Tag Archives: policy decisions

When to Use Consent and Consensus Decision-Making?

Graphic drawing of the 5Ws plus H. The Five W's — who, what, where, when, why — are determined by policy and require consent. The 6th W, How, is delegated to the operations leader who implements policy to achieve the purpose of the circle.
The Five W’s — who, what, where, when, why — are determined by policy and require consent. The 6th W, How, is delegated to the operations leader who implements policy to achieve the purpose of the circle.

In sociocracy, consent and consensus decision-making are only used for policy decisions. Policy decisions are those that govern actions and allocation of resources (budget, people, etc.). But this leaves questions for many people—what other decisions are there? The distinction is clearer if you look at policy decisions vs. operations decisions.
Operations decisions are the day-to-day moment-to-moment activities that implement policies. Operations decisions are normally made autocratically by the leader or by an individual who has been delegated to complete a task. “Autocratic” doesn’t mean a dictatorship, however. In sociocracy, leadership style is determined by those being lead as well as the leader.

Policy: What, Who, Where, When, and Why

Policies specify the 5 W’s of journalism — What, Who, Where, When, and Why.

Operations specify the sixth W, the How.

When to Use Consent and Consensus Decision-making?

Consensus makes the best policy decisions because it requires consulting the wisdom  of each member of the group and obtaining the consent of each member of the group.

Autocratic or strong leader decisions, however, enable quick decisions and effective actions. Sports Teams, for example, function autocratically on the field for a reason—everyone has to make split second decisions based on the same previously determined rules. In this context, stopping to get consent would produce a no-win result.

All Members of a Work Group Participate in Policy Decisions

A major difference in sociocractic decision-making is that both kinds of decisions, policy and operations, involve the same people. Policy decisions are made with the consent of everyone in a working group, participating as equals. Thus the operations leader and the other members of the group must all consent in determining the leadership style. And members of the group consent to follow the leader’s lead.

Not all operations leaders function equally autocratically. One group might have agreed that the leader will decide outright. They like clear instructions. Another operations leader might ask for a  discussion how to double-dig the garden, for example, but it isn’t necessary and can be counter-productive. If the aim is to get the double-digging done, debates on the ethical issues involving the death experiences of worms will not accomplish the group’s purpose.

Operations follow policy. If in the course of work, it becomes clear that the policy could be better the leader makes a decision, and the policy is fixed later. If there isn’t a policy, the leader will determine the best solution and a policy will be addressed in the next policy meeting.

The operations leader can consult, and would be stupid if they didn’t, but the purpose in operations is policy execution.

The 5 W’s plus How

If there is a proposal to increase privacy by the playground, the policy questions needing to be addresses might be:

What is meant by privacy?
Who is responsible for executing the policy?
Where does the policy apply?
When will it be executed?
Why is the policy necessary and what does it intend to do? What is its purpose?

The How with all its details is then handed over to the operations leader for implementation following the 5W’s spelled out in the policy.

Since our 5 W’s plus one are being applied outside journalism, there would also be a budget for people and labor and a specific plan for evaluation of results. The Why would be considered first instead of at the end. But it is a good way to distinguish between policy and operations decisions.

Governance vs. Execution

Policy decisions don’t change from day to day. Governance is normally very stable. Operations decisions can change as necessary,  daily or even moment to moment..

Policies should be reviewed annually but needn’t be changed unless there is a reason to do so. If there are changes in the group’s function or there is new information, policies can be revised at any time in policy meetings using the consent and consensus decision-making process .

Another characteristic of a policy is that it governs the future. It has a beginning date and a future date for review. Some policies may be in force until they are changed or withdrawn—the name o f the organization, for example.

On the other hand, operations decisions are executed in the present or the near term. The decision to plant the south garden with herbs for the next five years is a policy decision that will be reviewed annually. Unless it is changed, it governs the next five years. How the herbs are planted and on what day is a decision for the moment and doesn’t address how the herbs will be planted in the future.

Operations will go much more smoothly if they are guided by clear policies.

Decorative Separator

This post is a departure from the sociocratic analysis of the last entry on the similarities of Trump to Hitler. I intend to return to that topic. 

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.

