How to set the top-level aims of a group of people whose only commonality is that they live together?

I know sociocracy is designed for working organizations (where essentially every member involved is actively working towards the top-level aims of the organization), but I’m thinking of how it could be adapted to a community of people who all already live in a place (didn’t come there for explicit aims like an intentional community). They come there for various reasons - for work, for schooling, for retirement, for recreation, for a love interest, etc. They each have very different personal aims.

I know the SoFA manual and some articles address this - saying that sociocracy isn’t really designed for this kind of situation (of many non-working members), and pointing to the neighbourhood parliaments of India as well as combining listening at scale with a definite decision-making circle (something that a town in the Netherlands applies I believe).

But I guess my question is, since sociocracy requires having top-level aims against which to evaluate objections and proposals, how do you set top-level aims when you have a pre-existing group of people?

  • Do you set up multiple overlapping organizations each serving a different demographic?
  • Do you split up geographies until they closely match resident aims?
  • Do you send away people who don’t agree with the dominant aim?
  • Do you go for the “lowest-common denominator” that every resident or representative can consent to, setting something very generic like “to advance our interests?” and having multiple and differing sub-aims beneath it?
  • Do you go for the aim of the majority or supermajority to avoid the gridlock that can happen when so many different interests are involved?
  • Do you look for aims in the founding documents of that community as a legal entity? (e.g. US constitution: “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility…”)

To clarify, this question could apply to all kinds of situations:

  • a family
  • roommates
  • people in an apartment building
  • people in an homeowners association
  • people living in a city/town, state/province, or country
  • everyone living on earth

I guess one answer would be to just not have an organization that serves the entire group, but when people live together there’s almost always “common” things - the kitchen in the house, the central heating of an apartment building, the roads of a city, the defense of a nation, the atmosphere of the world. Decisions need to be made which affect almost everyone in that group.


I think it depends on how interested the people who live there are about organizing together. If folks are excited, there’s lots of explorations you can do to help discover common aims. Some exercises I’ve enjoyed in the past when starting to organize with a new group where the group focus is on living together are things like values mapping exercises. You give everyone sticky notes or notecards, have them write down what they think of when they think about values they want to be able to express in their living space, then talk about them together. Each person takes a turn to share one or more of their values, and as it goes on you can play with organizing or clustering the values as commonalities and differences emerge.

It will probably be painful if you insist that people without very many shared values organize together. So I think my opinion is closest to the “lowest-common denominator” route-- but I believe that its important that people actually care about whatever the aim is, or they won’t feel motivated to work towards it.

I also find it really valuable to explore power early on and continually. The power flower is a good exercise to start this. You can learn more about it here: Using the Power Flower to Explore Identity

Inevitably there will be tensions about the ways that systems of oppression and systemic inequities in power will effect how a group of near-strangers interact with each other when trying to make decisions together. At first, bias will be the primary way people make guesses about how people should or will react. So I think its also really valuable to prioritize people getting to know each other more deeply if that’s a thing people are open to.


In practice of implementation work, the typically thing is that there is something foundational - documents, assumptions, etc. and that it’s more of a process of discovery than “prescribing” an aim. Then a process of the self-appointed initiators to see if they can run processes to vet/get feedback on the aims they came up with.

In theory, these are recurring questions for me too.
I honestly have come to the conclusion that I think that the question is wrong. I don’t know what the right question is, but it just feels like we’re mixing two paradigms in a way that simply doesn’t line up.

I used to think that sociocracy cannot work for countries because countries have no aims; but then I read a book that argued that countries should have missions (they compared it with the mission to get a man on the moon), for example it could be to eradicate hunger. Because if a country is just a container for a random group of people, then sociocracy just doesn’t make sense.

Going back to it being the wrong question, I used to study nation building in history. In many countries, people had no commitment to the nation state and had to actively be told for years that they’re Italian, French, German etc until they believed it (it helps to fight a way as well to strengthen that story). Previously, people’s focus had been on regions and cities. So maybe countries are simply not a useful frame because it’s this weird imperialistic and colonial frame, making the question of how to organize a country sociocratically pointless because countries shouldn’t even exist because they’re so arbitrary. That’s why a bioregional approach makes much more sense, it’s less arbitrary. There, we share safety food system, water system, transportation etc etc. (I mean, what do people in - my homecountry - German have in common besides being in the same tax system and speaking more or less the same language? According to sociocratic logic, they decision-making on country level should then only have those things in its domain, taxes and stewardship for German language. Haha, I don’t mean that, I just want to show how awkward the concept is.)

For earth, that’s different. Earth now clearly has a shared aim. Hopefully one we’ll wake up to.


Great question and discussion.
Seems to me there are some baseline goals whenever people gather, like having peaceful interactions and making effective decisions together. After naming these, the next step would be defining the details- for example, what do the terms “peaceful” and “effective” mean to the people in that group. What does it look like when our interactions are peaceful and not peaceful? How do we know our decisions are effective or ineffective? I wonder if, in some situations, these baseline goals would provide enough of an aim.


I’ll add that as I read the question, you are also dealing with all-volunteer situations here, for the most part anyhow. We know those challenges fairly well. The people who get it their way are the people who show up voluntarily to decide something - regardless of how they decide it.
And then some people who did not show up to work on the decision will suddenly emerge to complain about it.
And people will be affected who are in neither of those groups but did not have consent either because they didn’t show up.

If we are looking at civil governance, Endenburg’s general perspective on a sociocratic society is something like “people in a sociocratic society have consent to the conditions of their living.”

Then it become a matter of what “conditions” are included.
And more importantly, the larger context for those conditions.

Interesting point from Endenburg. So perhaps the top-level aim could be “to improve living conditions for the people living here”? And perhaps the details of that (what conditions are included, whether to engage in the larger context, etc) could be decided by consent of that group - or of whoever shows up/speaks up, with everyone having been given the opportunity to show up/speak up.

But at least having a general top-level aim provides a direction for their efforts and a basis for objections. If a proposal is expected to harm the living conditions of any person in the group, then that proposal would need to be modified.

Although I wonder how much of a “brake” this will be on community decision-making - with for example thousands of people in a community, that means if just 1 person stands to be harmed, then things can’t go forward. But perhaps that’s workable - millions of purchases are made every day with all parties in the purchase benefiting. Laws also protect individuals (it’s seldom “this is enough of a benefit of society that we’ll allow your rights to be trampled”), and we are arguably better off for it.

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