Sociocracy Explainer 1: The Basics

Introduction


Sociocracy is a long-standing model of horizontal governance, and tools for collaboration. Last winter (2020) a working group within SourceCred (Sociocracy Working Group aka SWG) started researching concepts and implementing select tools with the intention of setting the stage for a transition from the top-down benevolent dictatorship we previously utilized, to a form of governance more akin to Sociocracy.

The consent decision making model used to pass proposals in Core, the facilitation training sessions Thena and Jojo hosted, and using rounds as a discussion tool are a few examples of things that the SWG brought to our space in order to prepare us for that shift. However, I feel that the community as a whole missed out on a lot of the overall context that the SWG was intuitively metabolizing together. I think the combination of missing this larger picture, the SWG needing to morph its purpose to deal with internal community conflict, and having the implicit hold-over of Dandelion’s TBD power inhibiting our ability to view ourselves as a horizontal power-structure rather than a hierarchical one all created a series of road blocks that kept us from moving forward with Sociocracy together. As a result I think we’ve semi-instituted elements of Sociocracy but are missing a lot of the power Sociocracy has to offer when it comes to the more efficient and transparent decision-making we are trying to achieve.

The purpose of this series of topics is to metabolize some of that larger context for the community and present it in a way that hopefully is easier to consume, thereby increasing the likelihood that we’ll continue incorporating the aspects of Sociocracy that could help us. This topic specifically focuses on the basic structure and definitions that make up Sociocracy as defined by Sociocracy For All (SoFA). And while it’s my personal opinion that following these structures more closely will benefit us, we do not necessarily have to do governance in exactly the way that SoFA defines.


Definitions:


  • Sociocracy: A system of governance with hundreds of years of lineage that emphasizes bottom-up decision making and top-down feedback, as well as a blending of the efficiency of Hierarchy and the agency of Egalitarianism. Sociocracy organizes decision-making bodies called Circles based on expertise/domain of labor.

  • Circle: A self-governing and semi-autonomous team of equivalent people who collaborate on a specific domain of labor and make decisions relating to that domain. A Circle must have an Aim, Domain, and a method of defined membership. A Circle is expected to maintain its own daily operations and is accountable to the rest of the organization through trust and transparency.

    • Circles start large at a department level, and grow “smaller” and more specific sub-circles that split the domains as needed to keep teams small enough to be efficient. Another way to think of this is larger “parent” circles and smaller “child” circles.

  • Domain: What a Circle has the authority to make decisions about. Domains should be unique to each circle and not be shared between different circles so that there is clarity around who can decide and make policy about what.

  • Aim: What labor the circle is actively doing. What the circle wants to achieve.

  • Operations: Decisions that are made or actions that are taken in the moment by someone who has the authority to do so because they are the one present in the moment where it’s needed, and because there is no guiding policy already made.

  • Policy: An over-arching rule on a specific topic that has been explicitly put into place by the circle that has authority in that domain.

  • Role: A specific set of responsibilities within a given circle, executed by one person for as long as they hold that role (the method of how we choose people for most Roles and how long they hold them is up to us to define).

    • Note that in particularly small teams, multiple roles can be held by one person but I think it’s useful to at least acknowledge the different roles a person is taking on; both for seeing the multitude of their labor and to make it easier to decentralize their responsibilities in the future. (Eg: Thena frequently blends being a Leader and being a Facilitator in the same meeting beautifully because of their unique mix of talents). The SoFA resources say it’s okay to create/disregard/blend Roles based on the needs and talents of the group, but it’s good to name - in the spirit of self-awareness and transparency - if and when we see this happening.

    • It’s worth noting that SoFA recommends that within a circle, a role is held by the same person always until they step out of that role. This is very different from our current practice where people spontaneously volunteer to fill a role on a per-meeting basis instead, and our tendency to neglect roles outside of meetings.


