Techniques or Understanding

One criticism of We the People is that there is too much history and theory. Some people only want the “how to.”

“The book should start with the how-to.”

“Give me the technique, not the boring stuff.”


But if you focus on techniques, you then require more detailed techniques—one for every situation. As if there could be a manual to cover all situations. If there were such a thing it would look like Robert’s Rules Order and you would have to have a specialist—a parliamentarian—in every meeting to cite the rules. No one else would learn them, and if you stop the meeting to look them up the meeting could become all about the rules. Robert’s is a thick book. With small type.

With a focus merely on techniques the meeting content would be downed in searches of the right techniques.

Understanding Is Fundamental

Techniques are important but not by themselves. They are applications, not understanding. Without understanding you can’t develop new or unique techniques, ones to fit the situation confronting you. People are unique and changing. Situations are ever new. The techniques are almost universal in application but not always.

Learning techniques without understanding is like learning tactics without a strategy. When memorized tactic fails, you won’t know what to do. With and understanding of strategy, tactics can be adapted to the situation.

If you understand the historical development of sociocracy and the intentions of the principles, you can figure out a technique for any situation. You think first of the desired result and then how to produce it.

Focus the “Why?” First, Then the How

Understanding the reasoning behind the principles a much richer, developmental experience for everyone.

Collaborative Governance

I’ve been looking for a new description for and have tried several. In reading recent posts on [email protected] and sociocracy-related websites, I found the word collaborative used the most often to describe sociocracy and, perhaps more importantly,  to be used consistently with the same meaning:

Collaboration is working with others to achieve a common task and to achieve shared goals. It is more than the intersection of common goals found in co-operative organizations.

Why Not Consent?

The word consent is used by many to describe sociocracy but I haven’t found that people are attracted to it. Some because they don’t know what it means outside of a marriage ceremony, and others because they are afraid of it. They envision long meetings and months of discussion. However fundamental consent is in creating a sociocratic organization only those already familiar with consensus decision-making seem comfortable with it and many of them also want to avoid it.

Consent also doesn’t convey the feeling of a group, of a socius, of a society. It’s singular. I may want my singular rights but a sociocracy isn’t a singular. It is singulars working together, moving in the same direction, accomplishing shared aims. Sociocracy is a set of values, principles, and practices that help people do that.

Collaborative as a word has positive connotations* and without doing a statistical study is desirable to most people—if they also desire to be members of organizations. Not everyone does, particularly in their personal lives.

Collaborative Governance, Not Organization?

Using the word governance provides an opportunity to discuss the meaning of governing, of steering. People generally do not understand what “governance” means. They think it means “government.” Before a sociocracy can be created, the  concept of governance must be understood.

While sociocracy is also a method of organizing, the organization is the result, not the aim. What sociocracy does is establish a communications and decision-making structure that can steer an organization so that it accomplishes its aim. That is governance: an ongoing stable structure of relationships between people who self-organize and maintain communications and control in order for an organization to be most effective.

Collaborative organizations are inherently self-organizing. Each person, as an equal, also has to be a leader. Sociocracy is based on a set of values and can be discussed philosophically, but it is about steering and effectiveness, not just organizing.

Sociocracy will make the most impact when governance and leadership are understood.

*The one negative meaning associated with collaboration arises when a person aids an occupying enemy and betrays their own people is called a “collaborator.” Collaborators, however, work as equals and have shared aims. Wartime “collaborators” were not equals and were often treated as inhumanely as their fellow citizens. They sometimes “collaborated” in  fear of threats to harm family members, for example.

In collaborative organizations, people are rarely called “collaborators.” They are said “to collaborate” in “collaborative organizations.”

Update on

A picture of my Frazzled Brain
My Frazzled Brain

In January 2014, I decided that developing both my Sociocracy site and my Deeper Democracy site was turning me into a frazzled mess. In order to focus, I imported all the information from A Deeper Democracy to, planning to close down A Deeper Democracy. I spent almost a year developing as both a guide to the principles and methods of sociocracy and an exploration in relation to other ideas. I put a closed sign on A Deeper Democracy and let it be.

