Beyond Democracy 3 – How Sociocracy works

Hi! I’m Ted Millich and I’m back to tell you more about the nature of Sociocracy, a.k.a. Dynamic Governance, or DG. Today I will tell you about ‘the rules.’ Like in a game, you need to understand the rules, but just that alone won’t be the same as experiencing the game itself. (That is in future blog entries.)

This will be a long entry, but it’s the core of dynamic governance and not really very complex. This isn’t meant to train you in how to use DG, but just to paint a bit of a picture of it so you can see what it mostly entails doing and why it gets better results than current methods of running businesses and governments.

My vlog here is 8:43 long, but well worth the time to watch it!

I use “sociocracy”, “dynamic governance”, and “DG” interchangeably. Sorry. I know it’s confusing, but you’ll get used to it. I call someone who uses or promotes sociocracy a “sociocrat.” Also, instead of saying ‘group’, ‘enterprise’, ‘entity’, ‘business’, ‘company,’ etc. I’ll just mostly say ‘organization.’

DG is difficult to explain because it is made up of some novel ideas. The idea of a dynamic system is so novel, in fact, that today, twelve years after I first started learning about it, I still frequently picture in my mind authoritarian organizational ideas when I’m envisioning things related to dynamic organizations because that’s what’s ingrained in me. It’s what we are ALL conditioned to understand.

First a few terms: DG uses the term circle to be the group of people who make policy decisions together on an equivalent basis – like a department, team, or division. Rounds, give everyone multiple chances to speak without anyone else responding or commenting until it’s their turn to speak, which will happen many times.

There are two elements to how a group governs itself. The first is a decision-making method and, of course, there can be more than one, and the second is the structure which is made up of the roles and responsibilities that people take on, plus perhaps some other values or guideline.

So, with sociocracy there are four main rules. DG uses a decision-making method called Consent decision making. The truth of the matter is that every decision we make could be called consent. For instance, with majority vote, we consent to have our opinion disregarded if we are in the minority. Frequently, when we take a new job, we’re consenting to have our boss make choices for us.

“DG’s “consent” is for creating the rules (policy) that govern the operations, but not necessarily for operations. A group can decide (by consent) to operate using authoritarian structures for getting things done. For instance, a dynamic fishing company with ten employees and one boat might set these rules: to catch only mackerel; to only fish from 3am – noon, three days per week, AND that the captain can order other sailors on the boat around in an authoritarian manner – in fact, that might be the law and you’ll probably decide to follow all applicable laws. As long as everyone consents to it in a policy meeting, that is the method that people in the group will use for operations. Everyone in a circle, including the head, has the power to not consent to a proposed policy.

Sociocrats like to say that this system is “both/and.” There can be both egalitarian
consent, AND other methods that can work together.

So, with consent, a policy is proposed and the circle looks for objections. In order to object, the objector needs a reason. The reason for the objection is then used to make amendments to the proposal so that there are no further objections. If there are any questions about an objection someone brings up, the circle consults the previously-recorded and regularly-updated vision and mission of the organization, and the aims of the circle.

I usually describe this power as ‘the power to not consent.’ I like to say that DG supports all participants having an equivalent amount of power reserved for them in the system – through consent decision-making. It’s different than saying people are equal. Gerard Endenburg refers to this as ‘equivalence.’

People sometimes don’t believe that it is really possible for a group to come to unanimous decisions, but listen to Annewiek Reimer, the executive director of the sociocracy center in the Netherlands…

Annewiek: “If a decision has to be made and the circle doesn’t give consent then it goes to the next higher circle and there’s the representative and leader together with others in the bigger context. In my experience of 20 years it has never happened, because people want to talk a little bit longer than to let it be discussed upstairs. But the tension is necessary to bring people to creativity. Most of the time when people have objections you can show that the decision is improved.”

Another rule is (S)Elections by Consent which is a way for a circle to make promotions and appointments. It is an adaptation of the consent process and so is based on getting unanimous consent and goes something like this: the job description is read, each circle member then nominates someone AND gives a reason for their choice, and you can nominate yourself. Then, people can change their nominations and when the facilitator feels like it’s possible, they call for a consent round. When no one objects to a nominee – including that nominee, then that person is elected. This selection process is fun, works well, no fraud is possible, and it frequently brings up valuable information.

The third rule is called The Circle Process. Circles regularly review and update their stated purpose. In DG they’re called the Vision, Mission, and Aims. The whole organization has a vision of a potential better future; and a mission of how to get to that vision. Every circle has an aim or aims that are measurable products or services.

Circles follow a process of making policy decisions, arranging for them to be carried out, and then, importantly, measuring the results before possibly making a new decision. So, this circle process is frequently referred to as Decide, Do, Measure, and repeat.

One of the circles that DG uses is called the General Circle. The general circle runs the organization and is populated by the executive director, plus two members of each division or department below itself, of which there can be any number of levels. Above the general circle is the Top Circle which contains the director, another member of the general circle, plus advisers, at least two of which should come from outside of the organization.

The last rule is Double Linking. Just the three previous rules weren’t quite satisfactory for Gerard Endenburg, the original developer of DG. He then instituted what is perhaps his most novel innovation. Any circle in his company was linked to the hierarchy above by the head of the lower circle, who meets in both. Endenburg added a representative to also sit on both circles -in both levels of hierarchy – with THEIR power to not consent.

Having both a circle leader and circle representative insures that power flows up as well as down. This is important because it keeps the hierarchy, which has advantages, but brings the group from the authoritarian realm to the realm of egalitarian co-operation.

I’ve heard many people talk disparagingly of hierarchy, but THAT is not the problem. It is the authoritarian relationship that USUALLY exists between levels of hierarchy that is the problem.

So, to review: These 4 main elements of DG are usually described as Consent Decision Making, the Circle Process, Double Linking, and Elections by Consent.

Other elements that Endenburg believes are important for maintaining equivalence and creating a fulling functioning dynamic system are total transparency; memory in the form of log books; connection to the outside world; and self-ownership (which I’ll describe in a future blog).

This is long enough so I’ll stop now. My next blog entry will show what it is like to play the game, that is, what it’s like to actually use the rules of sociocracy.

If you think this is important information, pass it on to anyone you know who might be interested in it.

So, til the next blog, happy trails…