How Many People Know about Sociocracy?

In another post, I just asserted with no evidence what-so-ever that more than 99% of the world’s population had no knowledge of sociocracy, the world’s most deeply democratic method of governance. Someone might have a method of measuring this but I have a quick way.

When I Googled “sociocracy” in 2002, there were 12 pages listed by Google. Most were repeats of links to Kees Boeke’s essay and to the Sociocratisch Centrum site.

Today, as of one minute ago, there were 56,000. The even number is a bit suspect and some are probably to the same site, but the difference between 12 and 56,000 eight years later is certainly significant.

Democracy, on the other hand, returns 66,900,000 pages. Autocracy, 1,360,000.

We have a long way to go.

The Google Count

I recently asserted with no evidence what-so-ever that more than 99% of the world’s population had no knowledge of sociocracy, the world’s most deeply democratic method of governance. Someone might have a method of measuring this, but I have a quick way: I google “Sociocracy.”

When I Googled “sociocracy” in 2002, there were 12 listings by Google. Most were repeats of links to Kees Boeke’s essay, “What Democracy Could Be,” the Twin Oaks community website, and one for the Sociocratisch Centrum site.

On 2 May 2010, there were 56,000. The even number is a bit suspect and some are probably to the same site, but the difference between 12 and 56,000 eight years later is certainly significant.

Democracy, for comparison, returns 66,900,000 pages. Autocracy, 1,360,000.

2 April 2012: 133,000. Quick climb. It took 8 years to get from 12 to 56,000 and only 2 more years to get to 133,000. That’s probably also the effect of compound interest!

26 July 2012: 33,200. They cleaned up their search? Alta Vista has 27,700 so this is probably a more correct number. Bing: 27,300.

20 January 2012: 32,400. Altavista: 48,700. Bing: 49,900.

19 June 2013: 30,600. Bing: 34,100.

16 March 2014: 34,400. Bing: 23,900. First result on Bing is the Encyclopedia Britannica article!?! And the second the page to order We the People.  The searches are getting better with fewer duplicate results.

4 March 2014: 40,410. Page views are up from 651 in January to 3180 in July.

2 September 2014: 32,400. Alta Vista, once considered a more selective search engine used by academics, has been bought by Yahoo. It doesn’t display number of hits. It does something interesting. In the place where there is usually an Ad, for “sociocracy, it has “Ad related to sociocracy.” No ads.

Are Sociocratic Corporations Legal?

Sociocratic corporations are perfectly legal. All the laws that constrain corporate functioning can be met while applying sociocratic values, principles, and methods.

Laws governing corporations, both for profit and not for profit, are generally written to prevent abuses that corporations have committed in the past, often with investors’ or donors’ money. In writing the law, the government is presenting its solution to that problem. If you can determine what the law intended to prevent, you will have a good guide to functioning within the law and build a sociocratic structure.

For example, in the US, there is often a requirement that the Board of Directors function by majority vote. The law was intended to ensure that “at least” a majority were in favor of an action. It is a minimum standard, not a maximum standard. Consent contains within it the majority. There is no contradiction in the numbers.

Corporate legislation requires an organization to have a Board of Directors with full authority to govern the organization, but the board can delegate its authority. This is what higher circles do when they create lower circles.

The legal protection for investors and donors is that if the lower circles do not carry out their delegated duties, the Board has the authority to take control. The Board can delegate authority as long as it retains responsibility for the results. This is also perfectly sociocratic since a higher circle can decide to eliminate a lower circle that is not functioning properly.

Even if you are confronting an old law that protected someone 200 years ago, however, the worst thing you can do is to try to convince the government that they are wrong at the same time you are trying to become incorporated. Get legally incorporated, then demonstrate the superiority of the sociocratic structure. Until you have done that, no one will listen to you.

We had this problem with cohousing communities getting approved by town zoning boards. Most cohousing communities are legally structured as condominiums. There are very clear laws about “common interest” real estate in which each owner has a percentage interest. Instead of explaining how the cohousing project met all the legal requirements for condominiums and was financially sound, groups were going to banks and zoning boards talking about shared meals, consensus decision-making, supportive environments for children, changing the world, recycling, etc.

