Each person is capable of creating harmony, resilience, and responsiveness in themselves and their environment. You yourself can implement the principles and practices of sociocracy, whether you are participating in a sociocratic organization or not. These small changes in your behavior and expectations can make a big difference in the decision-making in any group of people.
Function as if consent is the standard in decision-making.
When a decision is about to be made, ask if there are any remaining concerns or objections before anyone can call for a vote or declare agreement autocratically. If possible, glance at each person as an invitation to speak. If someone tries to dismiss a concern, say, “Let’s look at this for a moment.” Help clarify and resolve any concerns or objections. Ask if anyone else can do the same.
When unresolved objections remain, emphasize that a decision has not been made. Most small groups function by consent most of the time. With only one objection, however, they may avoid announcing a formal decision and then proceed as if one had been made. The objector will be silent to avoid conflict. Break this cycle and state clearly, “Let’s decide not to implement this until we have enough information to resolve this objection.”
Instead of waiting for open discussion, begin rounds by asking, “What does everyone think? Mary?” Then move around the room to each person.
Doing rounds can completely change the dynamic of a group because rounds:
Establish equality in the room as each person is given time to speak.
Draw out comments from those who dislike competing for attention or believe their ideas are not important enough to express.
Prevent people from using silence to avoid responsibility.
Enable everyone to avoid dominating the discussion.
Suggest that two people with differing styles or opinions represent your group when approaching an authority or attending a meeting.
When two people represent a group as equals, the process of representation is more likely to result in:
a shift from an individual viewpoint or benefit to collaboration on behalf of the group;
consultation in a search for solutions, rather than presenting an autocratic decision;
less likelihood of being co-opted with two listening; and
more communication and understanding with the experience and knowledge of two people present.
4.ASSIGN TASKS USING DISCUSSION AND CONSENT
Before anyone can volunteer, ask what the role or responsibility requires and then begin directly by asking one person who thinks they could fulfill those requirements. Convey the expectation that there will be more than one qualified person.
A volunteer may not be the best person for the job, and the person who is may not volunteer.
People often recognize abilities in others that others don’t see in themselves.
Self-nominations are acceptable as long as they don’t preclude discussion of other possible candidates or a consideration of the volunteer’s ability to fulfill the task requirements. One ability demonstrated by volunteering, however, is the desire to fulfill the task!
5.ACTIVELY SOLICIT OBJECTIONS
After presenting an idea, welcome objections by asking, “Now how is this going to work? What’s wrong with it? Let’s make it better and get all the chinks out now.”
Resolving objections builds a stronger proposal. Don’t allow concerns and objections to slide away. Taking them seriously builds the commitment and focus necessary for collaborative decision-making and effective action. Even when an objection cannot be resolved, everyone may be more willing to move forward and test the decision if it is thoroughly understood.
6.RESOLVE OBJECTIONS IN THE Group
Treat the objection as an issue the group needs to resolve, not as an attempt to convince the objector privately. Objections should be content-focused and consent is not a bargaining chip as votes are often used in majority vote decisions.
7.MEASURE & REPORT
Build measurements into plans and proposals so you will know if they have accomplished their purposes. If the group doesn’t want to include these in the proposal, keep a list of purposes and measurements yourself, letting everyone know you are doing it and that you would like to bring it back for discussion in a certain number of months. If the group doesn’t consent to a group review, refer to what you have learned when discussing related topics. Share openly. Transparency builds trust and invites more information.
Measurements don’t have to be complicated. Match the amount of data needed to the complexity of the decision. Burdensome measurements may not be kept accurately.
8.Practice & ENCOURAGE SELF-ORGANIZATION
Self-organize by taking control of your assigned or assumed responsibilities. Be self-generating by producing new ideas and solutions. Create a plan for growing personally and professionally. Include learning more about your organization and your industry or profession. Expect the same of others by asking questions that expect a positive answer.
Self-organization is often discouraged, but even in the most-controlled, autocratic workplaces and organizations, there may be small opportunities to take more responsibility and initiative.
Take responsibility for your own development, continuing to learn about your work and your organization.
Sociocracy is based on values and practices that encourage inclusiveness, self-organization, development, productivity, and effectiveness. By applying those values and practices in your daily life, you will create a sociocracy.
“Sociocracy for One” is released under the Creative Commons License. It may be reused with attribution, shared with others, and transformed as the basis of another document, but it is not released for commercial use without specific prior permission. For permission, please contact Sharon Villines at Sociocracy.info.
…a good example of how sociocracy consultants and advocates can work within an organization to incorporate sociocratic principles and practices using the language and current objectives of the organization.
What prompted me to write today was the discovery of Strong Towns, a non-profit organization devoted to local civic development. In despair over the state of American governance, I was clicking through the far too many news sources I read every morning and saw a link to a story in Strong Towns. The organization’s methods for building strong towns are distinctively sociocratic, entirely practical, and nicely framed. No unfamiliar names or distracting variations accepted practices.
The mission of Strong Towns is to support a model of development that allows America’s cities, towns, and neighborhoods to become financially strong and resilient.
As sociocracy teaches, the methods for creating financially strong and resilient organizations are reliable and tangible means of measurement. Accurate measurements provide the feedback necessary for correcting or modifying decisions and processes.
A Failure of Democracy
Why was this so attractive to me this morning? Because I find mind-numbing the continuing drama of being unable to stop Donald Trump. By the summer of 2018, the shock that he was (sort of) elected has worn off. Unfortunately, it has been replaced with feelings of helplessness. Though Trump confirms several times a day that he is both incompetent and dangerous, this narcissistic oligarch is still in control.
Reading How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt was helpful in understanding how Trump was the result of decades of the weakening of self-governance in all parts of our society. It revealed the process by which democracies find themselves in dictatorships and enumerated the conditions that create dictators. But Levitsky and Ziblatt didn’t have suggestions for stopping him.
Why hasn’t someone escorted Trump out of the White House into a waiting motorcade with a military escort heading for Mar a Lago never to return?
Our inability to correct the results of a manipulated election says something profound about the system of checks and balances between the branches of government. Each branch is a power-over hierarchy, a static linear top-down structure that fails completely when leadership is weak. Trump has repeatedly appointed inappropriate leaders, and then made them weaker by over-ruling them. He has been able to wreak havoc with no logical or predictable agenda.
Would Sociocracy Help?
Of course, the fundamental practices of self-organization, the controls of consent, and feedback systems in sociocratic governance would create stronger governance, but where to start? Overthrowing a badly functioning democratic system and installing a sociocratic system would only be a very long-term answer. Teaching sociocratic principles to 326+ million people in America and developing sociocratic governance structures in 89,000+ local governments is a staggering task.
To prevent an oligarch from being elected or manipulating an election and appearing to win, what should we do? What should our mission be? Sociocracy itself is a method with principles and practices, but it doesn’t posit a strong mission. It doesn’t give us a sign that says start here. Take this approach.
What prompted me to write this post today was an organization I discovered while clicking through the far too many news sources I read every morning: Strong Towns. Their mission is practical: to build financially sustainable communities.
The mission of Strong Towns is to support a model of development that allows America’s cities, towns, and neighborhoods to become financially strong and resilient.
The Strong Towns’ Approach
Strong Towns‘ method for doing this has distinctively sociocratic characteristics.
A Strong Towns approach:
Relies on small, incremental investments (little bets) instead of large, transformative projects,
Emphasizes resiliency of result over the efficiency of execution,
Is designed to adapt to feedback,
Is inspired by bottom-up action (chaotic but smart) and not top-down systems (orderly but dumb),
Seeks to conduct as much of life as possible at a personal scale, and
Is obsessive about accounting for its revenues, expenses, assets and long-term liabilities (do the math).
All of these are good sociocratic practices: incremental changes starting from where we are, emphasis on results, attention to feedback, bottom-up action, a personal scale, and strong measurements.
Strong Towns’ Principles
Strong Towns is based on principles gleaned from scientifically conducted research. This provides a strong basis to guide and against which to measure their work process.
As advocates for a strong America, we know the following to be true:
Strong cities, towns, and neighborhoods cannot happen without strong citizens (people who care).
Local government is a platform for strong citizens to collaboratively build a prosperous place.
Financial solvency is a prerequisite for long-term prosperity.
Land is the base resource from which community prosperity is built and sustained. It must not be squandered.
A transportation system is a means of creating prosperity in a community, not an end unto itself.
Job creation and economic growth are the results of a healthy local economy, not substitutes for one.
Finding Strong Towns gave me enough hope and inspiration to begin writing again after a long break. I’m not suggesting that Strong Towns is sociocratic or that they have had any contact with sociocracy. Sociocracy is based on scientifically researched principles that are universally applicable in human organizations and Strong Towns has obviously found and applied the same ones. It is a good example of how sociocracy consultants and advocates can work within an organization to incorporate sociocratic principles and practices using the language and current objectives of the organization.
The Achilles Heel of sociocracy is its dependence on the willingness of people to act. How can a sociocracy be any stronger than a democracy or even a monarchy if people are not willing to stand up and say, “I object” and then take action to implement better options?
Trump, Trumpism, and Trumpist
In the winter, I promised to write more about Donald Trump as a democratic leader (already a difficult leap) and how things would differ in a government based on the Sociocratic Circle Method (SCM) of organization. A series of compare-and-contrast analyses that would illustrate the ways in which a sociocratic democracy would prevent or disable a Trumpist government.
The 24/7 television news channels have been and still are a daily deluge of perfect case studies:
spiteful decisions made with no regard for advisability or even workability,
denial of factual information,
disregard for advice,
refusal to even consider statistical analyses,
repeated proclamations of demonstrably untrue boasts,
rushing to implement policies before anyone can study their social or economic impact, and
preference for executive orders over a democratic process.
I could have written all day, every day for the last 10 months and not covered a fraction of these actions and decisions. Instead I have a pile of un-finished posts. Some had only a few lines before I was discouraged by my own arguments.
Ultimately, I realized all the examples came down to the same weakness. A weakness that would be as true of sociocracy as it is of democracy.
The Achilles Heel of Freedom
The Achilles heel of a free society and a free government is its dependence on self-organization—the ability of citizens to act with power and make good decisions.
A free government cannot be legislated. It can’t be awarded to a society after it and its allies win a war. Laws only work if someone makes them work. This requires respect for the values of a free society.
A decade ago, one of the arguments for sociocracy was that it was value free, “an empty tool.” It could be used with any political philosophy, by any business venture, or in any society no matter its religious tradition. Sociocracy didn’t bring with it a bias toward any ideology. It wasn’t Christian or Marxist or Free Trade. What this value-free argument neglected to notice is that sociocracy stems from deep fundamental values that are not shared by all societies: freedom and equality.* That all people are to be respected as being of equal value and have the freedom to control their own lives. That’s why the great feedback loops that permeate sociocratic organizations ensure that any person can correct the wheel by raising an objection to a decision that doesn’t adhere to these values.
