Category Archives: History and Theory

Understanding the history and theory of both democracy and sociocracy provides a deeper understanding of the principles and practices of what a sociocracy or sociocratic democracy might be, and why. Knowing the intention and development of an idea supports the meaningful application of its principles and practices in everyday life.

“Sociocracy: Democracy as It Might Be” by Kees Boeke

Kees Boeke and Betty Cadbury
Kees Boeke and Betty Cadbury

Kees Boeke was an internationally known peace activist and educator. During WW II when he was arrested for harboring Jews, in his pocket he had an early draft of a declaration entitled “No Dictatorship.” It could have cost him his life, but he was released. It described a plan for a truly democratic society and was first published in May of 1945 as Sociocracy: Democracy as It Might Be. This version was edited by his wife Beatrice Cadbury Boeke and included here with the permission of his daughter Candia Boeke.

We are so accustomed to majority rule as a necessary part of democracy that it is difficult to imagine any democratic system working without it. It is true that it is better to count heads than to break them, and democracy, even as it is today, has much to recommend it as compared with former practices. But the party system has proved very far from providing the ideal democracy of people’s dreams. Its weaknesses have become clear enough: endless debates in Parliament, mass meetings in which the most primitive passions are aroused, the overruling by the majority of all independent views, capricious and unreliable election results, government action rendered inefficient by the minority’s persistent opposition. Strange abuses also creep in. Not only can a party obtain votes by deplorably underhanded methods, but, as we all know, a dictator can win an election with an “astonishing” majority by intimidation.

The fact is that we have taken the present system for granted for so long that many people do not realize that the party system and majority rule are not an essential part of democracy.

The fact is that we have taken the present system for granted for so long that many people do not realize that the party system and majority rule are not an essential part of democracy. If we really wish to see the whole population united, like a big family, in which the members care for each other’s welfare as much as for their own, we must set aside the quantitative principle of the right of the greatest number and find another way of organizing ourselves. This solution must be really democratic in the sense that it must enable each one of us to share in organizing the community. But this kind of democracy will not depend on power, not even the power of the majority. It will have to be a real community-democracy, an organization of the community by the community itself.

For this concept I shall use the word “sociocracy.” Such a concept would be of little value if it had never been tried out in practice. But its validity has been successfully demonstrated over the years. Anyone who knows England or America will have heard of the Quakers, the Society of Friends. They have had much influence in these countries and are well known for their practical social work. For more than three hundred years the Quakers have used a method of self-government that rejects majority voting, group action being possible only when unanimity has been reached.

I too have found by trying out this method in my school that it really does work, provided there is recognition that the interests of others are as real and as important as one’s own. If we start with this fundamental idea, a spirit of goodwill is engendered which can bind together people from all levels of society and with the most varied points of view. This, my school, with its three to four hundred members, has clearly shown.

As a result of these two experiences, I have come to believe that it should be possible some day for people to govern themselves in this way in a much wider field. Many will be highly skeptical about this possibility. They are so accustomed to a social order in which decisions are made by the majority or by a single person, that they do not realize that, if a group provides its own leadership and everyone knows that only when common agreement is reached can any action be taken, quite a different atmosphere is created from that arising from majority rule. These are two examples of sociocracy in practice; let us hope that its principles may be applied on a national, and finally an international scale.

Before describing how the system could be made to work, we must first see what the problem really is. We want a group of persons to establish a common arrangement of their affairs which all will respect and obey. There will be no executive committee chosen by the majority, having the power to command the individual. The group itself must reach a decision and enter into an agreement on the understanding that every individual in the group will act on this decision and honor this agreement. I have called this the self-discipline of the group. It can be compared to the self-discipline of the individual who has learned to set certain demands for himself that he obeys.

Three Fundamental Rules

There are three fundamental rules underlying the system. The first is that the interests of all members must be considered, the individual bowing to the interests of the whole. Secondly, solutions must be sought which everyone can accept: otherwise no action can be taken. Thirdly, all members must be ready to act according to these decisions when unanimously made.

The spirit that underlies the first rule is really nothing else but concern for one’s neighbor, and where this exists, where there is sympathy for other people’s interests, where love is, there will be a spirit in which real harmony is possible.

The second point must be considered in more detail. If a group in any particular instance is unable to decide upon a plan of action acceptable to every member, it is condemned to inactivity; it can do nothing. This may happen even today where the majority is so small that efficient action is not possible. But in the case of sociocracy there is a way out, since such a situation stimulates its members to seek for a solution, that everyone can accept, perhaps ending in a new proposal, which had not occurred to anyone before.

While under the party system disagreement accentuates the differences and the division becomes sharper than ever, under a sociocratic system, so long as it is realized that agreement must be reached, it activates a common search that brings the whole group nearer together. Something must be added here. If no agreement is possible, this usually means that the present situation must continue for the time being. It might seem that in this way conservatism and reaction would reign, and no progress would be possible. But experience has shown that the contrary is true.

The mutual trust that is accepted as the basis of a sociocratic society leads inevitably to progress, and this is noticeably greater when all go forward together with something everyone has agreed to. Again it is clear that there will have to be “higher-level” meetings of chosen representatives, and if a group is to be represented in such a meeting, it will have to be by someone in whom everyone has confidence. If this does not prove possible, then the group will not be represented at all in the higher-level meeting, and its interests will have to be cared for by the representatives of other groups. But experience has shown that where representation is not a question of power but of trust, the choice of a suitable person can be made fairly easily and without unpleasantness.

The third principle means that when agreement is reached the decision is binding on all who have made it. This also holds of the higher-level meeting for all who have sent representatives to it. There is a danger in the fact that each must keep decisions made in a meeting over which he has only an indirect influence. This danger is common to all such decisions, not least in the party system. But it is much less dangerous where the representatives are chosen by common consent and are therefore much more likely to be trusted.

A group that works in this way should be of particular size. It must be big enough for personal matters to give way to an objective approach to the subject under discussion, but small enough not to be unwieldy, so that the quiet atmosphere needed can be secured. For meetings concerned with general aims and methods a group of about forty has been found the most suitable. But when detailed decisions have to be made, a small committee will be needed of three to six persons or so. This kind of committee is not new. If we could have a look at the countless committees in existence, we should probably find that those that are doing the best work do so without voting. They decide on a basis of common consent. If a vote were to be taken in such a small group, it would usually mean that the atmosphere is wrong.

Leadership

Of special importance in exercising sociocratic government is the leadership. Without a proper leader unanimity cannot easily be reached. This concerns a certain technique that has to be learnt. Here Quaker experience is of the greatest value. Let me describe a Quaker business meeting. The group comes together in silence. In front sits the Clerk, the leader of the meeting. Beside him sits the Assistant Clerk; who writes down what is agreed upon. The Clerk reads out each subject in turn, after which all members present, men and women, old and young, may speak to the subject. They address themselves to the meeting and not to a chairman, each one making a contribution to the developing train of thought.

It is the Clerk’s duty, when he thinks the right moment has come, to read aloud a draft minute reflecting the feeling of the meeting. It is a difficult job, and it needs much experience and tact to formulate the sense of the meeting in a way that is acceptable to all. It often happens that the Clerk feels the need for a time of quiet. Then the whole gathering will remain silent for a while, and often out of the silence will come a new thought, a reconciling solution, acceptable to everyone.

It may seem unbelievable to many that a meeting of up to a thousand people can be held in this way. And yet I have been present at a Yearly Meeting of the Quakers in London, held during war-time (the First World War), at which the much vexed problem of the Quaker attitude to war was discussed in such a manner, no vote being taken. So I believe that if we once set ourselves the task of learning this method of co-operation, beginning with very simple matters, we shall be able to learn this art and acquire a tradition that will make possible the handling of more difficult questions.

Talkovers

This has been confirmed by my experience at Bilthoven in building up the school which I called the Children’s Community Workshop. Very early on I suggested that we should talk over how we should organize our community life. At first the children objected, saying they wanted me to take the decisions for them. But I insisted, and the idea of the ‘Talkover,” or weekly meeting, was accepted. Later I suggested that one of the children help me with the leadership of the meeting; and from that time on it has become an institution, led by the children, which we should not like to lose.