The problem was that writing about democracy, sociocracy, and governance in general all at the same time was confusing those new to sociocracy. Learning new methods is easier when the teaching focuses rather narrowly. To compare and integrate diverse ideas is a more advanced and a different task.

Combining my two interests—providing a comprehensive guide to sociocracy and exploring other ideas from the point of view of sociocracy—wasn’t working. And even without updates and a sign on the door saying “Closed,” the Deeper Democracy site was continuing to have high traffic. It had been linked in so many places people were skipping the front p age and going directly to content, which I hadn’t yet deleted.

A Resource & a Blog

My solution will be to develop as a resource site on Sociocracy, and develop A Deeper Democracy as an ongoing blog examining governance in society. I will still blog on but more in response to questions and specific methods.

It will take some time to sort the two sites out because it involves re-categorizing the hundreds of details of posts, pages, categories, and tags that have been exported and combined on one site and then imported back. So for the time being I will be working more on A Deeper Democracy. If you are interested you might also subscribe to that site.

Consensus or Sociocracy?

Drop Cap Letter QWe are 3 months into starting a cohousing community in western MA. We will soon be discussing how we will make group decisions. Consensus and sociocracy seem to be common strategies in cohousing and other intentional communities. Which do you recommend?

“Consensus or Sociocracy?” Is the Wrong Question

(But there are no dumb questions. This one is a very good question and one we hear frequently.)

Sociocracy and consensus are not opposite things.

  1. Consensus is a decision-making method.
  2. Sociocracy is a governance method.
  3. Sociocracy is a governance method based on consensus decision-making.

Sociocracy establishes a structure within which to make policy decisions (the planning and leading) and operations decisions (the doing).

Policy decisions are made by consensus. Operations decisions are made by the leader of the work group or as the circle decides. The circle can also decide to use consensus for day-to-day decisions, the consent of 2-3 circle members, or any other methods it decides work. As long as the decision to use another method is made by consent and reviewed periodically—annually, perhaps.


The sociocratic governance method allows you to delegate decisions to those who are most affected by them and still ensure that they are within the policies of community.

For example, the CH cleaning circle can decide by consensus to change its cleaning days to Sundays instead of Saturdays. That’s a decision they can make without consultation with anyone as long as they follow the policy that any community brunches on Sunday take precedence. (And announce it to the membership so everyone knows what to expect.)

Coordinating Circle

In sociocracy groups are called circles but they can be called anything as long as they are well-defined as decision-making groups with a defined membership and a common aim. All the circles are tied together by a coordinating circle that is composed of members of all the other circles.

The coordinating circle:

  1. makes policy decisions that affect more than one circle
  2. resolves decisions on which circles have been unable to reach consensus, and
  3. does long-range planning—2-5 years.

The coordinating circle includes representatives and leaders of all circles so it provides a larger perspective on difficult, complex, and long-term decisions.

Long-range planning is often missing in Cohousing. And decisions needing a wider range of knowledge go to the larger membership when it isn’t necessary or effective. The Coordinating Circle can fulfill these needs.

Full Membership Meetings

Some communities have  misunderstood meetings of he full membership and thus rejected sociocracy. Communities may still reserve some decisions for full circle meetings — all circles meeting together to make decisions on the annual budget, capital improvements, widely contentious issues, etc. Or hold full circle meetings to give feedback to circles or to discuss community issues without making decisions.

Policy decisions are those that affect future actions and decisions — the budget, job descriptions, scope of work, standards, etc.

Operations decisions affect the present, the day-to-day activities and are made usually by the leader or as delegated to members of the circle.


The circles decide how their leader will lead. In a gardening circle, for example, the leader may delegate tasks to people or decide which needs to be done first. Or they may decide to work together on each task. (Our workday participants did this last year with great satisfaction at seeing each job finished much more quickly and completely with no ends left for another day.)

Communications & Steering

Based on cybernetics, the sociocratic governance structure establishes a clear communications and steering structure so decentralized decision-making can work effectively without fragmentation, overlap, or duplication. In small communities where almost constant communication happens in the course a week, this may not seem important.

In larger communities this structure becomes very important. With 60-80 adults, you can’t talk to everyone all the time and the work is more complex — more buildings, more financial accounting, more children, more repairs, more illnesses, etc. Everyone can’t be expected know everything.

