Category Archives: Glossary

Terms that are unique to sociocracy or other related topics in governance, cybernetics, economics, etc.

Policy and Operations Decisions

The most viewed pages and the most searched topics on Sociocracy.info continue to be those related to policy and operations decisions.

The distinction between policy and operations decisions is not unique to sociocracy, but it is one that many of us don’t understand. Most often we don’t even realize that we are following a policy — it’s just the way things are done.

We also don’t recognize a policy decision as distinct from an operations decision. Thus short-term operations decisions can drift into being applied as long-term policy decisions.

Policy Decisions

A Circle Meeting at Endenburg Elektrotechniek
A Circle Meeting at Endenburg Elektrotechniek

What is a policy decision?

A policy decision governs future policy and operations decisions.  It places controls or requirements on actions and related decisions. A policy decision is unrelated to the name of the policy. Unless there is a policy requiring a certain format, the format is not defining.

If a decision limits or enables other decisions, it is a policy decision no matter the  title:  “Policy for Kitchen Hygiene” or “Kitchen Hygiene.” A policy can be one sentence or several pages. Sociocracy is concerned with content, with meaning and function, not labels.

Who makes policy decisions?

One of the beauties of sociocracy is that policy and operations decisions are made at all levels of the organization. They are made by those they directly govern. The President or the top management  of a landscaping company probably wouldn’t set policy for organizing plants in the greenhouse. The Greenhouse Circle or team will make that decision.

How do you know a policy is effective?

Policies include a means of measuring the policy’s effectiveness and are reviewed on a regular schedule—or sooner if necessary. Once a policy is implemented, the circle or team responds to feedback and adjusts accordingly.

When operations decisions drift into being applied as policy decisions, their formal consideration and review is most often neglected.

Operations Decisions

Gears being manipulated by small figures to represent the effects of policy and operations decisions.What are operations decisions?

Operations decisions govern day-to-day actions. They are made within the limits or permissions of policy decisions. Operations decisions put policy decisions into action.

Who makes the operations decisions?

The circle or team makes policy decisions that govern operations decisions and who will make them. Since operations decisions are typically made moment-to-moment throughout the day, most commonly the policy decision is that the circle or team leader will make them.

The first principle of sociocracy is consent. How does that apply to autocratic operations decision?

The circle or team can choose any method for making decisions as long as the decision to do so is made by consent. A policy decision that the leader will make day-to-day operations decisions without autocratically would be made by consent.

For directing operations, autocratic decision-making is more efficient than stopping work to make a group decision. The leader can making operations decisions without consultation. This doesn’t mean the operations leader can’t ask for information, advice, or druthers.

Smaller circles or teams of 2-3 people, however, may be effective with a policy to make operations decisions among themselves.

An Example of Policy and Operations Decisions

A Residential Community-Level Decision: The landscape design will have the look of wild flower field, appearing spontaneous and not requiring intensive care.

Landscaping Team-Level Policy: Whenever possible, seeds and cuttings will be used. Purchasing plants will only be done in the case of unique requirements or opportunities.

Operations-Level Decision: Next weekend, we will plant the southern triangle bed. Mary will delegate tasks and schedule workers.Gene will collect all the seedlings that residents started this spring.

  • A policy decision governs future decisions and actions.
  • An operations decision governs day-to-day decisions and actions.

Policy and Operations Decisions in the  United States Government

The United States and many other countries function with three branches of government that have distinctive roles in relation to policy and operations decisions:

The Legislative Branch, the House and Senate, makes policy decisions for the governing of the United States. It writes and approves legislation or laws. It also makes policy decisions that govern its internal operations.

The Executive Branch makes operations decisions, which are governed by the policy decisions made by the Legislative Branch. As a duty of the Executive Branch, the President (as CEO) consents to policies passed by the Legislative Branch. While the President can veto legislation, the Legislative Branch can over turn the veto. The Executive Branch also makes policy decisions that govern its internal operations.