When I began to hold these Talkovers, I was aware that I was using the procedure of the Quaker business meeting, and I saw in the distance, as it were, the great problem of the government of humanity. It was also curious to discover whether the art of living together, understood as obeying the rule we had all agreed upon, would be simple enough to be learned by children. An experience of some 20 years has shown me that it certainly is.

For Society

But something more is necessary before this method can be applied to adult society. When we are concerned, not with a group of a few hundred people, but with thousands, even millions, whose lives we wish to organize in this way, we must accept the principle of some sort of representation. There will have to be higher–level meetings, and these will have to deal with matters concerning a wider area. Higher-level meetings will also have to send representatives to another higher body, which will be responsible for a still wider area, and so on.

After my hopes for the success of school meetings had been confirmed by practice, I was very curious to know if a meeting of representatives would work also in the school. One day when the number of children had grown too large for one general meeting at which all could be present, I suggested the setting up of a meeting of representatives. At first the children did not like the idea; children are conservative. But, as often happens, six months later they suggested the same plan themselves, and since then this institution has become a regular part of the life of the school.

Neighborhood and Ward Meetings

Of course such meetings, if ever they are to be used by adults for the organization of society as a whole, will have a very different character from those of our children’s community. But how in practice could such methods be introduced? First of all, a Neighborhood Meeting, made up of perhaps forty families, might be set up in a particular district, uniting those who live near enough to one another, so that they could easily meet. In a town it very often happens that people do not even know their neighbors, and it will be an advantage if they are forced to take an interest in those who live close by.

The Neighborhood Meeting might embrace about 150 people, including children. About 40 of these Neighborhood Meetings might send representatives to a Ward Meeting, acting for something like 6000 people. In general it will be true to say that the wider the area the Meeting governs the less often it will need to meet. The representatives of about 40 Ward Meetings could come together in a District Meeting, acting for about 240,000 people.

District and Central Meetings

In approximately 40 or 50 District Meetings the whole population of a small country might be covered. The representatives would bring the interests of all the Districts to a Central Meeting. It is an essential condition that representatives have the confidence of the whole group: if they have that, business can usually be carried on quickly and effectively.

Functional Groups: Industries and Professions

As the whole sociocratic method depends on trust, there will be no disadvantage if, alongside the geographical representation of Neighborhood, Ward, District and Central Meetings, a second set of functional groupings be established. It seems reasonable that all industries and professions send representatives to primary, secondary and, where necessary, tertiary meetings, and that the trusted representatives of the “workers” in every field should be available to give their professional advice to the government.

I have here used the word “government”. It is not my intention to put forward a plan according to which the government itself could one day be formed on sociocratic lines. We must start from the present situation, and the only possibility is that, with the government’s consent, we make a beginning of the sociocratic method from the bottom upwards; that is, for the present, with the formation of Neighborhood groups. We, ordinary people, must just learn to talk over our common interests and to reach agreement after quiet consideration, and this can be done best in the place where we live.

Only after we have seen how difficult this is, and after, most probably, making many mistakes, will it be possible to set up meetings on a higher level. If leaders should emerge in the Neighborhood Meetings, their advice would gradually be seen to be useful in the existing Local Councils. Later, in the same way, the advice of leaders of Ward Meetings would be of increasing value.

The sociocratic method must recommend itself by the efficiency with which it works. When the governing power has learnt to trust it enough so as to allow, perhaps even to encourage, the setting up of Neighborhood Meetings, the system will be able to show what possibilities it has, and then the confidence of the governing bodies and of people at large will have a chance to grow. I can well believe that trusted leaders and representatives of Neighborhood Meetings may be allowed, or even invited, to attend Local Meetings.

These men and women will of course take no part in the voting, for sociocracy does not believe in voting; but they might be allowed a place in the centre between the “left” and the “right”. After a time it may even be deemed desirable to ask them for advice about the matter in hand, since it would previously have been discussed in their Neighborhood Meetings, and a solution sought acceptable to all. It is conceivable that, as confidence grows, certain matters might be handed over to the Neighborhood Meetings with the necessary funds to carry them out. Only when the value of the new system is realized, could the higher-level meetings be begun.

Democracy as It Might Be

Is such a development as this a fantasy? When we consider the possible success of government on the sociocratic principle, one thing is certain; it is unthinkable unless it is accompanied and supported by the conscious education of old and young in the sociocratic method. The right kind of education is essential, and here a revolution is needed in our schools. Only latterly have attempts been made in them to further the spontaneous development of the child and encourage his initiative.

Partly because the stated aim of the school is to impart knowledge and skills, and partly because people regard obedience as a virtue in itself, children have been trained to obey. We are only beginning to realize the dangers of this practice. If children are not taught to judge for themselves, they will in later life become an easy prey for the dictator. But if we really want to prepare youth to think and act for themselves, we must alter our attitude to education.

The children should not be sitting passively in rows, while the schoolmaster drills a lesson into their heads. They should be able to develop freely in children’s communities, guided and helped by those who are older acting as their comrades. Initiative should be fostered in every possible way. They should learn from the beginning to do things for themselves, and to make things necessary in their school life. But above all they should learn how to run their own community in some such way as has already been described.

A World Meeting

Finally we must return to the question of representation. We have not gone further than the government of our own country. But the great problem of the government of mankind can never be solved on a national basis. Every country is dependent for raw materials and products on other countries. It is therefore inevitable that the system of representation should be extended over a whole continent and representatives of continents join in a World Meeting to govern and order the whole world.

Our technical skill in the fields of transport and organization make something of this kind possible. Finally a World Meeting should invite representatives of all the continents to arrange a reasonable distribution of all raw materials and products, making them available for all mankind. So long as we are ruled by fear and distrust, it is impossible to solve the problems of the world. The more trust grows and the more fear diminishes, the more the problem will shrink.

A New Spirit of Reconciliation and Trust

Everything depends on a new spirit breaking through among men. May it be that, after the many centuries of fear, suspicion and hate, more and more a spirit of reconciliation and mutual trust will spread abroad. The constant practice of the art of sociocracy and of the education necessary for it seem to be the best way in which to further this spirit, upon which the real solution of all world problems depends.

(Subtitles and additional paragraphs have been added to improve readability on computer screens.)

Using Majority Vote to Create Autocracies

The state of American politics under Donald Trump and his privy Councillor Stephen “Steve” Bannon is a perfect example of using majority vote to create autocracies. Majority vote lends itself to being  divisive. The decisions are always made with yes or no answers. A bill is voted up or down. There are no other options. And once a group is divided into yes’s and no’s, people begin to manipulate others to form a majority so they can win.

Decisions by majority vote allow  and enable manipulation of outcomes with no reference to the quality of the decision. Majority vote has no required test of truth.

Once won, the fact of winning becomes validation. The test of truth is only winning.

The Bizarre Election  of Donald Trump

The nation-wide depression that followed Trump’s election was palpable in public and private spaces. The shock has resulted in a long winter, even though we have had little snow and temperatures in the 70’s sometimes.

 

Arial view of the Women's March on Washington

 

The malaise and despair lifted temporarily with the images of demonstrations against Trump around the world. The ones around the world in small towns as well as large, were very helpful. The resistance continues with pink hats as its rallying symbol. And there are three more national marches on Washington planned for April and May for climate change, science, and immigration.

I’ve knitted 19 hats for the PussyHat Project and have orders for 4 more. When a woman ordered 25 miniature PussyHat pins on very short notice as gifts for her trip to China, several knitters stepped up and met the three-day deadline. I’ve almost finished a Brain Hat for the March for Science on Earth Day on April 22nd. Knitting groups are beginning all over the nation and pink yarn is frequently sold out online as well as in shops. Some of the brain hats have pink ears.  My Brain Hat wearer objects to pink brains. She’s a scientist.

Between trying to find pink yarn and knitting and watching Perry Mason reruns, I’ve been trying to think of something to follow my post pointing out the similarities between Trump and Hitler.

