Category Archives: Decisions and Power

Sociocracy has specific methods and practices for ensuring  that decision-making and power are linked and shared. Democracy was originally revolutionary by allowing the common citizen to make decisions using majority vote to make decisions. But it has no structure for ensuring that those decisions are implemented. A sociocratic system of communications and control would ensure better decision-making and give more power to democratic values.

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.

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.

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,

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 or Sociocracy?

Drop Cap Letter QWe are 3 months into starting a cohousing community in western MA. We will soon be discussing how we will make group decisions. Consensus and sociocracy seem to be common strategies in cohousing and other intentional communities. Which do you recommend?

“Consensus or Sociocracy?” Is the Wrong Question

(But there are no dumb questions. This one is a very good question and one we hear frequently.)

Sociocracy and consensus are not opposite things.

  1. Consensus is a decision-making method.
  2. Sociocracy is a governance method.
  3. Sociocracy is a governance method based on consensus decision-making.

Sociocracy establishes a structure within which to make policy decisions (the planning and leading) and operations decisions (the doing).

Policy decisions are made by consensus. Operations decisions are made by the leader of the work group or as the circle decides. The circle can also decide to use consensus for day-to-day decisions, the consent of 2-3 circle members, or any other methods it decides work. As long as the decision to use another method is made by consent and reviewed periodically—annually, perhaps.

Delegation

The sociocratic governance method allows you to delegate decisions to those who are most affected by them and still ensure that they are within the policies of community.

For example, the CH cleaning circle can decide by consensus to change its cleaning days to Sundays instead of Saturdays. That’s a decision they can make without consultation with anyone as long as they follow the policy that any community brunches on Sunday take precedence. (And announce it to the membership so everyone knows what to expect.)

Coordinating Circle

In sociocracy groups are called circles but they can be called anything as long as they are well-defined as decision-making groups with a defined membership and a common aim. All the circles are tied together by a coordinating circle that is composed of members of all the other circles.

The coordinating circle:

  1. makes policy decisions that affect more than one circle
  2. resolves decisions on which circles have been unable to reach consensus, and
  3. does long-range planning—2-5 years.

The coordinating circle includes representatives and leaders of all circles so it provides a larger perspective on difficult, complex, and long-term decisions.

Long-range planning is often missing in Cohousing. And decisions needing a wider range of knowledge go to the larger membership when it isn’t necessary or effective. The Coordinating Circle can fulfill these needs.

Full Membership Meetings

Some communities have  misunderstood meetings of he full membership and thus rejected sociocracy. Communities may still reserve some decisions for full circle meetings — all circles meeting together to make decisions on the annual budget, capital improvements, widely contentious issues, etc. Or hold full circle meetings to give feedback to circles or to discuss community issues without making decisions.

Policy decisions are those that affect future actions and decisions — the budget, job descriptions, scope of work, standards, etc.

Operations decisions affect the present, the day-to-day activities and are made usually by the leader or as delegated to members of the circle.

Leadership

The circles decide how their leader will lead. In a gardening circle, for example, the leader may delegate tasks to people or decide which needs to be done first. Or they may decide to work together on each task. (Our workday participants did this last year with great satisfaction at seeing each job finished much more quickly and completely with no ends left for another day.)

Communications & Steering

Based on cybernetics, the sociocratic governance structure establishes a clear communications and steering structure so decentralized decision-making can work effectively without fragmentation, overlap, or duplication. In small communities where almost constant communication happens in the course a week, this may not seem important.

In larger communities this structure becomes very important. With 60-80 adults, you can’t talk to everyone all the time and the work is more complex — more buildings, more financial accounting, more children, more repairs, more illnesses, etc. Everyone can’t be expected know everything.

Where to Start?

It is very important to establish a governance system from the start—beginning as a full group coordinating circle. Then other circles are formed as the coordinating circle is ready to delegate decisions. People will usually belong to more than one circle. Circles self-organize and make decisions within their domain (area of responsibility).

It is important to distinguish between circles, which make decisions, and work groups that are assigned tasks and bring proposals, information, etc., back to a circle for decision-making.

Sociocracy is a governance method that both requires and is designed to support consensus decision-making. There is no other governance method designed to do this.

Definition of Consensus Decision-Making

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

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

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

Rounds or Discussion or Free for All?

Drop Cap Letter QWhat’s the best practice ?  Is it better to have a free for all discussion, do what we do, or have complete rounds?

