Blog article

The Sociocracy approach to decision-making

As our working life becomes busier, it can be frustrated by the number of meetings we are invited to, many of which we cannot miss. However, how many of the meetings are worthwhile or result in a clear decision on how to move forward? How many times are you asked for input to find that nothing really happens as a result?

If these thoughts sound familiar, could there be a better way of decision-making that uses meeting time more efficiently and gives everyone clarity on who does what and why. Some organisations have found Sociocracy has helped to break away from the ‘meetings-about-a-meeting’ culture.

What is Sociocracy?

Sociocracy is a non-hierarchical decision-making method that provides smaller groups of people, known as ‘circles’ with the authority to make decisions that affect them and their work. Sociocracy enables those ‘doing the work’ to have autonomy over the decisions that affect their work.

Each circle within the structure has a very specific vision, mission and aim – and the policy decisions they make are defined by these. Within each circle are designated roles: leader, facilitator, delegate and secretary. The leader and delegate roles help to connect each circle via a double link with other circles in the structure in order to create information flow.

Which organisations are using Sociocracy?

Sociocracy is not new. It has its roots in the Netherlands and was developed by electrical engineer and entrepreneur Gerard Endenburg. However, recently there has been a surge of interest from organisations looking to create intentional housing communities as well as co-ops – particularly worker co-ops and multi-stakeholder co-ops where hearing a variety of stakeholder voices is important to ensure that the co-op meets their needs.

Training: Decision-making in Sociocracy takes place in Birmingham on 30 April. Find out more >> 

How to start using Sociocracy?

Implementing Sociocracy is easier when setting up a new organisation, as the structures and circles can be created by people who are new to each other and the organisation. For established organisations that have set structures, it can be tricky to implement, as people are used to working within those structures. However, as Sociocracy for All founder Ted Rau explains, there are three tools from Sociocracy that you can start using straight away.

Rounds: Discussion and decision-making in rounds provides the opportunity for each person to speak and be heard. Whilst I hear the person next to me speaking, I can prepare my thoughts and contribution to the discussion.

Small group decisions: By breaking down discussion and decision-making into groups, we start eating the ‘elephant’ bit by bit. As these groups begin to work and see that they have genuine authority over the decisions made about the work of that group, engagement will inevitably grow.

Consent: Often it is seen as easier and more efficient to make decisions by majority consent. But is that truly democratic? The solution from Sociocracy is consent decision-making. Consent is defined by ‘no objection.’ In essence, for the good of the group, its members are asked to consider their own range of tolerances when responding to a group proposal. This means that although what is proposed may not be my ideal view and I may not get what I personally want from the proposal, I recognise and can see that the decision is for the good of the group as a whole. If anyone in the group objects to a proposal then this can create tension in the group that the group has to own and work through. In traditional decision-making methods, the same person may vote ‘no’ but little is done to understand the reasons behind these decisions. In consent decision-making, the group can work to resolve that tension, hear that person’s reservations which can build trust and understanding in the group over time as no one is ignored.

Want to know more about Sociocracy?

SOFA (Sociocracy for All) run a range of courses for those at different stages of the Sociocracy learning and implementation process. Co-operatives UK is also running a training session on Sociocracy bringing together Sociocracy practitioners with co-ops and other organisations to experience sociocratic decision-making in practice. The session takes place on 30 April in Birmingham and costs £150 plus VAT for Co-operatives UK members. Don’t miss it! 

If you have any questions or need support, please contact the Co‑operatives UK Advice Team.

Written by Linda Barlow
Updated: 21/02/2020