Unfortunately, the similarity to Hitler continues, not only in his rhetoric but in his outrageous and lawful edicts. All information on government websites that contradicts his views have been summarily withdrawn, including statistics on things like climate and banned school lunch ingredients.

The fear of Trumps autocratic proclamations returns as his election promises are implemented with previously unknown speed.  The ignorant race in where experts fear to go.

How did we get here?

In fact, Donald Trump did not win the popular vote. Hillary Clinton won that by almost 3 million votes. But in our presidential elections we have what was meant to be a protection against the manipulations of ringmasters, more accurately bullshitters (vulgar but accurate). Even in office, in front of the whole world, Trump continues to rant the characteristic bullshitter’s  brand of nonsense, lies, and exaggerations. He repeats them over and over.

It is traditionally the ringmaster’s job to use hyperbole whenever possible while introducing the acts to enhance the expectations of the audience. Declarations of the “biggest,” “most dangerous,” “amazing,” “spectacular,” and similar expressions are common. [As in bigly common.)

There are many newspapers and websites now tracking Trump’s falsehoods and “alternative facts” as one of his advisors, Kellyanne Conway, calls them. One of the most comprehensive is Politifact.

Majority Vote and Sociocracy

Sociocratic principles allow any group of decision-makers to use majority vote if all its members consent to do so. Consent as a decision-making method requires that the deciders be able and willing to sit together to work out a solution that works for everyone, not just the majority. Obviously this is not possible in national elections, or even local elections.

The United States had a population of approximately 2.5 million In 1789. Though most could read and write, many eligible voters had no formal education, spoke different languages, and had just escaped autocratic monarchies. Did the people have the capacity to elect good leaders?

Communications from one state to the other was still slow and unreliable.  Would the voters have enough information to accurately judge one candidate against another?

Majority vote was untested  in national elections. The framers knew they were on shaky ground. What protection did the nation have if this didn’t work?

It All Began With a Rational Process

The Constitutional Convention, representatives from each of the 13 states feared the election of a huckster or ringmaster who could charm but never lead. To prevent this, they created a system of electors from each state who would convene as an Electoral College to actually make the final decision in the election of the President. Similar to colleagues in a university, electors would debate the merits of the presidential candidates and cast votes according to the debate as well as their state’s popular vote. They were not required to follow the popular vote but to make a decision based on the deliberations of the Electoral College.

This is markedly similar to a sociocratic circle process and was no doubt influenced by the strong Quaker presence in Philadelphia where the Convention was held.

After discussion and debate, during which the views and votes of each state would be presented, Electors would cast votes that represented the best interests of the people who elected them and of the country. Electors were never meant to simply reflect the number of votes cast for the winning candidate in their state. They were not meant to be a rubber stamp. They were supposed to be a corrective force, when necessary,  or a double confirmation.

Unfortunately, the electors no longer meet as a college to debate and decide. They simply phone in their votes. In many states they are elected by state law to vote for the majority candidate, but not in all. Majority vote, not reasoning, rules the process.

Hillary Clinton would have been elected if less than 4% of the electors had voted for her instead of Donald Trump. Obviously, it didn’t happen.

After the election, the unprecedented caustic and oppositional tone of the election was unleashed on electors. Electors were heavily lobbied, threatened, and offered favors. Trump promised a visit to Mar-a-Lago, his 20-acre majestic estate and exclusive golf club in Palm Beach.

Pennsylvania elector Ash Khare said, “I received over 70,000 emails. I received over 5,000 letters. I received over 500 phone calls at all times of day and night.”  NPR

Some electors followed the party line because they were afraid of rabid Trump supporters. Others because they truly believed Trump would be a new and corrective force in American politics. They wanted to shake things up. But most followed what they considered to be the law.

How Majority Vote Influenced the Election

Another factor beside state law and party politics influenced the election. Electors are chosen from geographic  jurisdictions drawn by local political parties. The dominant political party in a geographic area heavily influences that process. The majority draws the jurisdictions to favor themselves, thus jurisdictions are drawn with a bias. They are used to create artificial majorities.

That is how Trump was elected president and lost the popular vote. Trump courted his own ideological base and electors. It was the focus on electors, not “the people,” that resulted in his election.

If the Electors had accurately reflected the actual vote, Hillary Clinton would have won the election and America would have what many authorities have said would be the most qualified president in over 100 years.

Our endorsement is rooted in respect for her intellect, experience and courage. — New York Times

Majority Vote Compounds Itself

Majority vote creates a hierarchy of power with each level fed by the majority at the lower level. The power of the majority is compounded as the majority vote creates another majority at a higher level. The ultimate level claims the  power of the majority as validation for their decisions.  As Trump states frequently, “I won. I’m the president. I decide. If I do it, it’s legal.” He really believes that.

This is how majority vote can be used to create an autocracy. We’ve been using majority vote for centuries now, and usually the majority has some restrains. It has elected good presidents and some of questionable ability. Some with just wrong-headed views.

Allegiance to a political party has come to dominant the ability to be elected, and re-elected. Party affiliation is now more determinative of government decisions than information or wisdom. Parties are built using majority vote with the narrowness of the views of the majority increasing with elections at each level. Trump is a Republican because affiliating with that party was his best chance of winning.

A person like Trump feels no need to convince or even cajole all the people. He has claimed the majority as equal to the whole so  that’s all he thinks he  needs to do. He may learn differently but so far the prospect doesn’t look hopeful. He has too much autocratic control.

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. 

Donald Trump, Bullshit Artist, and Sociocracy

Could sociocracy have corrected democracy to prevent the election of Donald Trump, bullshit artist and astoundingly unqualified candidate, as the Republican nominee for President of the United States?
Donald Trump
Americans abroad are pelted with questions about Donald Trump. Is he real? How did he get nominated in a democratic process? Is he evidence of the US abandoning support for equality and freedom around the world? If not, why did 13,681,972 people vote for him?

As the result of a democratic process, the Donald Trump nomination has negative consequences far greater than in the United States. People around the world are fearful and in horror.

Was the process really democratic?

Compared to the democratic process in other countries and in history, yes it was. Despite allegations of “the establishment” trying to control the election, in fact, the establishment would have done a better job if they had. In the Republican Party’s nominating process, each person’s vote was respected equally in every state. Except in the few small populations that use a caucus process, each person was allowed to vote privately, without intimidation. Each candidate was allowed to present their case without fear of reprisal. Each voter had the same access to the same information as other voters.

From a field of 12 candidates who received enough votes to be considered formal contenders, the voters overwhelmingly elected the least qualified to be president. He is also the person most likely to cause harm not only to the internal governance If the US but to its relationships with every other country in the world.

Could this have happened with even a partial adherence to sociocratic principles? We would like to think not, but how?

Transparency, Inclusiveness, and Accountability

The principles of sociocracy are based on the values of transparency, inclusiveness, and accountability. They require decisions to be made with the consent of all they affect, not just the majority. In a national election, of course, consent would be an unrealistic expectation. No one has the amount of time it would take to resolve a national election by that standard. In general, a majority rule is not the best decision-making method, but it is the one that everyone consented to use. Perhaps it is the only possible one in an election involving hundreds of thousands of participants.

Sociocracy requires the organization of decision-makers into decision-making groups, or circles,  that self-organize to produce a decision. Balanced authority linking these circles, for example, between the local Republican parties and the national Republican Party. Neither can dominate the other.

All these conditions were met in this election and to a greater extent than in previous elections of this size. Approximately 42% of the US population of 320 million people are Republicans and could have voted. Registration, although not as transparent as it could be, was open to all Republicans.

There was open discussion between Republicans and Democrats about the pros and cons of each candidate and opportunities for each candidate to respond. Candidates were essentially given equal time in the media. Both candidates and voters could find a forum for expressing their ideas.  Local and national newspapers allowed comments from anyone who wanted to post them. The local talk radio stations and even the national cable television station MSNBC invited all viewers to send them comments. Local libraries have public computers and technical help so everyone has access to online forums.

What was missing?

The organization of the Republican party is not based on groups of people who discuss and deliberate together. Some do, but an individual voter is not required or even expected to discuss the candidates or the issues with others before voting. Voters are not expected to inform themselves.

