As the coauthor of We the People: Consenting to a Deeper Democracy, A guide to Sociocratic Principles and Methods, I would like to continue the thread on governance for cooperative groups. Sociocracy/dynamic governance is designed for any organization and developed in both nonprofit and business environments. Its fundamental objective is to establish and maintain the equivalence of all members of the organization, and eventually of all people.
It is the only governance system that actually supports consensus decision-making. Other methods and techniques have been cobbled together to help groups function, but sociocracy is specifically designed to establish and maintain equality. It is based on 4 principles -- consent, circles, double-linking, and consent elections or delegation. The reason "consent" is used rather than "consensus" is because "consensus" is almost universally, as Diana Leaf Christian pointed out, and wrongly used to mean agreement. The distinction makes people wake up and listen.
In addition, "consent" emphasizes the individual. Only an individual can consent. Groups that insist on the "good of the group" are often using a form of majority rule. The loudest or the most numerous in the room determine what the "good of the group" is. In sociocracy, the good of the group is what is good for each person. A strong group is composed of committed individuals. There is no group without individuals. That is why consensus is such a strong means of developing strong groups. Each person is recognized as having equal power and thus does not become a weak or even destructive.
This also means each person has equal responsibility to be informed and to participate fully.
Consensus in sociocracy is extended to the delegation of resources in a group. There are no volunteers. The group decides, by consent, how resources will be used -- people, money, assets, energy, time, etc. A facilitator is elected by consent to solicit nominations and proposals, and to suggest the seemingly best choices, but every one in the room must consent to the choice.
The two other principles, circles and double linking, are based on systems thinking and dynamics. They allow groups to function as systems, as interlinked sub-groups, that form a cohesive whole. The double-links ensure (1) leadership and (2) feedback that keeps all the parts on track. Each circle or team is linked to the next higher and lower circle by two people, the double links. One is the leader of the circle and the other is elected by the group to represent them. This person can change with the decisions under discussion.
The arrangement of the circles is hierarchical, and here is where consensus based groups stop listening -- and I did as well, resisting all the way. But this hierarchy, still based on consensus, is not autocratic. It is a "circular hierarchy," in which each circle in interlinked with other circles which participate in its decisions by consent. Thus no circle can make decisions that affect another circle without that circle's consent.
Decisions are made by consent up and down the organization. The mission, strategic plan, and budget go up and down the organization until all circles have consented to it. All circle meetings are also possible in organizations small enough to meet together to make decisions. The upper limit is usually about 40 people in one room in order for there to be full discussion and consent rounds.
In intentional communities, the whole group might function as one circle just as they usually do now. Using sociocratic principles and methods, however, will still form a stronger, more productive community.
This is an over view that I hope is helpful. I am working on a book that is specifically designed for cooperative and common interest communities, which are usually smaller than corporations. The language and concerns are different and deserve a separate discussion.
A final note: The original name used 200 years to describe various forms of this idea is sociocracy and was originally derived from "sociology." In America, "sociocracy" is negatively associated with the concepts of socialism. And in English is harder to say than in other languages. The alternative being used is dynamic governance because in systems terms, it creates a dynamic organization capable of responding to changing condition. The governance system is capable of recreating itself in response to needs rather than needs being squashed into the requirements of a static or slowly changing autocracy.
Thank you, Sharon! Your description is really helpful.
I'm glad you're writing a book about Sociocracy for how it's used in intentional communities, and I'll be sure to read and review it in my online newsletter Ecovillages. And in the meantime, is there a way people can learn a little more about Sociocracy online?
By the way, at the national cohousing conference in Seattle I just attended, I asked a man from The Netherlands (where Sociocracy originated) what term they use for this method there. "Sociocrat-zie" is what it sounded like he said. Much easier to pronounce, like Sharon said.
There is no point at which an organization becomes too large to use sociocratic governance.
There is a point at which a group will want to stop acting as one body. Many groups currently using consensus decision-making function as one body with very few delegated decisions. They delegate work but not decisions.
Sociocratic governance would advise that each decision-making group, or circle, be no larger than 40 with the optimum maximum being about 20. A circle can be as small as one person. Then all these circles would be linked as one organization.
Sharon, I see where Sociocracy would work in smaller groups or communities but have my doubts as to it's success in larger groups or even a relatively small town government. So at some point due to size of those governed I think that there would be problems. If we use your high of 40 in a circle and a community of 100,000 thst would make 2500 circles involved. I challenge you to find any City Council meeting that has attendence/participation of that magnitude. In smaller groups I see its value and potential for success but have reservations on your assertion that it would work regardless of the size of the group. Robert
Our inability to change everything should not stop us from changing what we can.
