Sociocratic Democracy FAQ

What is sociocratic democracy?

Sociocratic democracy integrates sociocratic methods with democratic objectives in all levels of government, from neighborhoods to countries. Democracy is the fastest growing form of government around the world but it cannot guarantee freedom and equality as it promises. Although it is less familiar, sociocracy shares democratic values but can function well in highly demanding market economies. It has a decision-making structure that enables it to maintain its values while governing productively and effectively. Sociocratic democracy integrates the strengths of both. began as the first comprehensive resource on the history, principles, and practices of sociocracy. That purpose remains while the focus has grown to examining the benefits of integrating sociocractic methods and practices with the practice of democracy. The discussion of sociocracy itself continues to develop.

What is sociocracy?

Sociocracy is a social ideal and shorthand for a specific form of governance, the Sociocratic Circle Method. The ideal, developed along with sociology in the mid-1850’s, is a society is governed using the knowledge gained from scientific method. It is an effective society in which decisions are made for the good of all—not an elite or the chosen.

In the 20th century sociocratic thinking was heavily influenced by Quaker practices and decision-making and consensus became the decision-making method. In the 1970’s, the modern science of cybernetics and best practices in business were incorporated and a formal system of governance developed, The Sociocratic Circle Method, that worked in complex business as well as social organizations and the corner store.

What is the Sociocratic Circle Method?

The Sociocratic Circle Method, or the Sociocratic Circle-Organization Method, is a governance method developed by Gerard Endenburg in his Electrical Engineering company. He had attended a sociocratic school and wanted to duplicate the sense of harmony, cooperation, and self-sufficiency that existed there. Endenburg developed 4 principles that governed all levels of the organization:

  1. Consent governs decision-making.
  2. Circles are the policy decision-making units.
  3. Circles are double-linked in a hierarchical structure
  4. Assignments of roles and responsibilities are done by elections in the circle.

What is governance?

Governance means the way we steer ourselves or our organizations. A boat is governed by the crew that steers it to keep it afloat as it moves toward shore. It’s how we guide ourselves individually and in groups toward a common purpose. In sociocracy, each person in fulfilling their roles and responsibilitie is steering or governing themselves in harmony with the whole organization.

What does harmony mean in governance?

The definitions of harmony that most describes the workplace using the Sociocratic Circle Method is “a consistent, orderly, or pleasing arrangement of parts; congruity.” 

Productivity is regularly discovered to be the result of people working together rather than in competition with each other. Endenburg’s task was to develop a method that maintained equality and balance between co-workers and still produced the electrical engineering systems for large shipping fleets. Harmony as lack of friction was necessary to meet deadlines with high quality standards.

What is self-organization?

Self-organization refers to the process of disorganized elements organizing as a unified force. It is the ability of a person to organize themselves so themselves toward a purpose. Powerful people have self-organized toward an aim. The disorganized and seemingly unrelated elements in nature that suddenly coalesce to produce a unique power. A hurricane is self-organizing, for example. In the natural sciences it is often called “sponteneous order.” Weather is unpredictable because it may or may not self-organize to produce a gale or sand storm.

In sociocracy, each person within their domain of responsibility functions as an equal, has the power to make decisions, and contributes equally in reaching goals. In order to do this responsibly, they need to be able to self-organize, to plan and evaluate their own work.

What does “consent governs decision-making” mean in sociocracy?

It means that no one affected by a decision has any objections to implementing it. It doesn’t mean each person endorses the decision or believes it is the best one. It means they won’t be negatively affected by it and that it is good enough to try. Each person consents to try it out. That brings new information that can be evaluted and the decision changed or improved.

Can sociocracy work with majority rule in making decisions?

Yes. Consent meaning no objections only works as a decision-making method when a group of people shares a common aim, agrees to make decisions together, and is able and willing to deliberate together until a common solution is found. Very large groups, groups that are not part of an ongoing organization, etc., obviously would be unlikely to meet these conditions. In this instance another form of decision-making would be more productive, including majority voting. But there are many other options. Sometimes tossing a coin even works best.

What is essential to sociocracy?

What is essential in sociocracy is that each person is equally respected, has the freedom to determine their working conditions, and that basis for decision-making is “scientific method”. Respect for objective facts, informed arguments, and open sharing are the purposes. The Sociocatic Circle Method states specific principles that it has found will produce a harmonious organization, but there may be other methods as well. Rather than a “recipe” the principles represent purposes and values.

Other characteristics  of harmonious systems: transparency, accountability, inclusiveness, self-organization, resilience, coherence, logical argument, scientifically provable evidence.

How does sociocracy different from democracy?

The primary difference is not the voting instead of working toward a common decision that everyone consents to. It’s the lack of emphasis on factual decision-making. The lack of challenges to facts. No resolution of assertions that are clearly contradictory. Voters are left to choose one truth or the other. There is no emphasis on resolving apparent differences that might actually not be differences.

Joined with that is the failure to evalate results of decisions in order to change or improve them.  If decisions were evaluated and the basis on which they were made examined, it would produce more rational decision-making.  Not everything, of course, is decided based on formal logic or rational persuasion, but in sociocracy decisons are expected to have purposes and to meet them. In democracies, there is no other means to do that except to vote this person out or that bill down. There is never an accepted method of evaluating whether a program is or is not meeting expectations. Whether there is a level of productivity that justifies the cost and energy required.

What are the limitations of democracy?

It can’t be used by any form of organization that has to meet deadlines, be held accountable for its decisions, and even more fundamental, support itself financially. Full stop.

Majority vote is not the best way to make decisions with critical consequences. To have workers voting on whether to produce 5 million pounds of bread this year or to set a date for completion of a dance floor in a new convention center is unlikely to produce a decision that everyone is likely to support. And unlikely to be based on evidence, like experience.

These are decisions that must be made on the basis of facts and rational analysis. And failure to make the right decision—a close vote of 51%in favor—does not bode well for the future of a company. There is no assurance in numbers that option A is better than option B. And the time required to sort out the meaningful differences with people who are used to just saying yes or no will mean the job will be gone before it is started.

Many businesses have become more consultative. Colleges and universities consider themselves collegeal and almost equals. But in the end the board or the president can overrule any decision, and often does. It takes many years to develop self-organizing workers who plan and execute work in small groups or independently. Unless they are allowed to take the risks and judge the results of their decisions, they won’t engage.

What kind of organizations use sociocracy?

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

The last frontier is national and local governance.