The Judicial Branch determines whether the Legislative Branch and the Executive Branch are functioning within the policy decisions of the United States Government. These policies include the Constitution, other legislation, and the body of law formed by previous decisions. Because laws govern future decisions, they are policy decisions. The Judicial Branch also makes policy decisions that govern its internal operations.

The Judicial Branch functions on the basis of common law in which previous decisions become legal precedents. In effect, the Judicial Branch clarifies the meaning of policy decisions and decides how they should be applied in operations and if they don’t contradict other policy decisions.

Policy Decisions in a Sociocratic Government

There are no authoritative methods for applying the three principles of sociocracy in governing a country. One probable step, however,  would be the coming together of representatives of all three branches of government in a coordinating or management circle to collaborate on high level policies. The process would be less contentious because they would view themselves as one body, not three competing organizations.

Just One More Reminder

  • A policy decision governs future decisions and actions.
  • An operations decision governs day-to-day decisions and actions.

Policy Decisions

In order to ensure equality and freedom, the core democratic values, sociocracy requires that policy decisions be made with the consent of those delegated to implement them. Policy decisions are confusing to many people because as citizens and employees, we are rarely asked to make them. Policy decisions are those that determine how we will act in the future. How will we do this? What will guide our actions?

A policy decision tells us how to make choices in order to act in alignment with our purposes and goals.

Policy Decisions Guide Operations Decisions

While many of us make decisions moment-to-moment according to choice or unacknowledged purposes, the most effective think carefully about their long term goals. They define our purposes. These might include a desire to live more an environmentally responsible life, to create our own company, to raise children who are socially and environmentally responsible, to provide emergency services to war-torn countries. These are policy decisions. They state our purposes.

Policy decisions then guide our daily, moment-to-moment decisions. Does this action contribute to achieving our purpose? Does it align with my values? Does this contribute to my goals? These are operations decisions How we “operate”? How we act must align with our purposes if we are to achieve them.

Each policy reviewed regularly and changed when based on experience or changing conditions there is reason to modify it. Like budgets, they are not “forever” decisions.

Consent Is Required for Policy Decisions

Policy decisions are made with the consent of the people who will put the policy into operation. Requiring consent ensures equal consideration of every member of the group. Each member’s objections to a policy must be resolved before the policy can be adopted.

In sociocracy, you are guaranteed of your ability to collaboratively determine your living and working conditions whether you are a citizen, an employee, a member, a neighbor, or a student.

Consent is defined as “no objections.” Giving consent does not require unanimity, agreement, or endorsement. It means one has no objections to moving forward as proposed and a commitment to act in accordance with the policy. There may still be concerns or other preferred options, but these can be tested based on information obtained from implementing the policy. The objective is to move forward with the best action available at the moment.

Objections must be based on reasons why a policy will affect one’s ability to implement the decision: A proposal that makes our work more difficult  and will decrease our effectiveness. A decision to adopt an action that conflicts with the group’s purpose. An objection must address the purpose of the group and our own ability to work toward it.

Consent is required within the group putting the policy into effect. Not everyone must consent to all decisions.

Policy Decisions Are Distributed

Since policy decisions are made by those who must implement them, they are distributed to all parts or levels of an organization.  In organizations governed by an autocratic hierarchy, policy decisions are made by the board and top management. The top leadership makes the decisions about how the loading dock operates even if they have never been on the loading dock, much less worked there.

In addition to the loading dock workers understanding their work better, they will understand their policies better if they set them and will be able to adjust them as necessary. There is no waiting for the general manager to get around to addressing the problem.

Self-Organization

Policy decisions include financial, physical, and human resources decisions. Where will money be spent?  Which roles and responsibilities do we need filled? What is our daily schedule or deadlines? Or what social activities will be planned?  Who will fill roles? What are our standards of quality?

The right to make policy decisions is necessary for a group to self-organize, to self-manage.

