History and Philosophy

Three Principles of Sociocracy

The numeral 3 in orange.Three Principles vs Four

There were originally three principles of sociocracy: (1) Consent to policy decisions, (2) circles arranged in a circular hierarchy to make policy decisions, and (3) double linking between circles. The election of people to roles and responsibilities was intended to be a part of the first principle of consent.

Allocation of resources involves the allocation of human resources as well as materials, machinery, space, and money. With three principles of sociocracy, this was not well understood. Organizations were still using traditional methods for hiring. This was often done by the operations leader or the operations leader combined with interviews by a subset of future coworkers. Consent decision-making, however, is dependent on being able to consent to those with whom one makes decisions. It is logical that all members of a circle must consent to the choice of a person to assume a particular responsibility. The fourth principle was added to ensure that these were consent decisions.

Working Memory

In the studies of working memory and the synthesis of ideas, three concepts have been found to be easiest for most people to comprehend. Many people can remember up to seven items in a list and train themselves to remember many, many more. This is  function of long-term memory, however, not working memory. Working memory refers to our ability to simultaneously examine a number of concepts and create a synthesis amongst them. If you found you could remember the first three principles and their relationships, but stumbled over the fourth, you are in good company.

Elections for Allocation of Resources

The fourth principle is also not the same in substance as the first three. The first three are conceptual and relate to how people in an organization structure policy decision-making. The fourth principle is a process for making choices between several possible options. It can be used equally well to choose between the purchase of large machinery, hiring a new CEO, or choosing a new program. There is nothing in the process that makes it particular  to the choice of a person for a job or a role in the organization.

Revision of We the People

Thus in the next revision of We the People, with Endenburg’s approval we will be referring to three principles of sociocracy, not four. And more clearly explaining what the allocation of resources, including the assignment of people to roles and responsibilities, is a policy decision and requires consent by circle members.

For an overview of the studies of memory and of working memory, see the Wikipedia article. Working Memory.


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