A government is nothing without the governed. Each part in a system has to have a role, or it isn’t a part of the system. Without the support of citizens, a free government will move toward entropy and ultimately dissolution. In entropy where there is no self-organization; the lack of a dictator becomes a liability.
Effective Objections and Consent
All the violations of good governance in Trumpism are like veneer on rotting wood. Evaluating the veneer may lead to improvement in the next layer of veneer, but the wood beneath will still be rotting. Rotting wood has no ability to act—to do its job in supporting the feeding of the tree and producing foliage.
The fundamental concern in the most unlikely election of Trump to the presidency is not the values and behavior that Trumpism condones. The most frightening and revealing fact is that so many stepped back from stopping it. Effectively, they consented when they didn’t object. They not only let it happen, they found incredible justifications for doing so. The choice to respect a political party affiliation is not a sound argument.
Why a Sociocracy Wouldn’t Help
Every compare-and-contrast example I found to illustrate what would be different in a sociocratic government was also an example of why it could be just the same.
A sociocratic governance system is based on self-organization—the expectation of effective leadership and action on the part of all its members. That isn’t encouraged in our present political system. Money dominates as a factor in getting elected and requires loyalty to party and donors before ideas.
Would sociocratic elections conducted between colleagues be different? Only if the colleagues are willing to object as well as consent and make logical arguments in support of their decision.
Strong followers produce strong leaders. The meanings of “strong” include intensity, power, and the ability to engage in sound reasoning on the basis of convincing evidence.
Pointing out fallacies, untruths, and destructive behavior are not corrective objections. They do nothing to challenge or change the system that allows the offenses. Doing one’s best even in the face of daily omnipotent and counter productive actions has the effect of consent. Action brings hard choices and uncertainty. Lack of action has equally hard choices and more certain consequences.
Trump as President Isn’t a Fault of Democracy
Donald Trump is not a symptom of what is wrong with democracy. For those who believe democracy is synonymous with majority vote, I note that he isn’t the result of a majority vote. He lost the election by millions of votes. He was a puppet who won on a technicality cleverly created by a foreign government using US citizens as conspirators to disrupt the election process. The principals didn’t take action to stop it. The failure to act is being revealed daily in the investigation into what actually did happen during the 2017 election. Both causes, manipulation and failure to act, were years in the making.
A strong democracy could have avoided Trumpism. It would have taken an equally strong sociocracy to avoid the same result. There is no promise that sociocratic governments would be inherently stronger. In both it depends on who is willing to commit to action — to consent as an actively supportive action, not passive acquiesence; and objections as a corrective actions, not vetoes.
Disruption, Distraction, and Disrespect
Trumpism feeds on disruption, distraction, and disrespect. It’s only purpose is to defeat whatever system is in place. Aside from the self-aggrandizing quest for more money by Trump and his wealthy supporters, many of those advocating for Trumpism in the Midwest and South believe that anything is better than what we have. If we can get rid of the current system, a new system that is fair to us will be allowed to emerge.
Does anything better ever just emerge?
No, it is created with action. Neither democrats nor sociocrats can guarantee that people will act in their own best interests, or even understand what they are.
I allow myself one rant: I am baffled by journalists who are still trying to attribute Machiavellian intelligence and strategic planning to a pathological narcissist with an instinct for self-preservation who acts entirely on his own obsessive concern with winning by destroying people who “aren’t nice” to him. It is a pointless effort to hope that somewhere in Trumpism there is an intelligent plan, however subversive. It reflects the human need to find order, especially when it doesn’t obviously exist.
*The word equivalence is preferred over equal in sociocratic circles because it is more likely to be interpreted as “equal but not identical.” The equality in sociocratic organizations is related to equality in one’s sphere of responsibility and decision-making authority. It clearly says that having equivalence as a citizen doesn’t mean I can walk into the White House sit down with the National Defense Council and raise objections. I prefer equal because the word is more familiar and I think people know that it means equal respect under the law and equal consideration in one’s social and economic life. Equal, but not identical. And free to self-determine, free of standardization.
Kees Boeke was an internationally known peace activist and educator. During WW II when he was arrested for harboring Jews, in his pocket he had an early draft of a declaration entitled “No Dictatorship.” It could have cost him his life, but he was released. It described a plan for a truly democratic society and was first published in May of 1945 as Sociocracy: Democracy as It Might Be. This version was edited by his wife Beatrice Cadbury Boeke and included here with the permission of his daughter Candia Boeke.
We are so accustomed to majority rule as a necessary part of democracy that it is difficult to imagine any democratic system working without it. It is true that it is better to count heads than to break them, and democracy, even as it is today, has much to recommend it as compared with former practices. But the party system has proved very far from providing the ideal democracy of people’s dreams. Its weaknesses have become clear enough: endless debates in Parliament, mass meetings in which the most primitive passions are aroused, the overruling by the majority of all independent views, capricious and unreliable election results, government action rendered inefficient by the minority’s persistent opposition. Strange abuses also creep in. Not only can a party obtain votes by deplorably underhanded methods, but, as we all know, a dictator can win an election with an “astonishing” majority by intimidation.
The fact is that we have taken the present system for granted for so long that many people do not realize that the party system and majority rule are not an essential part of democracy.
The fact is that we have taken the present system for granted for so long that many people do not realize that the party system and majority rule are not an essential part of democracy. If we really wish to see the whole population united, like a big family, in which the members care for each other’s welfare as much as for their own, we must set aside the quantitative principle of the right of the greatest number and find another way of organizing ourselves. This solution must be really democratic in the sense that it must enable each one of us to share in organizing the community. But this kind of democracy will not depend on power, not even the power of the majority. It will have to be a real community-democracy, an organization of the community by the community itself.
For this concept I shall use the word “sociocracy.” Such a concept would be of little value if it had never been tried out in practice. But its validity has been successfully demonstrated over the years. Anyone who knows England or America will have heard of the Quakers, the Society of Friends. They have had much influence in these countries and are well known for their practical social work. For more than three hundred years the Quakers have used a method of self-government that rejects majority voting, group action being possible only when unanimity has been reached.
I too have found by trying out this method in my school that it really does work, provided there is recognition that the interests of others are as real and as important as one’s own. If we start with this fundamental idea, a spirit of goodwill is engendered which can bind together people from all levels of society and with the most varied points of view. This, my school, with its three to four hundred members, has clearly shown.
As a result of these two experiences, I have come to believe that it should be possible some day for people to govern themselves in this way in a much wider field. Many will be highly skeptical about this possibility. They are so accustomed to a social order in which decisions are made by the majority or by a single person, that they do not realize that, if a group provides its own leadership and everyone knows that only when common agreement is reached can any action be taken, quite a different atmosphere is created from that arising from majority rule. These are two examples of sociocracy in practice; let us hope that its principles may be applied on a national, and finally an international scale.
Before describing how the system could be made to work, we must first see what the problem really is. We want a group of persons to establish a common arrangement of their affairs which all will respect and obey. There will be no executive committee chosen by the majority, having the power to command the individual. The group itself must reach a decision and enter into an agreement on the understanding that every individual in the group will act on this decision and honor this agreement. I have called this the self-discipline of the group. It can be compared to the self-discipline of the individual who has learned to set certain demands for himself that he obeys.
Three Fundamental Rules
There are three fundamental rules underlying the system. The first is that the interests of all members must be considered, the individual bowing to the interests of the whole. Secondly, solutions must be sought which everyone can accept: otherwise no action can be taken. Thirdly, all members must be ready to act according to these decisions when unanimously made.
The spirit that underlies the first rule is really nothing else but concern for one’s neighbor, and where this exists, where there is sympathy for other people’s interests, where love is, there will be a spirit in which real harmony is possible.
The second point must be considered in more detail. If a group in any particular instance is unable to decide upon a plan of action acceptable to every member, it is condemned to inactivity; it can do nothing. This may happen even today where the majority is so small that efficient action is not possible. But in the case of sociocracy there is a way out, since such a situation stimulates its members to seek for a solution, that everyone can accept, perhaps ending in a new proposal, which had not occurred to anyone before.
While under the party system disagreement accentuates the differences and the division becomes sharper than ever, under a sociocratic system, so long as it is realized that agreement must be reached, it activates a common search that brings the whole group nearer together. Something must be added here. If no agreement is possible, this usually means that the present situation must continue for the time being. It might seem that in this way conservatism and reaction would reign, and no progress would be possible. But experience has shown that the contrary is true.
The mutual trust that is accepted as the basis of a sociocratic society leads inevitably to progress, and this is noticeably greater when all go forward together with something everyone has agreed to. Again it is clear that there will have to be “higher-level” meetings of chosen representatives, and if a group is to be represented in such a meeting, it will have to be by someone in whom everyone has confidence. If this does not prove possible, then the group will not be represented at all in the higher-level meeting, and its interests will have to be cared for by the representatives of other groups. But experience has shown that where representation is not a question of power but of trust, the choice of a suitable person can be made fairly easily and without unpleasantness.
The third principle means that when agreement is reached the decision is binding on all who have made it. This also holds of the higher-level meeting for all who have sent representatives to it. There is a danger in the fact that each must keep decisions made in a meeting over which he has only an indirect influence. This danger is common to all such decisions, not least in the party system. But it is much less dangerous where the representatives are chosen by common consent and are therefore much more likely to be trusted.
A group that works in this way should be of particular size. It must be big enough for personal matters to give way to an objective approach to the subject under discussion, but small enough not to be unwieldy, so that the quiet atmosphere needed can be secured. For meetings concerned with general aims and methods a group of about forty has been found the most suitable. But when detailed decisions have to be made, a small committee will be needed of three to six persons or so. This kind of committee is not new. If we could have a look at the countless committees in existence, we should probably find that those that are doing the best work do so without voting. They decide on a basis of common consent. If a vote were to be taken in such a small group, it would usually mean that the atmosphere is wrong.
Of special importance in exercising sociocratic government is the leadership. Without a proper leader unanimity cannot easily be reached. This concerns a certain technique that has to be learnt. Here Quaker experience is of the greatest value. Let me describe a Quaker business meeting. The group comes together in silence. In front sits the Clerk, the leader of the meeting. Beside him sits the Assistant Clerk; who writes down what is agreed upon. The Clerk reads out each subject in turn, after which all members present, men and women, old and young, may speak to the subject. They address themselves to the meeting and not to a chairman, each one making a contribution to the developing train of thought.
It is the Clerk’s duty, when he thinks the right moment has come, to read aloud a draft minute reflecting the feeling of the meeting. It is a difficult job, and it needs much experience and tact to formulate the sense of the meeting in a way that is acceptable to all. It often happens that the Clerk feels the need for a time of quiet. Then the whole gathering will remain silent for a while, and often out of the silence will come a new thought, a reconciling solution, acceptable to everyone.