This information was distracting the banks and boards and creating uncertainty about totally sound real estate developments. Cohousing groups were routinely turned down until they found a conventional developing partner, a very sympathetic banker, or began sounding like the legally established condominium that they were.

To ensure that you are both within the law and not undermining the self-optimizing sociocratic structure, you only need a lawyer and a sociocratic consultant with the level of training required to set up a complex organization.

Gilles Charest, Quebec

Gilles CharestGilles Charest is a certified sociocracy consultant and corporate trainer with over 40 years of organizational development experience. He melds his training in Gestalt psychology with sociocracy to teach leadership skills.  He founded Sociogest, one of the oldest sociocracy consulting firms in 1986,

Since 2003, Charest has led the International School for Leaders (L’École International des Chefs), which teaches the principles of sociocratic governance. He focuses on interventions supporting leaders and their employees to work better together. His areas of expertise are executive coaching , strategic planning, communications and decision-making, change management , succession development , performance management , conflict resolution and development teams in the workplace .

He speaks English and French and works in Canada and French-speaking countries in Europe, and leads the francophone center for sociocracy.

Charest has written several articles and books in the field of management including :

 

The Sociocracy Group

The Sociocratisch Centrum was founded by Gerard Endenburg who developed the Sociocratic Circle-Organization Method.

In 2014, it reorganized and became The Sociocracy Group (TSG) to distinguish itself as an international  consulting firm with affiliates in many countries.  The Sociocracy Group serves as a professional association for certified facilitators, trainers, and consultants, and oversees the Certification of Sociocratic Experts worldwide.

The standards, norms, and certification process are posted on the site. Along with an international list of Certified Experts by country. Annewiek Reijmer is now the General Manager.

From the website:

The Sociocracy Group is an organization that promotes sociocracy as a method of governance for all facets of global society. It is legally organized in The Netherlands and headquartered in Rotterdam.
Sociocracy enables people to live and work together as different, unique persons through dynamic structures and mutual equivalency in decision-making.
The Sociocracy Group adds the sociocratic circle-organization method (SCM) to global society by guiding regional TSG offices and providing a corps of certified sociocratic experts using the sociocratic norms.

To contact the TSG, email the General Manager: Annewiek Reijmer.

Values and Sociocracy

Equality

When I first learned about sociocracy in 2002 I believed that its value was equality.* The counter argument was that equality wasn’t a value, it was a practicality. People work more efficiently when they have an equal voice in their work. Sociocracy is value-free. It is an empty tool that when used by any organization increases its productivity. My first reaction to that was to suggest that the word tool, with its meaning of penis in vulgar English, was probably not the best image for a decision-making method and empty penis was not a good. I got blank, rather unbelieving stares. Empty tool as of this writing continues to be used.

I retained equality as a value. In and of itself, it was worth something.

Transparency

Next came transparency, the open sharing information. The more I saw consensus decision-making in action and reevaluated previous organizational decision-making experiences, the more I realized that decision-making in general and consensus specifically, is only effective if each person in the organization has access to all available information. In sociocratic organizations transparency is a practice, like logbooks, variable compensation based on performance, etc. All records, with the exception of proprietary information like recipes, are open to all members of the organization and to customers and clients.

As a practice transparency can be modified as it fits the situation, like a logbook that can be modified to fit the needs of the organization. It exists in the technical realm and is negotiable. As a value transparency is right out in front as a measure of all actions, of all decisions. Am I appropriately sharing or withholding? Am I deceiving others? Withholding information on which I am making a decision from others making the same decision is being deceptive in the same way that ignoring people is an act of violence. Openness, like equality, is worth something. An ethical person is open and truthful.

Action, Decisiveness, Effectiveness, Focus

The third value is one that John Buck raised initially as action. He and CT Butler had been discussing their approaches to consensus and governance. CT had argued for the importance of values and John came back convinced and floated equivalence, action, and transparency. I was delighted, but I didn’t think action fit all organizations or was necessarily a good value. Action for the sake of action is doomed and not what sociocracy advocates. I suggested decisiveness. John objected that it could be confused with judging. I tried effectiveness and before he could respond countered with focus. One of the characteristics of the best organizations is their focus on their aims. John agreed.

