The Ängsbacka Tree, 2014
On 25 of March 2014, Sue Bell posted a drawing of the sociocratic circle structure in the form of a tree on the [email protected] email discussion list. It was created at the Sociocracy & the Art of Facilitation Training held 24-25 March 2014 at Ängsbacka led by James Priest. Ängsbacka is a well-known conference center in Scandinavia that hosts meetings with the purpose of exploring “sustainable human development and [being] an inspiration for social, personal and global well-being.”
According to Jan Höglund’s blog, subtitled “In search of life-giving ways of working,” the idea for the diagram came from Nova Wegerif, a cook and program leader at Ängsbacka. Nova is the coordinator for the Celebrate Life! Festival, 12-18 July 2014.
The Brighton PermaCulture Tree, 2012
On 26 March 2014, Julian Howell of the UK posted the following message and diagram on the Sociocracy list:
“We came to something similar in Brighton Permaculture Trust (UK) during a envisioning exercise in 2012 where we imagined running sociocratically. We initially drew the structure we hoped to reach in a few years time in a typical top-down format (based on circles and double-linking). People weren’t quite happy until someone suggested turning it upside down. Suddenly it made more Permaculture sense—the ‘top circle’ as the tap-root bringing policy sustenance from the soil environment and feeding it up through the general circle (the trunk) into branches (areas of activities) and projects (‘petals’ as we sometimes call them) which in turn generated operational energy to feed back down to the roots. Something like that. Anyway, it gave more visual importance to the activities that drive Brighton Permaculture Trust and felt right.”
A symbol combines a literal and sensuous quality with an abstract or suggestive aspect.
William Harmon, A Handbook to Literature (2006)
Since 2002, I’ve been looking for a symbol of sociocracy that would be a literal image of the circular process and have an emotional impact. Something softer than engineering and systems dynamic diagrams. I used gardening examples and wrote the Green Amigos: How the Circle-archy Works, or Having Fun in Business Again case study as a landscaping company because everyone has some sense of gardening and how plants grow, and enters an almost meditative state in a lovely landscape or on seeing flowers.
Who doesn’t have wonderful memories that involve trees?
I had envisioned the branches and the clusters of leaves as connected circles but dropped the idea because I didn’t see the trunk as the coordinating circle and the tap-root as the top circle (board). That is what completed the picture for me as obviously, for others:
- The Top Circle links an organization to the environment as roots bring new energy from the earth. The roots ground the organization.
- The Coordinating Circle is the trunk through which energy flows from the roots to the leaves and from the leaves to the roots. The feedback that flows up and down and forms the circular process. The Coordinating Circle is the supporting spine of the organization.
- The Circles are responsible for serving the purposes of the organization. The branches hold and organize the leaves. The leaves are the most visible and numerous. The leaves transform energy from the sun and provide many services—shade for the plants and animals on the forest floor, removal of toxins from the air, a haven for homes, food, etc.
Trees meet the needs of the environment and in turn the environment nurtures them. The branches and leaves and roots give each other purpose.
There are probably more analogies in there, but I’ve forgotten what I ever knew about tree biology. Cybernetics and the understanding of feedback loops grew out of this kind of thinking. Endenburg used analogical thinking to apply his understanding of electrical systems engineering social systems to develop sociocracy in order manage his business. I hope we continue this kind of thinking.
More on this topic to come. I was so happy when this appeared on the [email protected] list! Sharon