Sociocracy in co-operative organisations
Sociocracy, also known as dynamic governance, is a values-based governance system centered on the concept of equal voice (every member heard). Growing in popularity in the co-operative movement, its application is increasing due to a number of factors, including:
- The growth of distributed co-operative enterprises (particularly platform co-ops) whose members may not physically meet.
- The growth of co-operatives in the tech sector using methodologies such as Agile and Lean for software products which they then apply to their own management and governance.
- A need to consider a different way of making decisions in worker co-operatives that have grown in size and membership where more traditional governance structures are deemed to be less effective. For example Unicorn Grocery has 70 members, all of whom are directors of the co-op, and takes decisions collectively in all-member director meetings. A sociocratic governance structure supports devolved decision making within the co-op while retaining director status for all members.
- The desire to empower and include member stakeholders who may have been excluded from more formal governance setups.
This guidance provides best practice advice to enable UK co-operatives to understand what sociocracy is, how to implement it, and the benefits of its application.
Sociocratic governance doesn’t have to be implemented wholesale – it provides tools and processes to improve participation in meetings and encourage engagement that are suitable for co-ops of all sizes and structures to experiment with.
This guidance is accompanied by editable templates – look out for where you can access these throughout this resource.
Sociocracy, as it is used today, was first developed in the Netherlands in the 1980s by Gerard Endenburg in his family’s electronics company, Endenburg Elektrotechniek. Using a systems theory approach, Endenburg designed a governance system (The Sociocratic Circle Method) based on devolving Decision Making and accountability to interconnected working circles within an overall structure built on feedback loops.
Endenburg’s approach to sociocratic self-governance drew heavily on his experiences attending a radical Quaker school, The Workshop. The school’s founder, Kees Boeke, set out to create a self-governing community in which children would contribute their ideas, play an active role in day -to-day operational tasks, and hold co-responsibility for the curriculum with their teachers. The school emphasised inclusiveness, mutual trust and working together to work out what’s best for the group. Boeke drew on the earlier work of Auguste Comte in the 1850s, who first coined the term sociocracy.
Read more: “Sociocracy – Democracy As It Might Be” by Kees Boeke.
Sociocracy is now used by organisations around the world. It has particularly appealed to co-operative organisations due to its synergy with the ICA Values and Principles.
To read more about the history of sociocracy see:
Sociocracy seeks to provide a blueprint for a participatory, effective and efficient governance system that values the input of each member of the organisation as an essential participant in the whole. It can be used effectively in organisations of two or three members to a few hundred members.
Sociocracy is characterised by four key elements:
This resource has been produced by Abbie Kempson, Unicorn Grocery, and Mark Simmonds, Co-op Culture, who are both part of the Co-operative Governance Expert Reference Panel.