What Is Sociocracy?

Gerard Endenburg, Yukon Conference, 2010
Gerard Endenburg, Yukon Conference, 2010

Literally, sociocracy means the sovereignty of the socius: I myself, the next person, the alter ego, the otherness. From a structural point of view this corresponds with the definition of sociocracy as a situation where the principle of consent predominates or is socially all–determining in the sense that it governs the making of decisions at all levels of society. The sociocratic circle organization is a cybernetic means of making this possible and then, as a dynamic balance, it maintains, regulates, and develops it.

From Sociocracy as Social Design  by Gerard Endenburg (English Translation, 1998)

Consensus, Consent, and Objections

Heresy, I know, but I think Holacracy has a good point in using “objections” and not “consent.” Brian says in his Introduction to Holacracy video: “Consent has no place in Holacracy.” We want to hear objections to the proposal.

Restrictions on Consent

One of my criticisms of groups using full-group consensus is that first they commit to one for all, and all for one, then they begin putting restrictions on it. All for one and one for all except when only one person doesn’t consent. Or except when only 10% don’t consent. And that the objection has to be based on group values, which are often non-existent or unclear in respect the policy.
People who consent are never asked for the reasoning behind their consent. What restrictions are placed on consent? What does it mean? Do people explain their reasoning?
The number of restrictions placed on withholding consent proliferate almost as soon as consensus is adopted. Even sociocracy adds  restricts consent to  “paramount and reasoned.” “Reasoned” is logical but “paramount” is in the eye of the beholder. Who ever refused to consent who didn’t think their objection was paramount?

Consent Means No Objections

Holacracy has avoided the ambiguity and contradictions of the words consent and consensus by going straight to the definition that Gerard Endenburg realized would work in a performance-based organization in the first place — “no objections.”
I suggest that it is a historical artifact that the word “consent” exists at all in Endenburg’s implementation. Just as I think it was a historical artifact in Comte’s to think that a panel of sociologists should be, not just advise the government. He was steeped in autocratic his experience of a single ruler or ruling body. In 1850s France, democracy was admired but not all so accepted as practical. It’s cracks were showing even then.
In the 1940s, Boeke clearly meant consensus in the traditional Quaker sense. Everyone had to consent that a proposed action was in the best interests of the whole and all individual interests had to be considered. Even though Endenburg was educated in Boeke’s tradition, he actually stepped outside it in his method by using the logic of the physical sciences, not religion or politics.

The Basis of Objections

Endenburg based his definition of consent on the absence of objections and objections based on a specific criterion — the ability to work (or function) toward the aim if the proposed action took place. Consent is written in Sociocracy (1988) as “consent (no objections).” Since “consent” was the historically accepted word, he naturally used the word “consent.”
And I’m also sure he meant consent in the spirit of being inclusive. In the 1960s and 70s when he was developing his ideas there was a general reaction in the Western World to the exclusiveness and elitism of society. “Objection” was a harder sell with revelations of WWII still emerging. Objections had made no difference. Consent would have been more acceptable.

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

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

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

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.

Definition of Consensus Decision-Making

This is the standard definition of consensus used since the 1960s and 1970s, and probably before. It was published in 1981 in United Judgement: The Handbook of Consensus Decision Making by the Center for Conflict Resolution.

The goal of consensus is a decision that is consented to by all members. Of course, full consent does not mean that everyone must be completely satisfied with the final outcome—in fact, total satisfaction is rare. The decision must be acceptable enough, however, that all will agree to support the group in choosing it.

This handbook was printed in typescript and circulated in various forms years before publication and is considered one of the classics. It was reprinted in 1999 by the Fellowship for Intentional Community and is available from their bookstore. They also have other books and reprints from Communities Magazine on consensus decision-making.

Maximum Size for Rounds?

Drop Cap Letter QHow large a group can effectively do rounds?


The recommended maximum size for circles is 20-40 people so that would apply to the optimal maximum size for rounds as well. But rounds have been done in groups of 150 and even 400.