It may seem unbelievable to many that a meeting of up to a thousand people can be held in this way. And yet I have been present at a Yearly Meeting of the Quakers in London, held during war-time (the First World War), at which the much vexed problem of the Quaker attitude to war was discussed in such a manner, no vote being taken. So I believe that if we once set ourselves the task of learning this method of co-operation, beginning with very simple matters, we shall be able to learn this art and acquire a tradition that will make possible the handling of more difficult questions.
This has been confirmed by my experience at Bilthoven in building up the school which I called the Children’s Community Workshop. Very early on I suggested that we should talk over how we should organize our community life. At first the children objected, saying they wanted me to take the decisions for them. But I insisted, and the idea of the ‘Talkover,” or weekly meeting, was accepted. Later I suggested that one of the children help me with the leadership of the meeting; and from that time on it has become an institution, led by the children, which we should not like to lose.
When I began to hold these Talkovers, I was aware that I was using the procedure of the Quaker business meeting, and I saw in the distance, as it were, the great problem of the government of humanity. It was also curious to discover whether the art of living together, understood as obeying the rule we had all agreed upon, would be simple enough to be learned by children. An experience of some 20 years has shown me that it certainly is.
But something more is necessary before this method can be applied to adult society. When we are concerned, not with a group of a few hundred people, but with thousands, even millions, whose lives we wish to organize in this way, we must accept the principle of some sort of representation. There will have to be higher–level meetings, and these will have to deal with matters concerning a wider area. Higher-level meetings will also have to send representatives to another higher body, which will be responsible for a still wider area, and so on.
After my hopes for the success of school meetings had been confirmed by practice, I was very curious to know if a meeting of representatives would work also in the school. One day when the number of children had grown too large for one general meeting at which all could be present, I suggested the setting up of a meeting of representatives. At first the children did not like the idea; children are conservative. But, as often happens, six months later they suggested the same plan themselves, and since then this institution has become a regular part of the life of the school.
Neighborhood and Ward Meetings
Of course such meetings, if ever they are to be used by adults for the organization of society as a whole, will have a very different character from those of our children’s community. But how in practice could such methods be introduced? First of all, a Neighborhood Meeting, made up of perhaps forty families, might be set up in a particular district, uniting those who live near enough to one another, so that they could easily meet. In a town it very often happens that people do not even know their neighbors, and it will be an advantage if they are forced to take an interest in those who live close by.
The Neighborhood Meeting might embrace about 150 people, including children. About 40 of these Neighborhood Meetings might send representatives to a Ward Meeting, acting for something like 6000 people. In general it will be true to say that the wider the area the Meeting governs the less often it will need to meet. The representatives of about 40 Ward Meetings could come together in a District Meeting, acting for about 240,000 people.
District and Central Meetings
In approximately 40 or 50 District Meetings the whole population of a small country might be covered. The representatives would bring the interests of all the Districts to a Central Meeting. It is an essential condition that representatives have the confidence of the whole group: if they have that, business can usually be carried on quickly and effectively.
Functional Groups: Industries and Professions
As the whole sociocratic method depends on trust, there will be no disadvantage if, alongside the geographical representation of Neighborhood, Ward, District and Central Meetings, a second set of functional groupings be established. It seems reasonable that all industries and professions send representatives to primary, secondary and, where necessary, tertiary meetings, and that the trusted representatives of the “workers” in every field should be available to give their professional advice to the government.
I have here used the word “government”. It is not my intention to put forward a plan according to which the government itself could one day be formed on sociocratic lines. We must start from the present situation, and the only possibility is that, with the government’s consent, we make a beginning of the sociocratic method from the bottom upwards; that is, for the present, with the formation of Neighborhood groups. We, ordinary people, must just learn to talk over our common interests and to reach agreement after quiet consideration, and this can be done best in the place where we live.
Only after we have seen how difficult this is, and after, most probably, making many mistakes, will it be possible to set up meetings on a higher level. If leaders should emerge in the Neighborhood Meetings, their advice would gradually be seen to be useful in the existing Local Councils. Later, in the same way, the advice of leaders of Ward Meetings would be of increasing value.
The sociocratic method must recommend itself by the efficiency with which it works. When the governing power has learnt to trust it enough so as to allow, perhaps even to encourage, the setting up of Neighborhood Meetings, the system will be able to show what possibilities it has, and then the confidence of the governing bodies and of people at large will have a chance to grow. I can well believe that trusted leaders and representatives of Neighborhood Meetings may be allowed, or even invited, to attend Local Meetings.
These men and women will of course take no part in the voting, for sociocracy does not believe in voting; but they might be allowed a place in the centre between the “left” and the “right”. After a time it may even be deemed desirable to ask them for advice about the matter in hand, since it would previously have been discussed in their Neighborhood Meetings, and a solution sought acceptable to all. It is conceivable that, as confidence grows, certain matters might be handed over to the Neighborhood Meetings with the necessary funds to carry them out. Only when the value of the new system is realized, could the higher-level meetings be begun.
Democracy as It Might Be
Is such a development as this a fantasy? When we consider the possible success of government on the sociocratic principle, one thing is certain; it is unthinkable unless it is accompanied and supported by the conscious education of old and young in the sociocratic method. The right kind of education is essential, and here a revolution is needed in our schools. Only latterly have attempts been made in them to further the spontaneous development of the child and encourage his initiative.
Partly because the stated aim of the school is to impart knowledge and skills, and partly because people regard obedience as a virtue in itself, children have been trained to obey. We are only beginning to realize the dangers of this practice. If children are not taught to judge for themselves, they will in later life become an easy prey for the dictator. But if we really want to prepare youth to think and act for themselves, we must alter our attitude to education.
The children should not be sitting passively in rows, while the schoolmaster drills a lesson into their heads. They should be able to develop freely in children’s communities, guided and helped by those who are older acting as their comrades. Initiative should be fostered in every possible way. They should learn from the beginning to do things for themselves, and to make things necessary in their school life. But above all they should learn how to run their own community in some such way as has already been described.
A World Meeting
Finally we must return to the question of representation. We have not gone further than the government of our own country. But the great problem of the government of mankind can never be solved on a national basis. Every country is dependent for raw materials and products on other countries. It is therefore inevitable that the system of representation should be extended over a whole continent and representatives of continents join in a World Meeting to govern and order the whole world.
Our technical skill in the fields of transport and organization make something of this kind possible. Finally a World Meeting should invite representatives of all the continents to arrange a reasonable distribution of all raw materials and products, making them available for all mankind. So long as we are ruled by fear and distrust, it is impossible to solve the problems of the world. The more trust grows and the more fear diminishes, the more the problem will shrink.
A New Spirit of Reconciliation and Trust
Everything depends on a new spirit breaking through among men. May it be that, after the many centuries of fear, suspicion and hate, more and more a spirit of reconciliation and mutual trust will spread abroad. The constant practice of the art of sociocracy and of the education necessary for it seem to be the best way in which to further this spirit, upon which the real solution of all world problems depends.
(Subtitles and additional paragraphs have been added to improve readability on computer screens.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
How could an ignorant, racist, misogynist, isolationist, tax-evading, sex abuser, and financial fraud with orange hair and no respect for factual information be nominated by a major party to become the American President? Is he another Hitler?
I’ve been thanked for my efforts at trying to help international readers understand the American election. I wish I had something reassuring to say about Donald Trump. Admittedly it is not much solace, but most Americans, even those planning to vote for Trump, are wondering the same thing.
The only solace for the sociocratic readers of this blog, is that in a sociocratic government those with no information or ability would not be directly electing a president. The decision would more likely be made in the Senate. And they senate would be accountable for their decision.
Trump. Another Hitler?
The forces that contributed to the rise of Trump have eery similarities to those of Hitler. The massive details of military and political analysis of Hitler’s reign overshadow the social forces that allowed it to happen. Like Trump, Hitler was a product of the people and his ability to attract and manipulate the disaffected and angry.
A unique picture of the social life in Berlin in 1933, Hitler’s first year in office, is Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin. It is based on the letters of a party-girl and aspiring writer who was the daughter of the American Ambassador to Germany that year. William Dodd was a University of Chicago historian appointed by Roosevelt to one of the least desired diplomatic posts. With nothing better to do, his daughter Martha, went along and unknown to her father became a Nazi agent.
In the Garden of Beasts is chilling. Without the distracting details of Hitler’s amassing of troops and the building of a bureaucracy to execute his plans, a narrative based on Martha’s letter reveals more clearly the social conditions that allowed Hitler to take power. The classes that could have acted were essentially dismissive of the shrimp with the shrill voice. The paid him no mind.
Elegant and lavish parties continued, now with Nazi officers in attendance. Martha considered it “interesting” when she was asked to meet Hitler as a potential lover. Like other world leaders, the American government refused to listen to Dodd’s warnings that Germany under Hitler was more dangerous than they wanted to believe. They preferred to stay willfully ignorant.
That world leaders fear a Trump presidency is not the strength that Trump seems to believe it is. Even Putin, who was reported to be looking forward to manipulating Trump, has stopped efforts to discredit Hillary Clinton so Trump could win the election. Even Putin is now afraid of Trump’s erratic behavior. Trump says yes and acts no. He ignores national security briefings.
Neither Were Taken Seriously
Like Trump with his orange hair, Hitler was viewed as a joke with his comical moustache. Neither were considered to be possible of success. The Republican party that voted to make Trump their nominee did not contest his ability to be president or whether he agreed with their conservative views. They didn’t try to stop him by joining in support of one of his competitors. They expected Trump to fail. And who expected Hitler to succeed?
Once nominated, party leaders did nothing to persuade Trump to withdraw. As a result their party is in shambles from conflict and despair. The many Republicans running for re-election fear defeat in his wake. And everyone with any sense is afraid.
Like Trump, Hitler had no respect or interest in factual information. He gave bombastic speeches in which he said whatever would mobilize his crowds.
Violence Against Minorities
Like Hitler, Trump uses violence to intimidate protesters and threaten minorities. He encourages angry people who want any excuse to be physically and verbally abusive to be violent and even criminal. “I will pay for your lawyers.” Hitler gave soldiers and mobs the right to beat up anyone on the street who failed to say “Heil Hitler” and salute when troops, or even one soldier passed by.
Hitler targeted minorities as the source of impurities in the true German race. The Jews were 1% of the population. Other religious minorities were even smaller. Nazi soldiers freely patronized gay clubs in Berlin but then gays were also sent to the camps. The minorities were isolated socially in the traditionally Catholic country so they were easily blamed for everything wrong with society—despite their low numbers. Trump accuses minorities of being responsible for the rising crime rates, even though crime rates are declining. He wants to export all the illegal immigrants with no definition of illegal or realistic plans for doing so.
