Category Archives: Implementation and Practice

Preferential Voting and a Sociocratic Democracy

Bingo balls which represent what many people feel about voting. It doesn't matter what they think.
Bingo balls which represent how many people feel about voting. It doesn’t matter what they think.

Because our Council Member, Muriel Bowser, was elected mayor, Ward 4 in Washington DC is having an election to replace her. There are so many candidates, eight at last count?, that knowing who would be the best representative is very hard. My neighbors are speaking on behalf of almost all  of them. With so many votes splintered, unless some drop out in the remaining 3 days, there is likely to be a run-off election with no representation until it is resolved.

This is the perfect situation for using one of the several systems called  Preferential Voting.  The two that are most familiar are  Instant-Runoff and Range Voting. Preferential voting is gaining ground in many governments and other organizations globally. It is even discussed in the 10th revision of Robert’s Rules of Order as preferable to a plurality.

Why Is Preferential Voting Important to Sociocracy?

Because the primary form of decision-making in sociocracy is consent, meaning no objections. Consensus as a voting threshold is impractical in large diverse groups, in groups that do not share a common aim, or are not willing or able to sit together long enough to resolve  objections.

If sociocratic values, principles, and methods are to move into the public arena, alternative methods of decision-making will need to be adopted. Of the choices, I think Preferential Voting is the closest to a middle ground between consent and majority vote.

To insist on consent as a foundation for civic decisions, even to insist on consent to another system of voting, will certainly be self-defeating unless people change dramatically.

Instant Runoff

Instant Runoff Voting (IRV)  is the most widely used form of preferential voting. With variations,  Instant Runoff is used globally for government elections, in political parties, the awarding of prizes and awards, etc. In India it is used by the parliament for the election of the president, in the Czech Republic to elect the leaders of the Green Party, in New Zealand to elect mayors,  and in the United Kingdom by the  Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats to elect their leaders.

Instant Runoff Ballot

The Instant Runoff process:

A rather conventional ballot includes all the candidates names and the process is similar to runoff elections.

  1. All the candidates are ranked by each voter — 1st choice, 2nd choice, etc.
  2. The ballots are counted and the candidate with fewest 1st choice rankings is eliminated.
  3. The 2nd choice on the ballots for the eliminated candidate are counted and the votes added to the 1st choice of the other ballots.
  4. These rounds are repeated until one candidate has a specified majority of the #1 + #2 + #3, etc. rankings.

Instant Runoff avoids the expense and delay of runoffs in separate elections and also ensures that everyone’s vote counts. Otherwise, only the votes for the most popular candidate would count.

Instant Runoff voting is supported online by Fair Vote: The Center for Voting and Democracy,Instant Runoff,  Accurate Democracy, and many others.

Range Voting  or “Five Stars”

Range Voting is the newest system of Preferential Voting and many consider it the best in representing the preferences of the voters. In Range Voting, each voter uses a range of points, usually 5 or 10 to rate each candidate. This avoids a forced choice of yes/no or ranking candidates as 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc. A  voter can rate more than one candidate as deserving the highest number of points, or rate all of them as deserving the lowest. It isn’t either/or.

When more than one candidate is acceptable, this can be shown in range voting when it can’t in other voting systems.

Movies and restaurants are often rated with stars. More than one can be a 5-star or a 2-star. In Olympics-level ice skating, the range is 10 points allowing more subtle distinctions.

The process in  Range Voting:Range Voting Ballot

  1. Ballots include the names of all candidates and a specified method of marking the rating — circling stars or numbers, etc.
  2. Each voter rates each candidate individually according to their preference for each candidate.
  3. The points given to each candidate are added, and usually divided by the number of people voting.

Averaging the number of points awarded expresses the result  in the same range of points that were used in ratings. With a range of 1-10,  averaging the total will record the vote within the range of 1-10.

Range voting is advocated online by the election reform sites RangeVote.comThe Center for Election Science, and the Center for Range Voting. Guy Ottewell, who helped develop the system of approval voting, now endorses range voting.

Beyond Determining the Top Choice

Preference voting can do much more than determine the top choice. It can also:

  1. Show the level of support for each candidate in more nuanced terms than 1,2,3,4 or just 1 and none
  2. Allow a ballot to be counted no matter what the vote
  3. Elect a candidate that is the 2nd or 3rd choice of more people rather than the first choice of a few.

In range voting, for example, if 1000 people are voting and 400 vote for Mary as the first choice, that means 600 preferred someone else. If the second choice of many people was also Mary, Mary will be elected with a clear majority.

But if Mary was the first choice of 400 and she wasn’t even 2nd or 3rd on other ballots, she is less likely to be elected. If 600 people have voted for Nancy as their second choice, Nancy will win and in the end have more support because many of the people who voted for Mary as their first choice are likely to have voted fro Nancy as their second too.

Similarly in Range Voting, Mary might receive 5 stars from 400 voters but only 1 or 2 stars from 600. Mary is unlikely to win if Nancy also receives many 5 stars and many 3 and 4 stars.

A Sociocratic Democracy

The reason I like preference voting when consent isn’t possible is that it produces a decision as quickly as majority vote but it also represents the voters better. It can also eliminate the need to limit the number of political parties and candidates to ensure a clear majority. Perhaps most importantly, it gives those constituencies that are not in the majority a chance to influence an election.d

Range voting also gives more nuanced results — even when there are only two options. If a 5 star system is used for a choice between two options, and no one gives either of the candidates more than 2 or 3 stars, it indicates a weakness in that person’s ability to govern or the quality of their award.

In many democracies, particularly those over 100 years old, only a relatively small number vote. Often this is because eligible voters believe the candidates have been predetermined by the political parties or the establishment government. Or they know their candidate will never win even in an open election. Why bother?

In preference voting, something other than support for the majority can be recorded and even influence an election. Even if a voter doesn’t like any of the options, their preference will be recorded. When dissatisfaction or lukewarm support can be measured, the majority will no longer be the majority. Candidates and political parties will be more likely to pay attention, and new candidates may be encouraged to join in the next election.

Because it would include more voters and allow greater expression of objections, using Preferential Voting would bring us closer to a deeper democracy — a sociocratic democracy

Bylaws for a Sociocratic Business

The following example is modified from the operating agreement for a Limited Liability Company (LLC) incorporated in Delaware. It contains the key clauses that can be used in many forms of sociocratic operating agreements and bylaws including nonprofit organizations, associations, local government agencies, etc.

In the United States, LLCs are now legal in all 50 states and the District of Columbia and currently provide the most efficient mechanism for establishing a fully sociocratic company that owns and governs itself. While a sociocratic company allows investors and protects the interests of investors, it does not grant them the exclusive right to sell or to control the company.

The key clauses can also be used as the basis of bylaws for a C or S corporation, but in these cases a “double corporation” strategy is required to enable the company to raise capital without giving stockholders the right to override consent decision-making. An explanation of the double corporation is outside the scope of this book but it involves setting up a foundation to hold the controlling stock. The members of the board of the foundation and the board of the corporation are defined as identical and the decisions of one to be those of the other.

This operating agreement is an example only and does not constitute legal advice. Because laws differ between jurisdictions, professional legal advice is required to address specific circumstances.

The Creative Commons License and a PDF copy can be found at the end of this page.

Operating Agreement
of a Sociocratic Limited Liability Company (LLC)

Article 1  The Sociocratic Circle-Organization Method 

1.1  Organizational Model

The LLC shall be structured and governed in accordance with the sociocratic Circle-Organization Method, the underlying principles of which are as follows:

1.1.1  The Principle of Consent  

The principle of consent governs decision-making. This means that not every decision requires consent but that there will be consent about the policies by which decision-making takes a different form. Consent means there are no argued and paramount objections. In other words, a policy decision can only be made if no member of the circle raises a argued and paramount objection to it.

1.1.2  The Principle of Circles 

The organization is composed of a hierarchy of semi-autonomous, self-organizing circles. A circle is a group of persons who are operationally related. Each circle has its own aim and has the authority and responsibility to execute, measure, and control its own activities and to maintain an appropriate level of knowledge and skill, assisted by a program of development conducted by the circle.

1.1.3  The Principle of Double-Linked Circles 

All circles are double-linked. A lower circle is always linked to a higher circle in such a way that at least two persons, that is, the operational leader and at least one elected representative from the lower circle, belong to and participate in the decision making of the next higher circle.