Years ago, before I had heard of “rounds” I read the account of a round with 400 people. A mediator was working to resolve a community issue at a town hall meeting. She said everyone in the room would have a chance to speak. The only condition was that everyone in the room had to stay until everyone else was finished speaking. Everyone spoke and everyone listened. I forget how long it took but it engaged everyone and a solution was found shortly afterwards.

The article didn’t say if there was a time limit, but I’m not in favor of time limits on rounds. If you want to hear from people, you want to hear from them. To say I care about what you feel or think, but I only care for 30 seconds or 2 minutes is a contradictory. The focus becomes the time limit, not the issue. That can freeze up or distort responses. (As you can see from my long posts, an issue is rarely yes or no or one word. Or even 30 seconds.)

In experienced groups, a time limit might not have a hugely negative effect. It usually works to say, “this is a quick round, yes-or-no or one-word responses please.” Then you might get a sentence but not an explanation. Or “we have 30 minutes left for this item, let’s try to do the round in 20 minutes.” 

The optimal maximum group size of rounds is also affected by the experience of  the group. I think doing rounds effectively is learned with practice by each member. The more experienced members the group has the faster rounds will go. (It isn’t up to the facilitator to produce an effective round.)

It helps to remind people not to lecture or present arguments. Stick to expressing what they themselves think or feel about the issue or question presented.

A problem in using examples learned in workshops is that workshops exercises cannot by definition be representative of real-life. People don’t have the investment in issues presented for practice. Particularly in intentional communities and in conflict situations, people will be very invested and emotional. In employment situations, this might not be the case or be so less often.

Holon and Holarchy : Arthur Koestler

The words holon and  holarchy were created by Arthur Koestler in The Ghost and the Machine, published in 1967. Koestler used holon to describe natural organisms as composed of semi-autonomous sub-wholes linked in a form of hierarchy, a holarchy,  to form a whole.

Holons

A biological organism is not an aggregation of simple parts but of other organs that are both independent and dependent. Biological holons are self-regulating, open systems that display both the autonomous properties of wholes and the dependent properties of parts.

Holarchy

The suffix ‘archy’ means a rule or a government. Holons are arranged in a hierarchy linked by a system of communication and control more accurately called a holarchy rather than a hierarchy. A hierarchy by definition has a top and a bottom but the relationships between holons are not so clearly top to bottom or bottom to top.

The “hierarchical relationship” between holons is that holons at one level are “made up of, or make up” the holons or parts of another level. The parts only exist as they are integrated to create the whole and the whole’s definition is that of the parts.

Wikipedia: The “hierarchical relationship” between holons at different levels can just as meaningfully be described with terms like “in and out”, as they can with “up and down” or “left and right”; perhaps more generally, one can say that holons at one level are “made up of, or make up” the holons or parts of another level. This can be demonstrated in the holarchic relationship where each holon is a “level” of organization, and all are ultimately descriptive of the same set. The top can be a bottom, a bottom can be a top, and, like a fractal, the patterns evident at one level can be similar to those at another.

David Spangler:  In a hierarchy, participants can be compared and evaluated by position, rank, relative power, seniority, and the like. But in a holarchy each person’s value comes from his or her individuality and uniqueness and the capacity to engage and interact with others to make the fruits of that uniqueness available.

In sociocracy, this is replicated with each level of circles forming the next higher level with their own members. And the next higher circle forms lower circles by assigning an aim, a leader, and allocating resources. The whole exists only as an integration of the semi-independent parts, the higher level also begin defined by the lower.

Arthur Koestler, 1905-1983

Arthur Koestler was born in Budapest, Hungary and studied at the University of Vienna. He was a Middle East correspondent for several German newspapers and wrote for the Manchester Guardian, the London Times, and the New York Herald Tribune. After his break with the Communist Party in Germany, Koestler wrote the anti-Soviet Darkness at Noon published in 1940 and became internationally famous. He wrote prolifically on many cultural issues and receive the Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in 1972. He died in London 1983.

