Sociocracy has three core values:
- equivalence: policy decisions are made in consent with everyone affected by that decision
- effectiveness: the processes and methods are in harmony with human psychology and make positive contributions (“artful participation”) easy
- transparency: everything in the organization is transparent by default, unless members consent to having secrets
Vision, Mission, and Aims
An organisation needs to have clarity about and consent on their vision, mission and aims.
The organization gathers around the vision, the dreamed of and desired future. The mission is the way towards that future, the big picture and the principles and values.
The mission is then broken down further into aims, e.g. products, services, experiences the organization produces for the people it serves. Policies are created to serve aims, and guide the day-to-day operational tasks, which develop and maintain the aims.
Circles and double-linking
A sociocratic organization is laid out in circles, e.g. a semi-autonomous and self-organized group of people who contribute towards common aims. The aims of the individual circles are derived from the organzation’s vision and mission. Two circles with close interaction each elect a delegate who becomes a full member of the partner circle. This is called double linking, because there is always two people in each circle to bring in the partner circle’s perspective to proposal and decisions.
Consent Decision Making
A circle meets on a regular basis to consent to and review policies. For that the circle uses consent decision making, a facilitated process where each member of a circle is specifically asked for their consent to a policy proposal. A proposal can only be blocked with a paramount and argued objection, i.e. a substantial reason why that proposal is an impediment to the circle’s aims. Proposals often are amended integrating the wisdom brought to light through an objection.
Consent decision making is organised in rounds, where each person speaks in turn, to maintain equivalence of the participants.
There’s six different meeting processes involving consent, the first three are about policies, the other there are about people:
- planning (proposal forming)
- agenda items (policies)
- evaluate implemented policies
- role creation
- role evaluation (performance review)
Creating and evaluating policies
In Sociocracy, all policy decisions are taken by the people who are affected by those policies, and all policies are evaluated on a regular basis. Each policy is assigned a review date at which that policy scheduled for review in a circle meeting. The circle may keep or amend the policy, and set a new review date, or even consent to dropping the policy altogether. Any circle member can request a policy review sooner than the consented timeframe is necessary. This feedback loop, sometimes referred to as plan – implement – evaluate, allows for effective continuous refinement of all policies, and prunes what is no longer necessary.
Each circle has full autonomy over they way they run their operations, this is just another policy. A circle may elect an autocratic leader, or consent to using majority or consensus voting, or something entirely different for their operations. This policy, as any other, has a review date.
Policy decisions and decisions on operational matters are strictly separated and never conducted in the same meeting.
For each circle there’s a set of pre-defined roles: a facilitator who facilitates all processes, a logbook keeper who records all decisions and other important information in the logbook, (the circle’s memory, which is visible to everyone in the organization), a secretary who organizes meetings, and probably an operational leader if the circle finds they need one. Other roles will be created by the circle as required.
Circle members are elected into roles using sociocratic elections, a process where candidates are nominated and arguments for their nominations are presented before the decision is made by consent.
Each role undergoes a regular performance review a process guided by the circle member who fills that particular role. The resulting development plan and recommendations for improving the role description are proposed to the circle in the circle meeting.
Here’s short answers to the three most common questions I hear when I do a presentation or workshop about Sociocracy:
I’ve never heard of Sociocracy, is anybody using it?
Here’s a a (very incomplete) list of organizations that use sociocracy
People making their own decisions? This will never work!
Sociocracy provides a decision making process that both integrates everyone’s point of view and shifts focus towards the rational argument. With facilitation and a bit of practice this allows circles to become very effective at decision making, i.e. they make good-enough decisions very fast, and review and adapt those decision from what they learn when executing on those decisions. Organizations driven by autocratic decisions or majority vote usually do not display that kind of agility and continuous improvement.
How can I introduce Sociocracy to an existing organization?
There’s several common patterns, one can simply map the current hierarchical layout of the organzation to a circle structures and elect representatives to the next-higher circle from the ground up, or one can start with small structure, even just one team, and expand outward from there. A special case of the latter is forming a transformation circle that uses Sociocracy to fulfil its aim to transform the organization into a sociocratic organization.
- Also called dynamic governance, apparently there’s people who so are afraid of Socialism that even the stem of the term makes them shiver. ↩
- Governance is everything that deals with guiding operational decisions. If you imagine the day-to-day operations as a river, governance is the river bed, the policies that guide operational (one-time) decisions. ↩
- or lead – do – measure ↩
- sometimes also called meeting manager ↩
This work by Bernhard Bockelbrink is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.