Tag Archives: Measurement

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 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 methods for creating financially strong and resilient organizations are reliable and tangible means of measurement. Accurate measurements provide the feedback necessary for correcting or modifying decisions and processes.

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.

Reading How Democracies Die by  Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt was helpful in understanding how Trump was the result of decades of the weakening of self-governance in all parts of our society. It revealed the process by which democracies find themselves in dictatorships and enumerated the conditions that create dictators. But Levitsky and Ziblatt didn’t have suggestions for stopping him.

Why hasn’t someone escorted Trump out of the White House into a waiting motorcade with a military escort heading for Mar a Lago never to return?

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 a power-over hierarchy, a static linear top-down structure that fails completely when leadership is weak. Trump has repeatedly appointed inappropriate leaders, and then made them weaker by over-ruling them. He has been able to wreak havoc with no logical or predictable agenda.

Would Sociocracy Help?

Of course, the fundamental practices of self-organization,  the controls of consent, and feedback systems in sociocratic governance would create stronger governance, but where to start? Overthrowing a badly functioning democratic system and installing a sociocratic system would only 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.

To prevent an oligarch from being elected or manipulating an election and appearing to win, what should we do? What should our mission be? Sociocracy itself is a method with principles and practices, but it doesn’t posit a strong mission. It doesn’t give us a sign that says start here. Take this approach.Strong Towns Logo

Strong Towns

What prompted me to write this post today was an organization I discovered while clicking through the far too many news sources I read every morning: Strong Towns. Their mission is practical: 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 at 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 personal 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 and against which to measure their work process.

As advocates for a strong America, we know the following to be true:

  • 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.

Moving Objections to the Beginning

One of the ways the methods used in sociocracy that speeds up decision-making is going directly to objections instead of or before discussing the advantages of a proposal. The perceived advantages of a decision should be stated in the proposal or its presentation. The presenters will probably recount the issues and options they considered. There is usually no need to repeat the discussion that has taken place in previous meetings or to hear arguments in favor again.

The Process for Making a Decision Effectively

Prequel: Discuss or request comments from everyone who will be affected by the decision. A formal discussion in a  meeting of the circle may be preferable, but is not necessary if there are other ways to collect information and multiple viewpoints.

1. Present the proposal.

2. Answer clarifying questions.

Questions should be clean questions with no embedded messages. If there is an embedded message, don’t discuss it. Answer as if it had been a clean question or defer it for rounds.

4. Do a quick reaction round.

Responses of 1-2 words will indicate if there are concerns or objections that seem serious or unresolvable. Is the proposal ready for consent or should it be referred back to the proposal writers?

5. Ask for concerns and objections in detail.

(a) Refer these back to proposal writer(s) or
(b) Begin consent rounds to resolve them.

Asking for detailed concerns and objections should usually be done in a round but if there are only a few this can done more effectively by asking each person individually.

6. Consent rounds.

Several rounds may be needed to reach consent. The early rounds will suggest resolutions and later rounds to clarify remaining objections.

The decisive question is: “Do you have objections that will influence your ability to support this decision?”

Clarifications

Addressing concerns and resolving objections is a group process, not the duty of the facilitator. The facilitator decides how to proceed but this decision is subject to objections.

The facilitator participates as an equal, including in rounds.

The goal is consent to a decision that everyone can support in day-to-day operations.

Effectiveness, transparency, and accountability are the prime values in this process:

  • What will produce the most effective decision?
  • Does everyone have all the information relevant to this decision
  • Who will be accountable for the outcome of the decision

Rounds may be interspersed with discussion:

  • Rounds establish and maintain equivalence in the room. They keep decision-making balanced by encouraging everyone to participate as equals—the reticent as well as the more expansive.
  • Discussion, free form or dialogue between 2 or more persons, can be helpful to clarify questions or to give information others in the group may not have.

A proposal needs:

  • a person(s) to implement the decision and
  • a method to measure outcomes.

If there is no plan for implementing the decision or means of measuring effectiveness, the decision will probably be meaningless. Not worth the time.

Moving Objections to the Beginning

Moving objections to the beginning of consideration of a proposal instead of considering them at the end of the process moves time and attention to the issues that may not have been considered or that are in opposition to the proposal.

The arguments are then more likely to be presented and examined clearly, not in the context of a back and forth of pros and cons by skilled and unskilled orators. This kind of rhetoric can easily obscure the aim of the proposal and the nature of the objection.

The endpoint of decision-making is an action that works. Consensus decisions, those in which all the objections have been resolved and/or measurements set to test them, work best. They are not always possible but they work best.

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.