When to Use Consent and Consensus Decision-Making?

Graphic drawing of the 5Ws plus H. The Five W's — who, what, where, when, why — are determined by policy and require consent. The 6th W, How, is delegated to the operations leader who implements policy to achieve the purpose of the circle.
The Five W’s — who, what, where, when, why — are determined by policy and require consent. The 6th W, How, is delegated to the operations leader who implements policy to achieve the purpose of the circle.

In sociocracy, consent and consensus decision-making are only used for policy decisions. Policy decisions are those that govern actions and allocation of resources (budget, people, etc.). But this leaves questions for many people—what other decisions are there? The distinction is clearer if you look at policy decisions vs. operations decisions.
Operations decisions are the day-to-day moment-to-moment activities that implement policies. Operations decisions are normally made autocratically by the leader or by an individual who has been delegated to complete a task. “Autocratic” doesn’t mean a dictatorship, however. In sociocracy, leadership style is determined by those being lead as well as the leader.

Policy: What, Who, Where, When, and Why

Policies specify the 5 W’s of journalism — What, Who, Where, When, and Why.

Operations specify the sixth W, the How.

When to Use Consent and Consensus Decision-making?

Consensus makes the best policy decisions because it requires consulting the wisdom  of each member of the group and obtaining the consent of each member of the group.

Autocratic or strong leader decisions, however, enable quick decisions and effective actions. Sports Teams, for example, function autocratically on the field for a reason—everyone has to make split second decisions based on the same previously determined rules. In this context, stopping to get consent would produce a no-win result.

All Members of a Work Group Participate in Policy Decisions

A major difference in sociocractic decision-making is that both kinds of decisions, policy and operations, involve the same people. Policy decisions are made with the consent of everyone in a working group, participating as equals. Thus the operations leader and the other members of the group must all consent in determining the leadership style. And members of the group consent to follow the leader’s lead.

Not all operations leaders function equally autocratically. One group might have agreed that the leader will decide outright. They like clear instructions. Another operations leader might ask for a  discussion how to double-dig the garden, for example, but it isn’t necessary and can be counter-productive. If the aim is to get the double-digging done, debates on the ethical issues involving the death experiences of worms will not accomplish the group’s purpose.

Operations follow policy. If in the course of work, it becomes clear that the policy could be better the leader makes a decision, and the policy is fixed later. If there isn’t a policy, the leader will determine the best solution and a policy will be addressed in the next policy meeting.

The operations leader can consult, and would be stupid if they didn’t, but the purpose in operations is policy execution.

The 5 W’s plus How

If there is a proposal to increase privacy by the playground, the policy questions needing to be addresses might be:

What is meant by privacy?
Who is responsible for executing the policy?
Where does the policy apply?
When will it be executed?
Why is the policy necessary and what does it intend to do? What is its purpose?

The How with all its details is then handed over to the operations leader for implementation following the 5W’s spelled out in the policy.

Since our 5 W’s plus one are being applied outside journalism, there would also be a budget for people and labor and a specific plan for evaluation of results. The Why would be considered first instead of at the end. But it is a good way to distinguish between policy and operations decisions.

Governance vs. Execution

Policy decisions don’t change from day to day. Governance is normally very stable. Operations decisions can change as necessary,  daily or even moment to moment..

Policies should be reviewed annually but needn’t be changed unless there is a reason to do so. If there are changes in the group’s function or there is new information, policies can be revised at any time in policy meetings using the consent and consensus decision-making process .

Another characteristic of a policy is that it governs the future. It has a beginning date and a future date for review. Some policies may be in force until they are changed or withdrawn—the name o f the organization, for example.

On the other hand, operations decisions are executed in the present or the near term. The decision to plant the south garden with herbs for the next five years is a policy decision that will be reviewed annually. Unless it is changed, it governs the next five years. How the herbs are planted and on what day is a decision for the moment and doesn’t address how the herbs will be planted in the future.

Operations will go much more smoothly if they are guided by clear policies.

Decorative Separator

This post is a departure from the sociocratic analysis of the last entry on the similarities of Trump to Hitler. I intend to return to that topic. 

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