1.1.4  The Principle of Election of Persons 

Persons are elected to functions and tasks exclusively by consent after open discussion.

1.2  Structure 

The organization of the LLC shall be a hierarchy of double-linked circles, in the following order, from top to bottom:

1.2.1  Top Circle

The top circle shall be the highest circle of the LLC, the powers and responsibilities of which are set forth in the articles of organization and this operating agreement. The composition of the top circle is defined in Article 2.

The top circle shall manage and direct the business and affairs of the LLC with full power to engage in any lawful act or activity under the General Limited Liability Company (LLC) Law of [name of jurisdiction] unless otherwise limited by the provisions of this operating agreement.

1.2.2  General Circle

The general circle shall consist of the chief executive officer (CEO), operational leaders of the department circles, and at least one representative from each department circle. The general circle shall manage the operations of the LLC within the limits set by the top circle.

The general circle shall:

(a) Determine and control policy to realize its own aim(s) within limits set by the top circle.

(b) Delegate part of its decision-making authority to the department circles so their aims can be achieved.

(c) Assign functions and tasks to its own members to execute its own policy.

(d) Decide, in its sole discretion, whether new department circles should be created or whether existing circles should be split up, combined, or dissolved. The department circle in question may not participate in the decision to dissolve its circle. The consent of the representative of the department circle in question shall not be required for the general circle to act, but such representative may participate in such discussions in the general circle.

1.2.3  Department Circles

Each department circle shall consist of (1) either an operational leader and the members of the department circle or an operational leader and the operational leaders of the section circles and (2) at least one representative from each section circle. The department circle shall:

(a) Determine and control the policy to achieve its aim within the limits set by the general circle.

(b) Assign tasks to its own members to execute its own policy.

(c) Decide, in its sole discretion, whether a new section circle should be set up or whether existing circles should be dissolved. The section circle in question may not participate in the decision to dissolve its circle. The consent of the representative of the section circle in question shall not be required for the department circle to act, but such representative may participate in such discussions in the department circle.

1.2.4  Section Circles

Each section circle shall consist of (1) either an operational leader and the members of the section circle or an operational leader and operational leaders of the unit circles and (2) at least one representative from each unit circle. The section circle shall:

(a) Determine and control policy to achieve their aims within the limits set by the department circle.

(b) Assign tasks to their own members to execute their own policy.

(c) Decide, in its sole discretion, whether new unit circles should be set up or whether existing circles should be dissolved. The unit circle in question may not participate in the decision to dissolve its circle. The consent of the representative of the unit circle in question shall not be required for the section circle to act, but such representative may participate in the discussions in the section circle.

1.2.5  Unit Circles

Each unit circle shall consist of an operational leader and its own members. Unit circles shall:

(a) Determine and control policy to achieve its aim within the limits set by the section circle.

(b) Assign tasks to its own members to execute its own policy.

1.2.6  Further Subdivision

The hierarchical pattern established in sections 1.2.2-1.2.5 shall be repeated for any levels below unit circles.

1.3 Investing and Working Partners

Persons can become members of the LLC by investing money or by performing active labor or both. People or organizations that have made investments in the LLC shall be called hereafter “investing partners.” Those who perform labor shall be called hereafter “working partners.” Members of the general, department, section, and unit circles, and any circles below unit circles shall be working partners. A natural person can be both a working partner and an investing partner. A legal person, for example, another LLC, S corporation, or C corporation, can be an investing partner but not a working partner.

[The decision to have “working partners” or “employees” has tax and other implications that require legal advice. The intention is that everyone be able to participate in decision making on an equivalent basis. The term “partner” is not intended to infer greater authority nor “employee” less authority.]


[Top Circle is the generic term for the highest governing level of the organization. It retains the circular process connotations and links to the primary sociocratic theory. Organizations may wish to adopt other terms to reflect their culture and environment.]

2.1  Composition and Number

The top circle shall consist of no less than six (6) nor more than twelve (12) members, as such number may be established from time to time by resolution of the top circle. This number shall include:

(a) external experts,

(b) the CEO of the LLC, and

(c) one or more representatives of the general circle of the LLC.

2.2 External Experts

[The importance of the title “board of directors” varies amongst legal jurisdictions and not all organizations are required to have a board. When a board is required, there may also be a requirement that it be composed entirely of persons from outside the organization, the external experts. If that is the case, the following clause can be used: “The top circle shall totally encompass all the duties of the board of directors. Every meeting of the top circle shall be considered a meeting also of the board of directors. The board of directors shall not meet separately from the top circle.” If a board is required by law, it may also be necessary to have a separate article defining the board and its responsibilities. If so, it can be modeled after the clauses used for the top circle.]

The external experts, chosen from outside the organization, shall represent each of the following roles:

(a) A person with expertise in financial matters relating to the business of the LLC.

(b) A person with expertise in the area of human resource management, small business management, or other management specialties.

(c) A person with expertise in sociocratic (dynamic self-governance) or other technical areas in which the LLC may choose to conduct its business.

(d) A representative of the governmental or legal community.

2.3  Separation of Roles

The CEO, elected representatives from the general circle, and the person with expertise in financial matters must be separate persons. These persons and other members of the top circle who are not working partners of the LLC may fulfill one or more than one of the other above roles at the same time unless this could result in a statutory, operational, or legal incompatibility.

2.4  Designation of Roles

The top circle, by resolution, shall designate the roles that each of its members fulfills.

2.5  Election, Terms, and Reimbursement

The members of the top circle, except for the financial expert, may be proposed by an external organization with consent from the CEO and elected representative(s). If such external organizations are not available, the top circle may elect persons with expertise in these areas to participate in the top circle for specified terms. The experts’ terms shall be staggered and up to two years in duration, renewable at the invitation of the top circle. The top circle may choose to reimburse these experts for their services.

2.6  Resignation; Vacancies

Any member of the top circle may resign from the top circle at any time by submitting a letter of resignation to the secretary of the top circle

Any newly created membership or any vacancy occurring in the top circle for any cause may be filled by a person selected by the consent of the remaining members of the top circle and each member so elected shall hold office until the expiration of the term of office of the member of the top circle  whom he or she has replaced or until his or her successor is elected and qualified.

The CEO shall be elected or re-elected at two-year intervals at the first top circle meeting after the annual investors’ meeting. The representative(s) from the general circle shall be elected at intervals of up to two years on a schedule set by the general circle.

2.7  Regular Meetings

Regular meetings of the top circle may be held at such places within or without the [name of jurisdiction] and at such times as the top circle may from time to time determine, and if so determined, notices thereof need not be given.

2.8  Special Meetings

Special meetings of the top circle may be held at any time or place within or without the [name of jurisdiction] whenever called by any member of the top circle. Notice of a special meeting of the top circle shall be given by the person or persons calling the meeting at least forty-eight (48) hours before the special meeting.

2.9  Telephonic Meetings Permitted

Members of the top circle may participate in a meeting thereof by means of conference telephone or similar communications equipment by means of which all persons participating in the meeting can hear each other, and participation in a meeting pursuant to this operating agreement shall constitute presence in person at such meeting.

2.10  Consent Decision Required for Action

The principle of consent by all parties shall be organized as follows: At all meetings of the top circle one-half of the members of the top circle or at least 2 members of the top circle, whichever number is the greater, shall constitute a quorum for the transaction of business. All decision-making by the top circle, however, shall be according to the principle of consent; that is, whether or not a member of the top circle is present, consent is required of all the members of the top circle to all proposed decisions.

Any member of the top circle absent from a meeting of the top circle shall be notified within forty-eight (48) hours of the proposed decision(s) of the top circle. Unless the absent top circle member objects to a decision of the top circle within seventy-two (72) hours of receipt of such notice, he or she will be deemed to have consented to such decision.

If an absent top circle member objects to any action of the top circle in a timely fashion, the matter will be placed upon the agenda for the next meeting of the top circle, which meeting shall be held within seventy-two (72) hours of the receipt of such objection. Any member absent from such top circle meeting shall be deemed to have consented to the decision that the top circle reconsiders.

2.II  Organization

Meetings of the top circle shall be presided over by the president of the top circle or another person chosen by consent of the top circle. In the absence of the president or other chosen person, a chairperson chosen at the meeting shall preside over the meeting. The secretary shall act as secretary of the meeting, but in his or her absence the person presiding may appoint any person to act as secretary of the meeting.

