Tag Archives: delegation

Switching to Sociocracy in Cohousing Communities


Ecovillage of Loudoun County
Ecovillege of Loudoun County in Virginia was one of the first in the to adopt sociocracy when it began in the 1990s.

As is true with all governance changes, it is easier to begin with sociocracy than to switch midstream. Communities tend to stick with “the devil they know” rather than take a chance on a new one, but more and more and more communities are switching full scale or adopting some of the principles and practices.

Except for those who have switched to sociocracy, cohousing communities use full group consensus as their primary method of decision-making. Decisions are typically made in meetings open to the full membership and with the consent of each person present. As cohousing communities have grown larger, from 12 to more than 50 households, and include increasingly more diverse populations, full group consensus has become ineffective for many, if not most. Making decisions with less than 50 people is very different from 100 or more.

In addition, many communities are more complex. They now have programs that do not involve all members—gardens, chickens, home schooling, yoga groups, etc. Consensus requires a shared aim. Delegating decisions to those who share these aims is a reasonable use of everyone’s time and energy.

Switching to Sociocracy

It is a misconception that communities switching to sociocracy cannot have full group decision-making meetings. When delegating decisions to circles, communities can also delegate decisions to “full circle meetings”, meetings of all the circles. Annual budget approval, for example, is required to be made by all owners in condominiums in Washington DC. Since most cohousing communities are condominiums, this is probably true in other states as well. Another decision that might appropriately belong in a full circle meeting is changing the vision, mission, or aim.

Sociocracy allows communities to keep the collaborative and inclusive qualities of full group decision-making while providing a structure for delegating decisions to sub-groups—committees, teams, circles, etc. Policy decisions and a coordinating structure then guide the sub-groups.

Consent vs. Consensus

While I understand the reasons for opposing consensus with consent, I believe that in the end it is self-defeating. It becomes a battle of definitions and adds a new definition unnecessarily. This distracts from the purpose. By adopting sociocracy, a community adopts a decision-making structure in which consensus more effective. Its principles and practices shift the debate from stalemate to action. It helps organize large communities so they function more effectively as excellent places to live.

Sociocracy Strengthens Consensus

The sociocratic definition of consent is “no objections.” An objection means the proposed action cannot be taken until that objection is resolved—just as it is in full group consensus. Sociocracy uses “consent” to emphasize that the decision is being made by an individual based on their own ability to “live with” the decision. It isn’t based on a hypothetical or projected standard of the “good of the community” as full group consensus practices often does. An objection is made in the context of the aim of the decision, how it affects one’s own participation in the community, and its expression of the communities stated aims (if any).

Consent can be given when there are still concerns and unmet needs but sociocracy values action, moving forward, with what appears to be reasonable decision given the circumstances. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Concerns, limitations, fears, assumptions, etc.,  can be used to design measurements for evaluating the effects of the decision. Then it can be improved based on results.

The sociocratic circle-organization method is the only one that supports and invigorates consensus decision-making.

Originally written 6 January 2013
Substantially revised 19 April 2014

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.