Basic Sociocratic Concepts:


  1. Sociocracy is a decision-making mechanism that lets the people doing the work make the decisions in their specific and agreed-upon domain of the project, while also creating channels for input (aka feedback or opinion) to come through from the rest of the project. When implemented well, it’s a blend of the efficiency of hierarchy and the broader empowerment and transparency of egalitarianism. A balance we’ve struggled to find though the two extremes of a dictatorship model and an undefined decentralized model we’ve experienced so far.

  2. Sociocracy requires other participants in the project to trust those who are doing the work and making the decisions within a circle. It requires that those who do the work and make the decisions uphold the trust they receive from the other participants through transparency and accountability to outcomes. Something else we’ve struggled with due to the ambiguity of domains/decision making in our space.

  3. Circles have the agency to make policy for their specific domain, even if it may affect other areas of the project. (Again, this is where trust and accountability are necessary to enable action.)

  4. Sociocracy intentionally creates decision making/labor circles that are smaller and more specialized as needed. “Can the four of us highest-context folks split off to discuss and make this decision?” If decisions/consensus cannot be made within a smaller/more specific child circle, only then does that decision flow upwards to the larger/less specific parent circle.

  5. In the classic methodology of Sociocracy, decisions are sent “inward” from the smaller specialized circles at the edges, and updates/input are sent “outward” from the larger, more generalized circles in/near the center.

  6. Each Circle is responsible for the goals, decisions, policies, operations, roles, timelines, and accountability to outcomes in its specific domain.

  7. Nearly every circle has at least a “Leader” role nominated by its larger parent circle and a “Delegate” role nominated by the child circle. These nominations must be ratified and approved by both spaces.

  8. Operational tools we’ve already learned from the SWG (like consent voting, facilitation, and rounds) can be extremely useful in all Circles for the purpose of sharing thoughts and making decisions but in the end, a Circle’s operations are decided by the Circle itself.

  9. Circles can be changed to meet the needs of the organization as it changes. New child circles can be created as the needs of the parent circle expand over time.

  10. In the structure of Sociocracy defined by SoFA, the largest Department Circles are connected by the “General Circle” in the center which is a council of Leaders and Delegates from each department and any other major players (eg: PL reps or consulting experts). This circle is less of a decision making body and more of a central space for information to flow in from the edges and re-disperse back out in order to keep the org informed and aligned. When there is major conflicts about decision making domains between departments, the General Circle supports the organization by deciding which department gets to make those decisions (not by making the decision in the General Circle).


Additional Resources:


Here are a few particularly useful pages I’ve found on the SoFA website, I encourage those who have also done extensive research to share their resources in the comments of this topic.

See the other two topics in this seiries:

Please look for the next topic in this series: “Sociocracy Explainer 2: Diving into Roles"


Conclusion:

I’d love to see us play and experiment with how the basic elements of a Sociocratic structure could serve us in SourceCred. If you’ve also done research into Sociocracy and feel that I misrepresented some of these concepts factually, please feel free to share corrections in the comments for the benefit of all those reading this in order to learn about the classical elements of Sociocracy.

If you have ideas on how you’d like to see these concepts implemented, not implemented, or partially implemented at SourceCred, share your thoughts in the comments!


Acknowledgements:


I’d like to thank the members of the Sociocracy Working Group for all of the ground work they’ve done to get us familiar with these concepts and the building blocks we’re already using which they spent time implementing in our space. I’d also like to specifically thank @Jolie_Ze for their time and effort in getting vulnerable with me around this topic. They’ve helped push back on, sanity check, and bring light to the lineage of these concepts in our space and have impacted how I’ve written about them.

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Pleased as a pickle to announce that there is already a “circle” emerging within the sourcecred community . . .

Our very own Twitter Team!

@lotusleaf, @s_ben , @scrabbleboy, @AL0YSI0US

woot woot! :partying_face:

And perhaps a sub circle is right around the corner…

Imagining putting out a call for artists (and reaching through dm for artists past) who can work in collaboration but autonomously with the team to produce visual content for marketing and communications.

(Pans room for @LB and @magwalk curious if either of you would bite at the idea…just because you’re both amazing artists doesn’t mean youre available for this…I make no assumptions only prayer gestures :pray:t5:)

Thank you for taking the time to extrapolate all of your thoughts for the rest of the class.