Values and Sociocracy

Our current understanding of the values of sociocracy: Equivalence, Focus, and Transparency. We are about to find out whether others agree with us. But one thing that we know is that sociocracy and values are words that can appear in the same sentence.

*On the equality vs. equivalent debate: by definition equality and equivalence are synonyms. In mathematics, equivalence is preferred because it emphasizes that two statements can be equal but not the same. In A+B = A+c+x, the two halves are not the same but have the same result. They are equivalent but not equal. Since sociocracy has more to do with the social sciences than with mathematics, I prefer to use equality.

2014 October 1:  Eventually effectiveness won out over focus, and empty tool hasn’t been heard in a while.

The Downside to Standardization

A great concern of the Global Circle of the international sociocratic certification body is and has for many years been convinced that certification is essential to preserving the core principles and their proper application. In addition to a concern about the principles being misapplied and the method misrepresented, the Global Circle is concerned about “sociocracy” becoming like “democracy” — having no definition and the name being used by anyone inaccurately, even deceptively.

Professional associations are a good way to establish standards and credibility in new fields. They can give some measure of assurance to clients that the person they are trusting to reorganize their companies has a certain level of training. Professional associations also form an information and education network for their members — very important functions. Individual certification and professional associations are not just about selling yourself to clients.

To focus only on certification, however, is more likely to produce rigidity than rigor. It has already inhibited the growth of sociocracy.

Gerard Endenburg began developing his method in 1970 and established the Sociocratisch Centrum in 1978 to implement sociocracy in other businesses and in other countries. While there are many companies and at least one international and one national associations using the method, in 2010, there are only two certified consultants in the United States. One is mentoring ~20 people whose aim is to become certified but some, by their own admission, are years away from certification since it requires an active consulting practice.

The Centrum, which has now formed the Global Circle, has been functioning since 1978. The members of the Centrum have not moved sociocracy to the forefront after more than 30 years. Jack Quarter in 2000 reported that there were 15 employees.

To move an individual or an organization to new creative heights requires autonomy, mastery, and purpose. In this case, the mechanistic thinking of reward/punishment narrows the focus to the details of certification, instead of broadening perspectives and applications of the values and principles of sociocracy. That is the chaos that produces energy.

Is there enough energy in the thinking of the Global Circle to balance the urge toward standardization with the need for integration and testing of sociocratic values, principles, and methods in the wider arena of ideas?

(Originally published 2 April 2010. Revised 24-26 June 2010)

Central Authority?

Does anyone believe that there should be a world-wide hierarchy of double-linked sociocratic organizations?

There definitely are. They don’t perceive the Big Brother implications of this because of consent and double-linking. If an organization, through its double-links can object to the decisions of the world-wide organization, there is no possibility of establishing a dictatorship or placing limitations on that organization. The implications of this kind of thinking for a democratic society, and for sociocratic ideas becoming mainstream are significant.

Since a world-wide organization would have to consent to the circle below it becoming a member, however, this control is not necessarily operable. If an organization wants to extend itself, it would logically follow that the only position it could take is:

You can join us if you are operating sociocratically. If as an organization we need to change or develop, you will become part of the consent process that determines that — but first we have to determine that you are sociocratic according to our standards.

This is a reasonable requirement. One must consent to those with whom they are to make consent decisions. Consent doesn’t work without that agreement.

The problem arises at the point of saying who is sociocratic and who is not.

Some believe that if an organization wants to call themselves sociocratic, they should be certified in the same way that consultants are certified. They understand the ability to trademark “sociocracy” is impossible — one can’t trademark an idea. Nor can one limit the use of a word that has been in use since 1851.

The three-triangles symbol will be trademarked and groups/individuals will have to be certified to use it.

Inherent Conflicts in Democracy

To be a sociocracy, in the same sense that a democracy is a democracy, the principles and methods would have to be adapted to local and national governance. A sociocratic structure would be a radical departure from the way democratic governments are structured today. It might emerge more easily in a country that is just emerging from an autocracy because it could emanate from a single point rather than having to unify several conflicting governance structures as we have in the United States.