Hitler said the German race had become polluted by minorities. He fostered fantasies of the greatness of the once pure Germany and vowed to return it. Trump promises to “Make America Great Again.” And his voters see themselves in the middle of that greatness.
Isolation and Narrow Advice
Like Trump, Hitler was also isolated from the advice and influence of anyone except his chosen few—those who supported him without question. He could turn in an instant on anyone who expressed criticism of him. Trump turns on those who don’t like him.
All Trump’s advisors come out of or are associated with the same extreme right organization. And every month the number has become smaller and smaller as they resign in frustration or embarrassment.
A Dangerous Protest Vote
The support of Trump is a protest vote and very personal. His supporters blame the government for every economic and social ill. They believe nothing could be worse than what they have. They just want something different. Trump is as different as anyone could find.
The wealth in America is still upside down. The top 1% earns 25 times more than the other 99%. Every economic analyst says Trump’s economic policies will make it worse and increasing the national debt as well. His supporters don’t take this seriously. They have been promised change for decades by people who were supposed to have good economic policies and they are still living too close to subsistence.
America has a strong economy and jobs are increasing by ~150,000 a month. Wages are beginning to rise again. But the people listening to Trump and vowing to vote for him aren’t experiencing it. Or if they are, they don’t trust it.
Trump voters don’t believe that Trump is exploiting them to serve his own narcissistic needs. They want him to shake things up. They want change. Instead of change, he will more likely cause economic gridlock and public riots.
The content of Hitler’s speeches was ignored. With Trump they say, “Yes, he said that but he doesn’t mean it.” And they laugh.
False Explanations, False Promises
Trump supporters want new promises. Trump uses false causes to give them false promises that are too easily believed. Some political analysts say that people wake up in the ballot booth and become more realistic. And that many of the people who support Trump don’t vote anyway.
Jerry Koch-Gonzalez is one of the most devoted and active teachers and trainers of sociocracy today. The breadth and degree of his enthusiasm and commitment are masked by his quiet and unassuming manner. At the cohousing conference in 2015, I was almost an hour late for my presentation because I had remembered the wrong time. When I arrived everyone was intently focused on the other end of the room. I couldn’t even get their attention when I started introducing myself and apologizing.
Jerry had jumped in for me, pulled out his charts from somewhere, and started giving an introduction to sociocracy. Then he was taking questions. People were mesmerized. Anytime, anywhere, Jerry will give a basic explanation and answer questions.
Jerry does frequent training both on site and via webinars. Check the Sociocracy for All (Sofa website for the next sessions and their location.
A New Venture: Sociocracy for All (Sofa)
Jerry’s new venture is Sociocracy for All (Sofa). He is the project director and the core trainer. The purpose is to spread sociocracy. Jerry has taught sociocracy for a long time is part of several sociocratic organizations. But it is practice that shows the beauty of sociocracy. One can teach and explain but really it is the doing that excites people.
Sociocracy For All was created to help organizations that cannot afford to hire consultants. SoFA helps these organizations find support for learning and implementing Sociocracy.
Sociocracy For All raises funds to support the development of educational materials that can be freely distributed and to subsidize the cost of consultants. Organizations that can pay the full cost of implementing Sociocracy are referred to The Sociocracy Consulting Group (of which Jerry Koch-Gonzalez is the CEO).
Sociocracy For All is a volunteer organization sponsored by the Institute for Peaceable Communities, Inc. For delivery of services beyond the capacity of volunteers, we contract out work to independent consultants. Eventually we may have paid staff.
It is a 12-week sociocracy immersion learning program, done remotely and by doing sociocracy in a pop-up organization that we are setting up for people. Anyone anywhere in the world who can make the commitment and speaks English can apply. This is an innovative way of teaching governance, and I hope we can spread learning quickly and effectively. We noticed that we can talk and talk about sociocracy and people are convinced that sociocracy sounds good, but they don’t understand it until they actually make decisions by consent. We want to give people that experience. SoLT is the best way we can think of to give affordable, practical access to this experience to people, and through the SoLT project they can even contribute to the spread of sociocracy!
Jerry will also be teaching a full-day sociocracy workshop in Brooklyn on two dates: September 17 and 18, 2016. These are sponsored by the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture in Brooklyn, New York. A 90-minute introduction Sociocracy: the Operating System of the New Economy will be hosted by the Social Enterprise Greenhouse in Providence RI on September 26, 2016 at 5:30pm. More information and registration for these workshops, see
While others like John Buck have more experience in government agencies, institutions, and businesses, and Diana Leafe Christian with intentional communities, Jerry has a long history with social and economic change beginning as a trainer with The Movement for a New Society in the 1970s. A list of his affiliations reveals his long-term interest in practical social reform.
He has been a Board member of the Institute for Community Economics , United for a Fair Economy and Class Action, and a trainer with the National Coalition Building Institute, DiversityWorks, Cambridge Youth Peace & Justice Corps, Lesley College Center for Peaceable Schools, Boston College Center for Social Justice, the Association for Resident Controlled Housing, and Spirit in Action. His commitment has out lived many of these organizations.
Jerry is currently the CEO of The Sociocracy Consulting Group (itself a limited liability company run on sociocratic principles). Jerry is a founding and current resident of Pioneer Valley Cohousing, a 21-year old community in Amherst MA that has been successfully using Sociocracy for more than four years.
In the last ten years, the village of Ashton Hayes in Cheshire, England with a population of 936+ has taken on climate change by becoming carbon neutral. So far it has reduced its carbon emissions by 24%. To accomplish this, it adopted apolitical, voluntary self-governance—and combined it with a bit of fun.
“We just think everyone should try to clean up their patch. And rather than going out and shouting about it, we just do it.” Rosemary Dossett is talking about climate change.
One of their secrets was not asking for help from the government or having sit-ins to make the government pay attention. The people of Ashton Hayes took charge and began meeting together to combat climate change on their own. Moment to moment. Day to day. One home at a time. Voluntarily. No regulations. And with a light-hearted view of the end of the world.
Self Governance, No Politics
In January 2006, when their representative in Parliament came to their first public meeting, he was told he could not make a speech. “This is not about you tonight, this is about us, and you can listen to what we’ve got to say for a change.”
No politician has ever been allowed to address the Ashton Hayes group. As the villagers said, involving the government would introduce party politics and divide the group along ideological lines. This a rather negative comment on government but exactly right. A government based entirely on “the majority decides” develops strong sub-alliances to amass enough votes to become the majority. This leads to vote-trading that has little or nothing to do with purposes. Ashton Hayes avoided this by identifying their purpose clearly as going carbon neutral and focusing their attention on that, not whose approach would win.
Ashton Hayes’ Carbon Neutral Actions
Carbon neutral is a precise measurement, and Ashton Hayes associated its accomplishment with specific measurable actions:
Urge people to cut down on their energy requirements,
Install solar panels at commercial, community and residential areas,
Set up wind turbines behind the public buildings,
Ask local authorities to link schools, railway stations and communities via footpaths,
Encourage biking and walking,
Avoid pre-packed vegetables, instead focused more on growing them,
Raise the community spirit among the masses,
Install an electricity-led sustainable biodiesel CHP boiler in the school.
Replace coal-fired central heating with a combination of oil and wood,
Use solar power to supply top-up heat,
Use reclaimed materials where practicable, e.g., doors, sanitary ware/ furniture and feature items,
Reduce heat loss,
Convert main cars to LPG,
Recycle gray water,
Gather wood locally from fallen trees, and,
Utilize excess soil from drainage to raise gardens
Roy Alexander, a physical geologist and professor of Environmental Sustainability at the University of Chester is supporting the effort. He teaches sustainability for Community and Business and consults with communities on carbon emissions reduction. A surprising 650 people, two-thirds of the village population showed up to the first meeting. And 99.4% of the population is now participating. At whatever level of participation each resident is achieving, these are stunning figures. Could you get two-thirds of your community to attend a meeting on climate change?
Apolitical, Voluntary, and Having a Bit of Fun
A former journalist Garry Charnock, who has lived in the village for decades began the effort after hearing a lecture on climate change at the annual literary gathering, Hay Festival in Wales. With a background in civil engineering and hydrology, he decided to try to get Ashton Hayes to become Britain’s first carbon-neutral village. “But even if we don’t, let’s try to have a little fun.”
There is no finger-pointing or guilt tripping. And no doomsday scenarios that would be overwhelming and trigger avoidance. The village focuses on understanding what could be with simple habit changes and better technology.
“Some of the changes are so easy, just put on a sweater instead of turning on the heat.” And plant trees to soak up carbon dioxide.
Some have converted cottages into energy-efficient homes with triple glazed windows, photovoltaic cells on the roof, and geothermal heat pumps. Underground cisterns collect rainwater that is used for toilets and watering the gardens. The whole village is now punctuated with wind turbines and solar panels.
But their greatest success from the sociocratic point of view is assuming that self-governance can work, being practical and non-judgmental, and being inclusive. Accomplishing their goals. And becoming an example for small towns that are now flocking to Ashton Hayes to find out how they did it.
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? 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.
Zakaria 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!”
Trump 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
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.
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.
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.
“These trees are friends,” he said, craning his neck to look at the leafless crowns, black against a gray sky. “You see how the thick branches point away from each other? That’s so they don’t block their buddy’s light.”
Trees Take Care of Each Other
Trees in the forest are social beings. “They can count, learn and remember; nurse sick neighbors; warn each other of danger by sending electrical signals across a fungal network known as the “Wood Wide Web.” They keep ancient stumps alive for centuries by feeding them a sugar solution through their roots.
“Trees, like people, wrinkle as they age. Sometimes, pairs like this are so interconnected at the roots that when one tree dies, the other one dies, too.”
Wohlleben applies anthropomorphic terms liberally, describing how trees talk rather than communicate. “Scientific language removes all the emotion.… When I say, ‘Trees suckle their children,’ everyone knows immediately what I mean.” He wants to reawaken a childlike fascination of the forest. Hidden Life has sold 320,000 copies and has been optioned for translation in 19 countries (available in the US in September).
The literature on the behavior of trees explains how trees are less like individuals and more like communal beings. They are stronger when working together in networks and sharing resources. Artificially spacing out trees so they get more sunlight and grow faster can disconnect them from their resilience mechanisms. They need more insecticides to maintain themselves..
Increasing Social and Economic Value
In private forests in Switzerland and Germany, the wood produced is more valuable. In one forest, “When they wanted to buy a car, they cut two trees. For us, two trees would buy you a pizza.”
Ten years ago, Wohlleben left the forestry service discouraged. He had led a successful program in which people could adopt a tree and for a contribution, bury cremated remains beneath it but the forestry service was not supportive or this or similar efforts. As Wohlleben planned to move to Sweden, the city of Hümmel in the Eifel forest also left and hired him to manage their trees.