Where to Start?

It is very important to establish a governance system from the start—beginning as a full group coordinating circle. Then other circles are formed as the coordinating circle is ready to delegate decisions. People will usually belong to more than one circle. Circles self-organize and make decisions within their domain (area of responsibility).

It is important to distinguish between circles, which make decisions, and work groups that are assigned tasks and bring proposals, information, etc., back to a circle for decision-making.

Sociocracy is a governance method that both requires and is designed to support consensus decision-making. There is no other governance method designed to do this.

Biography of Kees Boeke

Cover of Dutch Biography of Kees BoekeWell-received biography of Kees Boeke in Dutch by Daniela Hooghiemstra, a noted Dutch Biographer.

Available from


De christen-pacifist Kees Boeke (1884- 1966) wordt wel ‘onderwijshervormer’ genoemd maar hij beoogde niet minder dan de stichting van een nieuwe wereld. Toen de poging om die gemeenschap te stichten mislukte, besloot Boeke een school te stichten waar de ‘nieuwe wereld’ van de grond af opgebouwd moest worden. Deze unieke school kreeg na de Tweede Wereldoorlog een prominente leerling: prinses Beatrix. De koninklijke aandacht leek de kroon op zijn werk, maar luidde ook het begin in van de ondergang van Kees Boeke en alles waar hij altijd in geloof had.

Collaborative Collective Cooperative

Ornamental Capital Letter CCollaborative, collective, and cooperative are words often used interchangeably. When I hear them I wonder which one the speaker or writer means. I use them interchangeably too, sort of giving equal time to all of them. I have a preference for cooperative because it seems to have fewer political overtones than collective, and collaborative reminds me of clabber. It sticks in my throat.

The Problem with Dictionaries

The dictionary definitions of these three words don’t help very much because they tend to give each as a synonyms of the other, particularly collaborative with collective and collective with cooperative. Remember when dictionaries told you which word was correct? They might have been too proscriptive but at least they preserved the precision of language.

There is great value in language becoming new with inventive applications and combinations that play off the original, but smushing words together with no regard for distinct word origins and historical use is not inventive. It’s lazy.

So I decided not to be lazy and look for something that did more than reflect how words are used whether the usage is meaningful or not.

Collaborative Collective Cooperative

On distinctions between collaborative, collective, and cooperative, journals in education are  the clearest—with economics, sociology, and political science not very much interested—at least as far as I was willing to go in a Sunday afternoon library search. In education the distinctions become important because educators are teaching skills. To teach skills you have to be clear what you are teaching and what you need to accomplish. educators have learned that:

One can design a collaborative task in which there is no collective learning and reward coöperation without producing collaboration.

According to dictionary definitions this sentence is gibberish. In reality it is very meaningful and in seeking to develop sociocratic societies, crucial. Self-organizing people may be cooperative but not have the skills to collaborate well enough to produce a collective result.


Collaboration is sharing knowledge or services with others on the solution to a problem, an investigation of an event, or development of a product. Collaboration doesn’t mean necessarily that people are working together in unison. They contribute in a way that helps others  accomplish very different aims. They may be working toward the same aim in their own domain,  but not necessarily.

Collaboration does not require that each person contribute equally to a task but means they all share what they can that will help to accomplish each other’s goals.


Collective refers to actions done as a group. A Corn Collective grows, picks, and sells corn. A Collective to Stop Hunger in Chicago, will be composed of people working together on projects that serve the aim. Members function more or less as equals in the sense that they work together and the company or resources are typically not owned by someone else. They have both unity of ambition and self-determination.

In the education program where students learned to work collaboratively but not collectively, most individuals were able to contribute in tasks but some were not able to function as a member of a group that accomplished a particular task. Some students remained individual collaborators.


Cooperative means people are willing and able to accommodate and support others. A cooperative person may not have a common aim with another person or group, but they are tolerant and helpful. They are not generally belligerent or refusing to participate.

In cooperative organizations, like food coops, there are many different kinds of participants— customers, investors, workers, managers, governing bodies, etc. They are not collaborators because they aren’t independently sharing information or tasks. They aren’t a collective because they aren’t all doing the same thing or have the same socio-economic interests.