2.12  Informal Actions

Any decision required or permitted to be made at any meeting of the top circle may be made without a meeting if all members of the top circle consent thereto in writing, and the writing or writings are filed with the minutes of proceedings of the top circle.


3.1  Executive Officers; Election; Qualifications; Term of Office; Resignation; Removal; Vacancies. 

The top circle shall annually elect executive officers from amongst its members: a president, secretary, and treasurer and it may, if it so determines, choose a chairperson (or facilitator) of the top circle and a vice chairperson (or second facilitator) of the top circle from among its members. The top circle may also choose one or more vice presidents, one or more assistant vice presidents, one or more assistant secretaries, and one or more assistant treasurers. Each such officer shall hold office until the first meeting of the top circle after the annual meeting of investing partners next succeeding his or her election, and until his or her successor is elected and qualified or until his or her earlier resignation or removal.

Any officer may resign his or her executive office at any time upon written notice to the secretary of the LLC. The secretary may resign at any time upon written notice to the president. The top circle may remove any officer from his or her executive office at any time without necessarily removing him or her from the top circle. Such removal shall be without prejudice to the contractual rights of such officer, if any, with the LLC.

Any number of executive offices may be held by the same person unless prohibited by governing law. The top circle at any regular or special meeting may fill any executive officer vacancy occurring in any office of the LLC by death, resignation, removal, or otherwise for the unexpired portion of the term.

3.2  Power to Require Security 

The top circle may require any of its members, and any officer, agent, working member, or employee of the LLC to give security for the faithful performance of his or her duties.


4.1  General Provisions

Management of all circles of the LLC with the exception that management of the top circle shall be in accordance with the following procedures only to the extent that such procedures are not inconsistent with Article 2 or Article 3 hereof, or any other provisions of this operating agreement, the articles of organization, or the laws of [name of jurisdiction].

4.1.1  Circle Regulations

Each circle shall be a separate organ of the LLC and shall be empowered to draft its own regulations with respect to the tasks, authority, and responsibilities of the circle, which regulations shall not be in conflict with this operating agreement or any regulations that the top circle may adopt.

4.1.2  Assisting Circles

A circle is authorized to form assisting (or helping) circles to prepare decision-making recommendations for the circle. The assisting circle may be composed of persons from the circle, other circles, and external advisors.

4.1.3  Circle Decisions and Limits

Circles may make decisions within certain limits agreed on in the next higher circle; individual members may make independent decisions within the limits drawn up by their own circles.

4.2  Decision Making

4.2.1  The Principle of Consent

Decision-making shall be in accordance with the principle of consent or “no objection.” Decision making does not require consent to be used for every decision of the circle, however, but it must be used to establish an alternative means of decision making for a specific decision or for a specific class of decisions.

4.2.2  Objections

Should there be a paramount objection to a decision, arguments for the objection must be given. An objection without reasoned argument will not be considered.

4.2.3  Second Meetings

If a circle is unable to reach a decision on a particular matter, a new meeting of the circle shall be convened after at least forty-eight (48) hours, with the same subject on the agenda.

4.2.4  Referring Decisions

If a circle is unable to reach a decision on a particular matter in a second meeting of the circle, the chairperson may refer the matter to the next higher or lower circle for decision or recommendation.

4.2.5  Annual Decision-Making Audit

An independent auditor shall review the decision-making process in each circle annually and shall report to the top circle whether the decision making of the circles conforms to this operating agreement.

4.2.6  Assuming Decision-Making Authority

The next higher circle is responsible for assuring that decision making in a circle functions according to this operating agreement. If the next higher circle concludes that the decision-making within a circle does not function according to this agreement, the next higher circle may take over the decision making of that circle on an interim basis.

The circle shall continue to make recommendations to the next higher circle concerning its area of responsibility. The next higher circle shall take such action(s) as it deems necessary to re-establish the circle’s performance according to sociocratic (dynamic self-governance) principles as soon as possible. The next higher circle shall restore decision-making authority to the circle as soon as either the next higher circle or the independent auditor determines that decision-making is functioning according to sociocratic (dynamic self-governance) principles.

4.3  Selection of Persons

4.3.1  Officers and Representatives

Each circle shall elect a chairperson (or facilitator) of circle meetings and a secretary from amongst its members. Each circle shall also elect one or more representatives of the circle in the next higher circle, whether or not that person is a member of the circle, provided the representative is in some way connected to the LLC. These elections shall be conducted annually, or as deemed necessary by the circle, at a meeting convened for this purpose, according to the consent principle and after open discussion.

4.3.2  Multiple Functions

Persons may fulfill more than one function at the same time, unless this could result in a statutory, operational, or legal incompatibility, provided that the operational leader (elected by the next higher circle) and the representative may not be the same person.

4.3.3  Procedures for Appointment and Dismissal

Each circle shall determine procedures for the appointment and dismissal of members of the circle, in accordance with the law, this operating agreement, and the articles of organization. A circle shall make decisions as to the appointment or dismissal of its members only after the person involved has been given an opportunity to present his or her arguments. However, the person involved may not participate in the making of this decision.

In the absence of a written agreement to the contrary between an individual working partner and the LLC, these procedures shall not constitute a contract between any person and the LLC and all working partners of the LLC shall continue as working partners at the will of the LLC.

4.3.4  Objections to Appointments or Dismissals

In the event a circle objects to the appointment of or seeks to dismiss a representative of the next lower circle, the circle shall submit objections to the next lower circle concerning the functioning of its representative in the circle. Should the consideration of these objections not result in consent between the higher circle and the next lower circle, the higher circle may deny the representative the right to represent the lower circle in the higher circle.

Such denial of representation is an extreme remedy and the higher circle should only undertake it as a final resort and should take all necessary action to restore representation of the next lower circle as soon as possible.

4.4  Circle Meetings

4.4.1  Frequency

Circles shall meet at regular intervals, at least six times per year.

4.4.2  Convening and Notice

Regular circle meetings shall be convened by the chairperson (or facilitator) of the circle. All members shall receive notice of the meeting, the agenda, and any relevant information necessary to make decisions on matters to be discussed at the meeting within a reasonable time prior to the meeting.

4.4.3  Special Meetings

The chairperson shall convene a special meeting within seven (7) days of a request therefore from any member of the circle.

Should the chairperson fail to convene such a meeting within seven (7) days after the receipt of such a request, the circle member who made the request may convene the meeting.

4.4.4  Members Present (Quorum)

It is not necessary for all the members of the circle to be present to hold a meeting, however, consent is required from all members of a circle before a decision can take effect. Each circle shall establish its own written policy defining a quorum for conducting business and its procedures for obtaining consent from absent members.

4.4.5  Delegation of Participation

Members who are unable to be present can delegate their right to participate in decision making to another member of the circle. The right to participate, however, does not constitute a proxy consent or veto. The delegated right to participate is the right to present arguments on behalf of another circle member.

4.4.6  Recording Decisions

Any decision made during a circle meeting shall be recorded in circle minutes or notes to be circulated to all members of the circle and to other circles with which the circle is linked within three (3) days of the meeting in the format determined by the organization.

4.4.7  Amending or Repealing a Delegated Decision

Amending or repealing a delegated decision is possible provided the consent of the circle involved has been obtained.


5.1  Fixed Compensation

Both investing partners and working partners engaged in active operations shall receive fixed compensation to be reimbursed only from earnings from operations. The fixed part of the investing partners’ reimbursement will be calculated at the end of fiscal year at the then prevailing prime lending rate. Working partners will be reimbursed throughout the business year at a fixed rate analogous to wages or salaries.

5.2  Variable Compensation

Both investing partners and working partners will receive variable reimbursements to be reimbursed only from earnings from operations. The reimbursements will vary depending on profitability. Variable compensation will be in the form of short-term measurement (STM) and long-term measurement (LTM) payments. STM payments will be made only when profits for the month exceed the targeted profit percentage. If profits for a month fall below the targeted profit percentage, that shortfall must be covered before any STM payments can be made. LTM payments will be made once or twice annually at the discretion of the top circle.

5.3  Determining Fixed and Variable Payments

5.3.1  At least annually, the top circle shall determine the amount targeted for company reserves and the targeted profit percentage.