In the United States government, policy decisions and the implementation of those decisions are delegated to completely different sets of people: the legislative branch and the executive branch. There is no overlap. (They often are not even on speaking terms.) This produces a system in which an executive unit can inform (and beseech) the legislative unit to set certain policies, but has no control over whether it does so. The legislative units can set policy but can also be thwarted by executive units that fail to implement them or choose to implement them using an interpretation contrary to the aim of the policy.

This necessitates a third unit, the judicial branch, to decide which unit is right. Their basis for settling conflicts is to look the constitution, policies, and previous judicial decisions. The resulting deliberations and arguments can take many years. They are expected to be impartial

In addition to being in units that can easily obstruct the work of another unit, all or most of the leaders in the  United States government are elected by, appointed by, or deeply affiliated with political parties. Since there are effectively only two political parties, Democratic and Republican, this results in a polarity. While party leaders may nominally be elected government officials, the powerful party decision-makers are most likely to be people with money or with professional credentials, like campaign managers. Thus the people who determine, directly or indirectly, who is elected or appointed are not necessarily even a part of the government.

The branches of government are in conflict by definition. They are designed to oversee and regulate each other, not to work together toward common aims. Further conflicts are produced by political party affiliation, each with their own aims, creating divisions with the branches. With no common aim, there is no ability to judge success — and no ability to be successful. The battles are big and the accomplishments small. Not only small, but subject to being overruled by another branch of the government, if not this year, the next. And each leader is subject to being deposed not because of poor service to the government, but to poor service to the party.

In sociocratic organizations, governance, making policy decisions, and operations, implementing those decisions, are not separate in theory or practice. Both functions are carried out by the same people. With the legislative and the executive functions joined, the judicial function of settling disputes between them becomes irrelevant.

Each government unit would combine the functions now performed by committees in the House and Senate and by agencies in the executive branch. Policy and practice would inform each other and share a common aim. It would be self-defeating to write ineffective policies or to purposely ignore policies. Policies would be written within defined domains so pork-barrel additions unrelated to the work of the unit would be impossible.

Government officials would be elected by the government agencies in which they would serve, making political parties irrelevant.

Questions: Where is the guiding hierarchy? Who serves the function of a (good) corporate board? How do the states link to the federal government?

Is a Family a Hierarchy?

How does equality and freedom work in a family when a child’s ability to make decisions without harming themselves or others is inherently unequal? How can a family apply sociocratic principles if children cannot consent to the decisions that affect them? Can a family be a hierarchy and still be nurturing or does it have to be a hierarchy in order to be nurturing?

Most people agree that children are not born with the ability to make the decisions necessary for them to live safely and well. For children to be successful as adults, they need parental guidance, or the guidance of other adults in their lives. Is this a hierarchical relationship? If so, how does the child grow out of it? When do the children become free and equal? And how?

Systems Definition of Hierarchy

A definition of hierarchy that I find very useful is from  Thinking in Systems by Donella H. Meadows. It is a small book, very accessible, and an excellent introduction to systems thinking.

  • Hierarchical systems evolve from the bottom up. The purpose of the upper layers is to serve the purposes of the lower.
  • Systems are often self organizing, meaning they have the ability to structure themselves and to create new structures. To learn, diversify, and complexify.
  • Systems need to be managed for resilience, not just for productivity or stability.
  • There are always limits to resilience.

By analogy, applying Donella Meadows’ characteristics of a hierarchy to the family, the responsibility of the parents would be:

  • Serving the purposes of the children, which is to become independent, self-supporting adults, leading satisfying lives.
  • Teaching them to self-organize meaning to learn, diversify, and become more complex.
  • Teaching them to be resilient, not just productive and stable, and
  • Teaching them to understand that they are human, there are limits to resilience.

As a guide for parenting I think that works very well. It also establishes the purpose of a hierarchy in a family system. It points the hierarchy toward the development of self-organizing systems, toward enabling children to create new family structures, new hierarchies. The understanding of sociocratic principles would be helpful in managing the process of parenting self-organizing children. (Who clean their rooms, sometimes.)

