Reflections on the “Introducing Sociocracy” session

Louise King, postgraduate researcher at the University of Dundee and participant in our recent Sociocracy workshop, on how Sociocracy has changed her way of getting heard in a group:

I wonder if you have ever heard of Sociocracy? I certainly hadn’t before attending the introductory event organised by Scottish Communities Climate Action Network (SCCAN) at the end of February 2019. But as a newbie activist trying to find my way round Extinction Rebellion I was keen to learn how to improve decision making and governance of organisations.  So, enthusiastic and unsure of what to expect, I arrived in Edinburgh for the Sociocracy For All workshop ready to soak up everything I could from the Jerry Koch-Gonzalez, co-founder of the organisation – who had come all the way from America to tell us about Sociocracy.

After a few warm up games, Jerry got straight to it, giving us some background to his experience with Sociocracy and outlining its defining features.

For Jerry, it was the process of setting up and moving into a Cohousing project that highlighted the need for a new way of making decisions that could address challenging situations in a way that consensus based decision making could not. The discovery of Sociocracy was their “aha” moment. 

Sociocracy is more than a decision-making process – it’s a bit of a movement for a new society, which is very much in line with Ghandi’s principles for social change. It equips you with the understanding of how to say no, how to articulate what you want, and how to do this without trampling others, and trying to force them to see things the way we do. This really resonated with me as in discussions I am normally focusing all my energy in to trying to twist someone’s viewpoint to align with my own. Its exhausting, and rarely works.

“Everyone’s voice matters”

A fundamental principle of Sociocracy (which stems from the Quakers’ business method) is that everyone’s voice matters.  I think that this is a beautiful aspect of the process. Sociocracy involves groups discussing issues in rounds, so that everyone gets a chance to speak. While at the beginning this seemed a little more restrictive than the popcorn method that I am used to, it was really effective in ensuring that those less confident were encouraged to share their views.

So often you can have discussions dominated by a few people, missing some potentially great inputs from a large part of the group. Another thing that really blew my mind was the idea of using “consent” rather than “consensus” to reach agreements.

Consent works by members considering their sphere of preference, their sphere of tolerance and beyond this, what they will not consent to. It works on the principle of ‘good enough to try, safe enough for now’. I found this to be such an efficient way of working, cutting out the hours of negotiation that can go into reaching consensus, and reducing the chance of a proposal being continuously blocked.

Importantly it ensures that everyone is behind the decision that is arrived at. I am sure you have been in situations where people have stepped aside in a debate, while making it clear that they are unhappy with the ultimate decision, thus removing personal responsibility from any negative outcomes (basically saying ‘I told you so!’). This process encourages everyone to own the decision, but allows flexibility by setting a date to review it and make any necessary amendments.

We did a number of role-play exercises that helped us to experience Sociocracy for ourselves. We found out about how the organisational structure of Sociocracy encourages transparency between working groups, and got an opportunity to make a decision on a proposal using Sociocracy. In our small groups we followed the methodical process of:  Clarifying the issue, Expressing our initial opinions, and finally Stating our position on the proposal in rounds.

“When we came to a final decision I had a real sense of joy and triumph”

What struck me from this exercise was how calm and respectful we all remained while expressing very contrasting viewpoints. Another interesting observation was how our opinions,which we initially thought were set in a particular way on this rather straightforward question,changed often quite significantly after hearing from others.

When we came to a final decision I had a real sense of joy and triumph, which was something that I haven’t experienced before in this context.I think we even cheered! I think the best part was knowing that everyone was truly behind the decision that we had made.

I really feel that just like Jerry Koch-Gonzalez, learning about Sociocracy was a real ‘aha’ moment for me. So often I have been involved in really challenging decision-making settings where good people are striving for the same thing but somehow get lost along the way. This can be so frustrating especially when you feel completely unequipped to make things work better.  For me, Sociocracy provides the framework to make decisions in an efficient, respectful and non-violent way.  It may not be the answer to everything, but it’s definitely a start!

Find out more details, short explanatory clips and documentation on Sociocracy at www.sociocracyforall.org

About the author:

Louise King, a postgraduate researcher at the University of Dundee, attended the “Introducing Sociocracy” session in Edinburgh on 23 February 2019.  Next day she was applying lessons learnt on her local XR group – which has adopted the very similar process entitled “Holacracy” for decision-making and for structuring itself across the UK and the globe.