Sociocracy – the Permaculture of organisations

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By Julian Howell. Part 1 and Part 2:

Part 1 – Originally published as Sociocracy – a Permaculture way to organise? at DecisionLab, and also at Permaculture Works and at SociocracyUK, and republished several times elsewhere. [What is Permaculture? And what is Sociocracy?]

Sociocracy – the term means ‘collaborative governance’ – hard-wires ‘People Care’ and ‘Fair Share’ into the fabric of an organisation by ensuring that every member has an equivalent voice in policy. Like other living systems a sociocratic organisation relies on cyclical feedback processes to stay in tune with its members and its environment. Some call Sociocracy ‘organisational permaculture’.

To be sociocratic an organisation has to follow four principles:

Governance by consent
A decision can only be made when none of the circle members has a reasoned, paramount objection based on the aims of the circle or the organisation.

Organisation in circles
Circles are self-organising groups of people who decide by consent how they go about what they have to do. Sociocracy does recognise organisational hierarchy, but power is distributed through the hierarchy by double linking of circles.

Double-linking between circles
Circles share at least two members; the operational leader from the upper circle and a representative from the lower circle. With the power of consent they act as a feedback and moderation loop.

Sociocratic elections to roles
Choosing people for functions in a circle (facilitator, secretary or whatever roles are needed) is done by a special consent process based on reasoned nominations in a go-round.

Sociocracy also offers a range of tools based on a lead-do-measure cycle. Together with the four principles these create a unique climate for effective participatory management. It requires learning and getting used to, but some elements can be introduced step by step. Elections by consent can be revealing and fun. Separating policy from operations decisions can be an ‘Ahh!’ moment for management.

Lead Do Measure cycle

Policy and operations
Sociocracy distinguishes policy – the clear and measurable aims that would realise the vision of the organization – from operations – the tasks needed to carry out those aims.

Sociocratic consent (“Does anyone have a paramount objection?”) does not allow a blunt veto. It has to be made clear that the decision would not be in the interest of the organisation. However, concerns and objections are valued – they can lead to wiser and more creative solutions.

Also known as ‘dynamic governance’, sociocracy is used in organisations in Australia, Brazil, the United States, Canada, and in many European counties. It is new to the UK but interest is growing.

Further information

Part 2 – below: Connections between Holgrem’s Permaculture Principles and Sociocracy

‘We the People’ by John Buck and Sharon Villines – the English language manual – a UK social network – more explanation and links


Part 2: Mapping Sociocracy to Permaculture

By Julian Howell

As a follow-up to my blog A permaculture way to organise? here are some connections between Holgrem’s Permaculture principles and Sociocratic organisation. Originally published at DecisionLab.

Observe and interact

  • The basic Sociocratic process ‘lead-do-measure’ is a feedback loop of designing, acting, observing the effect of your action and modifying your action to improve the design.
  • The design (part of the ‘lead’) should always be based on observation of prevailing conditions.

Catch and store energy

  • People’s creative and organisational energies are encouraged through the process of consent, and by double links between circles.
  • Being able to modify their own policies, circles store the organisational improvements they make.

Obtain a yield

  • The intended yield is written into the aims of the organisation and of each circle.
  • Short feedback loops increase the likelihood of capturing yields, by meeting aims.

Apply self-regulation and accept feedback

  • Self-regulation is the basic sociocratic ‘lead-do-measure’ process.
  • It can be applied at every level of organisation from values of the organisation, to ordering supplies of tea and coffee (if appropriate!)
  • The election process within circles encourages openness when filling roles.
  • Most meetings have a quick evaluation process.

Use and value renewable resources and services

  • Organisational processes can be reviewed and retained if they are useful and successful.
  • The value of people is inherent in the double-linked circle structure and consent process.
  • As Sociocracy refers to the aims of the organisation, so earth care would be an embodied value in a sociocratic Permaculture organisation.

Produce no waste

  • Sociocracy offers a workflow modelling process that builds in feedback and iterative learning (step-by-step improvements)
  • It also makes it easier to track outputs and match them to inputs from other organisational processes.

Design from patterns to details

  • Sociocracy distinguishes policy and operations
  • Policy sets the aims (and pattern) of a circle’s activities.
  • Operations are the detailed work.

Integrate rather than segregate

  • This is inherent in double-linked circles making decisions by consent.
  • People are brought into decision-making across layers of an organisation.

Use small and slow solutions

  • Self-managing teams are largely autonomous in relation to their immediate work
  • They can be nimble and responsive in making small and necessary changes.
  • Sociocracy doesn’t make an organisation slow, but member influence can be a brake on unwise sudden changes.

Use edges and value the marginal

  • Sociocracy uses double-linking to couple the organisation to its stakeholders and every group within the organisation to every other.
  • This produces an organisation that is, like a Permaculture garden, made up of edge.

Creatively use and respond to change

  • Sociocracy brings tools that specifically support transformative and creative learning.
  • The consent process encourages the best thinking of a circle.

For more information about Sociocracy, see: – a UK social network – explanation and links – a detailed description of Sociocracy