Manifesto for Wholesome Cooperation
A Sociocratic Perspective. By SoFA Co-op Circle
Sociocracy and cooperativism stem from the premise that humans thrive as social animals. Quite possibly, cooperation acts as our most characteristic trait as living beings. We need each other. No human effort, made by a lone individual, succeeds. Since the dawn of our species, we have engaged in cooperation, and we’re still figuring out how to do it best. We could certainly do it better than we are now, and sociocracy sheds a light on the way forward.
Sociocracy (also called dynamic governance) means governance by the socios: those who associate together. In other words, if you join, if you participate, you get to have a voice in decision-making. This aligns itself nicely with the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) definition of cooperatives, which states: “a co-operative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.”
Some cooperatives using consensus or majority vote find it challenging to have the decision making they are longing for. Decisions might take a long time or don’t include everyone in the same way. With sociocracy, many of these issues disappear:
- Clarity: small, trusted teams and people in clear roles make it easier to define each other’s responsibility and authority. Fewer discussions have to be discussed by everyone – and yet, those smaller teams have more headspace to actually listen to everyone’s input.
- Calm meetings: rounds and consent and an orderly meeting format help so no one gets ignored and nothing is forgotten.
- Connection: smaller teams and rounds help build trust, belonging and togetherness.
Is sociocracy hard to do?
While it’s easiest to implement sociocracy in a young organization. cooperatives with more than 100 working members have introduced sociocracy. It takes facilitation training and clarity around consent and roles and a clean circle structure that supports collaboration in all operations.
Where do we start?
Featured Resources for Cooperatives
Sociocracy in cooperatives
Recording of a presentation by Abbie Kempson (as part of a webinar on cooperatives).
Which Co-ops are Already Using Sociocracy?
This list is FAR from complete. You can add your non-profit by sending an email to Ted (firstname.lastname@example.org).
- Equal Care coop (UK)
- Outlandish (UK)
- Unicorn Grocery coop (UK)
- El Roser (Spain)
- Green City coop (UK)
- Blue Scorcher Bakery (OR, USA)
- El Semillero (Spain)
- Forth River coop (USA)
Learning and Implementation
“Meeting times have shortened and, generally, our members feel good about working together in a sociocratic way.”
"We have less ego-driven conflicts and laborious meeting agendas have given way to productive, enjoyable ones."
More Resources on Sociocracy in Co-operatives
Understanding the difference between operations and policy is key to making fast and good decisions. The idea in sociocracy is to empower operational decisions (so they can be made by anyone who is authorized) and to make policy decisions to guide and improve those operational decisions.
An article about governance of (large) platform coops and the tweaks we’d have to make to use sociocracy successfully.
Sociocracy: The Worker Co-op Operating System (By John McNamara. Originally posted on workersparadise.) Over the last couple of years, I have had the incredible opportunity to work with Sociocracy For All (SoFA). This organization has worked diligently to bring the...
Humans organize themselves in groups to reach common objectives Sociocracy and cooperativism stem from the premise that humans thrive as social animals. Quite possibly, cooperation acts as our most characteristic trait as living beings. We need each other. No human...
An IT tool to display roles and circles with their holders and attached descriptions.
Solawi Bodensee is a German association with around 90 members. Solawi is an acronym for “Solidarische Landwirtschaft” which is translated as “solidary agriculture” and meaning “sharing the harvest”. It is similar to the US-concept of CSA, Community Supported Agriculture.
Recorded in March 2019 at Co-operatives UK, Abbie Kempson (Unicorn Grocery, Manchester) leads the introduction to sociocracy and is joined by Pete Burden (SeeStep, East Sussex) and Kirsty Warren (Greencity Wholefoods, Glasgow). All provide their practical views using the techniques in their organisations and how it supports governance systems. From https://www.uk.coop/resources/webinar-talkan-introduction-sociocracy
3 decisions every young organization will make — with intention or without
The practical sociocracy handbook written by the co-founders of Sociocracy For All. 300 pages full of real-life support!
A worker-coop bakery in Oregon.
Do we have to endure “disruptive” team members if we want to be inclusive? What crosses the line, and what helps us?
A worker-owned bakery in Oregon that implemented sociocracy years ago.
We are a mix cooperative school (composed of working members and consumer members). We started working with sociocracy from the very beginning of the foundation of the cooperative.
We seek out small producers and bring you their heirloom varieties of everything from apples to beans to tomatoes. Being a cooperative means that stewardship of the business is spread out among the workers.
Unicorn is a successful worker co-op grocery in Manchester, England. Established in 1996 by a small group of people committed to social change, we set out to create an alternative to supermarket shopping – to provide affordable, fresh and wholesome food to our local community, run by motivated worker-owners with a shared social and environmental agenda.
What’s special about Jerry Koch-Gonzalez’s meetings is that they are sociocratic. How often have you been part of a call where one person in the group hardly had any chance to speak?
A worker-owned theater company in New York state.