In the early stages, most groups choose the traditional approach of whole-group participation and consensus decision-making for every decision. This is important for those early key decisions like site selection and funding, but can become cumbersome and less effective for other decisions (especially day-to-day choices for actual operation and maintenance of the new community). Sociocracy can help.
Sociocracy is simply a way for groups to make decisions more efficiently and harmoniously. It is part of the streamlined approach we recommend for development of cohousing projects. Our goal is to help new communities organize themselves and make decisions effectively. Tools like sociocracy assist this process.
Q: What is sociocracy?
A: A way for groups of peers to make decisions transparently, effectively and with equal participation, while maintaining harmonious relations across the group. It combines standard tools from engineering (feedback loops and accountability) and consensus-based approaches to help large groups work together. The approach itself is fairly simple:
1. Build Agreement on the Approach and Aim. Group members agree to the approach and their aims/goals.
2. Plan, Implement, Evaluate. A member with a proposal prepares a summary outline that includes (i) the plan/proposal, (ii) the evaluation criteria suggestions, (iii) how the group will follow-up in future to ensure the plan was implemented as proposed, and (iv) an agreed plan to halt the proposal if it did not achieve the aims of the group. Note the built-in idea that all proposals are re-evaluated in future to ensure they actually worked as hoped. If not, then the group reserves the right to change things.
3. Good Enough for Now? For most decisions, a relaxed standard of “good enough, for now” can be used to make decisions. Since we all know we’ll re-visit the plan at an agreed date in future (and can withdraw the plan at that time), it is acceptable to try things out and give new ideas and proposals a chance for daylight.
4. Consent Decision-Making. The group then discusses the proposal openly and transparently, changes it as the group prefers, and decides if it meets the stated aims of the group. Proposals are often tweaked and updated based upon group member feedback or additional research.
5. Build Teams/Circles to Focus on Specific Aims. Embracing this approach has wide implications for a community. The community can set up sub-teams to focus on specific matters (e.g. common house operations/meals) and this “circle” can take responsibility for certain matters and plans – as long as such plans remain tied to the stated aims of the whole group. Multiple circles/teams can be established for each task/aim (meal planning, building maintenance, garden planning, new members etc.).
There is beauty in the simplicity of this approach.
There is a growing body of knowledge on sociocracy and here’s a few links to help you get started.
Leading Workshop facilitators:
The above notes are a work in process. But we think they’re Good Enough for Now! ;-J