A Further Reference

“Some General Properties of Self-Regulating Open Heirarchic Order” (SOHO) by Arthur Koestler is an extensive description of the holon as a self-assertive part that is also integrated into a whole. Originally published as an Appendix to the intervention at the Alpbach Symposium, whose acts were published in 1969 as a book edited by Arthur Koestler and J. R. Smythies with the title Beyond Reductionism. Accessed 22 June 2014.

http://www.panarchy.org/koestler/holon.1969.html

Laws and Policies: The Differences

Drop Cap Letter Q Won’t the prescriptive Norms in sociocracy and the Constitution in Holacracy impose the rule of law, which will quickly devolve into the rule of lawyers? The more arcane and opaque the law is, the more tyrannical that law becomes.

My response to this requires a distinction between laws and policies. Laws and policies are the same in that both govern future actions and decisions. Laws  are made by governments to govern the actions of citizens of countries or parts of countries—cities, states, etc. They are enforced by various branches of the government—agencies, courts, etc.

Policies are made by organizations to govern their own internal decision-making and operations. It is up to the organization and its members to enforce them. Unless the law specifically states otherwise, an organization’s policies must be within the requirements of the law.

A citizen can sue a government over unjust laws, or sue an organization over policies that are not  in accordance with the law, but cannot sue an organization for not following its own internal policies as long as those policies are within the law.

 Laws

The laws that lawyers’  address, are arbitrary and obscure. They are not necessarily based on what works and not regularly reviewed. Old laws, even 10 years old, can be based on out-dated conditions and don’t make sense, but they are still enforceable. For various reasons, they may not have made sense when they were adopted, or they made sense for one particular group but are applied universally.

The aim of a law is not always clear, and if not, the test is whether the law is still in force, not whether it has a purpose or achieves an aim .

Sociocracy & Holacracy: Testing What Works

The question about laws and lawyers was asked in the context of a comparison between sociocracy and Holacracy and the enforcement of their “laws.” This is where we get into the weeds.

The major influences on the sociocratic Norms are from engineering and physics, cybernetics, and mysticism. (Quaker faith on sitting together to reach consent). The major influences on Holacracy  are sociocracy, computer software design, and mysticism. (Ken Wilber on ego vs higher purpose).

All the respective languages and applications—electrical engineering, computer software design, cybernetics, and mysticism— are based on testable processes. They change when new information is available. Sociocracy and Holacracy use these languages to define the processes used to achieve aims or purposes. Both have an easy test—if a practice isn’t  working, the process either wasn’t understood or is being applied incorrectly.

Making Laws and Policies

The international sociocratic center has a process for certifying individuals and organizations but has no control over the use of the word sociocracy. The principles of the sociocratic circle-organization method have been adapted and modified in many ways in organizations that call themselves sociocratic. And are also used pristinely in organizations that don’t call themselves sociocratic. They are used by many management consultants who may call it by other names. As long as they do not imply that they are certified by the international organization, they are functioning lawfully.

It is not the same for the word Holacracy. Holacracy also has a certification program, but it is also a registered trademark. Individuals and organizations have to be certified or given approval to say they use Holacracy. Since trademarking is a law, the use of Holacracy without permission can bring in the lawyers and the case taken to court. The test is whether permission was given, not whether an organization is properly following the constitution. Here we are back to laws, lawyers, and judges. It is a violations of the law or isn’t it? Did the use happen or not? The question is not “did the use achieve a positive result?”

Some have suggested that this is the reason the Holacracy Constitution is so dense and written in legalese—so it can be used in litigation. Certainly a lawyer was involved because the language had to have been studied for years to be used so obscurely. An easier basis for legal action, however, is simply the use of the word in any way that might confuse Holacracy with other methods of governance or imply connections without permission.

