The principles and practices of sociocracy as the method is used today were developed by Gerard Endenburg in the 1960s. The principles have remained essentially unchanged though the understanding of how they can be applied under different circumstances in different kinds of organizations has continued to grow.
There are three principles that are essential to sociocracy and a number of practices and processes that support the principles or are a logical extension of them.
The Three Principles
(The three principles are sometimes referred to as four though there is no change in substance. Click here for an explanation.)
Policy decisions are made with the consent of those they most directly affect. Consent is defined not as agreement, but as “no objections.” One can consent as long as the proposed decision will not adversely affect one’s ability to work toward the aims of the organization.
Policy decisions are those that determine how an organization will function. Consent is required from individuals in policy decisions that affect their domain of responsibility. Policy decisions include allocation of resources including budgets; assignment and descriptions of roles and responsibilities; how work, events, or services will be accomplished and evaluated; how records will be maintained; etc.
The elections process, which was once referred to as the fourth principle,is used to assign roles and responsibilities. It can also be used for any consent decision that has more than two possible options.
Policy decisions are delegated to circles composed of all members of a decision-making body— a department, team, work group, etc. , In meetings of the circle all members function as equals and elect their own officers: a chair, a facilitator, and a secretary/logbook keeper.
Day-to-day operational decisions are made by the operations leader within the policies established by the circle and the larger organization. The operations leader is an equal member of the circle.
3. Double Linking
The operations leader and at least one representative elected by the circle, participate as full members of the next higher circle. Circles are arranged in a hierarchy of decision-making. For example: a board, a general management circle, department circles, unit circles, etc. The double links create overlapping circles with participation in policy decision-making by members of both circles. This establishes communications both up and down the organization and creates a feedback loop that encompasses the whole organization.
Double links are unique to the sociocratic circle method of organizing.
There are a number of practices that are essential to the application of the principles. While the principles are essential to establishing and maintaining an organization in which all the members are equivalent, the practices may vary if equally effective.
The Elections Process. This process allows all members of a circle to participate in assigning roles and responsibilities in order to choose the best person available.
Rounds. Rounds in which each person speaks in turn, are used to maintain equivalence in a meeting. They balance the discussion giving each person the opportunity to speak and to ensure that everyone participates in decisions.
Evaluations. Each policy decision is reviewed annually. Some reviews will be very quick and others extensive. Evaluations include evaluations of individuals in their roles as circle members.
Transparency. Transparency is essential when all members of an organization are involved in decision-making and expected to take a leadership role in their own development and in the development of their circle. All data in a sociocratic company, except for proprietary or security information, is open to both employees and customers/clients/members. Good decisions require full information.