“Better” is in the eye of the beholder. Understanding what rounds or discussion can do is a “better” question.
Rounds are excellent for establishing and reestablishing equivalence in the room. They not only give each person a chance to speak they shine a spotlight on each person so everyone is aware of everyone else individually. It changes the dynamic from “in a meeting making a decision” to “in a meeting with Ann, Alice, Joe, Jan, etc. making a decision.”
Rounds are a very important method for establishing and maintaining equivalence.
Discussion allows a focus on a specific point by a smaller number of people who either have more information, have the verbal ability to express the issues, or have similar concerns. It is important for everyone to hear this. Just like consent and objections belong to everyone, so do the thoughts that lead up to them. Discussions allow focus.
Discussion is important to focusing and clarifying issues.
“Free for all” is also in the eye of the beholder. Sometimes “talk among yourselves” is an important exercise. Chaos gets everyone involved and enlivens the room. The bits with the most energy will float to the top. If a facilitator listens carefully, they can also identify “hot” issues and possible solutions.
When there is too much energy, boxing people into a round may not help move the decision-making process along. Particularly in larger groups, rounds can be too repetitive and limiting. People fall asleep or otherwise disengage. If energy is high, instead of quieting down, people might fidget and leave in one way or the other. Frustrated people tend to quit.

Rounds or Discussion, and Free for All

So rounds or discussion, and even free for all, can be well used in circle meetings to produce a satisfying proposal and reach consent.
(Some people prefer to call discussion “dialogue.” I find the word dialogue to be more formal and more often refers to two people engaged in a philosophical debate or the lines recited by actors in a drama . Discussion is more familiar, and perhaps more precise.)

Laws and Policies: The Differences

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

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

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

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

 Laws

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

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

Sociocracy & Holacracy: Testing What Works

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

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

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

Making Laws and Policies

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

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

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

The Tyranny of Laws

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

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

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

For extra credit:

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

 

Understanding Objections & Beheaviments

Translations

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

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

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

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

Meanings Beyond Translations

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

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

Satisficing

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

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

Beheavied & Lack of Consent

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

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

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

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

Emotional & Technical Solutions

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

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

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

Outside Experts on the Board of Directors

Image from the Getty Museum of a Council of war from the 19th century.Residential communities customarily do not have board of directors members from outside the organization. Corporations normally do, but they may not be chosen by their ability to balance expertise. Non-profit organizations and independent schools often choose board members based on their ability to raise money or influence government or foundation decision-makers.

Balanced Expertise

Balanced expertise on the board of directors steers the organization from multiple perspectives. Balance can be achieved with experts on larger community issues, on financial and  legal requirements, and areas specifically related to the mission and aim of the organization. An independent school would have an expert in education, perhaps fundraising, perhaps child development, etc. A soup kitchen will benefit from experts in food service and preparation, nutrition, perhaps motivation, perhaps efficiency in service.

From Outside

Outside expert directors can bring advice and judgements that are not influenced by possible internal biases. And they contribute new information. They cross-pollinate with ideas and cautions learned from other organizations. Condo leaders to other condo leaders. An outside expert in housing would bring information from government agencies, architects, financial institutions, etc. They may be better able to identify possible risks to the organization.

Diversity of experience is as important as technical expertise. Outside experts also relax the organization. They can confirm that the organization is following best practices and any problems are, or are not, being experienced by other organizations,

On the Board

The importance of having experts on the board of directors is the synergy created by discussion. Most organizations have a lawyer on retainer, an accountant, an insurance broker, a banker, etc. When they are on the board, however, they respond to questions and issues together, not in isolation. The legal expert comments on the advice of the food service expert. Concerns by one expert about the effect of a decision on another expert’s area can be answered in the moment. The advice of one raises concerns for another that can be discussed and resolved. The concerns of one can be resolved by a solution from another.

Even though it may seem costly and time consuming in the end it saves time. Normally a board of Directors meets 3-4 times a year for 1-2 hours. For non-profit organizations, there may be no charge for this time. In businesses, these experts are often on retainers already. In the end the time saved by not having individual meetings or telephone calls. Saved time from having to repeat conversations or making costly mistakes pay for themselves. The increased value of having more informed advice is invaluable.

With Decision-Making Authority

It is important that boards are not advisory. Decision-making authority creates accountability. Decision-makers take decisions more seriously than advisors. Some fear that decision-making power will create a board-dominated organization. That the attempt to create a more democratic organization will be undermined by “outsiders” who impose negative opinions.