Structural Issues in Government

NoParkingIn my neighborhood we have a large email list designed for neighbor to neighbor conversation and requests for help. A frequent request is a phone number for help with city services. The current problem is needing the city to enforce parking regulations when a life may be at risk because a driveway is blocked. The lack of response from city governments reveals structural issues that as in other bureaucracies will be hard to fix.

The person whose driveway is often blocked is referred by 911 to the parking violations department. Parking violations treats it like an expired meter. They ticket when they ticket. No response to a potentially critical issue. They aren’t designed for that. Their only recourse is to place  the complaint  at the bottom of a long list of towing tasks.  Days later when the tow truck shows up, the car is no longer there. The next day another is in its place.

In the moment, the severely asthmatic won’t reach the emergency room without an expensive ambulance ride and the added anxiety of waiting.

A blocked driveway is different from an expired parking meter or a car parked too close to a corner. The existing policy means the workers are bound to fail. Unless they violate the policy.

Structural Issues in Government

The lack of response is the result of a structural issue, not a personal or department failure in a specific instance. Since a representative of a council member’s office has now intervened to solve the problem, that is probably how it will appear inside the department. Easier to blame one person or team of people than to address policy.

If the city had an appropriate policy, this would be classified as a life or death risk, not a parking violation. It would receive a response designed to avoid emergencies. With permission, the parking  department might also make recommendations to the homeowner for making the driveway appear to be more obviously active, not like an unused alley. Parking people are on the street every day and know the characteristics of places where cars park illegally as well as legally. I wonder if the street and design department talks to the parking violations department? The Meter Maids?

The need is for a clear definition of the problem and a change in policy and practice. As in most bureaucracies, a policy decision like this can only be made at the top levels by a commissioner or even the city council. A single potentially dangerous parked car, however, in a city of parked cars can’t compete with a failing educational system or a city-wide epidemic. Correcting parking policies isn’t a priority. It can take years to change them.

Policy Decisions at Appropriate Levels

In a dynamically organized government based on the principles of sociocracy, the structure would allow a policy to be developed and implemented by the responsible department. Within the larger policies governing the city, the people responsible for safe parking would decide how they will accomplish their purpose.

Many governments follow the practice of defining objectives, measuring effects, and evaluating performance. But this is often done at an abstract level. Numbers, often collated with the statistics from other departments, seem unrelated to day-to-day operations. In response to numbers, changes are made by those several levels removed from those governed by them. Instead of corrections in policy and  structural issues, evaluations often result in personnel changes or reorganizations. Morale falls and new problems emerge.

In dynamic governance, the organization would:

  1. recognize a blocked driveway as a distinct policy issue not covered in the parking violations policy, and
  2. allow policy to be determined by the department.  They directly experience the problem and can most quickly and effectively address it.

In addition to being more effective, correcting structural issues avoids all the unnecessary sturm und drang and time wasted in trying to apply ineffective policies.

Are Policy Decisions at the Level of Parking Enforcement Possible?

I know your first objection will be that the parking meter people and the tow truck drivers are not equipped to make policy decisions. And they are not in charge of their own budget. But I think we need to give it a try because;

  1. These people know more about parking and parking problems than any of us. We only know our own parking problems.
  2. They are our neighbors and are as smart as we are. Inattention and playing dumb is one way to get complaining citizens off your back when there is nothing they can do.
  3. They might not know how to phrase a policy in formal government language — which is probably a good thing— but they know which words work in parking. That’s all they need to know.
  4. Dynamic governance also requires continuing education for everyone (5% of budget) so they can learn about practices in other cities and how city planning effects parking.

When a department’s numbers come out dramatically better in the next review, it will get the budget it needs and be trusted to spend it wisely. But more probably, performance will be so much more effective and their workload brought under control, so more funds will be available within the existing budget.

A related issue is job satisfaction. While some people just want to show up for work and push a broom where they are directed to push it. Others are deeply involved with the issues of green cleaning and more effective service. Organizations, especially governments, often fail to recognize or use this energy.

Policy Decisions

In order to ensure equality and freedom, the core democratic values, sociocracy requires that policy decisions be made with the consent of those delegated to implement them. Policy decisions are confusing to many people because as citizens and employees, we are rarely asked to make them. Policy decisions are those that determine how we will act in the future. How will we do this? What will guide our actions?

