Re: Consider Sociocracy
From: Tree Bressen (
Date: Thu, 29 Jun 2006 13:57:51 -0700 (PDT)

I am excited at the emergence of sociocracy. I have read and talked with people using it a bunch, and last weekend someone who facilitated for my community included it in their approach with reasonable success. I haven't yet had opportunity to take a training in it, but i'm on the lookout to do so.

That said, i see a consistent pattern in how sociocracy proponents describe the process that i find problematic. That pattern is to contrast a well done sociocratic process with a poorly done consensus process, and then find the consensus process lacking. I think that pattern creates misunderstanding for readers (as well as irking me personally).

As far as i can tell, sociocracy is one version among many of consensus rather than a different creature . . . i think it's probably more accurate to speak of "sociocratic consensus" and "traditional secular consensus" (and Formal Consensus, and so on) than to see sociocracy as a separate species. I have been sorting through in an effort to discern what is truly distinctive about sociocracy, and so far what i've come up with is:

1. Heavy reliance on go-rounds as a format;
2. Strong emphasis on rationality;
3. Extra support for keeping the topic to be addressed small enough that it's easier for the facilitator to rein in someone who strays; 4. Given the range of heights of the "bar" in groups practicing consensus (that is, the threshold of how much agreement is enough agreement to move forward with a decision), sociocratic consensus makes a clear choice to keep the bar in the lower end of the spectrum.

My comments so far have addressed the decision-making process part of sociocratic consensus rather than the organizational structure part of it. Regarding the latter, Sharon said:

Consensus is usually grafted onto a form of governance that is only
designed to support majority vote. This doesn't work as well as it
could with a structure designed to _avoid_ majority vote.

Can you explain what you mean by this?  I'd like to understand more.

Groups using what i call traditional secular consensus usually practice direct democracy if they are small enough to make that viable, and representative democracy (via a spokescouncil structure) if they are really big (such as at the WTO protests in '99). The spokescouncil structure of concentric circles looks very similar to the governance structure of sociocratic consensus, with the distinction that a standard spokescouncil has one rep into the next circle while sociocratic structure has two reps.

An aspect not mentioned so far that i really like of the sociocratic structure is the election component, where candidates' strengths for a position are openly discussed in the group. Of course that could just as well happen in traditional secular consensus, but it hasn't been the culture of these groups so far and i think it would probably be an improvement.

Sharon said:
So far as I know there are no workshops [on sociocracy] at the cohousing conference.

Let's have one! I think the interest is clearly there, and conferences like this are a great opportunity to learn together. Sharon or Maggie or others, will you be in attendance? Anyone wanna contact the conference organizers to set something up?




Tree Bressen
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