In Civic Life

Strong Towns and a Way Forward

…a good example of how sociocracy consultants and advocates can work within an organization to incorporate sociocratic principles and practices using the language and current objectives of the organization.

What prompted me to write today was the discovery of Strong Towns, a non-profit organization devoted to local civic development.  In despair over the state of American governance, I was clicking through the far too many news sources I read every morning and saw a link to a story in Strong Towns. The organization’s methods for building strong towns are distinctively sociocratic, entirely practical, and nicely framed. No unfamiliar names or distracting variations on accepted practices.

The mission of Strong Towns is to support a model of development that allows America’s cities, towns, and neighborhoods to become financially strong and resilient.

As sociocracy teaches, the method for creating financially strong and resilient organizations is a reliable and tangible means of measurement. Accurate measurements provide the feedback necessary for making correct decisions. Measurement only works if you have a mission.

A Failure of Democracy

Why was this so attractive to me this morning? Because I find mind-numbing the continuing drama of being unable to stop Donald Trump. By the summer of 2018, the shock that he was (sort of) elected has worn off. Unfortunately, it has been replaced with feelings of helplessness. Though Trump confirms several times a day that he is both incompetent and dangerous, this narcissistic oligarch is still in control.

How Democracies Die by  Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt explains Trump as the result of decades of weakening self-governance in all parts of our society. Their study of democracies that reverted to dictatorships explains the conditions that create dictators. Trump was predictable. But even Levitsky and Ziblatt didn’t have any suggestions for stopping him.

Why hasn’t someone escorted Trump out of the White House into a waiting motorcade with a military escort of tanks and a one-way ticket for Mar a Lago?

Our inability to correct the results of a manipulated election says something profound about the system of checks and balances between the branches of government. Each branch is organized as a  power-over hierarchy, a static linear top-down structure that fails completely when leadership is weak. Unlike sociocratic norms, the views of the top are the only views that ultimately count. Trump is unqualified and has repeatedly appointed unqualified leaders. Then he makes them weaker by over-ruling them.  In the end, he is the only person he recognizes as a leader. And he has no logical or predictable agenda. Can random be measured? Not meaningfully.

Would Sociocracy Help?

Of course, the fundamental sociocratic practices of self-organization,  the control of consent, and feedback systems would create stronger governance, but where to start? Installing a sociocratic system would be a very long-term answer. Teaching sociocratic principles to 326+ million people in America and developing sociocratic governance structures in 89,000+ local governments is a staggering task.

In addition, sociocracy itself is a method with principles and practices, but it doesn’t posit a strong mission. It is designed to help an organization reach its own mission. It doesn’t say start here and go there.Strong Towns Logo

Strong Towns

I was clicking through the far too many news sources I read every morning and found Strong Towns. Their mission is measurable:  to build financially sustainable communities.

The mission of Strong Towns is to support a model of development that allows America’s cities, towns, and neighborhoods to become financially strong and resilient.

The Strong Towns’ Approach

Strong Towns‘ method for doing this has distinctively sociocratic characteristics. A Strong Towns approach:

  • Relies on small, incremental investments (little bets) instead of large, transformative projects,
  • Emphasizes resiliency of result over the efficiency of execution,
  • Is designed to adapt to feedback,
  • Is inspired by bottom-up action (chaotic but smart) and not top-down systems (orderly but dumb),
  • Seeks to conduct as much of life as possible on a personal scale, and
  • Is obsessive about accounting for its revenues, expenses, assets and long-term liabilities (do the math).

All of these are good sociocratic practices:

  • incremental changes starting from where we are,
  • emphasis on results,
  • attention to feedback,
  • bottom-up action,
  • a manageable scale, and
  • strong measurements.

Strong Towns’ Principles

Strong Towns is based on principles gleaned from scientifically conducted research. This provides a strong basis to guide a  work process and against which to measure their work process. As advocates for a strong America, Strong Towns knows:

  • Strong cities, towns, and neighborhoods cannot happen without strong citizens (people who care).
  • Local government is a platform for strong citizens to collaboratively build a prosperous place.
  • Financial solvency is a prerequisite for long-term prosperity.
  • Land is the base resource from which community prosperity is built and sustained. It must not be squandered.
  • A transportation system is a means of creating prosperity in a community, not an end unto itself.
  • Job creation and economic growth are the results of a healthy local economy, not substitutes for one.

Finding Strong Towns gave me enough hope and inspiration to begin writing again after a long break. I’m not suggesting that Strong Towns is sociocratic or that they have had any contact with sociocracy. Sociocracy is based on scientifically researched principles that are universally applicable in human organizations and Strong Towns has obviously found and applied the same ones. It is a good example of how sociocracy consultants and advocates can work within an organization to incorporate sociocratic principles and practices using the language and current objectives of the organization.

It’s a sign pointing forward—the best kind.

2 replies »

  1. I encountered ST recently also. I like it too, cultural Creatives into city planning.

    The more I read tho, the more I wondered if this could be a front for conservative profit-extraction interests.

    There is for example. no mention whatsoever of public banks on their site. A polite email to them on this did not get a response.

    I think much Stronger Towns when they ally with the public banking people.

    • Why would they have to ally with any banks? They are an advocacy non-profit that makes speeches, invites blog posts, consults with groups. Their income is from memberships and services. They don’t do any construction work.

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