We have chosen to use Sociocracy for our governance structure
Internal structure of a circle
With every circle being its own little organism, all circles need some internal structure to function well. Every circle has a leader (top-down link) and a delegate (bottom-up link). It will require a facilitator and a secretary to do its work. It will also need a meeting schedule. Meetings can be once a year, every day or anything in between, depending on the nature of the circle’s work. You can find more info about “process roles” and what elections look like in sociocracy here. Here is a brief overview.
- A circle leader is paying attention to the circle’s operation. What needs to be done, who agreed to do it, how does all the circle’s work come together?
- The circle facilitator plans and manages the circle’s meetings. The facilitator plans the agenda with input from the leader and the secretary, and guides the members through the agenda items according to sociocratic principles (no one ignored). Leader and the facilitator are separate roles because facilitation and overseeing operations are separate skill set. (The two roles can be held by two different circle members or by the same individual.)
- The delegate is selected by the circle to represent the circle in the next “higher” circle. This creates a double link between two circles (see below).
- The secretary takes notes during the meeting, makes sure the minutes are accessible to everyone in the organization, and maintains the circle’s records. Bigger organizations will choose to have a logbook keeper who keeps the records and the current policies in one central place so they can be accessible.
Leadership: Who’s In Charge?
Cohousing Doesn’t Have Top Down Decision Making
In our everyday life there are a number of different types of decision making systems and ways to make order out of chaos. In a work setting, often there is a boss who is in charge and makes the final decisions, with or without input from the workers, and with or without compassion, patience or transparency. In a family, often there is a single person who makes decisions, or in a two parent family the two parents may discuss (or argue) until they agree on a certain course of action.
Consensus Decision Making
In some settings, a group of people discuss a situation (such as, “Which restaurant shall we meet at?”) until they all agree. Often the larger the group the more difficult it is for everyone to feel they have had a voice. It may take a long time for people to come to an agreement. Sometimes meetings can be contentious or boring, all of which could lead to people avoiding meetings.
Our cohousing community is neither an organization with one leader who makes decisions, nor does everyone agree on every decision that needs to be made.
Our cohousing community uses a system of decision making also called a governance style, a tool called sociocracy. A simple description of this system is that there are circles (“committees”) called “domains” and each domain has a defined role, which includes responsibilities and decision making. Each domain reports back to the General Circle. Everyone in our community belongs to the General Circle and each person may belong to several smaller circles which report to the General Circle.
As an example, our entire community does not discuss whether we will plant carrots or beets or both in our community garden. Our entire community votes on a budget for our community garden, and the Garden Circle, made up of people interested in that activity, meet to plan the garden. They are given the power and responsibility of decision making and purchasing in their circle. They report back to the General Circle and there is feedback on how effective their roles are.
Learning About Sociocracy
Our community will offer periodic trainings and workshops, and will coach the group in how to implement sociocracy. You can learn sociocracy by taking a class or workshop, and if you wish to take a leadership role in the community you will want to do this. Or you may simply join a Circle and attend the General Circle and learn as you go – others will be providing help and guidance in the process.
Four minute introduction YouTube video: “Sociocracy: The Operating System of the New Economy:” https://www.sociocracyforall.org/sociocracy-the-operating-system-of-the-new-economy/
Sixteen minute TED talk by John Buck, “Sociocracy: Thinking Smarter Together” https://www.ted.com/talks/john_buck_sociocracy_thinking_smarter_together