5.3.2  At least at the end of each fiscal year, the top circle or person(s) delegated by the top circle will normally deduct the targeted reserve from the profits, calculate the amount of fixed payments due to investors per Section 7.1, and subtract that amount and the amount of the targeted reserve from the profits available for variable payments to the parties. The variable payments, however, are so important to the measurement process, a key component of the LLC management, the top circle can choose to make variable payments before fully paying investors’ fixed payments.

5.3.3  The top circle or person(s) delegated by the top circle will calculate an STM payment for the investing and working partners each month and an LTM payment once or twice a year.

5.3.4  The top circle shall decide whether to have the company pay taxes on retained earnings at the corporate tax rate or to pass all earnings through to the partners.


[Additional articles may be necessary to address such issues as indemnification, conflict of interest, fiscal year, corporate seal, and so forth. Care must be taken to ensure that these clauses do not contradict  or undermine the provisions of Articles 1 through 6.]


Amendment of This Operating Agreement

This operating agreement may be altered or repealed and new agreements made by the top circle applying the principle of consent in accordance with the provisions of these agreements, with a minimum of thirty (30) days notice to all members of the LLC including investing partners, working partners, and board of directors members of intent to amend this operating agreement. The purpose of such notice shall be to allow all levels of the circle structure, including the investing partners, time to call special meetings, if necessary, to deliberate, and to select representatives to attend the deliberations of the next higher circle.


Article 1  Meetings of Investing Partners

Meetings of investing partners shall be conducted in accordance with the sociocratic (dynamic self-governance) method. By consent, the investing partners may choose methods and structures of decision-making other than consent for a meeting of investing partners.

Article 2  Notice of Meetings 

Whenever the investing partners are required or permitted to take any action at a meeting, a written notice of the meeting shall be given to investing partners which shall state the place, date, and hour of the meeting, and, in the case of a special meeting, the purpose or purposes for which the meeting is called. Unless otherwise provided by law, the articles of organization, or these operating agreements, the written notice of any meeting shall be given not less than ten (10) nor more than sixty (60) days before the date of the meeting to the investing partners. If mailed, such notice shall be deemed to be given when deposited in the email or mail, postage prepaid, directed to the investing partner at its address as it appears on the records of the LLC.

2.1  Annual Meeting of Investing Partners

The investing partners shall meet annually for the purpose of electing a representative(s) to the top circle and determining the date and time of the next meeting. Only persons who have made monetary investment in the LLC plus the CEO plus the representative(s) from the general circle to the top circle shall participate in said meeting.

2.2  Special Meetings of Investing Partners

Special meetings of the investing partners may be called with at least 15 days notice by one or more of the investing partners, CEO, or elected representative to the top circle. Only the investing partners, the CEO, and the representative(s) to the top circle from the general circle shall be entitled to participate in such meetings. Special meetings will be for the sole purpose of considering the removal and/or replacement of the investing partners’ representative(s) to the top circle.

2.3  List of Investing Partners Entitled to Participate in Annual and Special Meetings of Investing Partners

The secretary of the top circle, upon notice of an annual or special meeting of the investing partners, shall prepare and make, at least ten (10) days before such meeting, a complete list of the investing partners entitled to participate in the meeting, arranged in alphabetical order, and showing the address of each investing partner and the percentage of equity registered in the name of each investing partner. Such list shall be open to the examination of any investing partner in a designated electronic location.

Article 3  Quorum 

Except as otherwise provided by law, the articles of organization, or this operating agreement, at each meeting of the investing partners the presence in person or by electronic means of a person or persons representing at least one-half of the total investment in the LLC plus the CEO or a  Representative of the general circle shall constitute a quorum.  The investing partners may, at their sole discretion, form a legal entity.

Article 4  Organization of Investing Partners Meeting

Meetings of the investing partners shall be presided over by the CEO, by a representative of the general circle, or by another person elected at the meeting by consent. The meeting attendees shall elect a secretary or direct the CEO to appoint a person to act as secretary of the meeting.

Article 5   Participation in Meetings 

Each investing partner in attendance shall be entitled to participate in the consent decision-making process in the investing partners meeting. Members who are unable to be present can delegate their right to participate in decision making to another member of the investing partner’s circle. The right to participate, however, does not constitute a proxy to consent or veto. The delegated right to participate is the right to present arguments on behalf of another circle member.

Article 6  Fixing Date for Determination  of Investing Partner of Record

6.1  Fixed Record Date

In order that the LLC may determine the investing partners entitled to notice of or to participation in any meeting of investing partners or any adjournment thereof; or entitled to receive payment of any funds or other distribution or allotment of any rights; or entitled to exercise any rights in respect of any change, conversion, or exchange of partnership equity; or for the purpose of any other lawful action, the top circle may fix a record date. The record date shall not precede the date upon which the resolution fixing the record date is adopted by the top circle. The record date

(a) shall not be more than sixty (60) nor less than ten (10) days before the date of the next scheduled meeting of the investing partners;

(b) nor in the case of any other action, it shall not be more than sixty (60) days prior to such other action.

6.2  No Fixed Record Date

If no record date is fixed,

(a) the record date for determining investing partners entitled to notice of or to participate at a meeting of investing partners shall be at the close of business on the day preceding the day on which the meeting is held;

(b) the record date for determining investing partners for any other purpose shall be at the close of business on the day preceding the day on which the top circle adopts the resolution relating thereto.

A determination of investing partners of record entitled to notice of or to participate at a meeting of investing partners shall apply to any adjournment of the meeting; provided, however, that the top circle may fix a new record date for the adjourned meeting.

Article 7  List of Investing Partners Entitled to Participate 

The person or persons responsible for calling an annual or special meeting of the investing partners must give the secretary of the top circle notice of the meeting at least fifteen (15) days in advance of the date of the meeting.

From: We the People: Consenting to a Deeper Democracy by John Buck and Sharon Villines ( Press, 2007)


“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

The PDF version: BylawsCC

Elizabeth Warren on the Social Contract

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

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

Elizabeth Warren

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

Transparency International

How can people participate in decision-making if they don’t have access to information? Can those denied both education and knowledge  of governance in any form be held responsible when they elect corrupt leaders?

Transparency is fundamental to accountability and an inclusive society.

Reading an article in the New York Times this morning on the lives of two women in Angola, Two Women, Opposite Fortunes, I discovered Transparency International. Transparency International was started in 1993 by Peter Eigen, a former director of the Word Bank programs in East Africa, Its purpose is to expose corruption in government and to reverse the practice of accepting government corruption as inevitable.

It is an accepted fact that if you want to do business with many governments, you have to pay bribes. In order to help provide medical care to the poor, you have to look the other way when most of the funds go into the pocket of the rich—even in a catastrophic emergency like the earthquake in Haiti.

Transparency in Government

Transparency International develops a wide range of resources for understanding and resting corruption:

  • Tools including business principles for countering bribery, a business integrity toolkit, corruption fighters toolkit and integrity pacts.
  • Research on corruption, including a Corruption Perceptions Index, national assessments, anti corruption helpdesk, and a Bribe Payers Index.
  • Numerous publications, programs, and other activities

On the Index of Corruptions Perceptions Index of 2014, the United States ranks 17th with Denmark, New Zealand, Finland, Sweden, and Norway perceived to be the least corrupt.

The Extent of Mind Boggling Corruption

It’s hard to understand how bad corruption is many countries. We are talking about corruption on the scale of billions of dollars, not a free trip to the Azores to study international progress in farming. Or the gift of a new mink coat. Or paying for your daughter’s wedding. Or the free cup of coffee offered to police officers.

With a Corruption Perceptions Index score of 19 with the lowest score being 100, Angola is an example of one of the most corrupt nations in the world. When the International Monetary Fund first studied Angola’s financial records for 2007-2010, $32 billion dollars was missing. Most of the $58 million allocated to renovate one hospital just vanished.

Angola’s life expectancy and infant mortality rates are among the highest in the world. Income inequality in a country rich in diamond mines, oil, and other lucrative resources is extreme. After the decades long civil war ended in 2002, Angola adopted a nominally democratic government but lineages of kings still exist in some areas. The power is controlled by the president. According to an article in Forbes, the president’s daughter, Isabel dos Santos, is worth $3 billion in a country where 70% of the people live on $2 a day.

The Effects of Corruption

The effects of corruption run deep. For diamonds sold on the world market to create billionaires, the poor suffer deep deprivation. A very small percentage goes to education, healthcare, or economic development for the bottom 70%.