A major deficit in the election was leadership from experts. In a misguided attempt to allow the election to go forward democratically, the leadership was not forceful enough in noting Trump’s lack of qualifications. In some instances, it was the result of intimidation by Trump’s power. Despite his poor business practices, he is wealthy and contributes to many election campaigns. He also awards favors to those who like him, such as free visits to his many magnificent hotels and golf courses. These include his Mir-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida, which is members only and those members with a Trump Card receive  special privileges.

However, the lack of personal intervention by Republican leaders could have been offset by a job description. In sociocratic elections, adopting a job description is the first step. Voters are expected to measure their nominee against the requirements of the job and to defend their choice on that basis.

With no job description, the election process was lacking a rational measurement. How do you judge the appropriateness of a candidate without a clear statement of the office’s responsibilities and expectations? The lack of a job description was largely what made Donald Trump possible. The only surprise is that a Trump hasn’t happened sooner.

Donald Trump, Bullshit Artist

This week the highly respected Indian American journalist  Fareed Zukaria discussed Donald Trump in his weekly column in the Washington Post, “The Unbearable Stench of Trump’s BS” and on his weekly television program on CNN, “Trump as a Bullshit Artist” (a video is also posted).

Photo of Fareed ZakariaZakaria was asked to explain why Donald Trump could say something that had been proven false and then excuse it with “a caustic tweet and an indignant interview.” Zakaria’s response was because he is a “bullshit artist.” Zakaria referred to the work of American philosopher Harry Frankfurt, “On Bullshit”:

Harry Frankfurt, an eminent moral philosopher and former professor at Princeton, wrote a brilliant essay in 1986 called “On Bullshit.”  In the essay, Frankfurt distinguishes crucially between lies and BS: “Telling a lie is an act with a sharp focus. It is designed to insert a particular falsehood at a specific point. . . . In order to invent a lie at all, [the teller of a lie] must think he knows what is true.”

But someone engaging in BS, Frankfurt says, “is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all . . . except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says.” Frankfurt writes that the BS-er’s “focus is panoramic rather than particular” and that he has “more spacious opportunities for improvisation, color, and imaginative play. This is less a matter of craft than of art. Hence the familiar notion of the ‘bullshit artist.’ ”

Zakaria describes how Trump has done this all his life.

He boasts — and boasts and boasts — about his business, his buildings, his books, his wives. Much of it is a concoction of hyperbole and falsehoods. And when he’s found out, he’s like that guy we have all met at a bar who makes wild claims but when confronted with the truth, quickly responds, “I knew that!”

Cartoon of a circus barkerTrump also never takes it back. He moves to the next boast. In the bar, at a wedding, dinners, and parties, this is fun. This is the guy at the center of the show. His performance before thousands of people at his campaign events is that of circus barker, a man performing to entice his audience to vote for my show. Vote for me. I’ll make life perfect. Like you’ve never experienced before.

Is Trump a Two-Headed Monster?

People who have been friends of Trump’s for many years say they like him and that he is a good guy. He’s fun, he’s generous, he’s fair. In private, he never behaves as if believes the same views he expresses in his campaign speeches. When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was asked why she went to Trump’s daughter’s wedding  with 500 friends and family members, she responded, “Because he’s fun.”

The wedding  invitation and Clinton’s positive response were before Trump became the Republican nominee and Clinton’s fierce critic. Their daughters are also friends.

This is typical of other responses by his (former) friends. They have also found him to be kind and personable. They are astounded by his pronouncements from the podium to ban Muslims, protect gun rights, ignore international treaties, and write-off our national debt. They say that just isn’t the Donald they know.

Is he a two-headed monster, a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? No the theory of the bullshitter says. He performs to his audience. Journalists embedded with his campaign say he has an uncanny ability to read the audience and craft his message to the moment. There are not two people, or three or six.

Like a lie that would require fine distinctions and precise observance between the characteristics of his different personalities and  positions.  It would require rationality.

Not irrationality, but an art

Trump’s speeches aren’t rational. They make no sense. He double talks. He spouts imaginary data. Even contradicts himself from one speech or  interview to the next. That is the art of performance. He seduces his audience not to believe, but to be entertained so they will attend his parties. And sign on to less than realistic business deals and to trust him even though his record of success is questionable at best.

In Trump’s view, our government is a circus and its leaders as clowns.  As all BS-ers do,  he is creating the circus and the clowns. Like the Music Man, he is promising to fix it. As if the Circus Barker in a small circus can become a great leader in international politics and create a lush economy. He thinks his bullshit will work the way it always has. Only now, ten weeks before the election have leaders have started to speak out and he has crossed so many lines of decency, that his poll numbers are beginning to drop.

Journalists and opposing candidates have been frustrated at not being able to pin Trump down with the truth. They can’t because truth is not his concern. To lie, you have to know the truth. He doesn’t care about the truth.  Fareed  quotes the philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt again when he  says:

Liars and truth-tellers are both acutely aware of facts and truths. They are just choosing to play on opposite sides of the same game to serve their own ends. The BS artist, however, has lost all connection with reality. He pays no attention to the truth. “By virtue of this,” Frankfurt writes, “bullshit is a greater enemy of truth than lies are.” … Standard rules of fact, truth, and reality have disappeared in this campaign.

Have you noticed how uninteresting Trump’s rallies have become since he has dropped the circus barker’s showmanship? He has tried to adopt a more conventional speech-making style while saying the same things. He is a candidate, no longer a circus barker, and is no longer entertaining.

Harry Frankfurt’s article “On Bullshit” was published as a book of the same title in 2005. A copy of the article in PDF: Frankfurt On Bullshit

Wikipedia’s entry on the Results of the Republican Party Presidential Primaries includes a detailed analysis of the process that nominated Donald Trump as a candidate for President of the United States. The results are given state by state, candidate by candidate.

 

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.

A Symbol for Sociocracy: The Tree

Book cover of the German edition of the Social Life of Trees
The Hidden Life of Trees provides an example and the basis of a metaphorical language of the tree as a symbol for sociocracy.

Last year we discussed a symbol for sociocracy, Symbol of Sociocracy? — a logo. The symbol that has often emerged in workshops is the tree or tree like networks.

Well, we now have many more reasons to adopt the tree. A review on today’s New York Times of The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate — Discoveries From a Secret World by German forest ranger Peter Wohlleben explains how trees have social networks and take care of each other.

“These trees are friends,” he said, craning his neck to look at the leafless crowns, black against a gray sky. “You see how the thick branches point away from each other? That’s so they don’t block their buddy’s light.”

Trees Take Care of Each Other

Trees in the forest are social beings. “They can count, learn and remember; nurse sick neighbors; warn each other of danger by sending electrical signals across a fungal network known as the “Wood Wide Web.” They keep ancient stumps alive for centuries by feeding them a sugar solution through their roots.

“Trees, like people, wrinkle as they age. Sometimes, pairs like this are so interconnected at the roots that when one tree dies, the other one dies, too.”

Wohlleben applies anthropomorphic terms liberally, describing how trees talk rather than communicate. “Scientific language removes all the emotion.… When I say, ‘Trees suckle their children,’ everyone knows immediately what I mean.” He wants to reawaken a childlike fascination of the forest. Hidden Life has sold 320,000 copies and has been optioned for translation in 19 countries (available in the US in September).

The literature on the behavior of trees explains how trees are less like individuals and more like communal beings. They are stronger when working together in networks and sharing resources. Artificially spacing out trees so they get more sunlight and grow faster can disconnect them from their resilience mechanisms. They need more insecticides to maintain themselves..

Increasing Social and Economic Value

In private forests in Switzerland and Germany, the wood produced is more valuable. In one forest, “When they wanted to buy a car, they cut two trees. For us, two trees would buy you a pizza.”

Ten years ago, Wohlleben left the forestry service discouraged. He had led a successful program in which people could adopt a tree and for a contribution, bury cremated remains beneath it but the forestry service was not supportive or this or similar efforts. As Wohlleben planned to move to Sweden,  the city of  Hümmel in the Eifel forest also left and hired him to manage their trees.