The Tyranny of Laws

Only certification and trademarking are protected by law. Then disputes can be argued in court and the government enforce the decision.  Lawyers will make the arguments.

When the aim is to govern organizations that are effective and harmonious, the law has no place, but policies do. Policies are agreements within organizations. Members of organizations work more effectively and harmoniously if they have expectations that are shared and understood, and based on what works to help them work effectively.  Effectiveness and harmony require resilience, the ability to adapt to new situations, and full control over self-organization.

I think no one will argue that neither laws nor lawyers encourage self-organization.

For extra credit:

The word holarchy was  created by Arthur Koestler in , published in 1967, to describe a hierarchy of holons, self-organizing units that are both a part and a whole. There is no trademark on holarchy.

 

Understanding Objections & Beheaviments

Translations

There is a conversation on the [email protected] list about the meaning of the word bezwaar, the Dutch word that has been translated as objection. The question is whether objection is a good translation and how other translations might affect understanding objections and consent. The translations into other languages and those in different Dutch/English dictionaries suggest something other than objection. In English, objection means no, “This decision can’t go forward.” In other languages it has the meaning of difficulty, problem, trouble, bother, nuisance, encumbrance.

Objections are one of the sticky points in sociocratic decision-making and in full group consensus decision-making. To avoid what seem to be “irrevocable blocks” that are in effect vetoes, people ask:

  • On what basis are objections valid?
  • Who decides, the person or the group?
  • Can the group overturn an objection

Responding to these questions has led to many different qualifications of consent. By limiting objections to certain conditions, the principle of consent in practice is no longer effective.

Meanings Beyond Translations

Even if we end up using objection in English, the understanding of the meanings of bezwaar in various languages is useful in explaining what an objection is. Bezwaar is more nuanced and related to personal abilities to support, honor, respect, and feel good about the decision, not to feel “weighed down” by it, feeling a heaviness. One purpose of requiring consent is to avoid dampening down enthusiasm and energy for achieving the aim of the group.

The classic example of the spark plug “objecting” by ceasing to function is mechanical. It demonstrates a physical inability to function. This is analogous to “I object to buying that new machine because there won’t be enough room for my machine to work efficiently.” It’s a physical reality that is easily measured and accepted or corrected. Most proposals outside of manufacturing, however, are not that clear. They most often require addressing personal feelings, beheaviments.

Satisficing

It’s much more comfortable to have my colleagues consent to a proposal that I disagree with, but still respect as an ethical, reasonable choice than one I’m embarrassed about or think is unintelligent. A choice between options when it is not clear that one or the other is the best decision under the circumstances can be tested and corrected if necessary.

Sometimes the decision involves developing one option until the group thinks it is ready to implement. The decision is when? A standard for these decisions is  satisfying, one that is both satisfying and sufficient. At the point where the solution is sufficient, the group would probably do better to move forward than trying for perfection. But when the deciders are people and not spark plugs, the solution must also be satisfying, not just sufficient.

Beheavied & Lack of Consent

An example from my community is the conflict between watering the lawn and not watering the lawn. Some people wanted the lawn to be green and nice because our children play on it almost daily. It’s a question of aesthetics for some but it is also a desire for the pleasure of touch and feel and fun.

A second group didn’t have strong feelings either way except that they didn’t want the conflict to continue. (“Studies have shown” that on most issues, something like 40% will be in this group.)

A third group, by far the smallest, was deeply embarrassed to have their friends see the obviously watered lawn. It was a waste of resources. It reflected badly not just on them but also on the cohousing movement that claiming to support energy efficiency, solar energy, sustainably harvested wood, etc. It was a professional, philosophical , and personal issue for them. A deep beheaviment.
The third group also did not have children and had no personal investment in children playing on lawns or dirt.

Every one respected the feelings of the third group and many had shared the same feelings in the past. Then they had to face the reality of their own children and 20 others needing a place to play.