The majority does not rule in all democracies.

Only 54% of Angolan women are literate; 83% of men. In 1995, only 61% of children are even enrolled in school and many rural areas had no school buildings or teachers. Those children uneducated in 1995 are now adults. Democratic ideals expect them to determine how their country will  be governed.


Sociocracy would be a start.


Movie poster for Living on One DollarLiving on $1 a Day. A 53-minute documentary in which four college students live for two months on $1 a day in rural Guatemala. This award-winning film has been called “A Must Watch” by Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus

The depth of such deprivation goes even beyond daily food. And daily food in some households is not sufficient to maintain normal activity. Available on Netflix and often shown my non-profit groups combating world hunger, economic development, and micro economies.

Guatemala is 115 on the Perceived Corruption Index with a score of 37 out of a perfect low corruption score of 100.

Whole Planet Foundation Review

The Living on One website

There is also a book (that I haven’t read) by the award-winning photographer Renée C. Byer and Thomas A. Nazario, founder and president of The Forgotten International.

People’s Rights Amendment

Today, the Court has enthroned corporations, permitting them not only all kinds of special economic rights but now, amazingly, moving to grant them the same political rights as the people.

United States Bill of Rights

Constitutional law expert,

The movement to reserve the rights ensured by the US Constitution to citizens and stop them from being awarded to corporations is rapidly gaining steam. The legal standing of corporations as people began in 1886, in the famous case Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company in which the court based its arguments on the Constitution in denying Santa Clara County the right to right to tax property unfairly assessed for taxes. This decision was the beginning of a long string of decisions that accorded corporations as legal entities the same rights as persons. The problem is that corporations have no personal conscience. They are legal entities with no sensibilities. Their boards, executives, and managers can act on under shelter of the corporation with legal impunity. A corporation that controls a town and all the jobs in it, can close its factory with no personal sense of obligation or legal responsibility to the people it employs. It can destroy a town.

This was not always the case. When the corporate charter was established legally it had term limits. The corporation had to apply to the state in a given number of years in order to continue conducting business as a corporation. The State, acting on behalf of the people, could refuse to renew the charter of a company that was not acting in the best interests of a community and withdraw the special rights of corporations to protect their investors from personal responsibility. The investors could continue to operate as a business but they would be liable for their actions.

Today corporation can claim the people’s inalienable rights of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, free exercise of religion, freedom of association, and all such other rights of the people. But there is no there there. Corporations a shifty giants with enormous power for which no one can be held accountable. They have more money and power than local governments.

The People’s Rights Amendment seeks to correct this. It reads as follows:

Section 1. We the people who ordain and establish this Constitution intend the rights protected by this Constitution to be the rights of natural persons.

Section 2. The words people, person, or citizen as used in this Constitution do not include corporations, limited liability companies or other corporate entities established by the laws of any State, the United States, or any foreign state, and such corporate entities are subject to such regulation as the people, through their elected State and Federal representatives, deem reasonable and are otherwise consistent with the powers of Congress and the States under this Constitution.

Section 3. Nothing contained herein shall be construed to limit the people’s rights of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, free exercise of religion, freedom of association and all such other rights of the people, which rights are inalienable.

To sign a petition supporting the People’s Rights Amendment to the US Constitution:

Consensus and Personal Preferences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conditions for Consensus Decision-Making

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

Consensus decision-making only works when

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

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

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

Vision, Mission, Aim

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

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

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

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

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

The problem with “blocks” is usually:

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

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

Consensus or Sociocracy?

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

“Consensus or Sociocracy?” Is the Wrong Question

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

Sociocracy and consensus are not opposite things.

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

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

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


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

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

Coordinating Circle

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

The coordinating circle:

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

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

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

Full Membership Meetings

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

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

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


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

Communications & Steering

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

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

Where to Start?

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

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

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

Advocating Sociocracy

Public Advocacy

By the late-nineteenth century it was clear that the democratic ideal on which the United States had been founded was not producing equal representation even for those allowed to vote. Nor was it providing a rational structure for social or economic leadership—at the local or national levels. Workplaces were autocratic, often brutally so.

The government was dominated by politicians who often had their own interests at heart or were ignorant of democratic values. Often only people who were loyal to party bosses were supported by political parties and anyone without that support was unlikely to be elected, or to stay in office.

At best, the democracy that promised citizens the ability to self-determine, to be free and equal, was ruled by the majority of voters only providing a different kind of autocratic domination for the minority. Since only men of European descent and of a certain status were allowed to vote, the flavor of an aristocracy prevailed in effect if not in practice.

And by the late nineteenth century, science was also beginning to lose its luster. The promises of proof and social improvements had not been realized. And leaders realized that science could be used for anti-social purposes as well as for the public good. It often focused on issues that had little to do with humanitarian concerns.

Frank Ward: Advocating Sociocracy

Lester Frank Ward in Yellowstone National Park with Fossil Tree Trunks, 1887American sociologist Lester Frank Ward was a vocal advocate of a sociocracy. He proposed a plan that was more likely to be implemented than Comte’s governance by scientists and was more vocal in arguing his points. He was highly critical of the government and the kind of person typically supported by the political parties.

In Ward’s sociocratic society, the government would be advised by an academy of scientists rather than the decision-making body as Comte had suggested. Ward advocated using the rugged individual as an ideal. Individuals who “pulled themselves “by their bootstraps.” If the government learned from and functioned as the highest performing individual did, it would be effective and productive. The individual “should be praised and even imitated.”

Ward himself was such a person. He worked as a clerk and attended college at night to earn degrees in botany and law. Eventually he became a paleontologist for the Federal Government. When he retired at age 65, he became a professor at Brown University. In 1903 he was elected the first president of the International  Institute of Sociology and in 1906, the first president of the  American Sociological Society. He published widely. It is in support and in criticism of his proposed sociocracy that the word first entered public consciousness.

A Biography of Kees Boeke

Cover of Dutch Biography of Kees BoekeWell-received biography of Kees Boeke in Dutch by Daniela Hooghiemstra, a noted Dutch Biographer.

Available from


De christen-pacifist Kees Boeke (1884- 1966) wordt wel ‘onderwijshervormer’ genoemd maar hij beoogde niet minder dan de stichting van een nieuwe wereld. Toen de poging om die gemeenschap te stichten mislukte, besloot Boeke een school te stichten waar de ‘nieuwe wereld’ van de grond af opgebouwd moest worden. Deze unieke school kreeg na de Tweede Wereldoorlog een prominente leerling: prinses Beatrix. De koninklijke aandacht leek de kroon op zijn werk, maar luidde ook het begin in van de ondergang van Kees Boeke en alles waar hij altijd in geloof had.

First Implementation

Kees Boeke and Betty Cadbury

Kees Boeke and Betty Cadbury
Kees Boeke and Betty Cadbury

When WW II began to engulf Europe, the first implementation of sociocracy was achieved. Before the war, Dutch educator Cornelius “Kees” Boeke and his wife, English educator Beatrice “Betty” Cadbury, had been active internationally in Quaker peace education, predominantly in the Middle East. Boeke was a vocal pacifist and spoke against war with Hitler. When WWI began the Boekes were expelled from England. In 1914, they settled in Kees Boeke’s hometown, Bilthoven, a small community in The Netherlands. They continued their peace work, actively supported pacifists, and started several European and International peace organizations.

The First Implementation: The Childrens Community Workshop

In 1926, the Boekes founded the first sociocratic organization.       Needing a school for their children, they started the Children’s Community Workshop and began adapting Quaker egalitarian principles to its governance. By 1945, the residential school community had grown to 400 students, staff, and teachers who participated as equals in school functioning and program design.  Decisions were made by consensus and no actions taken until everyone agreed. The school still exists and functions according the same principles.

Although confined to the Netherlands and arrested by the Germans during the occupation, Kees Boeke continued to write about the abuses of power that were becoming evident in democracies. His most well-known essay is “Sociocracy: Democracy as It Might Be.”

Cohousing Meal Programs and Leadership

Some successful cohousing meal programs require participation by either cooking, preparing, or cleaning once every few weeks. (No one is required to eat.) But other communities that require participation in meal support still have meals infrequently.