Now in fully in charge, Wohlleben replaced heavy machinery with horses, eliminated insecticides, and experimented with letting the woods grow wilder. “Within two years, the forest went from loss to profit, in part by eliminating expensive machinery and chemicals.”
A Symbol for Sociocracy, and Metaphors in Practice
The opportunities for metaphors are obviously numerous and I suspect it will be a fruitful joining of ideas based on the biology of trees.
Peter Wohlleben’s website list the many books he has written on biology, nature, and the forest. This is just the latest. I look forward to reading the book in September. Some of you will get to it faster.
In my neighborhood we have a large email list designed for neighbor to neighbor conversation and requests for help. A frequent request is a phone number for help with city services. The current problem is needing the city to enforce parking regulations when a life may be at risk because a driveway is blocked. The lack of response from city governments reveals structural issues that as in other bureaucracies will be hard to fix.
The person whose driveway is often blocked is referred by 911 to the parking violations department. Parking violations treats it like an expired meter. They ticket when they ticket. No response to a potentially critical issue. They aren’t designed for that. Their only recourse is to place the complaint at the bottom of a long list of towing tasks. Days later when the tow truck shows up, the car is no longer there. The next day another is in its place.
In the moment, the severely asthmatic won’t reach the emergency room without an expensive ambulance ride and the added anxiety of waiting.
A blocked driveway is different from an expired parking meter or a car parked too close to a corner. The existing policy means the workers are bound to fail. Unless they violate the policy.
Structural Issues in Government
The lack of response is the result of a structural issue, not a personal or department failure in a specific instance. Since a representative of a council member’s office has now intervened to solve the problem, that is probably how it will appear inside the department. Easier to blame one person or team of people than to address policy.
If the city had an appropriate policy, this would be classified as a life or death risk, not a parking violation. It would receive a response designed to avoid emergencies. With permission, the parking department might also make recommendations to the homeowner for making the driveway appear to be more obviously active, not like an unused alley. Parking people are on the street every day and know the characteristics of places where cars park illegally as well as legally. I wonder if the street and design department talks to the parking violations department? The Meter Maids?
The need is for a clear definition of the problem and a change in policy and practice. As in most bureaucracies, a policy decision like this can only be made at the top levels by a commissioner or even the city council. A single potentially dangerous parked car, however, in a city of parked cars can’t compete with a failing educational system or a city-wide epidemic. Correcting parking policies isn’t a priority. It can take years to change them.
Policy Decisions at Appropriate Levels
In a dynamically organized government based on the principles of sociocracy, the structure would allow a policy to be developed and implemented by the responsible department. Within the larger policies governing the city, the people responsible for safe parking would decide how they will accomplish their purpose.
Many governments follow the practice of defining objectives, measuring effects, and evaluating performance. But this is often done at an abstract level. Numbers, often collated with the statistics from other departments, seem unrelated to day-to-day operations. In response to numbers, changes are made by those several levels removed from those governed by them. Instead of corrections in policy and structural issues, evaluations often result in personnel changes or reorganizations. Morale falls and new problems emerge.
In dynamic governance, the organization would:
recognize a blocked driveway as a distinct policy issue not covered in the parking violations policy, and
allow policy to be determined by the department. They directly experience the problem and can most quickly and effectively address it.
In addition to being more effective, correcting structural issues avoids all the unnecessary sturm und drang and time wasted in trying to apply ineffective policies.
Are Policy Decisions at the Level of Parking Enforcement Possible?
I know your first objection will be that the parking meter people and the tow truck drivers are not equipped to make policy decisions. And they are not in charge of their own budget. But I think we need to give it a try because;
These people know more about parking and parking problems than any of us. We only know our own parking problems.
They are our neighbors and are as smart as we are. Inattention and playing dumb is one way to get complaining citizens off your back when there is nothing they can do.
They might not know how to phrase a policy in formal government language — which is probably a good thing— but they know which words work in parking. That’s all they need to know.
Dynamic governance also requires continuing education for everyone (5% of budget) so they can learn about practices in other cities and how city planning effects parking.
When a department’s numbers come out dramatically better in the next review, it will get the budget it needs and be trusted to spend it wisely. But more probably, performance will be so much more effective and their workload brought under control, so more funds will be available within the existing budget.
A related issue is job satisfaction. While some people just want to show up for work and push a broom where they are directed to push it. Others are deeply involved with the issues of green cleaning and more effective service. Organizations, especially governments, often fail to recognize or use this energy.
A 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?
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.
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.
In an excellent article in the 10 September 2015 issue of the Harvard Business Review Georges Romme analyzes the misconceptions in the press about Holacracy and about sociocracy, “The Big Misconceptions Holding Holacracy Back.” Romme has been centrally involved with Gerard Endenburg and sociocracy for decades. The following is a summary and commentary on Romme’s article, which I also encourage you to read.
A key management practices is concentrating leadership in top management and suppressing or ignoring any ideas or concerns from other levels of the organization. Self management, like that in sociocracy, is believed to correct autocratic leadership but the misconceptions about how it does that have seriously affected the willingness of organizations, businesses in particular, from adopting it.
Misconceptions about Sociocracy
Romme focuses on three misconceptions:
It is non-hierarchical,
Implementation specifics aren’t important, and
The board’s functioning shouldn’t be affected.
Since sociocracy approaches the whole concept of organization from an unfamiliar direction it is often misunderstood, as can be clearly seen in descriptions in the news media of the implementation of Holacracy at Zappos. While certainly not the first corporation to implement principles and practices of self management — there probably thousands of businesses, non-profit organizations, and associations using sociocracy and other self management structures—Zappos has received the most attention for doing so.
Misconception 1. Abandonment of Hierarchy
Although self management methods are fundamentally different from command-and-control structures, they still have a hierarchy that provides an overall purpose and direction for the organization. A lack of hierarchy leaves an organization without a clear sense of who is accountable for what. While some are moving to a structure more similar to a network, they still have a clear patterns of coordination and accountability between nodes.
Self management, self-organization, and distributed policy decisions balance and complement the hierarchy of daily operations. “Power and authority can flow in virtually any direction, but with an eye to maximizing efficiency … Instead of conferring authority, the hierarchy establishes an unambiguous sequence of levels of accountability.”
Misconception 2: The goal justifies any means.
Once the blueprint of the new organizational structure has been adopted, the misconception is that any implementation strategy is acceptable. The ends justifies the means. At Zappos, the CEO sent a memo to employees — embrace holacracy or accept a buyout. Empowering employees was thus expected to be the result of exercising authority. A mixed message that could lead to mixed results.***
The implementation process must itself be empowering and include employees’ ideas and ensuring that they understand and embrace the change. The best approach is for the top executives to tend to their own responsibilities and allow the employees to self-organize with the help of a dedicated implementation team.
“The pace of change must also be deliberate and well-orchestrated. The brand-strategy consulting firm Fabrique, for example, first defined shared objectives and had a project team pilot-test whether sociocracy served to realize those objectives. Then, on the basis of the evidence collected, it had the project team, together with the executive team, make a shared “go/no-go” decision (the result was a “go”). An approach like this signals top managers’ deep understanding of distributed management and leadership and establishes them as role models.”
Misconception 3: The boardroom is unaffected.
Executives and directors often try to take themselves out of the process as if the change only affects operations and middle managers. They assume they will still have autocratic power over any decisions made. But sociocracy requires a fundamental redistribution of authority in the whole organization. There are mechanisms for measurement and correction but how a team or department accomplishes its mission is under their control as long as it doesn’t negatively affect the work of another or is in conflict with the purpose of the organization.
The distribution of management optimally extends to a financial restructuring so neither owner or shareholders can unilaterally sell or close the company. The company should “own itself” and be financially self sustaining. Endenburg Elektrotechniek and MyWheels, in the Netherlands, and the Terra Viva Group in Brazil are examples of companies that have restructured financially to ensure their independence and continuity.
A self-sustaining company is different from an employee-owned company. Employee owned companies are just as often managed autocratically as private companies and stockholder owned corporations. A completely sociocratic company is controlled equally by all its members, not the board.
Integral Education & Distributed Management
Another practice in sociocracy, one not mentioned by Romme, is that the move toward distributed management and self-organization is balanced with strong support for continuing education. Referred to as “Integral education” it requires a plan for personal and team development as part of annual planning. One estimate is that organizations should devote 5% of their budget to education and research for employees, not only for top management and aside from that delegated to a research department. That is 5% distributed to each employee at all levels of the organization.
Integral education ensures quality in every detail of operations, engages the intelligence and energy of each employee, and develops the skills required to assume greater responsibilities. The expectation of self-organization develops leadership, which further ensures the sustainability of the company.
Georges Romme has a background in economics and business administration, with a MSc in economics (cum laude) from Tilburg University and a doctoral degree in business administration from Maastricht University. Previously, he was on the staff of Tilburg University and Maastricht University. His current position is professor of Entrepreneurship & Innovation at Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e). From 2007 to 2014 he also served as dean of the Industrial Engineering & Innovation Sciences department. He is author of the forthcoming The Quest for Professionalism: The Case of Management and Entrepreneurship (Oxford University Press).
*** An added comment on Tony Hsieh’s memo of 26 March 2015 to Zappos employees:
While Tony Hsieh did say “we are going to take a ‘rip the bandaid’ approach to accelerate progress towards becoming a Teal organization (as described in the book Reinventing Organizations),” he also went on to explain at length how further implementation of Holacracy at Zappos would take place and how. The process was very well considered and explained.
The very long memo gave many options for understanding the reasons for acceleration toward self-management, including readings. His memo was described in the press as an “ultimatum” and there would be a tendency for employees accustomed to an autocratic leadership to view it this way. In fact, it was a request that employees inform themselves and offering a buy-out to those who did not want to accept self-management.
I softened the language in this passage and in several places used “self management” instead of “distributed management.” It is more accurate to describe the organizational structure as “self management” and “distributed policy decisions.”
The only way to stop elections by money, the spiral of overwhelming political campaign expenses, is to stop political campaigns. We elect people to do the work of governance, not to prove themselves experts at printing signs, inventing slogans and soundbites, and speaking at campaign financing dinners. Campaigns are a major distraction from quality leadership. They are undemocratic and produce undemocratic governments. Political campaigns are about the rich. What the rich want, what the rich will pay for, and what the rich get for their money.
Rich is relative, of course. In a local campaign a person doesn’t have to be as rich as a Mitt Romney, or even a Hillary Clinton. They just have to be richer than the other candidates or rubbing elbows with people richer than the people with whom other candidates rub elbows.
Bad Ecology, Socially and Environmentally
In the meantime, landscapes are littered and the sewer systems clogged with campaign signs and flyers. Campaign advisors and pollsters work to trick the public into thinking their candidate will cure whatever the voters need cured, and do it cheaper than it can be done. Television, radio, and newspapers get richer as campaign ads flood the market and provide guaranteed income for the media, a media which is increasingly owned by a small number of rich people. Candidates spend more time at super-expensive dinners that only the rich can afford than they spend talking to the people they supposedly represent.