Now in fully in charge, Wohlleben replaced heavy machinery with horses, eliminated insecticides, and experimented with letting the woods grow wilder. “Within two years, the forest went from loss to profit, in part by eliminating expensive machinery and chemicals.”

A Symbol for Sociocracy, and Metaphors in Practice

The opportunities for metaphors are obviously numerous and I suspect it will be  a fruitful joining of ideas based on the biology of trees.

Peter Wohlleben’s website list the many books he has written on biology, nature, and the forest. This is just the latest.  I look forward to reading the book in September. Some of you will get to it faster.

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.

Who the NRA Really Speaks For

Gun Control and Sociocracy

Photograph of Assault RiflesA shocking opinion piece appeared in the New York Times today, Who the NRA Really Speaks For, by Alan Berlow who writes on gun control and death penalty issues for The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, Harpers, New York Times Magazine, and other major publications. Perhaps you are better informed but I’m not a close reader of gun control laws and this piece set me back a bit.

Berlow explains how ineffective gun laws are and how the NRA protects gun traffickers

How could gun control be so bad? And what would fix it? Or even improve it and curb the lobbying force of the?

And how does this connect with Sociocracy?

One word: transparency.

Transparency in Gun Control

Secrecy is the first precondition to abuse. In order to abuse the public trust or a child, the abuser first ensures secrecy. Criminals use subterfuge, false reporting, blackmail, promises, and threats to hide their crimes. And that is what the National Rifle Association (NRA) has supported by lobbying to keep the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) and to limit its budget.

Readers have asked why I listed the characteristics of Sociocracy as transparency, inclusiveness, and accountability. Why not inclusiveness first, or accountability first? Initially I listed them alphabetically as the order easiest to remember: accountability, inclusiveness, and transparency. But transparency is necessary to  inclusiveness and accountability. Inclusiveness isn’t compatible with secrecy. Neither is accountability. If you have transparency, inclusiveness and accountability can be established.

The NRA has not only lobbied against gun control but aided gun trafficking by lobbying against transparency. The stand against gun control is a stand that protects not the legal rights of gun owners as the NRA claims but the criminal actions of gun traffickers.

No Records, No Transparency, No Enforcement

Before the age of computers, and today’s vast digital records and instantaneous data reporting, FBI Director Herbert Hoover tracked his enemies list with handwritten and typed index cards. He was able to keep better tabs on crime than the ATF is able to track gun sales, particularly sales of military-grade submachine guns and assault rifles.

There are no centralized or  digital records of gun sales.

To repeat, in an age when Safeway knows exactly how many cans of Del Monte Sweet Peas in 8.5, 15, and 29 oz cans it has sold in the last fifteen minutes, the ATF has not a clue how many guns white supremacy groups have purchased in the last year. Nor how many submachine guns your teenaged neighbor has in his closet.

The ATF knows that multiple purchases are an indicator of trafficking, and that traffickers can evade the law by making a single purchase from five, 10 or 20 different gun stores. So why doesn’t the ATF crosscheck those purchases? Because Congress, under pressure from the NRA, prevents the federal government from keeping a centralized database that could instantly identify multiple sales. Gun sale records are instead inconveniently “archived” by the nation’s gun dealers at 60,000 separate locations — the stores or residences of the nation’s federally licensed gun dealers, with no requirement for digital records.

Gun dealers are not even required to keep inventory lists.

Why the lack of curiosity among gun dealers? Well, gun dealers must report lost and stolen guns to the ATF. because large numbers of missing weapons are a red flag for trafficking. Without an inventory requirement, it’s easier to sell guns off the books.

Imagine for a moment  60,000 gun dealers across the 3,805,927 square miles of the United States? And mounds of paper records in all those places. If the Washington DC police force with 3,800 officers can’t control guns in the 68.3 square miles of Washington DC, how can the ATF control the entire United States with even fewer? The ATF is actually smaller that the DC police force, and the same size it was 40 years ago. And with alcohol, tobacco, and explosives under their jurisdiction, not all those agents are focused on gun control.

Perpetuating Ineffectiveness

According to Berlow, the NRA publicly loathes the ATF but lobbies hard to keep it because it doesn’t have a chance of being effective.

Since the NRA seems to loathe the ATF, one might think it would work to disband it or have its mission performed by an agency like the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with its more polished and professional public image. But the NRA prefers the hobbled ATF  just as it is, and every year it helps ensure that Congress approves legislation banning the transfer of ATF operations to any other agency.

Firearms dealers subject to ATF regulation generally are inspected by  agents no more than once every five years. (Berlow, 2013)

The ATF is also under the Department of the Treasury which is designed for enforcing tax collections, not saving lives. It is concerned with prosecution, not prevention.

In a sociocratic government would it be better? It could be, but I doubt it. While it would take time to implement the standards of transparency, inclusiveness, and accountability, eventually there would at least be the aim of a more effective government.

For extra credit:

A list of Weapons Used In the US Armed Forces

An Overview of Gun Laws by Nation

For more on this topic, see the 2013 article by Alan Berlow published by the Center for Public Integrity, The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists“Current gun debate may not help beleaguered ATF: Agency crippled by weak laws, paltry budgets and Congressional restrictions”. Accessed 7 October 2015.

The Dangers of Renaming Sociocracy

The impulse in consulting and study groups with a focus on sociocracy is renaming sociocracy: dynamic governance, dynamic self-governance, sociocracy 3.0, Circle Forward, Holacracy, etc. All include sociocracy with almost no variation except in changing the names and vocabulary.

I’m totally sympathetic with this—”sociocracy” in English isn’t a pleasant word. It has this awful “ock” sound in the middle that is harsh and too easily becomes nasal. And the association with the word “socialism,” which in the United States is anathema.

But Holacracy is not much better and I don’t see the Holacracy people breaking off with new names. Even with the impediment of Holacracy being trademarked and aggressively protecting their trademark, it could be migrated with a new name if people wanted to.

Renaming sociocracy further creates confusion and blurs the force of the movement. Perhaps even more dangerous, it separates all these seemingly unique methods, from the history and literature related to sociocracy and to that of “circular organization.”

Circular organization refers to organizations based on the feedback loops central to cybernetic study of organisms and systems, and essential in sociocracy. The concept of “circular organization” was first presented in 1981 by by Russell Ackoff and others prominent in early cybernetics and systems thinking. It was implemented in several dozen corporations and federal agencies, including Budweiser.

Sociocracy has more than 150 years of theorizing about a government that would act for all the people. It was led by leaders like the French philosopher and sociologist Auguste Compt and the American scientist and sociologist  Frank Ward. It has been implemented since WW II. Supposedly “new” ideas and names disassociates the ideas from history. These new-name methods are not sufficiently different  to warrant new names.  They artificially divide a field study that needs focus in order to grow.

It now takes longer to clarify the differences and non-differences between all the names than to explain sociocracy.
“Sociocracy” has a wonderful history that parallels that of science and the search for a better society. And it has a wonderful ethical base — the equal valuing of all people.

Who Stole the American Dream

Crushing Middle-Class  Prosperity

The American Dream is of obtaining middle-class prosperity and socio-economic mobility. Hedrick Smith analyzes how it was lost in America.

The American middle class in the 1960s was the largest and most prosperous in the world. Now, the disparity between top and bottom is huge. Even the wealthiest 5% are falling behind the super-rich 1% that controls 2/3 of the nation’s wealth—trillions of dollars. The remaining 99% earn the remaining 1/3. America has the largest income disparity in the world.

Who Stole the American Dream, in its analysis of the socio-economic interactions between society, the economy, businesses and government,  also provides an excellent foundation for analyzing how a sociocratic society could function to restore the American dream.

(I’m not being revolutionary or extreme here. Just suggesting that even an understanding of sociocratic principles and  practices  would have prevented these events. They would have helped individuals make better decisions.)

Who Stole the American Dream

In Who Stole the American Dream, Smith presents a history and analysis of the 2008 economic crisis and the political ineffectiveness of Congress in correcting the systems that caused it.

