One of my first ventures here at Earthaven has been to take Diana Leafe Christian’s two day workshop on sociocracy. I aim to turn my learning into several blog posts. What I say here is not a recap of Diana’s views, but rather my own effort at working through the material on my own terms, so I may successfully internalize it. Diana’s workshop was well attended, and was absolutely fabulous. I had read up on sociocracy, but only after taking this workshop did it become vivid in my mind: Diana’s many creative and experiential teaching methods made it all come together. Highly recommended for anyone wanting to learn this method of governance!

Why sociocracy?
I am not a long meeting lover; I like to come together with others to get things going; I remember endless processing as a bane of my Green days. Sociocracy avoids these pitfalls. It also appeals to my desire for a self-organizing, bottom-up governance system that gives voice to all.

The four elements
According to Diana, there are four key elements of healthy communities. Community glue is generated by enjoyable shared activities that engender gratitude, trust, and feelings of good will. Potlucks, singalongs, games, personal sharings, and many other activities are the glue that keeps community functioning well. Good process and communication results from community members acquiring the skills to speak, listen, and deal with conflicts in ways that build interhuman harmony. Non-violent communication and restorative circles are a few examples. Effective project management covers all those ongoing things — like keeping a community tidy, its paths free of poison ivy, visitors welcomed and showed around, and cash flow flowing both ways– that need doing to keep the community humming along. And good governance is at the heart of a well-functioning community, tying together the strands into a unified whole.

The word governance comes from the Greek for steering. It is the manner in which power is exercised among those involved in a collective endeavor. A quick foray into wiki and other sources identifies four main aspects of governance:

  • defining expectations (what are we hoping for? what are we responsible for?)
  • laying out the structures and patterns of interaction and power flows (what is the organization’s diagram? how does it work? who governs?)
  • decision-making (who will serve in this role? how do we deal with this issue?)
  • performance monitoring (how are we doing?)

Sociocracy, as a whole-system governance method, covers all these key aspects of governance. It was invented by a Dutch engineer in the 70s, wanting to run his small company in a way that would foster harmony in the workplace, while making sure everyone has a voice (equivalence), information flows freely (transparency), and the company succeeds in the marketplace (effectiveness). His thinking was influenced by Quaker-based consensus, cybernetics (feedback loops), and self-organizing systems.

More to come!