A political campaign based on the quality of the candidate doesn’t exist and may never have. Quality campaigns do not guarantee the quality of the candidate and excellent candidates can run horrible campaigns. Who wants to elect a campaign?
None of this produces better governance.
The Role of Government
The role of government is to organize and manage our collective resources for the good of all. To establish codes of conduct that ensure fair play and safety for all. And to oversee the use and distribution of those resources and the enforcement of those codes of behavior fairly and equally for all. To create a democracy.
Tinkering with campaign financing is as distracting and unproductive as the need for financing campaigns. The need is the core issue. To create a deeper democracy, we need to eliminate the necessity for campaign financing.
Candidates should be elected by people who know their work and are in the best position to know how well they serve our collective interests. Peers should elect peers.
This would create a system in which people vote for people they know and not for people they don’t know. Sociocratic elections are the only democratic elections.
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.
Both two examples of sociocratic bylaws posted on Sociocracy.info are based on legally filed documents. They that sociocratic principles and practices can be specified and legally approved. The Bylaws for a Sociocratic Business are based on those of a LLC registered in Delaware. The Bylaws for a Sociocratic Organization is based on the bylaws of an advocacy organization incorporated in Washington DC.
Bylaws for sociocratic organizations and associations differ from those of sociocratic businesses only in tone and the specific provisions for each business or organizational model. Public corporations will have investors, for example, and non-profit associations will have members. Each will require specifying the rights of their stakeholders.
These examples may be adapted for associations, clubs, corporations, intentional communities, condominiums, cooperatives, small businesses, etc. Some clauses may not apply and others will need to be amplified or added to meet the legal requirements of your county, province, or state.
The sections that specify sociocracy as the governance structure and consent as the method of decision-making, however, are usually the same. Titles may change to follow the customary practice in a particular field, but this is not a substantial difference.
Powers of the Board of Directors
People are most often concerned about the requirements for a Board of Directors that has certain powers. Typically a Board has life and death power over an organization while a sociocratic Top Circle does not. A Top Circle has unique responsibilities, as does a Board, but does not have the power to dissolve or sell the business or organization.
Most requirements for Boards can be accommodated by stating that the Board of Directors is identical to the Top Circle and by understanding that the Board may be responsible by law for certain decisions but that doesn’t mean it has to have the sole power to make them. These decisions can be delegated. The role of the Board becomes to ratify the decisions ensuring that they were made using proper process and assuming shared responsibility for the outcome.
The second concern is the typical requirement of majority vote for most if not all decisions of the Board. The minimum for majority vote is usually 51% of those present and voting, or 50% plus one when 50% produces a fraction. The requirement of consent is 100% of those present and consenting. Since the 51% majority is included in the 100% consenting, this requirement is satisfied.
Part of the reason majority vote is required is to ensure that a minimum number of members have approved a decision. Some organizations require a “super majority” of 80% or even 98%. Another reason for requiring majority vote is to ensure that decisions get made. The majority can decide to move forward when there is dissension that endangers the organization.
The same conflict might occur in sociocratic organizations, but they use a different solution. When consent cannot be reached, the decision goes to an expert, one who is a member of the Board if appropriate, or to another expert capable of making an informed decision.
These examples are for reference only. Laws differ significantly between jurisdictions. Professional legal advice is required to ensure that the laws protecting your organization have been addressed and that your bylaws have been properly and unambiguously worded. A missing comma can dramatically and disastrously change the meaning.
In addition to helping you understand what is included in bylaws, these examples will help you draft your own bylaws for your lawyer and then modify them as advised. This allows your organization to make many of its decisions before becoming overwhelmed with external expectations and legalese.
For decades, Plain English has been taught as the standard in the legal field. But because they are still in the computer, many law firms are still using boiler plate legal phrases from the mid 20th century. Insist that your documents be written in Plain English.
This example is for an organization is based on the bylaws of a membership advocacy organization incorporated in Washington DC. It may be adapted for associations, intentional communities, condominiums, cooperatives, etc. It includes the key clauses for establishing a sociocratic governance structure and consent as the basis of decision-making.
Depending on the organization, some clauses may not apply and others will need to be amplified or added. For example, your organization may be solely membership based or have no members. Or be a condominium homeowner associations or a cooperative food coop.
Changes to the sections unrelated to the governance structure should follow the laws of the jurisdiction and organizational preferences. Those concerning sociocratic governance and decision-making can almost always be adapted to local requirements. The most common requirements are for a Board of Directors with certain powers. This can be accommodated by stating that the Board of Directors identical with the Top Circle. The second usual requirement is for majority vote. Since the minimum majority vote is usually 51%, or 50% plus one when 50% produces a fraction, this is included in the requirement of consent which would be equal to 100%.
This document is for reference only and does not constitute legal advice. Because laws differ between jurisdictions, professional legal advice is required to ensure that all the legal requirements for your organization are included and properly worded.
It can be helpful, however, to draft your own bylaws for your lawyer and then add and modify as advised. This allows you to make many decisions before becoming overwhelmed with the legalese in which many legal documents are written. If you are provided with sample documents, insist that they be written in Plain English. Plain English has been the standard for decades though many lawyers are still using standard legal phrases from the 19th century.
(Appendix E is an example for incorporated or limited liability businesses.)
Bylaws FOR A SOCIOCRATIC Organization
1. Description 2. Principles of Governance 3. Governance Structure 4. Circle Governance 5. Decision-Making 6. Board of Directors 7. Elections & Terms 8. Meetings 9. Members 10. Advisory Council 11. Financial Practices 12. Annual Report 13. Indemnification 14. Amendments 15. Dissolution
Addendum: Conflict of Interest and Confidentiality Agreement
1.1 Name & Affiliations
The name of the organization is the [name]. The Organization is [description of the organization].
Wherever “Organization” appears, substitute the name or shortened name of the association. A definition of terms should also be added. What does “member” mean for example.
1.2 Legal Structure
The Organization is a nonprofit organization incorporated under the laws of [jurisdiction] exclusively for charitable and educational purposes within the meaning of Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as now enacted or hereafter amended, including making distributions to similar organizations for the same purposes.
1.3 Vision, Mission, and Aim
The strategy and policies of the Organization will be directed toward realizing its vision, mission, and aim.
The vision of the Organization, the dream that inspires it, is a [vision statement].
The mission of the Organization, that will make the vision tangible, is to [statement of mission].
The aim of the Organization, the products and services that realize its mission, shall be to [statement of aim].
The Organization shall be governed according to the principles of sociocratic governance as specified in § 2, Sociocratic Governance.
2. SOCIOCRATIC GOVERNANCE
Sociocratic governance shall be defined as a method of governance that delegates policy making to all levels of the organization and establishes equivalence between its members within their domain of responsibility.
The principles and methods of sociocratic governance develop:
a. Strong leadership and clear delegation;
b. Self-governance, self-organization, and cooperation;
c. The ability to apply scientific theory and methods; and
d. Responsibility for continuing profession development.
2.3 Governing Principles
Three principles are essential to sociocratic governance:
2.3.1 The Principle of Consent
Consent governs policy decision-making. Except as required by law and as otherwise stated in these bylaws, policy decisions shall be made with the consent of those they directly affect. Consent shall be defined as having “no reasoned objections” and as further defined in §§ 5.2, Consent and 4.2, Limitations of Consent.
Policy decisions are defined in §5.3, Definition of Policy.
2.3.2 The Principle of Circles
The Organization shall govern itself through a circular hierarchy of semi-autonomous, self-organizing circles that are responsible for policy decisions within their domain. Circles and the circular hierarchy are further defined and described in §3 Governance Structure.
2.3.3 The Principle of Double-Links
In the hierarchical structure of circles, a lower circle shall be double-linked to the next higher circle by the operations leader and one or more representatives of the lower circle as described in §§ 3, Governance Structure and 4.2, Circle Officers.
2.3.4 The Principle of Consent Elections
Except as required by law, circle members shall elect people to functions and tasks by consent as described in §2.1 Election Process.
3. GOVERNANCE STRUCTURE
3.1 A Circular Hierarchy of Circles
The governance of the Organization shall be structured as a circular hierarchy formed by double linked, semi-autonomous circles that reflect the operations of the organization. A circular hierarchy shall be defined as one in which each circle by means of representative participation in the next higher circle must consent to the policy decisions that affect its domain. Circles are thus linked in an apparently linear hierarchy but policy decision-making forms a feedback loop with each circle occupying a place in the loop.
3.2 Circle Definition
A circle includes every person with a common aim who has a significant role in the operations of a department or unit of the Organization. Circle members meet with to make policy decisions within their domain of responsibility. Circle responsibilities are further defined in §§ 5.1, Domain of Decision-making, and 4, Circle Governance.
3.3 Circle Limitations
No circle’s policies shall conflict with the law, these bylaws, the principles and methods of sociocratic governance as defined in these bylaws, or the policies of other circles.
3.4 Circle Membership
Except for the Board of Directors as defined in §6 Board of Directors, a circle shall include all members of the organization who have significant roles in the circle’s operations, whether they are paid or volunteer staff. Each circle shall define “significant roles” and shall be as inclusive as possible while ensuring (1) the stable functioning of the circle and (2) the ability of its members to deliberate with a consistent membership.
3.4.2 Consent to Members
Circle members shall have the right to consent to new members.
Within the circle meeting, the principle of consent shall be used to ensure that all circle members are equivalent in decision-making.
Circles shall be of a size that allows inclusive and efficient deliberations, generally no larger than 40 members with 20 being the optimal maximum.
3.5 Board of Directors or Top Circle
The Board of Directors shall be identical to the Top Circle, the highest circle in a sociocratically governed organization. Except as required by law or as otherwise stated in these bylaws the board shall function according to the provisions of §4 Circle Governance, and be subject to any provisions of these bylaws and all the Organization’s rules and regulations.
Board-specific requirements for composition, powers, and responsibilities as required by the [state] are specified in § 5.6 Decisions of the Board of Directors, and § 6, Board of Directors.
3.6 General Management Circle
The general management or coordinating circle shall manage the operations of the Organization within the limits set by the Board. It shall consist of the managing director, and the operations leader and one or more representatives from each department circle.
3.7 Department Circles
Each department circle shall consist of the operations leader and members of the department circle and, if it has responsibility for other circles, the operations leaders and at least one representative of those circles.
3.8 Further Subdivision
The hierarchical pattern established in §§ 3.2–3.3, shall be repeated throughout the Organization.
3.9 Circle Names
Circle names are for illustration only and may be changed as desired and appropriate as long as the hierarchical chain of leadership, representation, and delegation is clear.
