Inclusive Governance Structures
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Sun, 16 Sep 2012 05:57:20 -0700 (PDT)
(More from my study of Jo Freeman's "The Tyranny of Structurelessness." This 
section discusses the characteristics of inclusive formal structures for 
cohousing groups (and others) that help (at least) to avoid covert control of 
the group.)

Inclusive Governance Structures

Power always exists in groups. An inclusive governance structure builds and 
gives everyone equal access to power. Refusing to harness power does not 
abolish it. It just gives up the right to control it and to benefit from it. In 
cohousing that means the power to control your daily life—how you live and how 
your money is spent. 

For many cohousing groups, just like the Women's Movement, full-group consensus 
decision-making substitutes for a governance structure. The consensus process 
itself becomes the structure. The facilitator is the magician that makes it 

The other responsibilities and tasks of governance are ignored because 
consensus is the one what counts. All individual members have to do is to 
preserve their right to say no. Since there is no effective structure for 
saying yes, this creates the power of the "block," the veto. The focus on 
governance is then deflected to debating the acceptable basis for a veto rather 
than the aim of the community and how to achieve it.

Consensus is a decision-making threshold; it isn't a leadership or 
decision-making structure. Used alone it neither harnesses nor builds power. 
Without a true governance structure, as communities grow in size they begin to 
avoid decisions, abdicating them to the elites. They become less inclusive and 
even undemocratic. 

Democratic Governance

Freeman outlined the principles she felt were essential to structuring a group 
that could be both democratic and effective:

1. Delegation of specific authority to specific individuals for specific tasks 
by democratic procedures.

2. Requiring all those to whom authority has been delegated to be responsible 
to those who selected them.

3. Distribution of authority among as many people as is reasonably possible.

4. Rotation of tasks among individuals, not necessarily everyone but more than 
a group of friends. ("Those who work well together.")

5. Allocation of tasks along rational criteria.

6. Diffusion of information to everyone as frequently as possible. Information 
is power. Access to information enhances one’s power. 

7. Equal access to group resources.

Structured Equality

During the same period that the Women's Movement developed, the late 
1960s-early 1970s, Gerard Endenburg had assumed leadership of an electrical 
engineering company in The Netherlands. He was confronted with managers who 
functioned autocratically and ignored both the concerns and intelligence of 
workers. Workers resisted and behaved as if they were in conflict with the aims 
of the company, not in support of them.

While the Women's Movement attempted to confront autocratic governance 
structures with structurelessness, this was never an option for Endenburg. The 
complex electrical engineering projects he was overseeing had to be highly 
organized. But as a Quaker, he had experienced the same personal commitment and 
harmony of a consensus community in both his church and his school. The women’s 
groups had the commitment and harmony but lacked a structure that would enable 
them to accomplish their goals. Endenburg had a structure but lacked commitment 
and harmony.

Endenburg began studying and experimenting. He was an engineer and had studied 
cybernetics, the science of communications and control, which analyzed power. 
He knew how to create powerful systems, and that was his goal. He understood 
that power must flow and be distributed equally in order to keep a system at 
optimum functioning. He eventually developed socioccracy/dynamic governance.

The principles he developed are now applied world-wide are strikingly similar 
to those Freeman defined as necessary for the women’s movement to survive and 
be effective as well as democratic. There may be other structures that meet 
these criteria as well but sociocracy/dynamic governance meets them all.

1. Tasks are assigned by teams after open discussion of the requirements of the 
job and of the abilities of those nominated to meet these requirements. 

2. The team has full authority to remove anyone from a task if they are not 
meeting the requirements of the task or if the task changes.

3. All members of teams are expected to develop leadership abilities and to 
take equal responsibility for the success of the team. 

4. The team controls task assignments and can rotate tasks if it believes that 
this will build a stronger team.

5. Task requirements and the means of measuring success are written and kept in 
the team logbook which is available to all members of the team.

6. Transparency is fundamental. All organization records are open. Since each 
member of a team is responsible for the teams success and participates as an 
equal member, it is essential that they have full information in order to make 
responsible decisions.

7. All resources are allocated by the team with the consent of all members.

I believe that sociocracy/dynamic governance, the sociocratic 
circle-organization method, is the best decision-making structure for cohousing 
but any system that can put the principles of democratic functioning into place 
would build strong communities with less fuss than functioning without them.

My full post on Freeman's article is at:

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