A successful program averages 3-4 meals a week and their success is often attributed to  organization and leadership. This statement is typical of those programs:

We have a “meals boss” role, the Scheduler. Meals usually a major reason for joining cohousing. A major difference between our community and others is the Scheduler role. We have people who don’t want to ask other people to be on a meal team, and we have people who are afraid they won’t be asked to be on a team. The scheduler assigns people to meal teams, relieving the pressure of asking others and the risk of rejection.

The meals Scheduler takes everyone’s schedule, preferences, and roles they like  (cook, assistant, clean-up), and creates the schedule for the next two months. The Scheduler has a “community scheduling time” when anyone interested can come and help with this task. If we drop the centralized planning we will lose at least one meal a week, maybe two.

It is a strategy I think a community could use to jump-start their program, and then talk about how to reduce the centralization after a year or more of successful meals. Since we have quite slowly added new households it is quite clear that our successful meals program is what has helped get more people involved in it.

From the experience of other communities, without leadership, it is probably the reason some decline and others are feeble or never got started. Especially in larger communities where members have little or no experience producing group meals for 25-30 people.

Planning, Leading, and Doing

One of the key sociocratic methods speaks to the advantages of having leaders, in this case a Scheduler or Meals Boss. Sociocracy would create a program in two parts and would never expect anything without leadership, even when one person is doing it alone.

A. POLICY & PLANNING is done with equality and collaboration. Everyone—the membership, the board, a team—sits in a circle (figuratively speaking) with equal authority and respect to decide what they want/need, what it will require, how they will pay for it, and who will do what. They decide who will lead.

This process would usually include:

  1. scheduling an initial ideas-generating meeting,
  2. assigning the writing (or rewriting) of a proposal for a policy or plan by a person or team, done outside the meeting,
  3. holding another meeting to discuss, amend, and adopt the proposal by consensus, and
  4. electing a Leader.

Steps 2 and 3 would be repeated as necessary until a proposal is accepted.

B. OPERATIONS. Implementing the policy and plans. This is usually done fairly autocratically by a leader and people with clear roles. Effective and productive execution needs a leader who can say, “The buck stops here,” a person who is has the authority to make decisions. A person who reports back on whether something works or not.

Leadership might be a shared responsibility between two people but that is sometimes confusing for other people to sort out and it makes communications more difficult. Too many cooks spoil the soup.

Not choosing a leader is often a failure on the part of the membership, board, or team to accept responsibility for making a decision and/or develop and support leaders once chosen.

The operations leader, the doing leader, makes decisions and acts within approved policies and plans. The leader is in charge because everyone decided they were the best available person for the job. Grousing about the Leader will get you nowhere and action will be hit and miss. Supporting the leader is essential or effectiveness. Otherwise productivity will decline.

If a decision comes up that hasn’t been answered by the circle, the leader makes that decision on the spot and “argues about it later.” A special meeting can be called to address the decision or it can wait until the next scheduled meeting. But life can go on because the leader has the authority to make decisions in the moment.

If you think you don’t need policies and leaders, read “The Tyranny of Structurelessness” by Jo Freeman.

(I realize I’ve posted the “Tyranny of Structurelessness” before but it truly is a wonderful analysis of what “really” happens in leaderless groups — it becomes personality driven or ineffective.)

If you do implement a leadership program in a meals program in cohousing or other community, please let me know how it goes.

Consent vs Consensus : Laird Schaub on Sociocracy

Laird Schaub
Laird Schaub

Laird Schaub helped found and has been living in Sandhill Farm, an intentional, income sharing community in Rutledge, Missouri since 1974. His community is very small, less than 10 adults, but his experience is very broad. He has been doing training and consulting in governance and consensus decision-making since 1987. He gives several workshops on decision-making, facilitation, proposal writing, delegation, etc., at the annual Cohousing Association Conferences. He is the Executive Secretary  and Development Coordinator of the Foundation for Intentional Communities (FIC) and writes frequently for Communities Magazine. He travels most of the year to work with communities and organizations all over the United States. He does intensive workshops with facilitators who meet once or twice a month over an extended period of time. In short, he’s on the road a lot, on his feet a lot, and has seen a lot. He is also very well-respected.

Laird’s blog is Community and Conensus. In his Monday 18 August 2014 post, “Critique of Sociocracy,” he presents his “reservations” which are deep and well-stated. Some are quite justified and others misunderstandings. Just like anything else, it’s easy to get the wrong information. This is the first of several posts addressing both the points I think are valid and those that are at least partly in error. I’ve divided them into separate posts where the subject changes. Laird has 6 points of contention.

Stalking Consensus

Laird’s reservations are expressed “paying particular attention to how this contrasts with consensus, which is the main horse that sociocracy is stalking.”

Well, true and not true. It is true that for many years consent vs consensus was taught as if they were totally different animals. Not just horse vs zebra, it was elephant vs fruit fly. Having worked with consensus for more than 30 years and having studied the teachings of the major consensus trainers, I never understood this. Consent is given by one person and consensus is the result of multiple instances of consent. Both consent and consensus mean agreement to proceed, not necessarily full agreement to exclusion of other possibilities.

That’s the only meaningful distinction between them that I can find: the singular and the collective plural. Consent vs consensus is more likely to be a comparison between the worst understanding of consensus with the best understanding of consent.

The Singular and the Collective Plural

The distinction between the singular and the collective plural, however, can be meaningful: The emphasis in sociocracy on gaining the consent of each person, “no objections,” rather than the consensus of the group. In sociocracy, the focus is on each individual and their ability to consent to a decision. In groups using consensus, the focus is more likely to be on the ability of each person as part of a group to develop and accept a group decision. “In the best interests of the community” is often heard in groups using consensus.

In sociocracy the standard of consent is more likely to be a question to an individual “can you work with this” or “is this within your range of tolerance.” Not particularly friendly phrases those, but I think one can see the difference.

I’m exaggerating a bit to show what can often be a subtle difference. On the other hand, the recognition of the individual is important as a measurement:

  • In a small community where everyone lives-in, the standard will be one’s ability to still want to live in the community if the change under consideration is made. “Will you still love having coffee on your balcony in the morning?”
  • In an intentional community devoted to expressing strong humanitarian or environmental living standards, the question will be “Does this activity violate your sense of the appropriateness in terms of your personal or the community values.”
  • On the factory floor, the focus will be on one’s ability to perform their job if this change is made. “Will you still be able to move comfortably to finish the final process?”

A Practical vs a Higher Purpose

The focus in all three contexts—a friendly live-in community, a political or values-based community, and a workplace—is whether effectiveness will be impaired.  But “effectiveness” in each case is based on a different desired outcome. Consent emphasizes the understanding that a group is a group of individuals who all have to be able to fully commit to a purpose before it can be accomplished optimally. People who use consensus not infrequently have in their hearts and minds a more spiritual union. A commitment to a “higher purpose,” one larger than the individual. Higher even than the group.

A sociocratic organization could adopt a higher purpose statement as a policy decision. Such perceptions are not banned in sociocracy. It is used in a variety of religious organizations. But that belief is not inherent in sociocracy as it is sometimes felt to be in the traditional practice of consensus.

The practice of consensus itself is often regarded as indicating that this group of people is more advanced or of higher morals. This makes tradiitonal consensus unworkable in a workplace. In this sense, consent vs consensus is a meaningful understanding, if not a real difference.

Workplace vs. Social Action Groups

Gerard Endenburg developed the Sociocratic Circle-Organization Method to reproduce the traditional consensus model he had lived with at Kees and Betty Boeke’s residential school, the Children’s Community Workshop. Instead of everyone caring for each other, Endenburg needed a definition that worked in the high pressure, fast moving production of electrical  engineering systems. People are hired in businesses and other organizations to fulfill roles with specific responsibilities, not to care for the other engineers, whom they probably don’t even know.

In engineering and manufacturing decisions are based on the responsibilities of the person to fulfill their roles and responsibilities, not a perceived higher purpose. But overtime the empathy required to understand the role requirements of each person and appreciation for their insights and support, do create a tighter bond between people.

Because the Sociocratic Circle-Organization Method is taught as it developed in Endenburg Electric, and in many other businesses all over the world since the 1970s,  the engineering and business vocabularies often overtake the fundamental purpose of using consensus in the first place: collaboration and respect instead of competition and disdain.

Comparing an Elephant to a Fruit Fly

The major distinction is that sociocratic decision-making operates within a governance structure designed to support consensus decision-making. Groups that use traditional consensus typically make many decisions as a full group or are completely flat with all decisions made by the full group. Some have a governance structure loosely and sometimes directly based on conventional social and governance structures designed for majority decision-making. Because of this, they are limited in size.