4. CIRCLE GOVERNANCE
4.1 Circle Responsibilities
Each circle, within the limits set by the next higher circle, shall:
a. Determine and control its own policies to achieve its aim as defined by the next higher circle
b. Assign the leading, doing, and measuring of circle roles and responsibilities to its own members to achieve its aim and execute its own policies
c. Maintain a record keeping system of policy decisions and other information as specified in § 4.4 Circle Record Keeping
d. Assume responsibility for the professional development of the circle and its members
e. Elect one or more representatives from its members to serve as the circle’s representative(s) to the next higher circle
i. Decide how to allocate the resources included in its budget, including the hiring and firing of personnel
f. Create lower circles as it determines appropriate, assigning an aim and allocating part of its resources to those circles
g. With the participation of the representative(s) of that circle, elect the operations leader of the next lower circle,
h. Decide whether lower circles shall be subdivided, combined, or dissolved
4.2 Limitations of Consent
The principle of consent shall not apply to all circle members in two classes of circle decisions:
4.2.1 Circle Elimination or Redefinition
The operations leader and representative(s) of the lower circle may participate in any discussion of dissolution or restructuring of their circle but their consent shall not be required for the higher circle to make a decision.
4.2.2 Personnel Decisions
A circle member or members about whom decisions are being made may participate in any discussions but shall be excluded from participation in consent decisions related to their own benefits of employment, compensation, or service.
4.3 Circle Officers
Except for the board of directors as defined in § 6.4, Executive Officers, each circle shall have the following officers:
a. Operations Leader
The operations leader shall be elected by the next higher circle to manage the day-to-day operations within the lower circle’s domain. The operations leader shall be a member of both the higher and lower circles but shall not serve as the representative of the lower circle.
A facilitator shall be elected by each circle to conduct circle meetings, provide leadership in decision-making, and ensure that the circle is functioning according to the principles and methods of sociocratic governance.
c. Executive Secretary
Each circle shall elect an administrative secretary to manage the affairs of the circle and perform tasks related to its functioning:
1. Arranging and announcing circle meetings,
2. Preparing the agenda in consultation with the facilitator and operations leader, and other circle members
3. Distributing study materials and proposals
4. Taking and distributing minutes
5. Performing any other tasks assigned by the circle
d. Logbook Keeper
A logbook keeper shall be elected by the circle to maintain the circle logbook as defined in § 4.4, Circle Record Keeping. Depending on the size of the circle and the complexity of its work, the office of the logbook keeper may be combined with that of the administrative secretary.
One or more representatives, other than the operations leader, shall be elected by the circle to participate in the next higher circle. The circle representative(s) participates as a full member in both the lower and higher circles but cannot be the same person as the operations leader. Otherwise, any member may fill more than one office and offices may be combined.
4.3 Circle Meetings
All circles shall meet at least quarterly to review their policies, evaluate their effectiveness, adopt new policies if necessary, and review development plans and progress.
4.4 Circle Record Keeping
Each circle shall create and maintain a logbook that includes but is not limited to:
a. Organization’s vision, mission, and aim statements
b. Organization’s bylaws, rules, and procedures
c. Organization’s strategic plan
d. Diagram of the Organization’s circle structure
e. Budgets of both the Organization and the circle
f. Circle aims
f. Circle policy decisions and meeting notes
e. Circle development plans
f. Individual members’ aims, roles and responsibilities, and development plans
f. Any other documents that record the business of the Circle
Circle members shall have a copy or easy access to a copy of the circle logbook. Circle members shall maintain their personal logbook with their aims, roles and responsibilities, development plans, and any other documents related to their individual roles and responsibilities as circle members.
5.1 Aim & Domain of Decision-Making
A circle’s aim shall be determined by the next higher circle and defines the circle’s domain of responsibility. In order to accomplish their aim, circles shall be responsible for making the policy decisions governing operations within their domain.
The principle of consent shall be applied to all circle decisions. Objections to a proposed decision must be
a. based on the decision’s adverse affect on the circle member’s ability to fulfill their roles and responsibilities in achieving the aim of the circle, and
b. reasoned, meaning that reasons for the objection must be explained clearly enough for the objection to be resolved.
For all or some decisions, other methods of decision-making can be used by the circle if the decision is made by consent and like all policy decisions reviewed on a regular basis.
5.3 Definition of Policy
Policy decisions govern the day-to-day operations activities of the Organization and include, but are not limited to:
a. Setting aims
b. Defining the scope of work
c. Designing the work process
d. Allocating resources
e. Delegating functions and tasks
f. Evaluating group and individual performance
g. Determining compensation
h. Planning professional development
5.4 Operations Decisions
Day-to-day operations in a circle’s domain shall be governed by the circle’s policy decisions and directed by the operations leader. A circle shall establish policies that determine which methods of decision-making will govern operations decisions. These methods may include autocratic decisions by the operations leader.
5.5 Operations Decisions without a Policy
If a necessary operations decision is not covered by an existing policy, the operations leader shall make the decision and request that it be reviewed at the next circle meeting or at a special circle meeting called for this purpose as described in § 8. Meetings.
The operations leader, or other person acting as an operations leader, shall determine at his or her sole discretion that such a decision is necessary.
5.6 Decisions of the Board of Directors
Decisions of the board shall also be made by consent, and consent, as a higher standard than majority vote, shall be considered satisfaction of the legal requirement that board decisions be made by majority vote of the directors present and eligible to vote.
5.7 Failure to Reach Consent
If after all options have been exhausted, a circle, other than the board, cannot achieve consent on a proposed action, the decision shall be referred to the next higher circle.
If after all options have been exhausted, the board cannot achieve consent on a proposed action, the decision shall be referred to the appropriate expert director, and if necessary, that director’s organization.
The right to participate in decision-making or any other action of any circle, including the board, may not be delegated or exercised by proxy unless required by law.
6. BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Within the requirements of the laws of [jurisdiction], the board, as the top circle of the Organization, shall manage and direct the business of the Organization with full power to engage in any lawful act unless otherwise limited by these bylaws.
The board is responsible for ensuring that the Organization, as a non-profit organization, is acting in accordance with the public trust and any laws that govern non-profit corporations. Other responsibilities include, but are not limited to:
a. Setting and overseeing the execution of a strategic plan,
b. Ensuring fiscal responsibility,
c. Maintaining long-term viability,
d. Generating new ideas and directions, and
e. Maintaining connections with external persons, organizations, agencies, and any other bodies necessary to the development and functioning of the Organization.
The Board shall include:
a. The managing director (the chief executive officer)
b. One or more representatives of the general management circle
c. Three or more expert directors as defined in § 6.5 Expert Directors
d. Other directors as determined by the board
6.4 Executive Officers
6.4.1 Number and Titles
As required by law, the board shall elect from its members a minimum of three executive officers: a president, executive secretary, and treasurer. In accordance with the law and at its own discretion, the board may use other names to designate the executive officers.
The president shall:
a. Oversee board compliance with the law, the Articles of Incorporation, these bylaws, the principles and methods of sociocratic governance, and the board’s own decisions
b. Ensure that the board functions as a circle in accordance with the provisions of § 4, Circle Governance, including ongoing professional development
c. Execute all instruments requiring a signature on behalf of the Organization
d. Serve as or designate a public spokesperson for the Organization,
e. Perform other duties necessary to the office or as required by the board, and
f. Perform the duties of other executive officers if they are unable or unwilling to complete them as stated in these bylaws or at the direction of the board
6.4.3 Executive Secretary of the Board
The executive secretary of the board shall perform all the functions specified for executive secretaries of all circles in §4.3.b Executive Secretary.
In addition, the executive secretary of the board shall:
a. Give, or cause to be given, any notices required by law or by these bylaws
b. Assume responsibility for corporate and board circle records
c. Maintain custody of the seal of the organization, if any, and validate documents by affixing the seal as authorized by the board or the president
d. Perform the duties of the president if he or she is unable or unwilling to complete them as stated in these bylaws or at the direction of the board
e. Perform such other duties as may be assigned by the board or the president
The treasurer shall:
a. Oversee financial affairs
b. Have custody of all funds and securities until otherwise assigned
c. Establish or cause to be established appropriate financial records, accounts, and practices to ensure judicious use and care
d. Prepare or cause to be prepared budgets, fundraising plans, and financial reports
e. Make the financial records available in accessible format in accordance with the practice of sociocratic organizations for transparency as required by § 11 Financial Practices
f. Perform the duties of the executive secretary if he or she is unable or unwilling to perform them
g. Perform other duties as required by the board
6.5 Expert Directors
A minimum of three (3) directors shall be elected by the board to provide expertise in specific areas and to serve as independent connections to the larger social, financial, governmental, and sociocratic environment.
6.5.1 Sociocratic Expert Director
Unless none are available to serve, one or more of the expert directors with expertise related to the application and teaching of the principles and methods of sociocracy.
6.5.2 Other Expert Directors
To the extent possible, other areas of expertise shall include:
a. Education of the public on issues related to governance
b. Financial management of non-profit organizations
c. Fundraising and development
d. Legal affairs
e. Social and environmental concerns.
Expert directors may have more than one designated area of expertise as determined by the board. Expert directors are full members of the board and participate fully in decision-making and the affairs of the board.
Each director shall exercise independent judgment in good faith and in the best interests of the organization with the care of an ordinarily prudent person under similar circumstances.
With the exception of the managing director, the general management circle representatives if employed by the organization, and any expert directors who are otherwise providing contracted professional services to the organization, directors shall not receive compensation for their services, although they may be reimbursed for ordinary and necessary expenses incurred in fulfilling their responsibilities.
6.8 Conflict of Interest and Confidentiality
Each director shall sign and the secretary shall retain or cause to be retained in the files of the organization a copy of the conflict of interest and confidentiality policy.
Whenever possible, the board shall ensure compliance with the practice of sociocratic organizations to make records of all transactions transparent and available to the members, staff, and other interested parties.
In order to address a reasoned objection to any information being classified confidential, the board shall establish policies providing for examination that protects the information and makes it available for review.
7. ELECTIONS & TERMS
7.1 Election Process
Board members, board officers, and circle officers shall be elected applying the principle of consent elections as required in § 2 The Principle of Consent Elections. Elections may be conducted as an item of business on any meeting agenda or in a meeting called for this purpose. The process shall include but is not limited to:
a. Nominations with rationale
b. Discussion and resolution of objections, if necessary
The facilitator or another person elected for this purpose shall conduct the process and may propose what appears to be the best choice given the reasons presented in the nominations and discussion. Consent to the facilitator’s proposal must be confirmed.
7.2 Date of Elections
Election of directors, executive officers, and other circle officers shall be conducted at the circle’s annual meeting, as specified in § 8.2 Annual Meeting, and as necessary to fill vacant positions.
7.3 Terms of Office
7.3.1 Incorporating Directors
Incorporating directors shall begin their terms on the date of incorporation and continue until the first annual meeting of the board.