Hedrick Smith was a journalist at the New York Times when he shared a Pulitzer Prize for his work on the Pentagon Papers series. He won another Pulitzer for his international reporting on Russia from 1971-1974. He has written several books, including, Russia, that are both best-sellers and used in college and university courses. His Emmy Award-winning PBS series examined systemic economic and political problems in the United States.

The book is an eminently readable, though long— 426 pages of text and another 131 of pages of back matter: Acknowledgments ; a Timeline of Key Events, Trends, and Turning Points, 1948-2012; and Notes.

I usually don’t post recommendations until I’ve completed a book.  But for that reason they sometimes don’t get posted at all. By the end of the book, I’m ready to move on to the next book and often have so many notes and comments that I don’t have time to write them. The book sits by my computer for “later” when I have the time, which never comes.

And readers would probably be so filled up from reading my comments they wouldn’t want to read the book.  So this time, I’m recommending a book before I finish its 557 pages. (Yes, I read endnotes.)

Relationship to Sociocracy

It will be a long time before we have leaders who have even heard of the fundamental principles and practices of sociocracy but an understanding of them would not only have helped individuals make better decisions, but understand why they were better. Many other books on socio-economic realities and possibilities are valuable in understanding sociocracy, but this one is particularly valuable for its analysis of what created the losses of the middle class, the 2008 financial crisis, and the incredible disparity in incomes. The facts and figures are Smith’s and the sociocratic analysis is mine. I hope I have made the distinctions clear.

The Deception of Free Markets

In 1971, the theory of free markets began to take hold. Businesses and trade associations began heavily lobbying Congress for advantageous laws and regulations. The number of companies with lobbying offices in Washington DC grew from 175 in 1971 to 2,445 in 1981. In 2012, the number of business lobbyists outnumbered members of Congress 130 to 1. The markets were hardly free, they were heavily influenced by corporate interests.

By the late 1970s, corporate CEOs began taking stock options as compensation. Sales of businesses, which often leave the workers with no pensions and end job security became very profitable for CEOs as investors.

The new market economy led to deregulation, lower taxes, and free trade that was supposed to raise the quality of life for all. Instead, middle-class wages stagnated and the rich got richer. In 2012, 60 million people were considered upper class with incomes over $100,000 in 2012, but 90 million lived at or below the poverty line of $40,00 0 for a family of four. Three million people received 2/3 of the country’s income while 300 million received 1/3. For Princeton University economist Alan Krueger this is mind-boggling. And he is used to big numbers.

Our  political leaders are in constant conflict and polarized, unable to solve basic problems.  Thinking sociocratically, majority vote could be blamed for political jockeying for position and winning elections rather than focusing on governing the country. Smith’s analysis shows that business interests may be a greater force than majority vote because they exert the power of money. Sufficient money can produce almost anything it wants.

A People in Crisis

Congress is unable to govern because it is powerless, lost in a sea of opposing forces who are not interested in the welfare of the nation. There is no common aim as there was from World War II into the 1950s. A common aim is sociocracy’s foundation. It is the basis for decision-making. Instead we have a house divided, which shall fall in one way or another.

Smith quotes British historian Arnold Toynbee’s analysis that a crisis arises in a mature society when participants no longer feel a part of that society, no longer feel they matter.  The late head of the pubic advocacy group Common Cause John Gardner said the people are part of the problem when they become cynical and disaffected. In a sociocratic society neither of these things could be true. There would be greater transparency and more accountability.

In a reversal of the dictum that power corrupts, grass-roots organizer Ernie Cortes says, “Powerlessness also corrupts.” Smith’s analysis of the economic crisis of 2008 shows how the powerlessness of middle management and white-collar workers also led to corruption. They acted as if they were no longer participants in a social economy. They were themselves lost at sea and scavenging whatever they could get, along with their co-workers.

Know Your History in Order to Change It

Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. This analysis will help to understand  what could be right in a sociocratic society and why. All the analysis is here. You just have to read between the lines and apply sociocratic principles and practices to understand how the crisis could have been prevented and how the American Dream can be restored.

Links to Amazon

Who Stole the American Dream? by Hedrick Smith (Hardcover, 2012)

Who Stole the American Dream? by Hendrick Smith (Softcover,

Followers Make Movements

How to start a movement?

A fabulous 3-minute video by Derek Sivers on how to start a movement.

The first follower is an underestimated form of leadership in itself… The first follower is what transforms a lone nut into a leader.

The leader has to have the courage to stand alone, and then make it easy to be followed, to share openly. The leader must support the first followers as equals, not as subordinates.

Followers Make Movements

New followers emulate the followers, not the leader…. Nurture the followers because that values the movement, not the leader.

The lone nut becomes a leader because there are followers.  The followers of the followers create the movement. Leadership, in this context, is over-rated.

A movement has to be open to attract followers.

About Derek Sivers

Derek Sivers on TED
Derek Sivers on TED

Derek Sivers was a professional musician when he started selling his own CDs on his website in 1998. Friends asked if he could sell theirs, too, and he founded CD Baby. It became the largest seller of independent music on the web, with over $100M in sales for over 150,000 musician clients. In 2008, Sivers placed his company in a foundation and now lives on 5% of the sales from the company. A minimalist, Sivers thrives on having less.

Sivers also started MuckWork, where teams of efficient assistants help musicians do their “uncreative dirty work.”

Elizabeth Warren on the Social Contract

Elizabeth Warren, American Harvard Law School professor and United States Senator from Massachusetts
Elizabeth Warren, American Harvard Law School professor and United States Senator from Massachusetts

There is nobody in this country who got rich on their own. Nobody. … You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea. God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.

Elizabeth Warren

Quoted in  Elizabeth Warren Meets the Ted Kennedy Myth by Tom KeanePolitico, 29 March 2015

Sociocratic Democracy

Can an illiterate, uneducated person living on $2 a day with no financial resources in a village chronically devastated by malaria be expected to have the personal energy to fight for human rights? Do they have to wait for outside intervention? Do they know there is an outside? An outside beyond the God they believe brings them disease and death because that’s the way life is?

In a sociocracy, they would be able to participate in governance at the local level to control local resources and create jobs. The national economy would  be based on providing for all—for just compensation for labor, for education, for health care, for emergency support. All  the things that wealthier nations take for granted. All the citizens would be ensured of making the decisions that most affect their lives—their homes, their work, and their children.

While many reject democracy because it has become associated with dominance of the majority, democracy is still the best and most admired form of governance. Its values of freedom and equality represent a vision universally admired.  As in Angola and even in the United States, those values are not always expressed, but the values are there. It’s a base to work from and an  ideal to achieve.

Sociocracy & Democracy

For several years, I’ve been torn between writing about sociocracy and about democratic values, struggling to choose between them on two blogs, Sociocracy and A Deeper Democracy. In my mind they are joined but how could I join the different readers—those committed to sociocracy and those suspicious of another movement calling itself “new.” Especially one with a new foreign sounding name.

The best I’ve done so far to merge them is to describe sociocracy as a deeper democracy. But I was still attempting to maintain a blog on democracy.

The Value of Retaining “Democracy”

Democracy is still growing. It is still the ideal around the world. Every year, democratic forms of government are adopted by the largest number of countries reforming their governments. It isn’t time to claim to have a new governance method to overthrow it.  The problem with the democratic vision is not the ideals but the implementation.

Could majority rule be replaced by another standard to achieve the ideals of democracy? What other governance structure would be more effective at guaranteeing freedom and equality for all?

Sociocratic Democracy

In writing the post on Transparency International and Corruption, I was searching for a word to describe a governance system that would still be a democracy but benefit from sociocratic practices.

“Sociocratic democracy”emerged from my keyboard to describe what I have previously referred to as “a deeper democracy.” One that works. One that is based on knowledge and good research. One that is fully inclusive and fair. One that builds harmonious and resilient communities and nations. It was a nice moment.

And Sociocracy.info and A Deeper Democracy will soon become SociocraticDemocracy.org, “Democracy as It Might Be.”

Sociocracy FAQ

What Is Sociocracy.info?

