What Is Sociocracy and Why Does Democracy Need it?

Let’s start with “What is Sociocracy?”

A quick answer is that sociocracy is both:

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

The history of group decision making is of course as old as life itself, and humans have been doing it for millenia. There is much to be considered in how we talk about this history, and you can read more about that here, in English-speaking countries, as a method of organization sociocracy is often called dynamic governance, but around the world is simply called sociocracy. In the 1970s, Gerard Endenburg developed earlier principles and practices of sociocratic organizations into a highly structured method of governance that worked not only in schools and associations but in businesses as well: Sociocratic Circle-Organization Method (SCM).

Not Just a Statement of Values

Sociocracy shares the values of democracy:

  • freedom and equality, and
  • self-determination with all its rights and responsibilities.

But sociocracy doesn’t just state values. It isn’t limited by its dependence on majority voting. Sociocracy goes deeper. It is a method of organization and decision-making applying research and good business practices that depend on those values and ensuring they are implemented. Without them, sociocracy doesn’t work. (Democracy doesn’t work either but more about that later.)

Sociocracy produces organizations that are both collaborative and highly productive. The process for decision-making is very different from majority voting which inevitably produces majority rule. Majority rule easily leads to a divided society and promotes competition and dominance instead of coöperation and equality. Democracy in practice can produce a society that is as autocratic as a dictatorship. The dictator is the majority.

A Whole Systems Approach

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

Sociocracy was conceived as applied Sociology and the ideas of both arose at the same time in the mid-nineteenth century. Sociology is the social science that studies social groups, societies, and how they function. The original idea was that the government would be guided by scientists, and sociologists, who would apply what they had learned to produce a society that worked in the best interests of everyone. It would not be dependent on autocratic whims or an elite social class. A sociocratic society would be developed with research and experimentation—what had been proven to work.

Sociocratic schools and businesses have shown that people who live and work together are more likely to make better decisions for themselves than anyone else could.

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.

Policy Decisions

The most searched word on Sociocracy.info is “Policy.” What is it? A major part of the reason for this is that most of us have no experience with policy decisions. They are made by those at the top—the professional clergy, the community leaders, the boss, the board, the headmaster. In order for people to be free and equal, however, they must know how to make policy decisions. These are the decisions that determine how daily work will be done. Daily operations decisions will be made.

Policy decisions are agreements about how people will work together as a group. Policies guide the operations of every group — a dog walking club, a religious organization, and an international corporation.

  • Who will make decisions?
  • Who is allowed to participate in decisions?
  • How will resources be used—who controls the money?
  • Who will do which jobs? And how will they be evaluated?
  • Who leads and who chooses them?
  • What are the standards of quality?

These decisions in sociocratic organizations are made in each section of a company. By the teachers and even the students in a school. The librarians in the library. Each working unit is allocated funds and given a mission or a purpose to fulfill, then allowed to decide how they will achieve it. And they hold themselves responsible for meeting these expectations.

The loading dock workers decide how the loading dock will be organized on a day-to-day basis. Who makes operations decisions? These decisions are made within the policies of the larger organization, perhaps the shipping department. The loading dock operates to serve the needs of the shipping department so it has a mission that is jointly defined with shipping. But policy and operations decisions that enable the workers to fulfill their mission are under their own control.

Consent Is Required for Policy Decisions

Consent means “no objections.” Giving consent does not mean unanimity, agreement, or even endorsement. Decisions are made to guide actions. Can we move forward if we make this decision? Consent is given in the context of moving forward. Consent to a policy decision means you believe that it is “worth trying.”  Or “I can work with it.” Moving forward is important for making better decisions because it provides more information. Not moving forward until a perfect decision is found, means operating in the blind. Information will always be limited to what is already known.

Consent is required for all policy decisions for many reasons. The two most important are that it ensures (1) the decision will allow all members of the group to participate or produce without feeling oppressed, and (2) it will be supported by everyone. Everyone is expected to participate in the reasoning behind the decision. And no one can be excluded.

The level of commitment required to consent is related to the level of compliance required. The policy will probably be more or less important to each member of the group.

All members of a sociocratically governed organization are guaranteed the ability to collaboratively decide their living and working conditions — as citizens, employeee, neighbors, students.

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.

To learn how to practice sociocracy, we suggest visiting Sociocracy for All for group and individual classes, books, events and communities of practice.

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: 2022-008-06