How to tell the origin story of sociocracy?

I’m wondering how our SoFA page ( might look different if we take Sophie’s conference presentation to heart. The illustration of the founding of sociocracy, in particular, locates this practice in a specific way. How can we expand or further contextualize our work? I don’t have the answer for this but appreciate space for dialog.


Reiterating Sociocratic Models for Culturally-Competent Inclusion, Accessibility, Accountability, and Transparency (Sophie Xu)


It seems like re-working the graphic to not have pictures of a bunch of white people would make a difference.

And certainly, acknowledging (and generally better documenting) the influences of indigenous north American.

I’m curious @Andy.Grant about the roots of Quaker traditions - were they influenced by Native American traditions? If so, that would certainly be a lineage.

Perhaps, instead of a singular lineage as shown in the S3 image, it’s more of a roots and tree model, where multiple things come together, and then again diverge.

It does feel important to me to be clear about the claims and their truthfullness. It’s entirely possible that there were many consent based, circle based structures out there, but whether or not they actually had a direct influence would is a different matter. Of course, cultural influence is hard to say. Many people would assert that Jesus Christ as influenced by Eastern thought, and frankly… how can we know for sure? Perhaps one interaction changed that. Likewise, the ambient cultural influence of on ideas is a causative, but how direct?
Basically: I think it’s good not to over-assert questionable claims.

But changing the image to shift the centering, and also to invite context of associated lineages, perhaps clarifying where influence was certain and where it is more questionable, or not related.

This seems like a great thing to write more blog posts on. I know @hope.wilder-4900 and @eric.tolson are facilitation writers workshops for SoFA Members. Perhaps there are some members who would like to use that to develop articles on this subject which can support (via links and research) re-framing this.

the link below the title of Sophie’s presentation is not taking me to Sophie’s article … would love to read it.

Sorry about the broken link, Stephanie. Here you go…

Early Quakers in the colonies had deep and respectful interactions with Native Americans. There is, for example, a well-documented visit in 1761 by John Woolman with Indians in the Wyoming Valley of Pennsylvania. He sat in council with them day and night, giving and receiving messages usually through an interpreter but sometimes not.

For me, the suggestion is valid that Quakers interacted with and therefore learned Indigenous council practice. However, I do not know of Friends speaking in rounds, either in the modern era or in the past. The prevailing practice is to speak as led, and in a meeting for business, to speak when recognized by the clerk. Finally, our discipline is to speak only once to an issue, a measure that preserves a degree of equivalence, although that constraint is often stretched.

Regretably, Quakers also had less respectful interactions with Native Americans. For instance, in the 19th and 20th centuries, they were among the leading advocates and developers of the Indian boarding schools that removed native children from their homes with the intent to assimilate them into the dominant white society. “Kill the Indian and save the man,” was a common slogan of the time. The documentary, Dawnland, presents this history. Quakers today are seeking to repair the harms of this period.

I’m intrigued by the question of whether rounds “came from” native traditions into current sociocracy through the quakers.
On that note, it’s always been curious to me that rounds are the first thing people adopt from sociocracy but it’s not technically one of the main points of sociocracy. (The official main points in the Sociocratic Circle Method, SCM, are: consent decision-making, selections by consent, nested circles, double linking.) I’ve often wondered why that is/was. Are rounds not unique enough to make it into the list? I really wish we could get answers on that to close some of the gaps in even the later history.

On the main point of this thread, there are two thoughts for me.

  • Worry that we try to put roots into sociocracy to make it seem less europe-centric than it might be. It might well be that the native influence can never be “proven” or that it simply didn’t exist. Would that be uncomfortable? Yes. But I also don’t want to go into wishful thinking. And cultural appropriation might then be just around the corner.
  • The other question is what we do given where we are now. What are the gaps in sociocracy that we want to fill? What are blind spots to be addressed? Where can sociocracy learn from others? How can we improve what there is now to make it more “whole”? That’s why I’ve been circling around other frameworks that click into place. How can we distill the essence that we want to keep while expanding and staying flexible?

On the question of rounds, in the school that Gerard Endenburg attended as a child, they used — at least experimentally — a youngest-to-oldest format. How long that practice continued I do not know but the effect was similar to rounds: every voice is heard.

SOURCE: The Werkplaats Adventure, page 5

PS — I recently heard another format that achieves the same effect: “no one takes seconds before everyone has firsts.” @eric.tolson, did I get it right? Curious where this came from. Can you give some context?