There would be more layers of circles. In addition, not everyone in a neighborhood will participate in governance, or in all circle meetings. In a business setting, all employees must attend but in a neighborhood, people might only attend those meetings on topics they care about. So a neighborhood of 100-200 might only have 40 people in a meeting.
A greater problem is that to make decisions by consent, people have to be willing to spend the time to discuss issues and resolve the objections of other members. If the objections are not resolved at the neighborhood level, the higher level circle would make the decision. . There is a community in India that uses a similar system. The government has formed regional government units but they are too large to consider the needs of special groups. So these groups have formed their own neighborhood parliaments, even one for children. They find solutions to their own problems and take them to the regional government. This way the neighborhoods can focus on the problems of concern to them and feed into the official government as well. They use sociocracy.
So that illustration shows a combination of the two and I can see where that would be an effective way of letting government know what a particular neighborhood or region would want. But a true sociocracy of a large scale still seems as if it would not work to me. At some point a group becomes to large. Democray as unpleasant as it is, if you are in the minority of a majority rule decision, seems to me to be the least unpleasant yet most effective of the types of governance out there.
Our inability to change everything should not stop us from changing what we can.
Maybe the size of the area would be a limiting factor rather than the size of the group. A neighborhood would be an excellent size for sociocracy but once the area begins to get so large as to have different issues that would determine efficacy.
Our inability to change everything should not stop us from changing what we can.
Hi Guys! I am extremely new here. Just joined because I am facilitating an intentional community discussion group in Chattanooga, TN and want to learn more about sociocracy/dynamic governance so I can summarize it and present it to the group. I will continue reading here, but if anyone has a good quick, concise but also informative resource for this type of governance, please let me know. Our meeting is tomorrow night! (September 9th). Of course, we're not in a hurry, but I'd like to do an introduction of it at this gathering. THANKS!
It appears that there is at least one book available. ------ I have to agree with Robert on the unworkability of such a system for larger groups. It seems like something meant to govern simpler creatures than human beings. Can anyone point to any large group anywhere that purports to use such a system? Or is it a mental construct of the author(s) of this and other books?
It seems like a system that could not function with me around, since every citizen would effectively have veto power, should they be unhappy with decisions being made. I would use that power so often that my expulsion would become necesarry in order for the group to function. But how would that be accomplished? I've never been part of a group where I haven't found some natural allies or others who I was able to convert to my side on some issue. Without total agreement, nothing would ever get done. Then the whole system would break down and my friends and I would overthrow the paralysed government. Whether it was replaced with representative democracy or dictatorship, I would have greater faith in the new system delivering functional government.
There was mention earlier (2009) actually of only those who care about certain issues showing up at meetings concerning that issue. It follows that they would make decisions that affect everybody. This sounds a lot like representative democracy. The big difference is that the group didn't get together and choose some of their best and brightest to represent them. Those people chose themselves. They could have some sinister reason for showing up, or they might not have found anything interesting on TV that night. Maybe their girlfriend said it would be best if they leave for a few hours. So there they are at a meeting to decide how to best utilize limited resources.--- The politics of protest often works like this. Every few weeks, here in Victoria, gaggles of angry people who haven't found their economic niche, show up on the lawn of our legislature, city hall etc. with lists of demands. Invariably, the loudest voice claims to represent me and everyone else. I didn't show up at the "meeting". I didn't know there was going to be a meeting. And, I certainly wouldn't have chosen a buffoon to represent me. So, because I had work to do that day and most days, Mr Megaphone's opinions are heard, while mine are not. Luckily, the people who the rest of us elected to run city hall have become deaf to the white noise outside. They continue to make sure that the roads get fixed, the sewers work and the stop signs stolen by the protesters are replaced.
Can anyone point me to a free source of this book ? I'd like to give it a look, to make sure that I got the gist of it. Who knows, I might come back here in a week as a total convert.
I havent heard of any larger groups using this method but I have read about similar systems that have been used. Sociocracy is not at all a representative democracy because people who care about the issues go to the meetings. . can you explain this dale?
"The politics of protest often works like this. Every few weeks, here in Victoria, gaggles of angry people who haven't found their economic niche, show up on the lawn of our legislature, city hall etc. with lists of demands"
i have to disagree. . a persons 'niche' often is not their fault. . we don't all come from middle upper class families with lots of opportunities. . . i have to disagree with you here. . . are you referring to protesters of the oil sands pipeline maybe? underpaid union workers? mcdonalds workers that get paid 7.50 an hour? you should just go and tell them not to worry about not being able to feed their familes that they just havent found their 'niche" yet, cuz mcdonalds is right and theyre wrong?
"Invariably, the loudest voice claims to represent me and everyone else"
in my experience it has been the people with the most money and access to political power that have been representing you and i. . . and they are representing large coorporations. . . increasingly all political parties are corporatists.. im pretty sure im not the only one that sees that.