However, in a sociocratic system, boards make decisions within their specific domain. The domain of the board is long-term strategic planning, financial sustainability, assessing risk, and connections to the larger environment—its market or industry. The board can be asked to make a decision when another domain is unable to resolve it. Otherwise, the board should not micro-manage or make autocratic decisions except in emergencies.

As Part of a Whole System

An organization is a system with each part having a responsibility that is essential to the whole. The whole controls its parts. The board of directors is one part of a whole system, not the controller. The board has a different responsibility than the marketing department or the kitchen or the front desk but not more power.

Outside members on the Board of Directors strengthen the organization.

(In sociocracy, what most jurisdictions call a “Board of Directors” is called a “Top Circle” to emphasize that it functions according to the rules for a circle, not the traditional rules of a Board of Directors. When a Board with the traditional rights is required by law, it is formed within the Top Circle.)

Meetings Are Not the Work

We need to remind ourselves that meetings are not the work. Much work is done in meetings and they can be exhausting, but the focus of a meeting is action. Determining effective actions. Defining desired actions. Evaluating failed actions. Or bemoaning lack of action.

Possible Sources of Confusion

In several contexts lately it has become clear that many of us have drifted into confusing meetings with the work, and even as the substance of organizational theories, like sociocracy. One example of this is that we discuss the process of making decisions without measuring the process against the effectiveness of the decision made using it. How did those decision help or hinder us in doing our work and accomplishing our goals?

The focus of a meeting in one way or another is how can we accomplish our aims better? Even when we are discussing feelings, those feelings are important because they affect our ability to do our work, to fulfill our individual roles or responsibilities.

Meetings in Sociocracy and Elsewhere

Training in sociocracy often focuses on the process of circle meetings and making policy decisions: how to conduct a meeting, how to write a proposal, and how to achieve consent. This is necessary because (1) circle meetings are unique to sociocracy, (2) many members may be new to making policy decisions, and (3) sociocracy is a method of organizing work but is often presented in groups of people who do not work together.

In mixed groups, using work-specific examples that everyone understands is difficult. Thus the focus drifts to process instead of the accomplishment of a purpose.

Decisions Are Not about Meetings

The aim of a meeting is not faultless execution of a process. It is what you do when you walk out the door.

There are many, many methods for organizing excellent meetings. They can usually be easily modified for consent decision-making or for any other decision-making method the group has agreed to use. There is nothing special about any of them as long as the group understands them and they help the group make good decisions.

The measure of a good decision is that everyone can support and execute it. The process could be considered entirely chaotic by a professional meeting facilitator or trainer. The important thing is that the work can still be done effectively.

Meetings Are About Operations

Meetings are work because making decisions is often hard. Those decisions are about what happens outside the meeting. They are not an end in and of themselves.  When you make that shift in thinking, it is easier to avoid excessive attention to process. An incomplete or unworkable decision will need to be revisited whether the proper process was followed or not.

Meetings are only means to an end. Meeting generally decrease in a well performing organization while action will increase and become more effective.

Are Your Meetings Substance or Style?

If a meeting is organized around evaluating experience, information, and measurements related to past and future actions—on feedback rather than SWAG or preferences—it will likely be  focused on substance, not style.

 

For non-native English speakers, SWAG stands for “Stupid Wild-Ass Guesses.” They

 are common in decision-making and actually not always bad. Sometimes a SWAG is a good place to start.

 

Are Your Meetings Content or Process?

In several contexts lately the conversations about organizing sociocratically have drifted to the problem of confusing circle meetings with the work of the circle, and even circle meetings as focus of sociocracy. Evidence of this is that we discuss process and enforcing process without discussing the quality and application of decisions in our work. The questions are more often about officers and consent than evaluating the effect of recent policy decisions on operations, worker effectiveness, etc.

Circle Meetings

Training in sociocracy often focuses on circle meetings because (1) they are unique to sociocracy and (2) sociocracy is often presented in workshops to people with diverse roles  in a variety of organizations. This makes discussions of operations difficult. Work-specific examples that everyone in the room understands are hard to craft. Thus the focus drifts to process instead of the accomplishment of the circle’s aim.

Circle Meetings Are Not the Aim

Sociocracy is an elegant method of organizing work, not meetings. There are many, many methods for organizing excellent meetings. All can be used in circle meetings if they allow consent decision-making. The aim of a circle meeting is not following a process; it is what you do when you walk out the door.