Reading about it gave me many flashbacks of my military days and reading through days worth of war college manuals (psychology and the intersection of “war” barf) …our militia has teams/ subcircles/ domains etc down to a science. None of what I’ve read is a foreign concept to me in any of your posts…it’s like reading military doctrine that has been re-worded or branded with new wording if that makes sense. The military doctrine that was written to psychologically influence soldiers when the military rose to power was written clearly from a wounded vantage.

This socicracy stuff and it’s re wording…not so much. It’s like a visual representation of “the trauma work” done to a process that has been refined and redefined. I’m into it.

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I know I sorta already responded to this (since I’m working on our first meme) but I am super down to support making marketing visuals :slight_smile:

Really stoked for all of this emergent work!

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YAY!!!

:art: = :heart: !

This is great @LB! I like how concise this is (SoFA literature is massive), and how you map it to our current processes.

Is it consent or consensus decision making? Been meaning to ask that. @Jolie_Ze @blueridger

I think the decentralized model has been defined in places, e.g. the Core meeting, other meetings, SourceCred itself being a form of decentralized management (each contribution/reaction makes decisions about allocating capital, which is usually highly centralized). But I get what you mean.

Fwiw, I’ve visualized the last several months (the last couple in particular), as a big swarm of spaceships (I’m a Tie Fighter, to date myself), darting around, moving in concert at times, then breaking away. Mostly the ships are moving in the same direction, though it wasn’t clear where we were going at times. Since the MetaCred fork happened, it feels like those left are better aligned, starting to move together. I think this is a more solid foundation to start creating structure on.

Trust is so big here.

On transparency, I think notes and recordings are great. But some will not read/listen. An easily digestible format like a newsletter might go a long way, especially for participants on the fringes of the project, or ecosystem in general. I also like the NFT energy lately. Making art expressing what’s going on feels like a good way to build shared context…and NFTs are emerging as a good coordination/network forming mechanism in the DAO space. Transparency doesn’t have to be boring? But I digress…

Wondering if you (or Sociocracy) has ideas around accountability? I feel (unpopular opinion?) that we actually create a fair amount of accountability for ourselves currently with regular “in-person” video calls, 1-on-1 convos, a culture of openness, #didathing (when used). But we obviously have a lot of work here. As for accountability for performance/milestones, I keep coming back to money. Don’t follow through on something you own, don’t get paid (or paid less). Mechanisms such as Conviction voting and bounties seem to be emerging as workable, and the simplicity is appealing.

Just want to again give you Cred @LB for introducing emotional checkins and hand signals early in the project. In particular hand signals. It directs the conversation in a profoundly different way I’ve realized, which gives voice and power to those that don’t normally have it. This has become more and more clear as time goes on. The typical dynamic (i.e. person with most perceived power and/or loudest dominates), now feels very different and unpleasant compared to SourceCred convos. I’m honestly not sure where we’d be right now without that. I also suspect emotional checkins and hand signals also made it easier to implement consent/consensus voting, facilitation, rounds, etc. later, as they encouraged a culture of consent.

Excited to expand consent/consensus decision-making, and think it will work well in most sub-circles (though traditional hierarchical structures may work better for some).

Finding myself protective of Core now :sweat_smile: It can’t handle everything obviously, but I’ve been impressed by its ability to make a large number of important decisions in the last few months. And it’s been battle tested recently and passed (IMHO). I’m also having a little trouble imagining how it would handle disputes between domains. Does SoFA provide process/examples here that are relevant to us? I will say that one thing that’s naturally emerged, which I think is generative, is small groups of high context people that regularly discuss big issues generally, social dynamics, conflicts, etc. While this is more informal, and not terribly transparent, it seems a lot of context and trust is built. Which is then leveraged in all sorts of ways. I trust that Sociocracy has a lot of this figured out though, and I think sub-circles can take over decisions as they come online. Excited to keep experimenting in this direction.

