Tag Archives: national governance

Policy and Operations Decisions

The most viewed pages and the most searched topics on Sociocracy.info continue to be those related to policy and operations decisions.

The distinction between policy and operations decisions is not unique to sociocracy, but it is one that many of us don’t understand. Most often we don’t even realize that we are following a policy — it’s just the way things are done.

We also don’t recognize a policy decision as distinct from an operations decision. Thus short-term operations decisions can drift into being applied as long-term policy decisions.

Policy Decisions

A Circle Meeting at Endenburg Elektrotechniek
A Circle Meeting at Endenburg Elektrotechniek

What is a policy decision?

A policy decision governs future policy and operations decisions.  It places controls or requirements on actions and related decisions. A policy decision is unrelated to the name of the policy. Unless there is a policy requiring a certain format, the format is not defining.

If a decision limits or enables other decisions, it is a policy decision no matter the  title:  “Policy for Kitchen Hygiene” or “Kitchen Hygiene.” A policy can be one sentence or several pages. Sociocracy is concerned with content, with meaning and function, not labels.

Who makes policy decisions?

One of the beauties of sociocracy is that policy and operations decisions are made at all levels of the organization. They are made by those they directly govern. The President or the top management  of a landscaping company probably wouldn’t set policy for organizing plants in the greenhouse. The Greenhouse Circle or team will make that decision.

How do you know a policy is effective?

Policies include a means of measuring the policy’s effectiveness and are reviewed on a regular schedule—or sooner if necessary. Once a policy is implemented, the circle or team responds to feedback and adjusts accordingly.

When operations decisions drift into being applied as policy decisions, their formal consideration and review is most often neglected.

Operations Decisions

Gears being manipulated by small figures to represent the effects of policy and operations decisions.What are operations decisions?

Operations decisions govern day-to-day actions. They are made within the limits or permissions of policy decisions. Operations decisions put policy decisions into action.

Who makes the operations decisions?

The circle or team makes policy decisions that govern operations decisions and who will make them. Since operations decisions are typically made moment-to-moment throughout the day, most commonly the policy decision is that the circle or team leader will make them.

The first principle of sociocracy is consent. How does that apply to autocratic operations decision?

The circle or team can choose any method for making decisions as long as the decision to do so is made by consent. A policy decision that the leader will make day-to-day operations decisions without autocratically would be made by consent.

For directing operations, autocratic decision-making is more efficient than stopping work to make a group decision. The leader can making operations decisions without consultation. This doesn’t mean the operations leader can’t ask for information, advice, or druthers.

Smaller circles or teams of 2-3 people, however, may be effective with a policy to make operations decisions among themselves.

An Example of Policy and Operations Decisions

A Residential Community-Level Decision: The landscape design will have the look of wild flower field, appearing spontaneous and not requiring intensive care.

Landscaping Team-Level Policy: Whenever possible, seeds and cuttings will be used. Purchasing plants will only be done in the case of unique requirements or opportunities.

Operations-Level Decision: Next weekend, we will plant the southern triangle bed. Mary will delegate tasks and schedule workers.Gene will collect all the seedlings that residents started this spring.

  • A policy decision governs future decisions and actions.
  • An operations decision governs day-to-day decisions and actions.

Policy and Operations Decisions in the  United States Government

The United States and many other countries function with three branches of government that have distinctive roles in relation to policy and operations decisions:

The Legislative Branch, the House and Senate, makes policy decisions for the governing of the United States. It writes and approves legislation or laws. It also makes policy decisions that govern its internal operations.

The Executive Branch makes operations decisions, which are governed by the policy decisions made by the Legislative Branch. As a duty of the Executive Branch, the President (as CEO) consents to policies passed by the Legislative Branch. While the President can veto legislation, the Legislative Branch can over turn the veto. The Executive Branch also makes policy decisions that govern its internal operations.

The Judicial Branch determines whether the Legislative Branch and the Executive Branch are functioning within the policy decisions of the United States Government. These policies include the Constitution, other legislation, and the body of law formed by previous decisions. Because laws govern future decisions, they are policy decisions. The Judicial Branch also makes policy decisions that govern its internal operations.

The Judicial Branch functions on the basis of common law in which previous decisions become legal precedents. In effect, the Judicial Branch clarifies the meaning of policy decisions and decides how they should be applied in operations and if they don’t contradict other policy decisions.

Policy Decisions in a Sociocratic Government

There are no authoritative methods for applying the three principles of sociocracy in governing a country. One probable step, however,  would be the coming together of representatives of all three branches of government in a coordinating or management circle to collaborate on high level policies. The process would be less contentious because they would view themselves as one body, not three competing organizations.

Just One More Reminder

  • A policy decision governs future decisions and actions.
  • An operations decision governs day-to-day decisions and actions.

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?