Vision, Mission, Aim Statement, DecisionLab, UK

From DecisionLab’s website:

DecisionLab holds a space for resolution: the moment when conflict and turmoil turn into creative power; the shared commitment to accomplish a challenging goal. We envision a world where everyone knows how to collaborate in making good decisions, and where every community has facilitative leaders who evoke the fair and creative participation of their associates. We offer facilitation, training, coaching & consultancy services to organisations and leaders with whom we share common visions of bettering the world. We help organisations to make clear decisions, develop healthy and sustainable working practices, build stronger relationships and guide them towards having a good sense of where they’re going.

DecisionLab has been functioning sociocratically since January 2010. In 2014, the team included Nathaniel Whitestone, Louis Loizou, and Alan Jackson. The website also includes a blog by the consultants.

Asheville Movement Collective, North Carolina, US

Asheville Movement Collective logoThe Asheville Movement Collective began transitioning to sociocracy in 2010 after working with John Buck. Their vision, mission, aim:

VISION: A world that moves in harmony where all are free to be their authentic selves within a loving community.

MISSION: Inspiring authenticity and healthy community through free-form dance

AIM: Hosting dance waves for personal and community transformation

Summary of sociocracy as they use it and diagrams of their organizational structure:

Asheville Movement Collective Self-Governance System

Consensus, Compromise, or Pay Offs?

The board of a wildlife federation reaches consensus on a plan to save a threatened wild bird’s habitat by deleting the budget for legal action. A Senate committee unanimously recommends proposed legislation after amending it until all the committee members have something they want but that is only tangentially related. A local bike trail organization calls off its protests against a new parking lot when it is promised a wider bike path on a major street.

Is this the same kind of push and pull that is required to reach consensus? Rather obviously, I’m going to say no.

All these solutions are compromises and payoffs that will not move any of these groups toward their aims as effectively as if they had built a consensus. The wildlife federation board has an action plan with no teeth. The Senate has produced a cluttered resource-wasting legislative proposal for actions that have no clear aim. The bike trail group has shown themselves to be easily bought and their values open to manipulation.

A consensus decision is characterized by its ability to move the group toward its aim because each member consents only when they can actively support and implement the proposed action. The proposal may not be comprehensive or ideal but under the circumstances, in the eyes of each member, it should be both effective and the most effective that can be achieved. By definition, compromises and payoffs do not reach this standard.

The wildlife federation decision may well discourage action altogether and make the organization look foolish. The cluttered legislative proposal with all its aim-irrelevant provisions, is unlikely to be supported, and if passed, not implemented. In the bike trail group where members often have strong social values, even one trade-off will weaken their crucial support for the organization.

Organizations are built by and composed of individual members. Compromises and pay-offs discourage the support of members If the aim of the organization is to be achieved, it can only be achieved by its members, still united as individuals, after the decisions have been made.

Consensus, Compromises, or Pay Offs?

The board of a wildlife federation reaches consensus on a plan to save a threatened wild bird’s habitat by deleting the budget for legal action. A senate committee unanimously recommends proposed legislation after amending it until all the committee members have something they want but that is only tangentially related. A local bike trail organization calls off its protests against a new parking lot when it is promised a wider bike path on a major street.

Is this the same kind of push and pull that is required to reach consensus? Rather obviously, I’m going to say no.

All these solutions are compromises and payoffs that will not move any of these groups toward their aims as effectively as if they had built a consensus. The wildlife federation board’s action plan has no teeth. The senate has produced a cluttered resource-wasting legislative proposal for actions that have no clear aim. The bike trail group has shown themselves to be easily bought and their values open to manipulation.

A consensus decision is characterized by its ability to move the group toward its aim because each member consents only when they can actively support and implement the proposed action. The proposal may not be comprehensive or ideal but under the circumstances, in the eyes of each member, it should be the most effective that can be achieved. By definition, compromises and payoffs do not reach this standard.

The wildlife federation decision may well discourage action altogether and the organization may seem foolish. The cluttered legislative proposal with all its aim-irrelevant provisions, is unlikely to be supported, and if passed, not implemented. In the bike trail group where members often have strong social values, even one trade-off will weaken crucial support for the organization.

