Diana's text, ripe for adaptation: Sociocracy is an effective governance and decision-making method I now highly recommend for intentional communities, It means “governance by peers or colleagues,” and is a system for organizing work and making decisions to guide the work. Sociocracy is based on the values of transparency, equivalency, and effectiveness. When a community uses Sociocracy (and uses it correctly), they tend to get more done and enjoy more high-energy, effective meetings. In the US Sociocracy is sometimes called Dynamic Governance.
“We’ve made more decisions in the past two months than we have in the past two years!” —Davis Hawkowl, Pioneer Valley Cohousing, Amherst, Massachusetts
“A visitor said she’d never seen a community meeting be so effective, efficient, and fun!” —Hope Horton, Hart’s Mill Ecovillage, Chapel Hill, North Carolina
“I would never have joined the community if we didn’t use Sociocracy! It’s our saving grace.” —Kreel Hutchison, Baja BioSana Ecovillage, La Paz, Mexico
“We have better follow-up to our decisions, and information flows better. Our meetings are faster and lighter and have a rhythm that feels satisfying. And at the end of our last meeting, we started dancing for joy!” —Anamaria Aristizabal, Aldeafeliz Ecovillage, Colombia
The three-day introductory workshop covers the basics of Sociocracy and will enable your group to start a study circle or implementation circle to learn more about Socciocracy and begin implementing it in your group, assuming that your group decides to try it. Groups don't usually decide to replace their current governance and decision-making method with Sociocracy, but rather decide to try Sociocracy for a period of time such as 18 months to two years and see how they like it
Sociocracy tends to to work well in a community when:
(1) people understand it well (2) all members understand it, and (3) the group all of its eight parts.
It tends not to work well when:
(1) people understand it only partially, (2) some members understand it and others don’t, or (3) the group uses some but not all of its seven parts. Or — the worst — if the community misunderstands Sociocracy by viewing it through the lens of consensus, and inadvertently creates a Sociocracy-consensus hybrid. This doesn’t work as well as either Sociocracy or consensus and tends to generate confusion and frustration.
More about learning and using Sociocracy well:
(1) The group understands the need for ongoing training or periodic reviews, such as with an ongoing Sociocracy study group and/or an in-house coach. Or they have in-person or online consultations with a Sociocracy trainer. They use an outside Sociocracy facilitator when they can.
(2) The group makes sure all members learn Sociocracy — especially new incoming people. The community doesn’t assume new folks will just “pick it up” by attending meetings; rather, training in Sociocracy is provided for new members before they have full decision rights in meetings Without training people tend to misinterpret Sociocracy through the lens of whatever decision-making method they are most familiar with, often consensus.
(3) Group members who do not or will not learn Sociocracy for whatever reason nevertheless agree to support the group in using it, perhaps by signing a written agreement saying this and saying they promise to learn Sociocracy as soon as they can. And they agree not to interrupt or undermine the facilitator’s work of leading circle members through Sociocracy’s various meeting processes.
(4) Since the eight main parts of Sociocracy work together synergistically to provide efficient governance and effective meetings, the group uses all seven parts.
“Rich in content and fun; I got more than I came for by a mile. I was able to immediately apply the clear explanation of measurement and evaluation to several proposals in my community.” —Barry Weinhold, The Villages at Crest Mountain, Asheville, NC, Sociocracy workshop, Earthaven Ecovillage, North Carolina, 2013
“Quite simply the finest workshop I've ever attended. You quickly cut to the chase, providing hours of practical answers, and all with a hilarious sense of humor.” —Dennis Gay, Sociocracy workshop, Champlain Valley Cohousing, Vermont, 2013
“It was a magical workshop! I feel such gratitude, and inspiration to go on investigating how Sociocracy can support our community.” —Malin Wik, Sociocracy Workshop, Ängsbacka Ecovillage, Sweden, 2013
“So useful to apply Sociocracy to intentional communities. I also loved your “tell it like it is” style and your pacing, humor, clarity, focus. I absolutely got what I came for.” —Paul Voss, Hart's Mill Community, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Sociocracy workshop, Earthaven Ecovillage, North Carolina, 2013
“I was seeking a clear, well-researched comparison of consensus with Sociocracy — the pros and cons of each — and that’s what we got. Your presentation was fun, creative, focused, clear, and resourceful — especially how you stayed on track gracefully and managed distractions.” —Mihaly Bartalos, Sociocracy workshop, Earthaven Ecovillage, North Carolina, 2013
“Invaluable in helping us fine-tune our Sociocracy process.” —Randy Archer, Sociocracy Workshop, Champlain Valley Cohousing, Vermont, 2013
“Diana's Sociocracy workshop was FANTASTIC! She truly is a master at taking complex material and making it simple, plus the way she engages workshop participants is brilliant. . . . she clearly is a master at putting together workshops, teaching, and facilitating.” —Gaya Erlandson, co-founder, Lotus Lodge Community, NC. (Sociocracy workshop, Earthaven Ecovillage, March, 2012)
More about Sociocracy:
Sociocracy has many parts, but in my opinion, the following eight parts are the minimum needed to provide checks and balances against any potential abuses of power. These seven parts work together synergistically, each mutually benefitting and reinforcing the others: (1) “double-linked” circles, (2) clear aims (ongoing objectives) for each circle, (3) feedback loops built into every proposal — and four meeting processes — (4) consent decision-making, (5) proposal-forming, (6) selecting people for roles (elections,) (7) role- improvement feedback, and (8) consenting to circle members). Here's a description of each:
(1) Double-linked circles. Semi-autonomous, self-organized “circles” (committees, teams), organize work tasks, including administrative tasks and physical labor tasks. Each circle provides a specific, concrete function for the community; for example, Membership Circle, Finance Circle, Land Use Circle, and so on. Most circles are relatively small, with perhaps four to eight members.