" Luckily, the people who the rest of us elected to run city hall have become deaf to the white noise outside. They continue to make sure that the roads get fixed, the sewers work and the stop signs stolen by the protesters are replaced. "
maybe you live in a place where all of these amenities are taken care of but in fact this is a bubble. . . but for the majority of people living in dense urban areas the roads arent fixed and the sewers overflow into our local rivers. i haven't been through a municipality that doesn't replace stop signs when they are stolen, it seems like that would be pretty irresponsible in general (also, ive seen this in rural and urban areas . . pretty sure it's something that kids do and not associated necessarily with protesters even if some have done it, little unfair)
lets further read into sociocracy before we bash it. . . please let me know how a representative democracy has served all of the population so well and why it is better than sociocracy, how it is transformative and empowers people to make real world decisions that affect themselves and all of society. and why despite that some of us have failed to find our 'niche'
I have nothing to explain or defend. This thread began as a sales pitch for a book. That book contains information on a political system that is claimed to work very well. Groups of 40 are mentioned. Far fewer than this number have commented thus far and it appears that consensus is elusive.
When attempting to convert someone to a different way of thinking, useful information is the only thing that will have a chance of working on many of them. Those being told about the wonderful system will either accept or reject it. If they reject it, the reasons may be many, but the fact remains that those who are trying to sell the idea, have failed to do so.
If I had been sold on the idea, even a little bit, I would have immediately begun researching it. I have done this with hundreds of ideas in the past.
I haven't bashed the concept. Should I ever choose to do that, you'll see a no holds barred expose' worthy of George Will.
Since it was brought up. ----
I do live in the best run city that I've ever lived in. I've helped to make it better, through pushing changes in the recycling industry.
I began supporting myself at 14. No family money. Ten kids in that family.
This is finally getting to the meat of the matter--I think I get the basic idea of sociocracy now, and it seems reasonable.
I like the redundancy of the double-linking--if one person representing a circle (kinda like a committee) is craycray, the other one can catch what they missed. It sounds decentralized--each circle seems to be autonomous except when it would impact the other circles. I like "consent"--that's clear to most people nowadays, and that's what "consensus" actually means. But I should stop expecting people to know that that is what it actually means, and accept that "consent" is the word they actually do know. I like the hierarchy plus equality marriage--there is a work-owner coop that has "everyone is equal" at the office and out on a job "one person is in charge." So, you get the job done and don't get to revisit decisions every step of the way on the job, but once it's done, back at the office, you can say, "You did a shitty job of handling X, Y, and Z and as your equal, I get to take you to task for that. Actually, to say you did a shitty job is an insult to shit. (What did shit ever do to deserve that?) Never do what you did on X, Y, and Z again or your ass is grass. And we all know that grass is the enemy, because permaculture!"
When I facilitate our meetings in my spiritual community, I usually say, "Is this a decision everyone can live with?" so I think that works. That sounds like it's in common with sociocracy. And the committees are fairly autonomous (if they ever do their jobs, hooray! ). So it wouldn't be that different from the good parts of how we have been doing things.
What would change is that we'd make sure each committee has two people reporting back--and that if there are other people not on the Board who are on that committee that that committee would actually have to meet and agree to what the Board had decided--there would be veto power from the committees/circles.
I wish to God and the dead that people in my community would read a book--or at least a one-page handout--about how to use a structured decision-making process. I think this could be boiled down to a hand-out that would get people started, and they could self-correct and learn on the job.
I'm not so focused on "this works or doesn't work at large scales," I am interested in what works for a small (10 or so) group of people who have a hell of a time coming to consensus or even consent.
That being said, it sounds like sociocracy at scale wouldn't allow protestors to override the process illegitimately--only the elected representatives (the double-link leader and the double-link representative) get to represent people at a higher circles, is that correct?
How do you do this in a way that seduces more people into being members? if they don't live on the same piece of land together and can just disappear without much consequence, when life comes up? There are people one thinks are just barely in, for whatever reason--maybe family members' illness, maybe they're "just not that into us"--and yet we settle for that person's contribution and involvement because it seems it's either that person or no one. That person _might_ follow through, or else it's back on the same shoulders as the person who's way overworked already. Can sociocracy help us??
I remain cautious in my mild optimism here, not because this doesn't seem like an awesome idea but because I've tried a few awesome ideas before and they did not stick. We need to have a system simple enough that we can understand it in an embodied way, in our bodies. This does sound like sociocracy fits with a natural form, but I'd have to see it in action.
And how do we take a vote to use sociocracy? how do we know people mean it when they vote for something?
Community Building 2.0: ask me about drL, the rotational-mob-grazing format for human interactions.