A policy decision tells us how to make choices in order to act in alignment with our purposes and goals.

Policy Decisions Guide Operations Decisions

While many of us make decisions moment-to-moment according to choice or unacknowledged purposes, the most effective think carefully about their long term goals. They define our purposes. These might include a desire to live more an environmentally responsible life, to create our own company, to raise children who are socially and environmentally responsible, to provide emergency services to war-torn countries. These are policy decisions. They state our purposes.

Policy decisions then guide our daily, moment-to-moment decisions. Does this action contribute to achieving our purpose? Does it align with my values? Does this contribute to my goals? These are operations decisions How we “operate”? How we act must align with our purposes if we are to achieve them.

Each policy reviewed regularly and changed when based on experience or changing conditions there is reason to modify it. Like budgets, they are not “forever” decisions.

Consent Is Required for Policy Decisions

Policy decisions are made with the consent of the people who will put the policy into operation. Requiring consent ensures equal consideration of every member of the group. Each member’s objections to a policy must be resolved before the policy can be adopted.

In sociocracy, you are guaranteed of your ability to collaboratively determine your living and working conditions whether you are a citizen, an employee, a member, a neighbor, or a student.

Consent is defined as “no objections.” Giving consent does not require unanimity, agreement, or endorsement. It means one has no objections to moving forward as proposed and a commitment to act in accordance with the policy. There may still be concerns or other preferred options, but these can be tested based on information obtained from implementing the policy. The objective is to move forward with the best action available at the moment.

Objections must be based on reasons why a policy will affect one’s ability to implement the decision: A proposal that makes our work more difficult  and will decrease our effectiveness. A decision to adopt an action that conflicts with the group’s purpose. An objection must address the purpose of the group and our own ability to work toward it.

Consent is required within the group putting the policy into effect. Not everyone must consent to all decisions.

Policy Decisions Are Distributed

Since policy decisions are made by those who must implement them, they are distributed to all parts or levels of an organization.  In organizations governed by an autocratic hierarchy, policy decisions are made by the board and top management. The top leadership makes the decisions about how the loading dock operates even if they have never been on the loading dock, much less worked there.

In addition to the loading dock workers understanding their work better, they will understand their policies better if they set them and will be able to adjust them as necessary. There is no waiting for the general manager to get around to addressing the problem.

Self-Organization

Policy decisions include financial, physical, and human resources decisions. Where will money be spent?  Which roles and responsibilities do we need filled? What is our daily schedule or deadlines? Or what social activities will be planned?  Who will fill roles? What are our standards of quality?

The right to make policy decisions is necessary for a group to self-organize, to self-manage.

What Is Sociocracy and Why Do You Need it?

What is Sociocracy?

A quick answer to the question, What is Sociocracy? is that sociocracy is both:

  • A social ideal that values equality and the rights of people to decide the conditions under which they live and work, and
  • An effective method of organizing collaborative and productive organizations as associations, businesses, and governments, large and small.

In English-speaking countries, as a method of organization sociocracy is often called dynamic governance, but around the world is simply called sociocracy. Its founder called it the Sociocratic Circle-Organization Method (SCM).

Not Just a Statement of Values

Sociocracy shares the values of democracy

  • freedom and equality, and
  • the right and responsibility of self-determination.

But sociocracy doesn’t just state values. It goes deeper. It is a method of organization and decision-making that ensures those values are implemented. Its principles and practices are very different from parliamentary procedure and majority rule. Majority rule can lead to a divided society and promotes competition and dominance instead of coöperation and equality.

A Whole System Science Approach to Governance

Sociocracy is a whole systems approach to designing and leading organizations. It is based on principles, methods, and a structure that creates a resilient and coherent system,. It uses transparency, inclusiveness, and accountability to increase harmony, effectiveness, and productivity.

Sociocracy was conceived as applied Sociology. Sociology is a social science that studies social groups and how they function. It was to be a governance method based on information from sociologists. Sociocracy, developed with research and experimentation, has shown that people who live and work together are more likely to make good decisions for themselves than anyone else.

