What follows is an email exchange that I shared with a woman, Sarah, in 2013 (names have been changed). She was a member of a community I was mentoring at the time. They had begun to experiment with Consent Decision Making and Proposal Forming and were finding it to be an effective alternative to the consensus decision making they had previously been using. Despite this, Sarah had some concerns.
My reply has been edited to reference Sociocracy 3.0. Other than this the text remains much the same.
For some time now I have been finding it difficult to feel truly comfortable with the Consent Decision Making and Proposal Forming patterns and I thought I would share some thoughts with you in case I was missing something.
I am an introvert and as you may know introverts work on intuition and feeling, listening, thinking and processing before giving a well thought out opinion. There seems little time or appreciation for this within the decision making patterns. On top of this I am a women and mother who has learnt to trust and live by her intuition even though I can’t always put into words why I think something is right or wrong.
On paper sociocracy seems perfect and I do appreciate the shorter more productive meetings but is it a system best suited to extroverts and men?
As I said I have possibly missed something so please don’t be offended by my thoughts, they are a work in process.
P.S. I haven’t raised this with the rest of the community yet so would appreciate it if we could keep it between us for now thanks
Here’s my thoughts and reflections on the topic you raise. I'd love to hear your responses on this and to continue the conversation.
This is a great question. Rather than focusing on sociocracy itself though, I think it is helpful in the first instance to look upon the points you raise as possible objections to the way in which your community currently uses the proposal forming and decision making patterns. I'd invite you to turn your focus towards considering if speaking out about what’s happening and what may be needed, can help to inform your community about how it evolves its practice of these patterns in the future.
Before this though, some context and information about creative ways that I know of to address the concerns you raise:
Whilst adopting the principle of consent inevitably results in a reliance upon one’s ability to explain reasonable arguments, still one can always argue on the basis of an intuitive sense, or to suggest that something requires more time and reflection.
If the current pace of responding to Drivers in the governance meeting means that some people get left behind, and would rather not, then it begs the question, what might be changed about the way in which proposals are formed and considered, in order to ensure sufficient spaciousness for intuition, feeling, listening, thinking and processing? And, what additional practices might be included within a community, to enrich and further benefit proposal forming and decision making.
Communities and organizations pulling in S3 benefit from evolving clear procedures for formulating proposals and making decisions together. We could call this, creating an agreement forming agreement, that all can live with. Therefore, it's important that in your community, whatever agreement forming agreement you have, there must be consent to it. Thus, if things are moving too fast for you, in the way that you currently process decisions, then it's important that you speak up, because this is a reasoned objection to continuing as you are. If the process is moving faster that can work for you in order to continue to participate and contribute towards responding to Drivers within whichever circle you're a part of, then it's essential that this be taken into account and that the agreement for making agreements together be refined accordingly!
I advocate that for forming proposals it's important to give as much time as is necessary to the forming of good enough proposals, before they are actually considered for consent. The proposal forming pattern guarantees that proposals are formed in consideration of all known, valuable and essential factors and ideas expressed by the people who are responsible for forming it, BEFORE, a proposal can be taken forwards for consent. This is unless there is a stronger argument to act immediately because of extenuating circumstances. In such as case the argument to act immediately, might outweigh any value of waiting. Of course, it may turn out in retrospect that there was a more appropriate decision that could have been made, yet we can only do our best with what we have available to us when faced with the need to act.
As a practitioner and strong advocate for the Practice of Council in communities, I also enjoy seeing how some groups integrate this into their Proposal Forming Process. Imagine as one example of many possible solutions that all proposals (unless urgent) are taken first into a Council of Women (as I discovered was the case in one particular organization I once worked with), to be sat with, felt into, intuitively combed and screened, before going on to the relevant circle for the final consent process.
Another option is simply to ensure that there is sufficient notice of proposals to be considered, in order that you and others can get together with the proposee/s, ask questions, ponder, reflect and feel more deeply into the proposition, with good time to spare.
I could go on with possible solutions, but by now you are likely starting to dream up some of your own solutions about how to integrate the wisdom emerging through your objection in order to evolve your practice of making agreements. I think that the points you raise are essential to consider for any organization and I advocate strongly that groups come up with solutions to this matter, in ways that fit their context and that enrich and deepen the potential to formulate inspired and holistic experiments to the issues they face.
At the very least, adopting consent invites people to be reasonable in order to contribute towards developing proposals by way of articulating objections and contributing towards coming up with possible resolutions.
The invitation for reasoned objection invites us all to expand our perspective beyond any fundamentalist, mythical belief systems, and to consider objectively what is before us. This is like the first step in NVC where it's crucial to separate any evaluation (which might include assumptions) from the observation (articulation of the objective facts). If this step is missed then there is an increased potential that people respond on the basis of mis-interpretation of events. Further, people can polarise on the basis of their beliefs, get into arguments about who may have the better idea, and then unhealthy conflict can occur. The thing is, it's virtually impossible to argue with someone who's identified with a fundamentalist point of view because they're unlikely open to reason, unless of course, they've previously consented to do this. This is both a gift and a challenge in implementing Sociocracy because it brings people up against what may have been previously unconscious and polarised points of view and to be accountable for their position, and for contributing to finding solutions.
