When I first learned about sociocracy in 2002 I believed that its value was equality.* The counter argument was that equality wasn’t a value, it was a practicality. People work more efficiently when they have an equal voice in their work. Sociocracy is value-free. It is an empty tool that when used by any organization increases its productivity. My first reaction to that was to suggest that the word tool, with its meaning of penis in vulgar English, was probably not the best image for a decision-making method and empty penis was not a good. I got blank, rather unbelieving stares. Empty tool as of this writing continues to be used.
I retained equality as a value. In and of itself, it was worth something.
Next came transparency, the open sharing information. The more I saw consensus decision-making in action and reevaluated previous organizational decision-making experiences, the more I realized that decision-making in general and consensus specifically, is only effective if each person in the organization has access to all available information. In sociocratic organizations transparency is a practice, like logbooks, variable compensation based on performance, etc. All records, with the exception of proprietary information like recipes, are open to all members of the organization and to customers and clients.
As a practice transparency can be modified as it fits the situation, like a logbook that can be modified to fit the needs of the organization. It exists in the technical realm and is negotiable. As a value transparency is right out in front as a measure of all actions, of all decisions. Am I appropriately sharing or withholding? Am I deceiving others? Withholding information on which I am making a decision from others making the same decision is being deceptive in the same way that ignoring people is an act of violence. Openness, like equality, is worth something. An ethical person is open and truthful.
Action, Decisiveness, Effectiveness, Focus
The third value is one that John Buck raised initially as action. He and CT Butler had been discussing their approaches to consensus and governance. CT had argued for the importance of values and John came back convinced and floated equivalence, action, and transparency. I was delighted, but I didn’t think action fit all organizations or was necessarily a good value. Action for the sake of action is doomed and not what sociocracy advocates. I suggested decisiveness. John objected that it could be confused with judging. I tried effectiveness and before he could respond countered with focus. One of the characteristics of the best organizations is their focus on their aims. John agreed.
Values and Sociocracy
Our current understanding of the values of sociocracy: Equivalence, Focus, and Transparency. We are about to find out whether others agree with us. But one thing that we know is that sociocracy and values are words that can appear in the same sentence.
*On the equality vs. equivalent debate: by definition equality and equivalence are synonyms. In mathematics, equivalence is preferred because it emphasizes that two statements can be equal but not the same. In A+B = A+c+x, the two halves are not the same but have the same result. They are equivalent but not equal. Since sociocracy has more to do with the social sciences than with mathematics, I prefer to use equality.
2014 October 1: Eventually effectiveness won out over focus, and empty tool hasn’t been heard in a while.
Categories: History and Theory