A central circle, called a “General Circle," coordinates all the other circles determining their areas of responsibility, aims, and budgets. The General Circle also provides longer-term planning for the whole community — coordinating and overseeing the work of the other, more specific and focused circles.
“Double links” are two people who are each members of two different circles, and who convey information between the two circles. This ensures a direct, two-way flow of information circles, and helps all the various work areas of the community function smoothly and synergistically in relation with one another.
(2) Domain and aims. Aims (ongoing objectives) are what the circle produces and provides for the community. The aims of a Finance Circle, for example, with the domain of financial management for the community, would be to provide financial services, including, the work of paying the community’s taxes, utility bills, insurance premiums, and so on, and invoicing and collecting dues and fees from members. The aims of a community’s Promotions Circle, with the domain of community promotions and advertising, would be to provide the services of promotions and advertising in order to inform and inspire potential visitors, neighbors, and the general public about its mission and activities, and its specific work could be creating and managing the community’s website, blog, online newsletter, brochures, tours for visitors, and other tasks. Again, Sociocracy is about organizing work, and for intentional communities, this means providing a clear, effective system for doing this — and with clear domains and aims, everyone knows what each circle is doing and why they’re doing it.
Aims are not goals, which have a beginning and end. Rather, aims are ongoing and continuous. Aims are crucial because when circle members make proposals, object to proposals, and resolve objections to proposals they do so based on how the proposal may or may not support the specific aims of their circle.
(3) Feedback Loops. Engineers and inventors use the three steps of feedback loops to create and test their ideas. First they create a design or plan. Next they implement their design by creating a prototype in order to try out the design. And lastly they measure and evaluate the prototype in order to learn how it works in real-life circumstances. Then they may revise their design, based on what they learned in their measurements and evaluation, and create a new prototype.
Feedback loops are built into Sociocracy too, because the wording of every proposal includes criteria for how it will later be measured and evaluated for effectiveness after it is implemented, and dates of upcoming meetings in which these evaluations will occur. Criteria for measuring proposals can include “how much” and “how many” questions. Criteria for evaluation are more subjective, and might include questions such as “Do we like it?” “Is it working well?” “What do community members say about it?” and so on.
After each evaluation circle members can keep the implemented proposal as it is or change it as needed or even dismantle it (if possible). So when circle members are creating or considering a proposal, they know that, depending on the proposal, they may later be able to keep it, change it, or throw it out. Thus no proposal or decision has to be perfect, but only “good enough for now” and “safe enough to try.” This flexibility reduces the fear of making a mistake or of failing to create a “perfect” proposal where they’ve thought of everything. Because using feedback loops takes the pressure off circle members to “get it right,” meetings tend to be much more relaxed than when using consensus, since in consensus it is difficult to change a decision once it’s finally been decided.
(4) Consent Decision-Making. This meeting process includes checking in with each person in the circle, called a “round.” After a round to answer clarifying questions and a round hear quick reactions, there’s a round to hear whether each circle member consent to the proposal or objects to it. Objections indicate the proposal needs more work. Circle members resolve objections by modifying the proposal and then doing another consent round. These two steps — consent rounds and modifying any objections — are alternated until there are no more objections — which means the circle has consented to the latest modification of the proposal.
When Consent Decision-Making is practiced correctly, no member of a circle can stop their circle from approving a proposal because the proposal violates the person’s own personal values or lifestyle choices. Objections to proposals are a necessary and desirable part of Consent Decision-Making and are not blocks or vetoes. As noted above, the checks and balances provided by the seven parts of Sociocracy — including that when a circle has clear aims no one can object for personal reasons, which helps prevent power abuses in decision making. Thus in Sociocracy there is no “personal blocking” or implied or actual “threats to block.”
(5) In Proposal-Forming, circle members draft one or more proposals about an issue that relates to the circle’s area of responsibility and aims.
(6) In Selecting People for Roles (elections), circle members choose people for specific roles in their circle, and their choices are based on the specific responsibilities and qualifications for each role rather than on whether or not they like the person or other personal reasons. Related to this is the process, Consenting to Circle Members.
(7) Consenting to Circle Members. People choose other members of their circle based on the person's willingness and having enough time to do do the tasks of the circle, and their ability to work cooperatively.
(8) In Role-Improvement Feedback, circle members give feedback — what’s working well, what may need improvement — to other circle members relative to how they are fulfilling the specific responsibilities of the role.