Sociocracy.info is the first comprehensive website on Sociocracy. It is maintained by me, Sharon Villines, coauthor with John Buck of We the People: Consenting to a Deeper Democracy. It contains information on the history, principles, and practices of Sociocracy and a blog to answer questions from readers.

The sister site is A Deeper Democracy where I explore  sociocracy in as a method for better achieving the values and purposes of democracy

Harmony?

Gerard Endenburg developed the modern implementation of sociocratic values. His purpose was  to create a harmonious workplace. He believed that in order to do this members of his company had to be able to consent to their working conditions and to be able to self-organize, to take responsibility for planning and evaluating their work.

The dictionary definitions of harmony are  agreement, accord, harmonious relations, and a consistent, orderly, or pleasing arrangement of parts; congruity.

In addition to Endenburg’s experience as a student in a sociocratic school noted for being a harmonious environment, he knew that research had shown  groups that work together in harmony are the most productive.

What is governance?

Governance means the way we steer ourselves. The way a boat is governed by the crew to keep the boat afloat and their own needs met as they move toward shore. It’s how we guide ourselves individually and in groups toward a common purpose.

In sociocracy, each person has a place in which they are equally respected and expected to assume leadership and governance responsibilities. They are in charge of fulfilling their roles and responsibilities—of steering themselves in harmony with the whole organization.

What is sociocracy?

Sociocracy is both a social ideal and a governance method. The ideal, developed along with the science of sociology, is an effective society that ensures freedom and equality for all. Unlike democracy, sociocracy is based in science and scientific method as well as social justice.

A “sociocracy” was first defined by French philosopher and sociologist Auguste Comte in 1850 and later popularized by American sociologist Frank Ward in the late 19th century. In 1926, Beatrice “Betty Cadbury Boeke and Cornelius “Kees” Boeke, both Quakers, pacifists, and educators, combined Quaker teachings  with the theories of Comte and Ward to create the first sociocracy in their residential-school community of 400 students and staff in the Netherlands. The school still exists and is still governed sociocratically.

It was a graduate of the Boeke’s school mentioned earlier, Gerard Endenburg who combined the Boekes’ principles with the modern science of cybernetics and best practices in business to create a sociocracy that worked in a highly competitive and complex business,

Endenburg’s purpose was to create in his electrical engineering company, Endenburg Electric, the harmony he had experienced as a student.

Why sociocracy and not democracy?

Sociocracy implements the knowledge of the sciences and the use of scientific method to guide decisions that result in the best solutions for everyone, not just the majority. Its objectives are the same as those of democracy: freedom and equality for all, but its methods ensure that these freedoms will be guaranteed.

In most democratic countries, majority vote is used to elect officials and make laws. In fact, voting is most often cited as proof that a government is democratic. Sociocracy has a set of principles and practices that ensure the effectiveness, Inclusiveness, and accountability that are required to fully implement democratic values.

What is particular to sociocracy?

Sociocracy is based on:

1. The ideal of a society that values equality and freedom for all. It practices transparency, accountability, and inclusiveness. It uses “no objections” as the ideal standard for governance decisions.

2.  Scientific discoveries and methods—measurement and evaluation are used to decide effectiveness and guide corrections. The organizational structure is designed to produce self-organization, resilience, and coherence—the characteristics  of harmonious systems.

Sociocratic principles and practices can be used to organize and govern the day-to-day operations of all organizations, including governments and businesses.

Does anyone do this?

Yes. Sociocracy is used world-wide in multiple kinds of organizations, large and small, business and nonprofit, religious and educational. There are centers in several countries and many consultants teaching and implementing the methods in organizations. Offshoots combining sociocracy with other governance and social  methods and techniques have been developed and taught.

The last frontier is national and local governance.

 

Doing Rounds Takes Too Long

In our monthly community meeting we discuss and make decisions. We are a circle consisting of all residents, often 20-30 people are present. This means that the rounds often take more time than a lot have the patience for.

Possibly we could break down into smaller groups, just as it is presented on the courses and workshop as some of us have attended. But it gives some other challenges regarded the dual link and the number of meetings.

As you have probably discovered, doing rounds is a very important activity. Doing rounds ensures that everyone is able to function as an equal, has an opportunity to state any concerns or objections, and to contribute information. Rounds also focus members on their purpose as a group, on their shared vision, mission, and aim.

Rounds Form and Re-Form

Each time the group meets, whether a policy setting circle, a team, or a committee, each member will be a different person. They will have had more and different experiences. Knowing what is foremost at the moment brings individuals together and prepares them for collaborative planning and decision-making.

To make decisions as a group, individuals must form a group. If the group has been working together for a long time, doing rounds will be faster and more focused. The group will be skilled in establishing harmony quickly.  While it may take time to reach this stage, harmony will allow the group work in collaboration and fulfill their purpose. Harmony requires understanding.

Focusing Rounds

If rounds are too impersonal or unfocused, attention can wander and the purpose of the round lost. Before beginning a round, state the purpose. You might remind people to

  • offer what is uppermost in their minds in relation to the meeting,
  • speak in terms of what they are anticipating or need from the meeting. and
  • speak personally, not give speeches or announcements, or respond to what others have said.

Avoid stating the focus of the round too restrictively. If people are unsure if what they want to say is the right thing, it will inhibit speaking  Sometimes people have had a major event in their lives and need to speak longer or off-topic. This will probably be of concern to the group, and sharing it will enable the person to  participate in the rest of the meeting more attentively.

Listening

Listening is half the round. Speaking brings out information, but it means nothing if others are not listening. The facilitator should be modeling listening, not leading the round by calling on people and trying to explain or interpret what they have said.

The facilitator is not the focus of a round. Unless the round is being conducted specifically to identify issues to be added to a written list, the facilitator should disappear as much as possible, just giving a nod if it is unclear who should speak next.

Not listening, assuming you know what someone is going to say, is probably the number one reason for boredom and impatience when doing rounds.

A Round of 300 People

Size is not necessarily the cause of inattention and impatience in rounds. Rounds can certainly be too long if they are unfocused and not achieving their purpose. Or the room is too hot or no one can hear.  Or the group is so large it doesn’t share a common purpose.

If the purpose of the round is clear and compelling, the size unless obviously physically impractical, can be quite large.

I once read an account of a community meeting conducted on a highly contentious subject. The neighborhood had been in serious conflict for a long time with no resolution in sight, A mediator was called in to seek a resolution and an open meeting was arranged. The first thing the mediator said was that each person in the meeting would have a chance to speak. The conditions were that

  • each person had to listen to all the others, and
  • no one could leave until everyone had spoken.

There were 300 people in the room. Everyone who wanted to speak, spoke. Everyone listened quietly without interruptions. No one left. It took hours. In the end, because everyone had been listened to and had listened to others, resolution was possible. They had come together as a group in a shared experience.

I have lost the reference for this story because I read about it many years ago and before I had heard the word “rounds.” I would love to have the reference if anyone recognizes the story. It was probably in the mediation literature because I was doing work with an AFL-CIO-affiliated union at the time.

Sociocracy and Sociology

Drop Cap Letter QI’d never heard anyone claim sociocracy was based on sociology. How do you interpret that?

The relationship between sociocracy and sociology was there from the beginning. The first use of the word sociocracy was by Comte, the father of sociology, who created it in the 1850s to refer to a government based sociology, the new  science for the study of society.  Frank Ward, the father of American Sociology, was  the next strong advocate for Sociocracy. Both Comte and Ward focused on national governance, not business.

Betty and Kees Boeke were the first to implement a sociocracy based their practices on those of the Quaker Meeting. In their school consent was the  basis of decision-making and all members of the community participated in making policy decisions and governing the school.

Business management is a social science. Economics is also a social science, oddly enough. An essential part of the education in an MBA program is the leadership and working with people. Self-understanding is stressed, though perhaps not using those words.

Governance

Governance, taught as political science and civics, is a social science.

The “socius” or “socio-” in sociocracy refers to societies, people who have social or organizational relationships with each other.

The mechanism of feedback is based on cybernetics, the science of communications and control. How do systems communicate with and control their parts to adjust to their environment while maintaining their inner functioning. This is fundamental to the sociocratic principles and methods as they are applied to the governance and operations of an organization, particularly businesses.

