Governance
From: Sharon Villines (sharonsociocracy.info)
Date: Tue, 19 Jan 2016 11:12:37 -0800 (PST)
I just wrote this for Takoma Village. It explains briefly a dynamic 
governance/sociocracy structure for cohousing. I thought some here would like 
to see it. I didn’t edit for a new audience.

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In the last meeting we asked for a discussion on how the board is elected and 
what it is responsible for.

When we threw out Robert’s Rule of Order (parliamentary procedure) because it 
is based on majority vote, we also had to create a new governance structure. 
Despite having repeated requests to fix the governance system, we have haven’t. 

The purpose of governance is to ensure that the organization functions 
effectively and accomplishes its purpose. We don’t have an effective means of 
ensuring that we are effective. We have governance by personality and depend on 
personalities to decide which work gets done. 

One of the reasons for this is that we lack or have undefined expectations for 
the role of the board in leadership. By using dynamic governance as a model we 
would have a tested method for changing this.

Many communities and ecovillages are adopting dynamic governance. It is a 
tested governance system that supports consensus decision-making while at the 
same time delegating decisions to a structure of teams/circles that make 
effective decisions.

Some of our vagueness in governance is affected by not making a distinction 
between policy decisions and operational decisions. Standard management 
theories, as well as dynamic governance, use these definitions: 

Policy decisions control future decisions and are in effect until the makers 
change them. "We have decided to replace chemical weed killers with a weeding 
pod as a test to see if we control weeds without them” is a policy decision 
made by a team that will stand for an extended period of time. Policy decisions 
are best made by a heterogeneous, diverse group so a wide range of knowledge, 
informed opinions, oppositional views, and needs is available.

Operational decisions govern day-to-day decisions and can be changed in the 
moment by the task leader. “We will meet on Tuesday at 6:00 to weed on Blair 
Road” is an operational decision. It doesn’t set Tuesday at 6:00 as the weeding 
time for Blair Road in the future. It can easily be changed if no one is 
available or it is raining. Operational decisions are best made with a defined 
leader and a harmonious, homogeneous group of people that like working together.

Consent is only required for policy decisions. Since cohousing is a volunteer 
effort, a certain amount of consent is also required in operational decisions 
but only by the people doing the work in that moment.

From a dynamic governance/sociocracy perspective, our Takoma Village board is 
an unclearly defined combination of

1. A board/executive board, and
2. A general management team

This often results in hesitation and confusion, and neglect of one 
responsibility or another. Separating them would give greater assurance that 
both functions will be addressed by the most qualified people.

BOARD. The Board in a dynamically governed cohousing community would meet 1-3 
times a year and consist of the Executive Board and Outside Experts.

Executive Board:
1. General Manager/President. (Our bylaws define the president as a CEO.)
2. Secretary and records keeper (or records over-seerer)
3. Treasurer, Financial Manager

Outside experts:
4. Legal expert — Lawyer
5. Financial expert — Accountant
6. Facilities expert — a property manager
7. A cohousing expert (like Raines Cohen, a professional cohousing developer, a 
local member of the regional or national cohousing board, etc.)
8. A neighborhood representative like the ANC rep.

This group would be concerned with 5+ year strategic planning, and financial 
and social viability in the larger world (condo law is changing, neighbors are 
complaining, etc.).

The synergy of having all these people talking to each other brings out very 
different information than when we just ask them questions individually. Are we 
asking the right questions?

Some people are concerned about having a board with outside experts that makes 
decisions by consent but in fact we wouldn’t go against the advice of our 
experts anyway. If we disagreed, we would work out a new solution. Or choose 
another expert whose professional perspective is in alignment with our values 
and purposes.

GENERAL MANAGEMENT CIRCLE

The general management circle is charged with the functioning of the community. 
It meets as required — usually 1-2 times a month. It consists of:

1. Members of the Executive Board — President, Secretary, Treasurer
2. Two members of each team — the point person and a representative.

The General Management Circle:

1. Does 2-5 year strategic plans. (Teams do 1 year plans.)
2. Makes decisions that bridge more than one team
3. Makes decisions or recommendations on issues that teams can’t resolve 
amongst themselves
4. Creates and reorganizes teams as necessary
5. Makes most emergency decisions (very large ones would be made by the Board — 
financial insolvency, lawsuits, etc.)
6. Is responsible for general oversight of community functioning. Are decisions 
being made? Are they carried out? What is needed to sustain optimal community 
functioning?

TEAMS

Teams (or circles) have clearly defined areas of responsibility, and within the 
larger decisions of the community make the decisions related to those 
responsibilities. Each team may decide how it will function —it can even 
function autocratically if it decides to so by consent. And reviews this 
decision periodically. They are semi-autonomous and self organizing.

THE MEMBERSHIP, A FULL CIRCLE

Local laws and the membership decide what decisions will be made by the Full 
Membership or can be delegated to the Board, a Management Circle, or Teams. 
This is done in bylaws, not for each decision. 

Prairie Valley, for example, adopted bylaws that specify full membership 
_discussions_ but almost no full membership _decisions_. Membership discussions 
inform teams that both make decisions in the area they are responsible for and 
are held accountable for the outcomes of those decisions. The stress is not on 
admonition or punishment but on continuous adjustments to improve their 
decision-making and consulting process to make more effective decisions.

Cohousing is difficult to govern because we are our own client. The landscaping 
team has authority and responsibility for landscaping but its work must be 
satisfying both for its members and for other residents. In a business, the 
client would make the decisions about what they wanted by shopping around. 
Obviously this can’t be done very easily in cohousing—it’s a balancing act.

I find dynamic governance to be both flexible and structured for maximum 
functioning. It is designed to maintain a consent community where all values 
and concerns are addressed to the extent possible, but also emphasizes 
efficiency. 

Dynamic governance is based on transparency, inclusiveness, and accountability.

Sharon
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Sharon Villines
Sociocracy: A Deeper Democracy
http://www.sociocracy.info


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