While comparing consent to traditional consensus isn’t a very meaningful, comparing sociocracy with traditional consensus really is like comparing elephants to fruit flies. One is a governance method and the other a decision-making method and they work synergistically.

Policy vs Operational Decisions

Another difference is that consensus is specifically used only for policy decisions. The operations leader makes  day-to-day operations decisions within the policies set by the workgroup. This takes advantage the power of efficient decision-making in the moment and collectively made policy decisions by all members of the work group.

Groups using traditional consensus tend to make almost all decisions as a group and delegation is feared as a re-introduction of autocratic, hierarchical control.

Groups using traditional consensus are also unlikely to apply cybernetic principles or use scientific methods for evaluating the effectiveness of their decisions, but that is a subject for another day. Many of the practices and processes used by sociocracy are also best practices used generally in businesses and organizations.

No Magic in Decision-Making

Neither have  magical qualities. Decision-making can be hard no matter what you call it or how you structure it. If it were easy, it wouldn’t need to be taught and wouldn’t need a governance structure at all.

These are both the reasons why sociocracy has been perceived as “stalking consensus” and the reasons why it is not. Sociocracy is an elephant that is dependent on the fruit fly.

(Part 2 is still unwritten and given the amount of time taken to write this, it may be a few days.)

Inclusion and Hierarchies: New Articles on Zappos

Three new articles discussing inclusion and hierarchies, and other issues raised by the Zappos adoption of Holacracy. These are real articles examining the pros and cons of the promises of Holacracy and sociocracy, not reactions or quotes from press releases.

1. Andrew Hill of The Financial Times: Zappos and the Collapse of Corporate Hierarchies.

2.  A response from Norman Pickavance of Blueprint for Better Business in Linton, N. Yorks, UK: The Four Levels of Decision-Making.

3. Sally Helgesen, author of The Web of Inclusion: Architecture for Building Great Organizations (2005 reprint of 1995 edition) on the Strategy+Business site: An Extreme Take on Restructuring: No Job Titles?

We desperately need professional, published accounts with full measurements of organizations that have adopted sociocracy. That’s what business people need before they pay attention. Scientifically acceptable measurements. Peer-reviewed and published. 


Diana Leafe Christian, United States

Diana Leafe ChristianDiana is the author of Creating a Life Together: Practical Tools to Grow Ecovillages and Intentional Communities and Finding Community: How to Join an Ecovillage or Intentional Community (New Society Publishers, 2003, 2005). She teaches Sociocracy to intentional communities — including ecovillages and cohousing communities — in North America and internationally. She also leads workshops on starting  all varieties of intentional communities, how existing communities can succeed and thrive, and on governance and decision-making.

As a representative to GENNA, Global Ecovillage Network North America, Diana Leafe Christian writes about North American ecovillages for the GEN (Global Ecovillage Network) Newsletter. She was editor of Communities magazine for 14 years, now publishes Ecovillages newsletter.

Diana does workshops and training for intentional communities internationally including the United States, Canada, South America, and Europe.  She is a partner in  The Sociocracy Consulting Group (TSCG).

She is a member of Earthaven Ecovillage in North Carolina.

Contact information:

Yves Morieux: Smart Simplicity

Yves Morieux speaking on stage.A wonderful discovery today, “As work gets more complex, 6 rules to simplify,” a TED Talk by Yves Morieux. Morieux is a senior partner in the Washington DC office of the Boston Consulting Group (BCG)  and director of the BCG Institute for Organization. He studies how changes in structure can improve motivation for employees.

“Smart Simplicity” uses six key rules that encourage cooperation to solve long-term problems. Not by just reducing costs and increasing profit, but also by maximizing engagement in all levels of the organization.

The focus of Morieux’s work is very compatible with sociocracy. He stresses collaboration over rule-making, self-organization over central authority,  and effective action over complex, multi-layered planning.

A 350˚ Increase in Complexity

In his TED Talk, Morieux first critiques the increasingly complex designs for business plans that might have 5 headings with 25 subheadings under each one, resulting in 125 cogent topics, each with numerous subcategories. Combined with an equally complicated workflow and organizational structure chart, it produces a brilliant, mind-numbing, and wholly unimplementable plan. Impressive in good graphics but hopeless in practice.

The need for an emphasis on smart simplicity is supported by a study done by BCG that reported:

We’ve created an “index of complicatedness,” based on surveys of more than 100 U.S. and European listed companies, which measures just how big the problem is.The survey results show that over the past 15 years, the amount of procedures, vertical layers, interface structures, coordination bodies, and decision approvals needed in each of those firms has increased by anywhere from 50% to 350%.

A wonderful part of the video is when he recites an example of such business plans with their myriad of meaningless words. He has the memorization skills of an actor and the facility of a professional fast talker so he got himself through it without notes and within 12 minutes. If he had a teleprompter, speaking that fast would have burned out its circuits.

Feedback Loops & Decentralization

Morieux emphasizes that self-organization is dependent on feedback loops to make decentralization work. In a Harvard Business Review article from 2011, he says:

There are six smart rules. The first three involve enabling—providing the information needed to understand where the problems are and empowering the right people to make good choices. The second three involve impelling—motivating people to apply all their abilities and to cooperate, thanks to feedback loops that expose them as directly as possible to the consequences of their actions. The idea is to make finding solutions to complex performance requirements far more attractive than disengagement, ducking cooperation, or finger-pointing. When the right feedback loops are in place, cumbersome alignment mechanisms, ranging from compliance metrics to the proliferation of committees—can be eliminated, along with their costs, and employees find solutions that create more value.

This is has been an important point for theories of circular organization since the 1970s and for understanding sociocracy. Feedback loops are necessary to implement decentralization and impelling cooperation and self-organization.

Morieux’s Smart Rules

  • Rule 1: Improve Understanding of What Coworkers Do
  • Rule 2: Reinforce the People Who Are Integrators
  • Rule 3: Expand the Amount of Power Available
  • Rule 4: Increase the Need for Reciprocity
  • Rule 5: Make Employees Feel the Shadow of the Future
  • Rule 6: Put the Blame on the Uncooperative

For More: Two Readings

From the Harvard Business Review,
“Smart Rules: Six Ways to Get People to Solve Problems Without You.” September 2011.

Book Cover: Six Simple RulesMorieux’s book at Amazon: Six Simple Rules: How to Manage Complexity without Getting Complicated. 2014

There is also a French edition with a much better title: Smart Simplicity: Six règles pour gérer la complexité sans devenir compliqué (2014).

Morieux divides his time between leading research and advising senior executives of multinational corporations and public-sector entities in the United States, Europe, and Asia-Pacific on their strategies and organizational transformations. He has been featured in articles on organizational evolution in Harvard Business Review, The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, and Le Monde.

Encouraging Self-Organization

Logo for Interaction Institute for Social ChangeIn a workshop I conducted last Sunday, one of the participants asked, “How do you encourage self-organization?” By some miracle, probably related to my being on every mailing list on anything related to sociocracy and governance, I received in my mailbox a link to an article on the  Interaction Institute for Social Change. You guessed it on  Tips for Encouraging Self-Organization by Curtis Ogden.

After some editing and additions, here are some ideas:

Encouraging Self Organization in the Environment

  • Create spaces where people from different social and work groups encounter each other in the course of the day.
  • Create open space and unscheduled time at home and the office.

In Meetings and Conversations

  • Expect engagement with decisions by asking open-ended questions.
  • Encourage people in finding their own answers
  • Ask “What should we do next?” and “What haven’t we done?” to encourage curiosity and questioning.
  • Reward innovation and risk-taking. Encourage making corrections and trying again.
  • Emphasize that we learn from mistakes. No mistakes, no  risk, no innovation.
  • Encourage people to focus on their strengths and collaborate with others who have different strengths.
  • Actively share information. Practice transparency.
  • Demonstrate self-organization in your own actions.

Most people are not encouraged to self-organize as children or adults. Most workplaces find self-organization disruptive. It’s hard to break the training of waiting for directions and not working outside them.  Changing takes both expectation, insistence, and support. Support alone won’t do it.