I also believe though that S3 patterns can be pulled in and utilized within a diversity of contexts and certainly their applicability extends beyond the rational. Sociocracy as a concept, and the Sociocratic Circle Organization Method (S2) that followed, grew upon a pluralistic and egalitarian platform. Therefore, it's inherently equivalent in its breadth and depth of resonance and this is apparent for many reasons, not least because of its Quaker origins. The Quakers are among the founders of the consensus movement and the Quaker decision making method has hugely influenced the evolution of sociocracy. Whilst I can reason as to why a proposal needs to be changed, so too can you, and therefore all arguments are valid! This fact serves to reduce the likelihood of our getting into disagreement with each other about a “better way” and then to fight it out again in a fundamentalist, mythic domain.
I personally consider S3 can bring value to a variety of cultural contexts, be they more rational / scientific, pluralistic / egalitarian, integral / teal. The limits of its value are determined first and foremost by the breadth and depth of consciousness of those who use it. Appreciated at its fullest, we see that it invites us to recognise that within all tensions lie wisdom that can inform choices and that a both / and approach is really the only way forwards in terms of ensuring that truly equivalent and effective solutions can be achieved.
Like an axe, in skilled hands S3 be used for chopping down a huge tree, or for carving a fine, beautiful and detailed spoon. It's the way of application and the skillfulness of those that use it, that determines how creatively it's applied, rather than anything to do with the axe itself. What's important is that the axe is kept sharp, that it's used wisely and not abused and that the people using it, have sufficient understanding of the various ways in which it can be applied, and have had sufficient practice to learn how to do this well, without misusing it, injuring themselves or others, or chopping up the wrong thing!
Many S3 patterns can be adapted to suit the circumstances of virtually any group of people wishing to collaborate together, although the principles can be challenging for anyone who consciously or unconsciously wishes to command and control certain situations. I would argue that compared to many methods and models for decision making and governance, at this time of human life on planet Earth, S3 patterns for decision making are probably particularly suited to introverts and women, because of the embedded cultural tendencies for men to (often unconsciously and habitually) dominate processes and for women to (often unconsciously and habitually) allow this to happen, or rail against it. It ensures that more introverted, reflective members of a circle (regardless of gender) are included in the process and that extroverts and rapid responders are suitably contained in order to avoid overly dominating situations. Further, I see that consensus with unanimity, which many still argue in favor of, actually gives supremacy to the individual in that anyone can block the process. It just doesn't work effectively in multi-issue, complex situations, like intentional communities and a fall back to a majority vote, will always then risk cutting off the minority wisdom. I have yet to find an example of a community where consensus is working well in terms of equivalence, transparency AND effectiveness.
What I hear you saying is that the way in which your community is currently applying S3 patterns, could be improved upon. That you realize that it's important to clarify the ways in which you and others can more effectively and comfortably contribute towards the decision making process. And that you would like to develop solutions to this. Solutions that can better guarantee that the insights and gifts that may arise through intuition, feeling, listening, thinking and processing, have time to emerge, and a place to be received and incorporated into the decisions that you all make together.
My recommendation is that some of you make a concerted effort to further develop your skills as facilitators. So much of the success of meetings, comes down to the depth of understanding of the process and skill in holding the space, both through artful facilitation, and artful participation. I'd also suggest that you consider further guided practice together in order to become more familiar with the various elements and in particularly, to practice the decision making and proposal forming processes. Breaking old habits and growing new ones, takes time.
I also recommend that you start a study circle and that conversations such as this one are shared in order that you can learn from each other through the experiences that you gain along the way. I say this last point, whilst remaining greatly appreciative of why in the first instance you've asked that we keep this conversation between us. I appreciate your sensitivity to the well being of your community and your wisdom in checking out your thoughts and, dare I say, evaluations, before acting on this. With this in mind, I'd be grateful of your responses to what I've written and for you to offer me your congruent reflections on my own evaluations too.
I see that you recognize the importance and value of appropriate and effective governance and decision making and that you're committed to ensuring the ongoing well-being of your community into the future. I'm excited to see what solutions you may come up with.
Thank you for the opportunity to engage with your question and I look forwards to your further reply.
Thanks for your response. I agree that my concerns are due to the way we are implementing sociocracy here, which is why I wanted to get clarification from you first.
Part of the problem has been due to the fact that I haven t been fully engaged with the process. Thankfully, I am regaining some energy and feel ready to start contributing some more. Hopefully knowing myself and contributing more will help to solve the problem as I don't feel ready or willing to make a big issue within the community at the moment.
I agree consensus is not a suitable decision making model for us and I am much happier with the way we are doing things now. I just want there to be a balance between efficiency and intuition and fear we may be swinging too far in the direction of efficiency. But as this is still new and evolving, holding awareness may be all that is needed for now.
Thanks again for your response it was really useful.