Endenburg, Sociocracy, and Sociocracy

Gerard’s 1988 book has pages of insightful discussion about social issues, including civil rights and fairness. The ways in which we make women invisible, for example.

Many discussions of sociocracy are one-sided in stressing the technical and mechanistic methods of governing and not the purpose of governance which is harmony. Endenburg’s purpose for implementing and  adapting the principles sociocracy that he learned from the Boekes to a business environment was to create the same conditions he experienced in school in his business:

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 and Personal Preferences

Personally I object to the use of the word “block” as synonymous with “objection” and this entry explains some of the reasons why.

What is a block? This is not a facetious question. If this is the word people want to use, what does it mean? From the accounts on the Cohousing-L email discussion list between cohousing communities that  uniformly use consent/consensus decision-making, block is used to describe an objection is more a veto. The discussion goes like this:

First the word block is used to describe someone who after much discussion still doesn’t consent to a proposal. Almost inevitably, a block is explained as being based on personal preferences. It’s the personal preferences that seem to be the problem. A “valid block” has to be based on community values. If it isn’t, it is based on personal preferences it is an “invalid block.”

Since a block is an objection based on personal preferences, rather than community values, a skilled facilitator is needed to step in and “fix” it. A magician to assert community values. Someone who can persuade the unpersuadable.

Objections in sociocracy are based on logical arguments and not personal preferences, but in a community where one lives, an objection based on personal preferences may be perfectly logical and thus valid. For example, the right to object to a tree being planted in front of the only window on the north side of your unit. Since your unit only has two exterior walls, north and south, and your personal preferences are to have light and to be able to see the rest of the community from your window, do you have the right to object or are these personal preferences? Others  want a tree there to balance the landscape and address water drainage issues, but these are also personal preferences because there are other ways to balance the landscape and solve drainage issues. Whose personal preferences are based  on community values and whose are not?

Values are important. They give purpose to life. They make us human. Values are necessary, but they are not sufficient. Values have to be translated into actions before they are more than words that make us feel good. For example:

— We value the lives of birds so we will feed them all winter.
— We value the lives of birds so we won’t allow outdoor cats.
— We value the lives of birds so we will have a large bird sanctuary in the common house.
— We value the lives of birds so we will have outdoor cats to reduce the population to a manageable level rather than having them starve.

All of these actions are based on valuing birds. Many actions will rely on  many personal preferences about how to express values. Which result best addresses the value. The key is on what basis will success be determined? Feeding birds all winter is considered to be dangerous to birds because they become dependent on being fed. If the action is to restrict outdoor cats, will that accomplish the purpose? Is a bird sanctuary really any life for a bird? How in danger is the bird population anyway?

What is the aim of valuing birds? Why do you value them? An action is something you can measure. Without measuring whether the aim is being achieved, it won’t be clear that it is being accomplished.  The what and the how is the decision that can be done on the basis of logical argument and then improved by trial and error.  But the aim has to be clear for that to happen, not just the values.

Conditions for Consensus Decision-Making

The people who consent to a proposal also have personal preferences. Weren’t their preferences blocking the preferences of the person who is labelled as blocking? Isn’t this just majority vote but the majority wants everyone to go along because another value is consensus in decision-making?

Consensus decision-making only works when

  1. everyone has a common aim,
  2. is willing and able to deliberate together long enough to resolve all objections, and
  3. chooses to make decisions with this group.

It is said that consensus can’t work in cohousing communities because people can’t choose with whom they make decisions. But the premise of cohousing is that one has chosen to make decisions with everyone who lives there—a diverse, self-selecting group. That group, however, still needs to have a common aim in relation to the decision being made and they still have to sit together long enough to resolve objections.

Consent and objections in sociocracy are based on the ability of the person to support/respect/implement the actions required by the proposal. The ability to do that may indeed be based on personal preferences. If planting  a tree in front of a window causes a person to move away because they can’t do their job of being a good community member, whose  actions have supported the values of the community.

Vision, Mission, Aim

Values relate to a vision statement. A vision is a dream. It’s what you want the world to be. A vision is intangible and not a good plan for action. Measurements based on visions and values will always be based on person preference. You need more: a Mission.

For those reading this website, the mission will probably be cohousing or cohousing plus ___. Plus a bakery, an eco-village, a home school, etc.

The vision and mission together lead to the aim. The aim is the tangible basis for taking action. Actions can be measured to determine their success. Did that action achieve our aim? How do we need to improve it?

I think groups may be trying to make decisions based on their vision, not their aim. What is called a “personal preference” is really a values issue and can’t be measured as valid or invalid. Though values may guide actions, only actions and results can be measured. The resolution of objections should be focused on the aim of the proposal, how to accomplish it, and how to measure the results. Is the aim shared by everyone? Who decided that?

If there is no common aim, how can there be a consensus? If the proposal has no aim, no measurable result, how can it be useful?

The problem with “blocks” is usually:

  1. lack of a common or well-defined aim and/or
  2. avoidance of using a more appropriate decision-making method, like preference rating or majority vote.

Unless the group can meet all the conditions necessary to use consensus, “blocks” will continue to occur as the result of trying to use a decision-making method that isn’t appropriate.

Moving Objections to the Beginning

One of the ways the methods used in sociocracy that speeds up decision-making is going directly to objections instead of or before discussing the advantages of a proposal. The perceived advantages of a decision should be stated in the proposal or its presentation. The presenters will probably recount the issues and options they considered. There is usually no need to repeat the discussion that has taken place in previous meetings or to hear arguments in favor again.

The Process for Making a Decision Effectively

Prequel: Discuss or request comments from everyone who will be affected by the decision. A formal discussion in a  meeting of the circle may be preferable, but is not necessary if there are other ways to collect information and multiple viewpoints.

1. Present the proposal.

2. Answer clarifying questions.

Questions should be clean questions with no embedded messages. If there is an embedded message, don’t discuss it. Answer as if it had been a clean question or defer it for rounds.

4. Do a quick reaction round.

Responses of 1-2 words will indicate if there are concerns or objections that seem serious or unresolvable. Is the proposal ready for consent or should it be referred back to the proposal writers?

5. Ask for concerns and objections in detail.

(a) Refer these back to proposal writer(s) or
(b) Begin consent rounds to resolve them.

Asking for detailed concerns and objections should usually be done in a round but if there are only a few this can done more effectively by asking each person individually.

6. Consent rounds.

Several rounds may be needed to reach consent. The early rounds will suggest resolutions and later rounds to clarify remaining objections.

The decisive question is: “Do you have objections that will influence your ability to support this decision?”

Clarifications

Addressing concerns and resolving objections is a group process, not the duty of the facilitator. The facilitator decides how to proceed but this decision is subject to objections.

The facilitator participates as an equal, including in rounds.

The goal is consent to a decision that everyone can support in day-to-day operations.

Effectiveness, transparency, and accountability are the prime values in this process:

  • What will produce the most effective decision?
  • Does everyone have all the information relevant to this decision
  • Who will be accountable for the outcome of the decision

Rounds may be interspersed with discussion:

  • Rounds establish and maintain equivalence in the room. They keep decision-making balanced by encouraging everyone to participate as equals—the reticent as well as the more expansive.
  • Discussion, free form or dialogue between 2 or more persons, can be helpful to clarify questions or to give information others in the group may not have.

A proposal needs:

  • a person(s) to implement the decision and
  • a method to measure outcomes.

If there is no plan for implementing the decision or means of measuring effectiveness, the decision will probably be meaningless. Not worth the time.

Moving Objections to the Beginning

Moving objections to the beginning of consideration of a proposal instead of considering them at the end of the process moves time and attention to the issues that may not have been considered or that are in opposition to the proposal.

The arguments are then more likely to be presented and examined clearly, not in the context of a back and forth of pros and cons by skilled and unskilled orators. This kind of rhetoric can easily obscure the aim of the proposal and the nature of the objection.

The endpoint of decision-making is an action that works. Consensus decisions, those in which all the objections have been resolved and/or measurements set to test them, work best. They are not always possible but they work best.

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.