Organizations are built by and composed of members. Compromises and pay-offs discourage member support.  If the aim of the organization is to be achieved, its members must still be united after a decision has been made.

Building Consent — Compromise or Payoffs?

On the demands of its membership, but failing at building consent, the board of a wildlife federation passes a controversial plan to save a wild bird’s threatened habitat but then quietly deletes the budget for legal action. A Senate committee unanimously recommends proposed legislation after amending it until all the committee members have added unrelated perks for their constituencies, bloating the budget with cost overruns. A local bicycle-path organization calls off its protests against a huge, new parking lot when the city promises a wider path in new legislation.

Is this just the push and pull required to reach consent? Rather obviously, I’m going to say no. The wildlife federation board adopted a plan with no teeth. The senate committee has produced a cluttered resource-wasting legislative proposal for actions that have no clear aim. The bicycle-path group has proved themselves easily bought and their values open to manipulation.

All these decisions are failures at building consent. They are compromises and payoffs that will not move any of these groups toward their aims.

A good decision results when each member consents to actively support and implement the proposed action because it moves the group toward its aim. Even in these organizations where the group cannot use consent decision-making effectively — they are too large to deliberate together — the smaller leadership groups could. By building consent, they could have made more effort at good solutions that met all their aims.

Instead, the wildlife federation decision has discouraged action and made the organization look foolish. The cluttered legislative proposal with all its aim-irrelevant provisions, is unlikely to be passed by the larger legislative body, and if passed, not implemented. In the bicycle-path group, in which members often have strong social values, even one trade-off will weaken crucial support for the organization.

School of Media, Culture, and Design, Woodbury University, US

Main hall of School of Media, Culture, and DesignThe School of Media, Culture, and Design, Woodbury University in Burbank, California, a few miles from Los Angeles, consists of five departments that are well-integrated with the large media industry in the area. After the accreditation auditors expressed concern over the governance and cooperation between the five departments of the School of Media in 2007, the dean suggested they adopt sociocracy/dynamic governance.  Enrollment was declining, there were no cross-disciplinary degrees, and management styles varied significantly. The department heads began working with sociocracy consultant John Buck.

A year later, the accreditation auditors praised the School’s governance as “unconventional and successful… worthy of study by other schools.”  By 2010, the tuition revenue was up 10% when the University enrollment had fallen 1%. In 2012, it was 26% above 2011. The school was also able to attract $3.5 million in grants.

According to Dean Eddie Clift, [sociocracy] creates a culture of respect and provides a new way to look at problems:

[Sociocracy] allowed people to focus on the reasons they came to work here in the first place—education and innovation. We saw improved quality of life for the faculty, including better work/life balance. We know—through increasing student enrollment, and increasing student placements in the industry thanks to a clearer connection with the industry—that we are providing a valuable education for our students. And best of all for me, my faculty and chairs are so effective now; they’re confident and satisfied with their work. The School basically runs itself. That makes my job a pleasure!

Based on a case history by the Sociocracy Consulting Group, “Collaboration and Trust Among Departments: Woodbury University, School of Media, Culture, and Design.”

 

Full-Circle Meetings

The term for the highest circle or governing unit of a sociocratic organizations is “top circle.” The top circle has many functions of a board but is not all powerful as many corporate boards are. I have used “board” here because it is more familiar and in this context not likely to be confused with absolute power.

When sociocracy is explained the emphasis is often on its benefits for delegating decisions effectively and efficiently, extending policy decision-making down the organization to the shop floor, and eliminating long meetings and reducing the number of meetings. Decision-making is delegated to a hierarchy of subgroups circles or teams.

While cohousing and other community groups are attracted to the values of sociocracy and its ability to preserve consensus decision-making while also delegating decisions, they come full stop at not having meetings of the full membership. Their purpose for forming is not to run an efficient organization focused on producing a product. It isn’t a job in which efficiency is valued because it reduces the work and increases income. Their purpose is partly a different one and partly  the result of wanting to avoid hierarchies as they have experienced them.

