Thursday, September 04, 2008


Sociocracy is a form of governance using consent-based decision making among equivalent individuals and an organizational structure based on cybernetic principles.


The word sociocracy is derived from the Latin and Greek words socius (companion) and kratein (to govern). It is English for the word sociocratie, coined in 1851 by Auguste Comte, a French positivist philosopher (who also came up with the word sociology) and later used by the U.S. sociologist Lester Frank Ward in a paper he wrote for the Penn Monthly in 1881 and later still by Dutchman Kees Boeke, who applied the concept to education. It literally means rule by the "socios," people who have a social relationship with each other - as opposed to democracy: rule by the "demos," the general mass of people.

Ward later expanded on the concept in his books Dynamic Sociology (1883) and The Psychic Factors of Civilization (1892). Ward, although rarely studied today, was very influential in his time and had a worldwide reputation as a groundbreaking sociologist. He believed that a highly educated public was essential if a country was to be governed effectively, and he foresaw a time when the emotional and partisan nature of present day politics would yield to a much more effective, dispassionate and scientifically-based discussion of issues and problems. Democracy would thus eventually evolve into a more advanced form of government, sociocracy.

20th Century

Dutchman Kees Boeke updated and greatly expanded on Ward's ideas in the mid-20th century. Boeke saw sociocracy (in Dutch: Sociocratie) as a form of government or management that presumes equality of individuals and is based on consent. This equality is not expressed with the 'one man one vote' law of democracy, but in the principle that a decision can only be taken if none of those present have an overbearing argumented objection against it.

To apply sociocracy in larger groups a system of delegation is needed in which a group chooses representatives who take the decisions for them on a higher level. Kees Boeke introduced the terms 'naasthoger' and 'naastlager', with the word 'naast', meaning 'next', referring to the fact that a higher level is not superior to a lower level. A 'naasthoger' ('nexthigher') level policymaking organ within the sociocratic organisation is not allowed to impose its policies on 'naastlager' ('nextlower') policymaking circles.

In Practice

Gerard Endenburg expanded on Boeke's work in the 1970s in his electrotechnical company. This resulted in a formal organisational method named the Sociocratische KringorganisatieMethode (Sociocratic Circle organisation Method). This method is applied in some companies in the Netherlands and other countries. An example of such an organisation is BOS (Boeddhistische Omroep Stichting - Buddhist Broadcasting Foundation) in the Netherlands.

It is composed of 4 primary practices:

Decision Making by Consent. Decisions are made only when no one involved knows of a significant argument against the decision (no paramount objection); before that point is reached, each reasoned argument is included in the discussion. All decisions must be made by consent, unless the group agrees to use another method.

Circle Organization. The organization’s structure is made up of semiautonomous circles. Each circle has its own goals and the responsibility to execute, measure, and control its own processes. Each circle exists within the context of a higher-level circle. No circle is fully autonomous; the needs of its higher-level circles and lower-level circles must be taken into account.

At the highest level, there is a “Top Circle,” which is similar to a traditional board of directors, except each member represents a different part of the organization's environment: legal/governmental, financial (including investors), cultural, its technical field, workers, and management.

Double-Linking. Circles are connected through a double link: One person is elected by the lower-level circle and one (who has overall accountability for the lower-level circle’s results) is chosen by the higher-level circle. Each belongs to and takes part in the decision making of both circles.

Elections by Consent. Individuals are elected to roles only after open discussion results in a clear choice, with no reasoned objections. First, each person writes his or her name on a ballot, as well as the name of a nominee. The meeting leader reads each nomination, asking members to explain why they chose their candidate. After discussion, people can (and often do) change their nominations. Finally, the chairperson formally proposes the person with the strongest arguments, and everyone then has a chance to present objections. This may continue for a few rounds, and when there are no more objections to a candidate, he or she is selected. If no one is suitable, the circle has to find someone to fill the vacancy.

Decision-making meetings, as practiced in sociocracy, are an extremely efficient means of communication and an excellent way to establish trust. Despite the sound of it, consent is usually in the end more efficient than autocratic decision making. For example, one company reported a reduction of 50% in the number of meetings after it introduced sociocracy. The highly disciplined process helps the group stay focused and move swiftly through examination of an issue and actual decision making.

Source - Wikipedia


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