Emotional & Technical Solutions

The solution was that the third group, being energy scientists with major physics and math backgrounds, agreed to check the rainfall every week and do the calculations on what amount of extra water was required. This way we could use the smallest amount of water necessary to keep the grass alive with no dirt patches. Minimal water once a week would also cause the grass to grow deeper roots to reach underground water sources, of which ours are abundant. We are built on springs.

This solution came about because each side paid attention to the beheaviment of the other. The scientifically based solution resolved the problem in a way that removed the heavy feelings of all groups. But the scientific solution would not have been found or accepted without recognizing the beheavied feelings. The argument didn’t have to be become an objection before it gets attention.

An understanding of the meaning and origins of words gives a deeper understanding of what they mean and how they came to mean it. This can point the way to better resolutions of  beheaviments.

Policy Decisions

The Heading of the Constitution of the United States.
The United States Constitution is an example of a policy statement. It states in broad terms what the government can and can’t do. It demonstrates that a policy statement can be amended. It can also be interpreted in differing ways as the meaning of words change. Most policy statements are much more easily updated than a nation’s constitution.

Policy decisions are defined in management theory as those decisions that define the basic principles of the organization and determine how it will develop and function in the future. Policies set the limits within which operational decisions are made. Examples include:

  • Vision, Mission, Aim
  • Budget and Finance Practices
  • Allocation of Resources
  • Organizational Structure
Policy decisions limit the actions an organization and its members can take without changing the policy.
In sociocracy, policy decisions are made by consent. Operational decisions are made within the limits set by policy decisions and may be made autocratically by the person in charge or by other means determined by the people whom the decisions affect.

Examples of Policy Statements

We set policies in our everyday lives without realizing it or writing them down. Examples include:

  • Deciding not to drink coffee or consume animal products
  • Pledging to complete  tax forms before their due date
  • Sending your children to public schools by choice
  • Deciding not to have children to devote time to political causes

In non-profit organizations the policies might include:

  • Following the IRS regulations that set requirements for 501c3 status to receive tax-deductible contributions
  • Limiting membership to professionals with a demonstrated expertise
  • Serving meals to the homeless
  • Using contributions only for administrative costs and not staff salaries

In business they might include:

  • Annual and departmental budgets
  • Employee compensation schedules
  • Union agreements
  • Future donations of money and employee time to charitable causes
  • Production of certain products and not others
  • Limiting sales and marketing to retail or wholesale customers

These are all decisions that define the scope of day-to-day  decisions about how we will conduct our personal or work lives, our operations.

Satisfice: Satisfying & Sufficient

Satisfice (a portmanteau of satisfy and suffice) is a decision-making strategy that attempts to meet criteria for adequacy and not to find an ideal solution.

The word satisfice was created by Herbert Simon in 1947. He pointed out that human beings lack the cognitive resources to maximize: we usually do not know the relevant probabilities of outcomes, we can rarely test all outcomes with sufficient precision, and our memories are weak and unreliable. A more realistic approach to rationality takes into account these limitations but attempts to find a solution that is satisfying and suffices in addressing the issue and moving forward.

The Costs of the Optimal Solution

The alternative is to continue to search for a probably elusive perfect solution. A satisficing strategy may often be near optimal if the costs of the decision-making process itself, such as the cost of obtaining complete information, are considered in the decision.

The Principle of Good Enough

Sociocratic literature and trainers often use the Principle of Good Enough to mean satisfying. In software development and systems design, good enough means that a solution meets the clients needs even though a more capable solution is available. But often good enough is perceived negatively  as adequate, acceptable, tolerable, rather than the more positive terms satisfactory, respectable, reasonable, and all right.

In situations where a group is striving for optimal solutions and achievements, good enough may be met with disdain. The standard of satisfying might be more acceptable since it also sets a clear standard. The solution must not only suffice; it must be satisfying.

Often the characteristic that produces satisfaction is the ability of the solution to help a group more forward.