John Schinnerer, Hawaii

John SchinnererJohn Schinnerer lives in Hawaii and works all over the Pacific and Western States, as well as online. He is a whole systems design consultant, teacher, and facilitator who develops cultural and ecological systems for a variety of public, private, and nonprofit clients. He is a partner at the Sociocracy Consulting Group.

Since 1996, he has studied, worked, taught, and published in the realms of human relatings, governance, and decision-making systems, appropriate technology and ecological design. He applies his wide-ranging observations of and experience with cultural and ecological systems to all aspects of his practice.

Awareness and integration of existing cultural patterns is key to his inclusive approach to Dynamic Governance design and facilitation.

His emphasis is on maximizing clarity, honesty, and integrity while enhancing individual and group efficiency and effectiveness – in other words, to get things done and have more fun! He helps organizations recognize that success for people who want to accomplish something together is determined by how well they work, play, and make decisions together.

Education and Credentials

  • Master’s Degree in Whole Systems Design, with a focus on cultural and ecological design
  • Training, mentoring and certification preparation in Dynamic Governance through GovernanceAlive.

Martin Grimshaw, England, UK

Martin GrimshawMartin Grimshaw is a facilitator, trainer and organizational consultant based in the south of England. He works with groups, teams and individuals to help them find better ways of working and living.

Red Butterfly, Logo for There's a Better Way.Martin is the founder of There’s Better Ways of Working: Tools for a Smarter Planet, where he works with clients in implementing healthier and happier collaboration.

He also co-founded SociocracyUK and DecisionLab, and provides tools for participation, and systems for organizational and planetary wellbeing.

Decentralized Governance of Corporate Intranets

Nielson Norman Group LogoOne of the newsletters I read is AlertBox from the Nielsen Norman Group, Jakob Nielson has long been considered the expert on website usability. NN/g does extensive research for major corporations makes the information available to the public. His newsletter this morning included a piece on trends in intranet portals, which make extensive corporate information available for use by employees. In this report I came across a surprise—a section on governance! Most often such reports refer to “management.” This one out and out uses “governance,” talks about “roles” as central in governance, and stresses that in the last year, decentralized governance has been found increasingly beneficial.

Governance Becoming More Decentralized

As enterprise portals mature and grow so does the need for more structured, yet disbursed, portal governance. Portal teams are learning that since the intranet portal touches all layers of the organization, so should the governance. The new case studies reveal a move toward a decentralized or matrix governance model, as opposed to past years where governance was more centralized — being created, communicated, and policed by the enterprise portal owners.

Some organizations find themselves creating governance where once there was none, while others flesh out more specific details of their portal governance structure to accommodate touch points across the organization.

For example, the Carle Foundation has created a governance structure that is both formal and flexible, with defined roles, responsibilities, and workflows. The governance team is drawn from all levels of the organization and has assigned tasks to staff from nearly every operational area across the organization. From the senior sponsor to the individual content contributor everyone has a role to play in ensuring the upkeep and ongoing development of the intranet portal.

Governance, like most aspects of portal development, is marathon not a sprint, and portal teams realize that governance must evolve, as does the portal. (Emphasis added.)

NN/g’s recommendations are based on 83 intranet portals. The corporations studied in this research report were:

  • The Carle Foundation
  • City of Olathe, Kansas
  • Coca-Cola Enterprises Ltd.
  • Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)
  • FDC Solutions, Inc.
  • Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft zur Förderung der angewandten Forschung e.V.
  • Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute
  • Municipal Design and Survey Unitary Enterprise “Minskinzhproekt”
  • National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)
  • Northern Arizona University (NAU)
  • Palm Beach County Board of County Commissioners
  • Persistent Systems Limited
  • Resource Data, Inc.
  • Think Mutual Bank
  • Department of Transport (Canada)
  • Yara International ASA

Excerpt from “Intranet Portals are the Hub of the Enterprise Universe” by Patty Caya and Kara Pernice on June 29, 2014

The California Tenure Case, Part II: Sociocracy in Schools

The California Tenure Case is evidence of just one of the systems failures in education that could be resolved with the use of sociocracy in schools. The adversarial nature of the administrative structure and imposition of standards  in education pits teachers, the school administration, unions, and state and federal governments against each other in a wars that none of them can win. Even the concept of winning ensures that the system will fail.

Conflict weakens and eventually breaks a system. Sociocracy in schools would produce a harmony of shared goals that supports productivity and is lost when each domain begins competing against the others. The education of students becomes a battle in which the students have no ability to compete. It’s a battle over students in which students have no voice. And the teachers have no power and all the responsibility.

Sociocracy doesn’t need unions to provide job security or autocratic managers to ensure quality performance. In The Netherlands, Works Councils, similar to unions, are required in all workplaces of more than 35 employees—unless they are organized sociocratically. Sociocracy is considered to protect both workers and employers rights better than Works Councils and sociocratic organizations are exempted from the Works Council requirement.

Sociocracy in Schools

In a school that is governed by the principles of sociocracy, the teachers work collaboratively to design educational programs for their students, educate themselves on a continuing basis, develop new methods for teaching, and involve students and parents in a program designed to meet both the external education requirements and the student’s interests and abilities.

The emphasis is on policy and program decisions  as equals while preserving the hierarchical structure that is most efficient for daily functioning. That means teachers and the administration meet together as equals to determine school policies and educational program decisions which are then executed on a daily basis by the principal who is responsible for implementation.

The teachers are organized in teams by responsibilities.  Within local, state, and federal mandates, teams are delegated responsibility for the curriculum, teaching materials, and classroom practices in their area: Grades K-3, social studies, math and sciences, etc. The divisions depend on the size  and purposes of the school. . The leaders of each team, their elected representatives, and the principal serve as a general management team.  The principal as general manager ensures that the policies the teachers have made are carried out and the school is also meeting local, state, and federal requirements.

In sociocracy, transparency prevails so financial records are open. As policy decisions, teachers also formulate and consent to the budgets for their areas. Transparency is essential to build trust and to ensure that all members of a collaborative process have full information.

Distributed Power & Consent

Distributed power is a fundamental principle in sociocratic governance.  Those who are responsible for the work, make the decisions that directly affect how they do it. This both relieves eh principal of an overwhelming number of decisions and moves them to the context in which they will have the most effect. School standards, policy, and program decisions that affect the whole school are made by the general management team, which is composed of the leaders and representatives of each of the teams,. Those that directly affect the teams are made by the teams.

Teachers and administrators discuss policy and program decisions as equals and the consent of all members of the team is necessary to implement them. Consent is often felt to be impossible in a working situation, and in many other situations as well, but combined with other sociocratic principles and methods it works very well and produces a strong sense of harmony and mutual respect. One key to making it work is that the work process is based on (1) moving forward and (2) testing decisions. If all members of a team can’t consent to a discussion or are hesitant about it, the team will test it to obtain more information.

Testing policies and educational programs is a part of the work process which is based on planning, doing, and measuring. The emphasis is on making a satisfying  plan (one that is both satisfying and sufficient), put it into practice, and measure results. Results are then evaluated in the next planning meeting, leading to a new or improved plan that will then be implemented and its results measured.

Integral Education and  Peer Coaching

Sociocratic schools do not use tenure to protect teachers rights or to ensure that good teachers stay. Instead they develop good teachers by providing educational opportunities and expecting teams to learn about new developments and best practices in their fields. Teachers are given  access to ongoing education, control over their classrooms, and independence in teaching methods. Student progress is measured and used to design educational programs for them. Sociocratic schools trust the teacher’s ability to educate students in a collaborative process and provides the support and materials for them to do so.

In sociocratic schools,  teachers and teachers’ aids have responsibility for their own and their colleagues’ continuing education. They evaluate and coach each other, building on their strengths while correcting weaknesses. The team is responsible for meeting their own standards, the standards of the school, as well as requirements of subject-based education associations and government requirements.

Upgrading our knowledge and skills over a lifetime is important for everyone but particularly important for teachers. Some skills are gained in the classroom, but content changes. In a five-year-period the sciences change dramatically, for example. It takes continual updating in all fields to keep up. They need more than teacher training days allocated to learn administrative systems and state laws. They need real eduction. Businesses do this for their employees on a regular basis.

Education is about more than tenure and it is a shame that teacher’s unions have spent so much money on salary and tenure fights, and their own survival, to the exclusion of other benefits that would serve teachers more comprehensively.

Click here for a copy of the decision from the Los Angeles Times.