Sociocracy guarantees a society in which freedom and equality are determined by the people who have an active role in creating the conditions under which they live and work..

Consent Is Required for Policy Decisions

Requiring consent for policy decisions ensures that no member of a group or circle* can be ignored. All circles make the policy decisions that directly affect their own responsibilities. They are not reserved for top management, officers, or boards.

Policy decisions are agreements about how an organization will work. They govern how resources will be used, who will do which jobs, the standards of quality, etc. Within the policies of the larger organization, for example, the loading dock circle will decide the policies governing how the loading dock will work on a day-to-day basis.

Consent means “no objections.” Giving consent does not mean unanimity, agreement, or endorsement of the proposal.  Consent is given to moving forward, to supporting the policy as “worth trying until we have more information.”  Or “I can work with it.” Requiring consent ensures that a policy will be followed by everyone until there is reason to change it. Like budgets, policies are rarely in force forever.

As a member of any sociocratically governed organization, you are guaranteed of your ability to collaboratively decide your living and working conditions as a citizen, as an employee, as a member, as a neighbor, as a student.

Coordination and Management When Everyone Makes Policy Decisions

Within the policies of the larger organization. all work groups, chapters, departments, committees, etc., make their own policies. Day-to-day operational decisions are governed by policy decisions and are most often delegated to the leader of operations.

When a policy affects more than one circle, it is delegated to the coordinating or general management circle. The general management circle is composed of operations leaders and elected representatives from each circle. Each member of the coordinating circle has to give consent. This protects the circles from decisions that would affect their ability to do their work.

Instead of a board of directors, a sociocratic organization has a top circle that fulfills many of the functions of a traditional board except that it does not have absolute control over the organization. The top circle includes members of the coordinating circle, the president or CEO, and outside members who add financial and professional expertise. The responsibilities of the top circle include long-term planning and financial decisions that affect the organizations future.

So What Is Sociocracy?

It is a governance system designed to protect and apply the values that democracies cherish. Unlike current democracies, it is also a governance structure designed to make sure those values will be applied as equally as possible for everyone.

Search these words for more information on What is Sociocracy? and Why You Need It: consent, consensus, democracy, dynamic governance, majority vote, policy decisions, Sociocratic Circle-Organization Method (SCM)

Updated: 10 June 2016

Are Your Meetings Content or Process?

In several contexts lately the conversations about organizing sociocratically have drifted to the problem of confusing circle meetings with the work of the circle, and even circle meetings as focus of sociocracy. Evidence of this is that we discuss process and enforcing process without discussing the quality and application of decisions in our work. The questions are more often about officers and consent than evaluating the effect of recent policy decisions on operations, worker effectiveness, etc.

Circle Meetings

Training in sociocracy often focuses on circle meetings because (1) they are unique to sociocracy and (2) sociocracy is often presented in workshops to people with diverse roles  in a variety of organizations. This makes discussions of operations difficult. Work-specific examples that everyone in the room understands are hard to craft. Thus the focus drifts to process instead of the accomplishment of the circle’s aim.

Circle Meetings Are Not the Aim

Sociocracy is an elegant method of organizing work, not meetings. There are many, many methods for organizing excellent meetings. All can be used in circle meetings if they allow consent decision-making. The aim of a circle meeting is not following a process; it is what you do when you walk out the door.

The meeting process is designed to facilitate making policy decisions. A good policy decision will enable the circle to accomplish its work more effectively, more energetically, and more harmoniously.

Circle Meetings Are About Operations

Meetings are work because the circle is making decisions and decisions are hard, but circle meetings are what happens outside the meeting. Their reason for being is operations.

If the circle has consented to an incomplete or unworkable policy decision, it needs to be revisited, whether the proper process was followed or not. Arguing process does nothing to correct an ill-advised policy decision.

Sociocracy is about organizing and executing whatever operations are related to the aim of the organization.

Are Your Meetings Substance or Style?

If the circle is making decisions based on experience, information, and measurements—on feedback not SWAG or preferences—it is more likely making decisions based on substance, not style.

