[part 2 of a series]
Sociocracy is governance by the socios: our colleagues and peers. It is also known as “collaborative governance”, and “dynamic governance.” The term ‘sociocracy’ is not ideal, but for the time being it seems the most practical for its clarity and brevity.
Interestingly, some people are thinking of sociocracy as part of permaculture because permaculture-like principles are embedded in the concepts and practices of sociocracy, and are beginning to include basic sociocracy training in permaculture courses. For those wishing to pursue this line of thought further, here are a couple of links:
Sociocracy: a permaculture approach to community evolution, by Rios
Mapping sociocracy to permaculture, by DecisionLab
I will attempt to flesh out the gist of sociocracy in one short post; a perilous undertaking. Please comment with corrections or requests for clarifications as needed. I hope to shed some light on the four key aspects of governance identified in the previous post.
Defining expectations means, first of all, achieving consent regarding whether the group will commit to sociocratic governance for the time being, and fleshing out the vision (what does the world need), mission (how will our group provide it), aim (what specifically will we do to provide it), and domain of responsibility for each circle.
Laying out the structures and patterns of interaction and power flows: double-linked circles are the foundation of the organization. Power and information flow both ways between the circles. Everyone has a voice; all members consent to working and governing together. A message that cannot be ignored can be sent from any level of the organization. Each circle is a semi-autonomous entity that carries out both the ‘thinking’ aspect of working together (usually referred to as policy making) and the ‘doing’ aspect (referred to as “operations” in business). Here is a simple diagram of a sociocratic organization, in this case one implemented some time ago by the Lost Valley community in Oregon.
Though Lost Valley had a board of directors at the time, this is not a requirement. The overall template of the sociocratic organization consists of several specific circles double-linked to a general circle which may choose — and double-link to — an advisory circle of outside experts. Specific circles may choose sub-specific circles to carry out even more specific tasks. Double-linking is achieved by selecting two linkers; one represents the more specific circle in the more general circle, and the other represents the general circle within the more specific circle. Each linker is a full member of both circles.
In business contexts, people speak of higher and lower circles. As sociocracy’s concepts get translated to egalitarian, communitarian, and other alternative communities’ ways of speaking, the descriptors will shift. We can think of power moving sideways, from more specific circles to more general, from short-term thinking to long-term thinking, or from more concrete to more abstract, and back. Circles typically designate top-down leaders for “doing” circles or work groups, to take advantage of the chain of command when it suits.
Decision-making is by consent of all members of a circle. No stand asides, no blocks, no stuckness. Magic? Almost. Consent-based decision-making is the heart of sociocracy. It is used to select people into roles, and to respond to issues.
A proposal is formed and its completeness is consented to. It is then presented to the circle for consideration. The facilitator asks for more information from each person in turn. Finally, during a consent round, objections are solicited. If there are none, the proposal is passed. If there are reasoned and paramount objections, the proposal is reconsidered and improved.
This is the barest outline of a sophisticated and subtle process that makes group decision-making a joy. Objections are actually sought out! They are gifts to the circle, and make better decisions possible. People don’t have to heartily approve of a decision. All they need to be is willing to try it out. As Diana puts it: “Good enough for now, safe enough to try.” Most decisions made now are easy to change later.
Performance monitoring is essential to the ongoing fine-tuning of “how we are doing”: of people’s actions, of solutions, of directions, and so on. Criteria for measuring performance are built into proposals and roles. Evaluation dates are set. And a pattern for giving useful feedback is outlined.
All policies and decisions are based on present knowledge; there is no need to craft perfect solutions that can bear up in all future contingencies. Sociocracy produces good-enough decisions for now, followed by continuous adaptations based on feedback.
When using sociocracy, people already know they might modify any future implemented proposal to adjust how it operates in day-to-day reality. Like creative engineers with a project on a drawing board, they know they have to try it under real-life conditions to see how it actually functions before they know it will work. — Diana Leafe Christian
Some people desirous of horizontal political structures where power cannot be hijacked speak of leaderless organizations. A sociocratic organization is not leaderless, but rather taps into the leadership abilities of each and every member, and leaders chosen for specific roles are fully supported. It can, however, be acephalous if its members so consent.
So… here it is; sociocracy in a nutshell.