They all assume a role and often make a commitment to make the food coop successful, but they do so as individuals with individual aims—individuals in that each one serves their own needs differently even though they all eat food. They often don’t know each other.

Of Course  …

Of course all these words have noun, adjective, and verb forms and secondary meanings  that confuse things. This exercise, however, was useful to me in making distinctions between the skills required to participate in collaborative, collective, or cooperative organizations.

In the end, sociocratic organizations could be any of these. Since sociocracy is a governance system that can  be adapted to any form of organization, it can be adapted to collaboratives, collectives, or cooperatives.

The question is the method inherently collaborative? Collaborative is the hot word these days. People like it and I see it in many places in descriptions of sociocracy. I’m not sure any of these words is appropriate in a general application. Organizing sociocratically doesn’t necessarily make an organization collaborative, collective, or cooperative. But it does encourage all three.

One Name = Conquer Google

Google LogoI was searching my name on Google this morning as the quickest way to find my own website. I shockingly  discovered that for sharon villines there are more than 52,000 results. Then I was reminded by my associates on [email protected] to search on “sharon villines”. A big difference: 6,390. Still a lot. Some are duplicates but that’s a lot of websites. (Another day I have to find out what they are.)

Then I checked sociocracy to find out how many results there were: 32,000+. Certainly up from 12 in 2002, but still not stellar. (I keep a running count of Google hits, the Google Count.)

Searching on Villines produces 346,000 results. That includes a lot of people and a lot of genealogy links. (We research genealogy because there are so few of us. And all related.)
“Dynamic Governance” returns  23,500+ and the first 12 pages or so are refer to the method based on sociocracy. Then many are for a book of the same name—a very good analysis of government that shares many of the characteristic objectives and analytic methods of sociocracy—Dynamic Governance. But its quality only confuses the issue. Dynamic Governance is breaking ground but there are plans to re-brand it. We still aren’t up to a respectable showing.

Settle on a Name

The problem is that we can’t settle on a name. I went through the very same find-an-alternative thing when I first started talking to people about sociocracy—a name so awkward to pronounce in English and one so reminiscent of socialism that one’s throat stumbles over it. John Buck and I spent many hours over several years of dinners twice a month discussing alternatives when we wrote We the People.
I liked dynamic organization but Gerard Endenburg said, “Sociocracy is unique. Dynamic has to many meanings. No one knows what it means.”
Gilles Charest said, “I went through this too. Stick with sociocracy.” But of course, the French Sociocratie is so much nicer to say. And when you pronounce the socio as it is pronounced in French, it doesn’t remind English speakers of socialism—a full-stop negative in the United States.
But we can’t keep using alternative names. It’s hurting us.

One Name = Conquer Google

Nabisco, the Democratic Party, Prius, Rhode Island, Cher—what if they started using 5-6 names for themselves?  We couldn’t go shopping if we had to remember 5 names for each product. Are these the same? Does one have more garlic or less sugar? We couldn’t find a company’s website without searching all of the names. Though Google would solve the search problem quickly enough by cross-indexing, Google isn’t perfect. It isn’t cross-indexing sociocracy and dynamic governance unless both words are used on one site.
Most of us do well to remember two names for one person—a birth name and a nickname. And people names go with a face. We have an image to tag those names to. Sociocracy has no face.

Building Power

One name has builds power. The energy isn’t dissipated. It’s like riding one electric bicycle to charge the battery, instead of riding five bikes.  The total effort divided by five won’t make it to the top of the hill.
We have to settle. This march to “try out” better things is splitting the ranks and diffusing the impact. Who knows what is what?
It’s throwing things at walls to see which one will stick. But throwing things at walls is a one time exercise. You don’t repeat it every few years. Unless you are running from something like Arthur Andersen was after their part in the Enron scandal, their fallure to signal fraud in the books they audited. And the subsequent shredding of their records.
Sociocracy isn’t running from anything. Why run in so many different directions?
Google both creates and reflects power. Until we conquer Google, we will have no power. We need to get on one bicycle.
A Note: I’ve been experimenting with different pronunciations—trying a softer middle C and long O’s. (Obama has a long O, as does oatmeal.) It feels better but not firm yet. I forget sometimes.


A Deeper Democracy