For non-native English speakers, SWAG stands for Stupid Wild-Ass Guesses. SWAG’s not always ineffective in decision-making. Sometimes a SWAG is a good place to start, but then you move on.

Policy Decisions

The Heading of the Constitution of the United States.
The United States Constitution is an example of a policy statement. It states in broad terms what the government can and can’t do. It demonstrates that a policy statement can be amended. It can also be interpreted in differing ways as the meaning of words change. Most policy statements are much more easily updated than a nation’s constitution.

Policy decisions are defined in management theory as those decisions that define the basic principles of the organization and determine how it will develop and function in the future. Policies set the limits within which operational decisions are made. Examples include:

  • Vision, Mission, Aim
  • Budget and Finance Practices
  • Allocation of Resources
  • Organizational Structure
Policy decisions limit the actions an organization and its members can take without changing the policy.
In sociocracy, policy decisions are made by consent. Operational decisions are made within the limits set by policy decisions and may be made autocratically by the person in charge or by other means determined by the people whom the decisions affect.

Examples of Policy Statements

We set policies in our everyday lives without realizing it or writing them down. Examples include:

  • Deciding not to drink coffee or consume animal products
  • Pledging to complete  tax forms before their due date
  • Sending your children to public schools by choice
  • Deciding not to have children to devote time to political causes

In non-profit organizations the policies might include:

  • Following the IRS regulations that set requirements for 501c3 status to receive tax-deductible contributions
  • Limiting membership to professionals with a demonstrated expertise
  • Serving meals to the homeless
  • Using contributions only for administrative costs and not staff salaries

In business they might include:

  • Annual and departmental budgets
  • Employee compensation schedules
  • Union agreements
  • Future donations of money and employee time to charitable causes
  • Production of certain products and not others
  • Limiting sales and marketing to retail or wholesale customers

These are all decisions that define the scope of day-to-day  decisions about how we will conduct our personal or work lives, our operations.

Conflict Resolution: The Fixer

Many communities—cohousing, religious, etc.—believe that conflict resolution is based on loving and understanding. That if we just care more and understand each other’s needs, conflict will go away. They emphasize how hard this is. “This is the hard work we all need to do.”

Peace workers, in particular, are big on love and understanding and couple attempts to acquire it not only with hard work but with courage. “It takes a lot of courage to sit down one-on-one and have a hard conversation about our common needs.” Conflict is war, peace is understanding. Both require courage, however, so even though we are avoiding war, we are still courageous. Even more courageous.

And how do we acquire love and understanding? Face-to-face. Contact.

The perfect process is face-to-face conversations focused on understanding needs and love is the only solution. Now, in day-to-day living, this is a non-starter in the worst conflicts, and will ensure that many minor but festering conflicts will never be mentioned in public, or not until they are the size of neutron bombs. Some people thrive on face-to-face conversations. Others are drained beyond belief. Plus when living in a community, how many face-to-face conversations can one have in a week and still keep your home and family functioning?

Those who do not thrive on or do not have time for more personal contact will certainly avoid even admitting a conflict. The fear that they would be coaxed into such a conversation, even by trickery from those who are convinced that this is just what you need (as if it were a laxative), be blamed of triangulating because they might express their conflict to someone other than the object of their frustration, or be called out in public as requiring salvation, like a Baptist in a prayer meeting, would ensure that they suffer in silence or leave the community.

You notice that the emphasis amongst the hard-work and courage advocates has been deftly moved from the content of the conflict to the need for love and understanding. Accept the hard work, sit down for the face-to-face, and the wonderous joy will come out. We will be one. Harmony will hold us in its arms. All else will fade away.

Without going into all the research demonstrating that love is not enough, and not even necessary, I’ll say that the method I would like see developed is The Fixer. Something like NVC’s 4 steps and more manageable than the 12-step programs. The method used in the Vernon Jordan School of Getting Things Done. It would go something like this:

1. Find a savvy insider who knows what is possible and what is probably not.
2. Talk to Bill.
3. Talk to Monica.
4. Repeat as necessary until everyone is satisfied.

Forget the hard work. Forget the courage. Forget the love and understanding. Focus on the conflict and the people involved. Look around and see if this is systemic. Does it need a limited solution or policy change?

Someone please go for it.