a pre-survey of 4 sites to test the feasibility and applicability of an RCI specific to ecovillages. Each site (Centre Amma – écohameau du Plessis; Château Partagé; MasCobado; Campus de la Transition) was the subject of a field visit combining observational participation and around ten interviews (a total of 45 people interviewed).

The initial findings of the feasibility study highlighted the need to continue the process to develop a methodology applicable to any ecovillage wishing to measure its social impact. The indicator currently being created would be developed around 5 dimensions, including the relationship with oneself, relationships within the site, relationships with the outside world, the relationship with society and the relationship with nature.

From this, it is already possible to anticipate the characterization of ecovillages according to their missions, the type of public they welcome and their geographical location, and to produce an initial map of this ecosystem.

Plans for 2021-2022

Figure 1 : Map of the studied ecovilages

In 2021-2022, thanks to funding from the European Social Fund and ADEME, this work has been continued by extending the project to 10 ecovillages part of the Cooperative Oasis network (see Figure 1). At each site, a field visit lasting at least two days enabled around ten semi-structured interviews to be conducted with residents, neighbors, local representatives, and partners. These interviews were structured in three parts: the person’s life story, their role in the ecovillage, and their perception of the quality of relations on the five dimensions of the indicator. In addition to collecting qualitative data, these interviews were used to establish thresholds for the indicator’s various variables, considering the specificities of the context. Once the Ecovillage Relational Capability Index had been constructed, a questionnaire was designed and administered to a sample of around one hundred people linked to the ten ecovillages studied.


The results of the study are twofold. From a methodological point of view, the action research led to the construction of a Relational Capability Index adapted to ecovillage. Empirically, it was possible to assess the quality of life in ecovillages based on the 10 sites studied.

Following the interviews and observations carried out during the exploratory phase, the hypothesis was formulated that a 5-dimensional structure corresponding to spheres of relationships would be better suited to the evaluation of good living in ecovillages than the initial structure of the Relational Capacity Index, whose dimensions were thematic (socio-economic, socio-cultural, socio-political). The qualitative phase of the study then led to the emergence of 20 criteria for the indicator, divided into 5 dimensions ranging from the most intimate to the broadest:

  1. The “relationship with oneself” dimension looks at self-esteem, people’s ability to make their own choices, to sustain them over time (particularly with economic stability), and their spirituality;
  2. The “relationships within the ecovillage” dimension looks at the links that bind residents together, their involvement in governance, and the informal economy (give-and-take) within the place;
  3. The “relations outside the ecovillage” dimension concerns the interpersonal relations between residents and people outside the site, who are close to them in the geographical, filial or friendly sense of the term;
  4. The “relationship to society” dimension looks at the relationship of ecovillage residents with the local area, their involvement with associations or politics at various levels, and to some extent their relationship with work;
  5. The “relationship to the environment” dimension concerns the widest circle around the individual, i.e. his or her relationship to the living world, to sufficiency and to the natural environment, or in other words to the environment in the broadest sense.

Table 1 sets out the dimensions and criteria of the Ecovillages Relational Capability Index (or “RCI-E”) developed as part of the action-research project.

Each criterion is based on a threshold logic and can be worth 0 or 1 depending on whether the ability assessed by the criterion is present or not for the person in question. The thresholds were defined by combining a normative approach (definition of what makes for a good life in terms of relationships, based on the capabilities approach) and an empirical approach (analysis of the views of the residents interviewed during the qualitative phase). The scores (0 or 1) for each criterion are calculated based on residents’ answers to one or more questions associated with the criterion in the quantitative survey.

The methodology for aggregating the indicator is based on uniform weightings between dimensions (weight of 1/5 for each dimension) and then uniform weightings between criteria within each dimension (weight of 1/5 * the inverse of the number of criteria in the dimension, for example 1/15 for a dimension comprising 3 criteria and 1/25 for a dimension comprising 5 criteria). This choice was made to make the indicator easier to read.


Dimension: Relationship to oneself


Deprived if


Control over one’s life

There is a time of the day or the week when I choose to spend my time as I wish: no


Questioning the meaning of one’s actions

Frequency of religious / spiritual / yoga / meditation / qi gong / philosophy activities: never


Alignment with personal choices

At least once during the year, I’ve made a choice that alienates me or prevents me from feeling in tune with myself: yes



I have good self-esteem: no


Sustainable business model

My household’s business model seems sustainable and suited to my aspirations for the coming years: yes


Dimension: Relationships within the ecovillage


Deprived if


Trust with other residents

On a day-to-day basis, I trust the other residents: no


Strong friendship

I have friends outside the ecovillage and I have seen my relatives living outside the ecovillage in the last month: no


Services and goods exchanges, donations

I take part in the exchange of goods and services or in donations: no



I take part in decisions concerning the governance of the ecovillage at least once a month or quarter: no


Socio-cultural diversity

I have contact with people from different socio-cultural backgrounds within the ecovillage: no


Dimension: Relationship outside the ecovillage


Deprived if


Share of one’s lifestyle

I have talked to people outside the ecovillage about my lifestyle in the last month: no


Relationship with friends and family

I have friends outside the ecovillage and I have seen my relatives living outside in the last month: no


Trust to people living around the ecovillage

I trust the people who live in my area (neighbors, local residents, town): no


Participation in local life

I took part in an activity (associative, cultural, sporting) outside the ecovillage with other locals: no


Dimension: Relationship to society


Deprived if


Civic life

I voted in the last elections: no or I am involved in at least one activity that contributes to the general interest (outside the local area): no


National solidarity

In the last 3 months, I have taken part in a solidarity action for people I didn’t know: no


Socio-professional utility

Through my professional activity, I feel I have a social purpose: no


Dimension: Relationship to nature


Deprived if


Contact with nature

No prolonged contact with nature or less than once a week


Carbon footprint

Fully committed or Somewhat committed to less than 2/4 of the proposed actions: meat consumption, origin of food products, daily travel, air travel, etc.


Global engagement for sufficiency

Fully committed or Somewhat committed to less than 2/3 of the proposed actions: water consumption, preserving biodiversity, 0 waste, etc.


Table 1 – Relational Capacity Index for ecovillages : dimensions et criterias

To access all the empirical results and qualitative details, download the results of the full study :


Some resources

To read the article dans TheConversation : Vit-on mieux dans les écolieux qu’ailleurs ?

Interview with Fanny Argoud, project manager : évaluer la qualité relationnelle des écolieux, Avise

EZVAN Cécile, L’HUILLIER Hélène, RENOUARD Cécile, « Au-delà de la RSE, accroître le pouvoir d’agir des parties-prenantes vulnérables. Une perspective éthique fondée sur l’approche par les capacités », Revue de l’organisation responsable, 2022/2 (Vol. 17), p. 63-80. URL :

ARGOUD Fanny, L’HUILLIER Hélène, « Vit-on-mieux en écolieu? », Revue Projet, 2023/3 (N° 394), pages 79 à 83. URL : (disponible en version non-définitive dans les Documents de Travail du Campus de la Transition)

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