7.3.2 Directors and Officers
Except as limited by §7.6, Completion of Terms, directors and circle officers shall be elected for one-year terms in the first annual meeting of each circle and annually there after, and shall be eligible for re-election.
Resignations must be in writing and received by the circle secretary.
A director or circle officer may be removed on the decision of the circle without his or her consent as required by § 4.2 Limitations of Consent.
Such removal shall be without prejudice to the contract rights, if any, of the person so removed. Election shall not itself create contract rights.
7.6 Completion of Terms
As required by law, any director elected to complete the term of a director who has left the board shall be elected to serve the remainder of that term only.
7.6.2 Circle Officers
Circles other than the board may establish their own rules for the completion of terms including electing for the remainder of the term plus one year.
7.6.3 Vacant Positions
The executive officers of the board, as required by law, and other circle officers shall be replaced as soon as possible. Other than officers, circles may decide not to fill a vacant position.
8.1 Annual Meeting
One circle meeting a year shall be designated the annual meeting for purposes of conducting elections as specified in § 7 Elections & Terms. Other business may also be conducted at this meeting as determined by the circle.
[An annual meeting of stakeholders is required by many jurisdictions for both for-profit and non-profit corporations, membership organizations, condominiums, etc.]
8.2 Circle Meetings
Circles shall meet at least quarterly at an agreed upon time and place including by any telephonic, digital electronic means, or any other method that allows circle members to deliberate, resolve objections, and consent to decisions.
8.3 Special Circle Meetings
Special meetings may be held at the request of any circle member at a time convenient to a sufficient number of other circle members to constitute a quorum, if required by the circle’s policies. Such request should be made to the executive secretary of the circle or as otherwise determined by the circle.
At least seven (7) days advance notice must be given to each circle member for any meeting in which decisions or other actions are to be made, subject to § 8.5, Waiver of Notice. Methods of notification include a note in the records of the last circle meeting; notification by mail, facsimile, telephonic, or digital electronic; or any other method as determined by the circle.
When possible, such notice shall include proposed agenda items and any supporting documents.
8.5 Waiver of Notice
The circle may determine in its policies when notice of meetings, including special meetings, may be waived.
Presence at a meeting or failure to pay attention to methods of communication established by the circle shall constitute waiver of notice.
Members present by telephonic or other means that allow them to participate in the discussion, resolve objections, and consent or vote, as appropriate, shall be included in the quorum.
8.6.1 Board of Directors
As required by law, unless written consent is given by absent members and is presented to the secretary before the meeting, one-third of all board members must be present in order for business to be conducted or actions taken. In no case, however, shall business be conducted or actions taken with less than three directors participating.
8.6.2 Circles other than the Board
Circles other than the board may determine their own quorums for all meetings, for a specific meeting, or for a class of meetings.
8.5 Actions without a Meeting
8.5.1 Board of Directors
Any action required or permitted at a meeting of the board may be taken without a meeting if written consent is granted by all directors entitled to vote or consent as appropriate. Written consent may include notices by mail, facsimile, electronic means, or other methods as determined by the Board and such notices shall be filed with the minutes of the board.
By law consent to an action without a meeting shall have the same force and effect as consent or unanimous vote given in a meeting.
8.5.2 Other Circles
Any action required or permitted at a circle meeting may be taken without a meeting by consent of all members as specified in this section for the board of directors or according to any process set by circle policy.
[For membership organizations this section should define members and their privileges and obligations.]
The board shall establish at least one class of membership in the Organization.
All members will be non-voting members because conducting meaningful elections or other decision-making processes in a diverse and geographically distributed membership would be impractical.
9.3. Participation in Governance
The circles shall establish appropriate means by which members who are participating in the work of the Organization can also participate in the policy-making related to that work.
10. ADVISORY COUNCILS
The Board may establish one or more advisory councils in order to achieve the purposes of the Organization.
11. FINANCIAL PRACTICES
11.1 Financial Practices
The financial practices of the Organization shall follow the highest standards of accountability and transparency. Unless doing so would reveal personal information of employees, donors, or other persons; or otherwise compromise the stability of the Organization, financial records will be available to all members and employees of the Organization, and to other such persons as the board determines.
11.2 Use of Funds
Organization funds shall only be used for activities related to the Organization’s mission as stated in § 1.3, Mission, and exclusively for charitable and educational purposes.
11.3 Fiscal Year
The fiscal year shall begin on the first day of January and end on the last day of December unless otherwise determined by the board.
The Organization shall follow the sociocratic practice of fixed and variable compensation for all employees.
12. ANNUAL REPORT
The Organization shall publish, in any media, an annual report that shall include, but not be limited to, a summary of the Organization’s activities and a financial report for the previous year. The annual report shall be available to the public.
Except as otherwise limited by law and these bylaws, each director, employee, or volunteer of the Organization shall be indemnified by the Organization and shall not be held liable for damages or the costs of their defense for any acts or omissions as a result of providing services or performing duties on behalf of the Organization.
These rights of indemnification shall, in the case of the death of a Director, employee, or volunteer exist to the benefit of his or her heirs and estate.
Indemnification as specified in § 13.1, Rights, shall not include:
a. Any act or omission that is not reasonably included in the services or duties requested or approved by the Organization
b. The willful misconduct of the director, employee, or volunteer
c. A crime, unless the director, employee, or volunteer had reasonable cause to believe that the act was lawful
d. A transaction that resulted in an improper personal benefit of money, property, or service to the director, employee, or volunteer
e. Any act or omission that is not in good faith and is beyond the scope of authority of the Organization
13.3 Professional Services
With the exception of expert directors functioning in their roles as directors, the limitation of liability in § 13.2 Limitations, shall not apply to any licensed professional employed by the Organization in his or her professional capacity.
These Bylaws may be altered or repealed and new bylaws adopted by the board with a minimum of thirty (30) days notice to all circle members of intent to amend, including the wording of such amendment. The purpose of such notice shall be to allow circles to call special meetings, if they consider it necessary, to deliberate on such amendment and to select a representative(s) to participate in the deliberations in the next higher circle.
No amendment shall be made that would adversely affect the Organization’s qualification under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, (or any successor provision).
Acting in accordance with the laws of the District of Columbia, the Organization may be dissolved by the board with a minimum of thirty (30) days notice to all circle members of the intent to dissolve, including the reasons for the proposed dissolution. The purpose of such notice shall be to allow all levels of the circle structure time to call special meetings, if they consider it necessary, to deliberate on the proposal and to select a representative(s) to participate in the deliberations of the next higher circle.
15.2 Distribution of Assets
On dissolution of the Organization, any remaining assets shall be distributed to one or more charitable, educational, scientific, or philanthropic organizations qualified for a tax exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended. Such organization will be recommended by members, employees, and volunteers of the Organization and determined by the board.
From: We the People: Consenting to a Deeper Democracy by John Buck and Sharon Villines (Sociocracy.info Press, 2016)
“Operating Agreement & Bylaws for a Sociocratic Business” is published under a Creative Commons License. It may be reused with attribution, shared with others, and transformed as the basis of another document, but it is not released for commercial use without specific permission.
For permission, please contact Sharon Villines at https://www.sociocracy.info
Several articles have appeared in the last month or so on the implementation of self-management at Zappos. After having adopted Holacracy, which is based on the principles of sociocracy, Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, sent a memo on 24 March 2015 to employees offering three months of salary to any employee who would read a book on Holacracy and quit if they were still not happy in an organization based on self-management.
It was a long complex memo, and not a simple command to “self-organize or leave” as it has been portrayed. Hsieh said:
Our main objective is not just to do Holacracy well, but to make Zappos a fully self-organized, self-managed organization by combining a variety of different tools and processes.
Zappos has regularly paid new employees if they decided the new job wasn’t for them and quit in the first month or so. But for this offer 14% of Zappos employees, 210 people, quit. Undoubtedly many were planning to leave for other reasons, like the move in 2013 to downtown Las Vegas. This was just a convenient time to leave. Thus far there hasn’t been an analysis published on why the employees left. It may well have been poor implementation and confusion, not the expectations to self-manage and self-organize.
And we also don’t know why the 86% of Zappos employees stayed. It may also have nothing to do with liking the new system.
Why Self-Organizing and Self-Management Are So Hard
Why Self-Organizing is So Hard is a blog post by Bud Caddell, a founding member of the NOBL Collective. NOBL is a consulting network that works with organizations to empower “the creativity and capability required for a world of constant change.” They work to “to re-align teams, refocus products, and re-imagine work for the 21st century.” Caddell has worked in an organization using Holacracy and NOBL uses elements of sociocracy, Holacracy, and other self-governing methods in their work.
Caddell’s analysis compares Holacracy to a game of Dungeons and Dragons:
Holacracy, itself, is too complex, dogmatic, and rigid. It feels like playing a game of Management Dungeons and Dragons. Everything you already understand about working in teams is reinvented with confusing language (e.g. circles, tensions, IDM, etc.) and a confusing process. Because of this frustration, some companies are trying to pioneer a cognitively slimmed down version. Blinkist, for example, calls theirs Holacracy Lite.
The same can be said of sociocracy when people begin emphasizing structure before purpose, playing the language card—go directly to jail, do not pass go, do not collect $200—when someone says agree instead of consent. Or insisting on the distinction between a top circle and a board of directors. It diverts the emphasis from “a more humane way of organizing” to “the right way.” As if the right language will produce accomplishment of the purpose.
Unless the right word means the accurate and commonly understood word that conveys meaning naturally, it is an impediment to those who are trying to get their work done.
Too often, right means “our word or your word but only in the way we define it.”
Ordered or Programmed?
It’s a thin line between order and homogenization.
An organization isn’t an operating system. It is like an operating system in that all the parts need to work together without conflict so they all contribute to achieving the same purpose. That doesn’t make people plug-ins for a software program. A big difference.
The Place to Start
Caddell has four recommendations for the implementation of governance methods based on self-organization:
Focus on self-management first.
Adapt your own model.
Dedicate a Complexity Reduction Officer (CRO).
Tell more human stories.
The last recommendation is a nice one. In the articles on Hsieh’s so-called command to self-organize and the people who left, there are no personal stories from the people who left and those who stayed. Maybe that comes next.
More articles related to self-organization and management:
Is Holacracy Succeeding At Zappos? by Steve Denning on the Forbes website. An excellent discussion of the contradictions in the implementation of Holacracy given the difficult language of the constitution and the many, sometimes contradictory premises. One being the ability of the CEO to take back his power as a CEO Includes links to several other articles.
At Zappos, Banishing the Bosses Brings Confusion by Rachel Emma Silverman on the Wall Street Journal website. I wasn’t able to read this because I don’t have a subscription but it begins with a story from the personal experience of an employee at Zappos so it may be promising. (With all my software programs and online journals going to monthly subscriptions, my budget is blowing in the wind.)