The meeting process is designed to facilitate making policy decisions. A good policy decision will enable the circle to accomplish its work more effectively, more energetically, and more harmoniously.

Circle Meetings Are About Operations

Meetings are work because the circle is making decisions and decisions are hard, but circle meetings are what happens outside the meeting. Their reason for being is operations.

If the circle has consented to an incomplete or unworkable policy decision, it needs to be revisited, whether the proper process was followed or not. Arguing process does nothing to correct an ill-advised policy decision.

Sociocracy is about organizing and executing whatever operations are related to the aim of the organization.

Are Your Meetings Substance or Style?

If the circle is making decisions based on experience, information, and measurements—on feedback not SWAG or preferences—it is more likely making decisions based on substance, not style.

For non-native English speakers, SWAG stands for Stupid Wild-Ass Guesses. SWAG’s not always ineffective in decision-making. Sometimes a SWAG is a good place to start, but then you move on.

Policy Decisions

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

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

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

Examples of Policy Statements

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

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

In non-profit organizations the policies might include:

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

In business they might include:

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

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

Consensus: Community or Decision-Making

Q: Discussions of consensus on cohousing discussion lists seem to be focused on or limited to facilitated, time-bound, decision-making events rather than building a culture of relationships in a community. Is this intentional?

Questions about consensus generally do focus on the technicalities and problems of using consensus to make decisions in meetings. And building community is one objective of using consensus because it ensures that the interests of everyone will be taken into consideration. However, cohousing communities, as opposed to other kinds of intentional communities, try to avoid ideologies or anything that might appear to be an ideology. Cohousing groups also vary widely on the degree of community that is expected of members and members vary widely on how they participate in the community. Diversity is welcomed even in this respect, though perhaps not by all.

Since consensus (or sense of the meeting) and peace as daily practices are most often associated with the teachings of the Quaker church, anything reminiscent of this becomes touchy.

Even sociocracy (dynamic governance), the only governance method designed to use consensus decision-making tends to discuss it as a tool, not a socially desirable objective. The official sociocratic organization, the Sociocratisch Centrum in Rotterdam, and its certification program focus specifically on how to implement the method in to design and govern better organizations, not to produce a better society. Even equivalence is presented simply as the best way to create a harmonious organization. Their desire is to have sociocracy taught in as many kinds of organizations as possible and to develop a sociocratic society. This aim requires not adopting any cultural messages that might be interpreted as religious. This is one reason they prefer to refer to “consent” decision-making and to avoid the word consensus. Its connotations are too inclusive.

While sociocratic methods can be used simply as management tools, the underlying values of equivalence and harmony ultimately produce a worldview that is more inclusive and mindful. A leading consultant in Montreal, Gilles Charest, has extensive experience in Gestalt psychology. He teaches the principles with a decided focus on personality development and the way the principles address people’s need for attachment, security, and influence (being listened to). His leadership training has long focused more on psychology and sociology than on organizational engineering.

So the avoidance of discussing the contributions of consensus to community building are not necessarily because anyone wants to avoid building community. It is to be as inclusive as possible and this requires not imposing values or expectations of unanimity, and not interpreting harmony as agreement. It’s a difficult balance.

Stand Asides

Stand asides are a time-honored practice in majority vote decision-making. They are used when a person wants their vote recorded, but can’t vote yes, doesn’t want to vote no, and doesn’t want to abstain. Usually it means the person disagrees but has agreed to stand aside and allow the decision to go forward. Sometimes it means that they have a conflict of interest and want the record to show that they were not voting, but abstentions are used to record this. Abstentions, however, are often considered to be weak no’s.

In consensus decision-making stand asides serve no purpose. Each member of the decision-making body has an obligation to register an objections in order to improve the decision. All information is important. The only considerations are arguments for and against the proposal. If a person has no arguments against the proposal they are consenting to its passage.

Consent doesn’t mean agreement. At minimum consent means the proposal seems to be a good one and worth trying. Even if a person has been out of touch and has no direct knowledge of the proposal and is not affected by it, they are still consenting by allowing it to go forward.

Consent isn’t an endorsement. No one will interpret the lack of standing aside to be active championing of the proposal. During discussion, each person has an opportunity to explain why they are consenting or objecting. This is sufficient to clarify any misunderstandings.

Consent only means the person isn’t objecting.