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In the “consent vs consensus” paradigm, our process is a consent process, because we can move forward with minor objections, and some types of decisions can be consensually made outside of our governance system. However, we often use the word consensus to describe it, probably because that’s the word we learned to use in our lineages.

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I think core was vital for sourcecred to maintain some sort of trajectory.

Leadership is important, we need it.

But i’m wondering whos ready for a reframe? I am

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Biiiiig agree. Core helped us create some (any) kind of governing and decision making that wasn’t a TBD, but I see how much it wears on us and how undefined the scope is. I personally always viewed Core as a stand in to help us learn the tools of Sociocracy with an intention to outgrow it and I’m honestly perplexed to see folks hold onto it so tightly now.

We shouldn’t just dissolve it before there’s other ways to make decisions, but I’d hate to see us forego the chance to flesh out our governance by clinging to Core.

And in all honesty, I’m so tired of being in Core meetings. :sweat_smile: :rofl:

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Not so attached to Core I wouldn’t happily let if go if we decentralize the decisions it’s making to sub-circles. I do think that we need some way to make decisions that affect all people in the project. Namely big decisions around capitol allocation and use of the SourceCred name. For instance, we’ll soon need a way to allocate high-level ‘budgets’ to circles. That decision should not be defaulted to whatever circles/persons receive/have access to funds, simply because we don’t have the mechanism to decide as a community. This actually centralizes us, not decentralizes. I also think some of the friction in Core has come not from its formal structure, but social dynamics which will leak into sub-circles too if not addressed.

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Big agree on having a circle that ratifies big-picture decisions that affect all departments. :slight_smile:

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My thoughts would be to Dissolve core and the privacy built around it. The socicracy part works the closed channels just prevent the greater community from witnessing repetitive abusive patterns that occur within it.

Maybe that stuff wouldn’t happen outside of closed doors when more eyes :eyes: are on us.

We could use our socicracy bubbles as a collection point for a single vote. Everyone within each bubble (project scope) votes on proposals, come to a consensus within your own group then we all circle up and throw the numbers on the table and see if we need to talk some more.

Re: gaming no one gets to have multiple votes if they take up many singular circles solo…they consolidate thier influence accordingly circles with less than 2…3? Members can cast a vote from within a circle.

You may end up voting multiple times because you are in multiple bubbles but you know what that’s because you’re actively involved in that specific part of the project and you should certainly have Your voice heard within each of your respective working groups/ teams. Each group will come to a consensus. This dissolves the power and influence issue we have at present where those with less involvement have more say in what happens.

I’m pretty sick of seeing folks be suddenly halted, not allowed to action on a project because contributers with power haven’t kept themselves privy to the current going ons therefore when they’re confused everybody needs to stop what they’re doing.

I’m watching my colleagues get really excited about a project put about a week of work in researching it/ collaborating with others only to show up at a meeting and get shot down because other people don’t understand what’s happening because some contributors don’t ask questions.

I’m so over that from this point on I expect a reasonable level of emotional intelligence from the people I’m working with and I intend to pipe up when the balance is off.

Power dynamics and influence need to be addressed in real time should they manifest during core engagements. I’ll be speaking up when I notice it happening.

I like ambassadors and I like stewards. It’s more about identifying our current leadership as opposed to being forced to stay in the oppressive cycles we keep entering when capitalistic ideals approach liberating design concepts.

An Ambassador is someone who is a subject matter expert @blueridger would be an ambassador for the technology that we are designing at sourcecred @LB is a subject matter expert at our communities culture @magwalk is the go to for design and so on and so forth, we all have unique skills that make the whole pie taste good.

Ambassadors can be sought for current information. They typically stick to their work unless they’re summoned.

Stewards can go out and about and share sourcecred with others they are typically engaged in ecosystems, passionate about collaboration and building co communities. They can speak to the products architecture/ concepts etc.

You could be an ambassador and a steward. Your power comes from your knowledge but it does not affect the voting metrics.

I will not be defending the facts I presented about the current power dynamics within our community on this topic, they simply support the reasoning behind my ideas.

I will however answer any questions in response that appear to be coming from a grounded place.

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