Fear of Autocratic Structures

In many cohousing communities, all members of the organization are on the board. This avoids creating “condo commandos” who autocratically rule condominiums from their position on a self-perpetuating board. In sociocratic communities where people are elected by consensus and power is distributed this is not a worry. Sociocracy doesn’t have a power-over structure. It’s a circular hierarchy like rock-paper-scissors where each element has equal strength in their relationships.

The standard structure in sociocratic organizations consists of a board, a coordinating or general management circle, and department or team circles. The board does not have the power over the organization that boards of corporations normally have. It is a relatively small group that includes outside experts and focuses on long term planning and the “big picture.” How is the community doing and what would it like to do in its financial, legal, and purposeful relationship to the larger world?

In transitioning to sociocratic governance, the fear of an autocratic board could be resolved in time, but there is an even larger concern—the community’s desire to be a community.

The Purpose of Community Meetings

The purpose of a community is the desire and intention to function as one community. Gathering for potlucks or other social gatherings is not the same as working out policy decisions together, wresting with hard financial decisions, or resolving conflicts related to values and beliefs. These are things that communities want to do together and not delegate to someone else, even to a sub-group of their own members.

Typically in cohousing communities, either everyone serves on the board so they are all equal, or there is no board, or the board is very weak and decisions are made in full group meetings, by consensus.

When I began considering how to apply sociocracy to cohousing and other residential communities, the task was convincing communities to try it. Unless an established community is in crisis, it is hard to change their current governance system. Asking them to drop their full group meetings was beyond consideration. Some believed that sociocracy prohibited full group meetings.

I initially proposed a structure in which everyone served on the board. It was an attempt to adapt the current structure and practices to fit a forming sociocratic organization. Once the organization was comfortable with delegated decision-making, a normal board could be formed more naturally. This was never an ideal solution and eventually a better one surfaced. But first let’s examine why this wasn’t a good solution.

The Function of the Board

The major purpose of the board is to connect the community to its environment, the city or village. This done by having external experts serve on the board with full decision-making participation. Such experts might include a lawyer, an accountant, a cohousing expert, someone from the local neighborhood association or government, and someone related to a special interest, like ecology or gardening. Since the primary job of the board is not to deal with internal day-to-day matters, its function could easily be neglected if everyone served on the board. I think this is evident in many communities that do not have boards that serve this function.

A second major function is long term, comprehensive planning. What do each of  the experts see as possibilities or hindrances in the community’s future? How many communities have 5 and 10 year plans or have focused discussions with their expert advisors all in the same room? That’s why they need a board.

Full Circle Meetings

A better alternative to having everyone on the board is to have full-circle meetings in which all the circles or teams meet together to discuss issues and make any decisions delegated to full-circle meetings. Everyone in a community should be attached to at least one circle in order to be contributing to the work  or social activities of the community so such a meeting would include everyone. Condominium laws often require an annual meeting of the owners to approve an annual budget among other things, so this is not unusual even in standard home-owner associations.

A specific domain of decision-making would have to be defined for full circle meetings so they did not overlap with the decisions delegated to one of the circles, and the domain might include decisions on which a circle hasn’t been able to make to reach consensus and that is inappropriate to send to an outside expert.

It is important to have clearly defined domains of decision-making for each circle, and particularly in the case of a full circle meeting. Over-ruling decisions or back-seat driving is not helpful to building strong teams or responsible leadership. The full circle needs to have an aim.

So the preferred method for meeting a community’s desire to meet as one community is to have full circle meetings with a defined domain of decision-making. The meeting would be coordinated and facilitated by elected leaders, perhaps the officers of the board instead of separately elected leaders.

Living Well Community Care Home

Living Well Community Care Home is an award winning elder care facility in Bristol, VT. It was transitioning to sociocracy (dynamic governance) before 2005, working with John Buck.

In 2012, Sheella Mierson, sociocracy consultant, and Alana Kann, author, wrote a case study of Living Well’s use of sociocracy/dynamic governance and how it has changed their organization. The article is available online:

Got DG? Healthy Transformation in an Elder Care Community

(Living Well Community Care Home is now a part of Ethan Allen Residence in Burlington, VT.)

 

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