Hey comrades. Really happy to see this thread. I have yet to see Sophie’s presentation in its entirety, but just knowing her and the topic are making waves within SoFA is really exciting to me. I think Sophie had considered making an article on this before. I could ask her if she still has that intention and perhaps seek publishing it in SoFA’s web?
On the image itself, I’ve actually always resented it. That’s why you don’t see a translation of it in the SoPra web. Ignoring the Eurocentrism bit for a second, I just generally collide with the notion of attributing movements, ideas, thoughts, etc to individuals, particularly in a sociocratic context which for me is about collectivity. I like to challenge the cult to individuallity/the ego that mainstream culture promotes (and I recognize that I’m a tremendous perpetuator of it, I love seeing my name printed on things…) I find it extra dissonant with the collective ethos of sociocracy, particlarly that of collective intelligence in circles and the notion of a greater “we”, or organizations as living organisms.
The other part I resent (and I think CJ was kind of hinting at it with the mention of a tree image) is lineal aspect of it. Does it really have one source? If we had a way of mapping every single contribution, wouldn’t it have as many branches in as it has them out? ie, wouldn’t it be critically influenced by as many other currents it has influenced in return? This reminds of a Casa Latina diagram I used to show in trainings: it has sociocracy in the middle with three rings around it: one is the practice of consent coming from the quaker tradition, the other is feedback loops and double links coming from cybernetics, and the other is circles nested fractally coming from “natural systems” (this last one is a far more vague reference and could be improved). But the point rests on two things: a) the focus is on the patterns/practices themselves, regardless of what they’re called (which would rule out Comte for example, who really only has the word “sociocracy” in common and nothing else with the actual practice), and b) the sources of the practices are not attributed to individuals, but rather to movements/currents/patterns, which I think is more faithful to the way influence works on these things. And the very last part that doesn’t vibe with me in the image is the level of hair-splitting detail it gets to, where current practitioners like Ted and Jerry are listed for their contributions but also as a forming school/trend of their own. How much do you have to stray from the line to get your own place on the infographic? What would have to happen in order for me or SoPra’s own spin on things to have its own place there? For example, Nora still teaches sociocracy starting with the 3 principles (equivalence, effectiveness and transparency). SoFA now keeps it down to 2 (equivalence and effectiveness). It’s a very little difference that could potentially make a big difference (I mean, it’s the basic principles!)
Last but not least, an anecdotic bit: when SoPra was starting out we were working on our aims and I proposed “decolonizing sociocracy” and something along the lines of centering it in the context of latinamerican experiences and territorries. Jerry objected because he didn’t like thinking of sociocracy as “colonized” in the first place. Now Sophie is thinking and speaking in those exact same terms, at the same time that a helping circle is thinking on how we want SoFA to position itself on social justice. I’m just grateful for youth as a force of change, and for these conversations to be held more publically, more widely, more often, more deeply, and with deep deep compassion for ourselves and eachother, “seeing truth with the eyes of those who wanna see”.


That’s actually from Ricardo Levins Morales, and activist and artist from Puerto Rican origin who lives in Minneapolis, where he is considered a “movement elder” for his experience organizing with radical groups in Chicago in the 70s. He speaks of a politcal program that is revolutionary and simple enough for a toddler to understand. A toddler can understand a maxim as simple as “nobody gets seconds before everyone has had firsts” and also transmits fundamentally anticapitalist thought and practice.

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Checkout his artwork here

thanks Andy for resending the link. As a student of the Iroquois Confederacy, I’m always so heartened to see people honoring the oldest living participatory democracy. Indeed the US Constitution was modeled after the Iroquois model of governance thanks to Benjamin Franklin - a quaker. During the Constitutional Convention, Franklin left the window open so that the Iroquois could hear the proceeding and then counsel Franklin in the evening. Unfortunately, our white forefathers left out the rights of women, children, people of color and mother earth herself. Slavery remained intact. Franklin understood the seeds of conflict sown, but went as far as he could with his peers. The story is told in the book, Franklin listens when I speak. It can be purchased tribe of two press . com

Unfortunately, even after feeding George Washington at Valley Forge and sharing their wisdom with the US government, white encroachment continued after the founding of the U.S. In an attempt to survive, the Iroquois decided to try becoming more recognizable to white people. They decided to formally denounce their ‘old way of decision making’ and move to the majority rule practiced by the US. The Keeper of the Old Ways was Bright Spring. She fled for her life and was saved and protected by Quakers living nearby that she knew. Ultimately she adopted a quaker man to be the next keeper of her 10,000 year old oral history. So the link between Quakers and Iroquois is strong. I would attach the story, but it won’t let me include a google link


From Ted:

Worry that we try to put roots into sociocracy to make it seem less europe-centric than it might be. It might well be that the native influence can never be “proven” or that it simply didn’t exist. Would that be uncomfortable? Yes. But I also don’t want to go into wishful thinking. And cultural appropriation might then be just around the corner.

This is really important.

Regardless of whether there is a direct connection with the development of sociocracy, creating writings that acknowledge other resonant lineages and even mentioning them in our writing on the subject would also keep from straying into the territory of appropriation while still acknowledging. Again: a great project for the Writer’s workshop perhaps?! When is the next writer’s workshop @hope.wilder-4900?

Also, I do think that we could rework the graphics to de-center white patriarchs (ie. remove the pictures and focus on the concepts more than the names) and this maybe be a helpful improvement that’s more welcoming to a broader array of people/identities.
It could also include on the timeline other related, even if not connected modalities throughout human history to acknowledge their existence - thought that might be a better fit for a broader article on the topic than the ‘about sociocracy’ graphic itself.

Thank you for sharing @stephanie.nestlerode, sorry about the link restrictions - the forum restricts new users in little ways to prevent spam, but I went ahead and updated your trust level so you can post links. Would you mind trying agin?

I would love to see the links you are referencing and hear these stories, both about the influences of the Iroquois on the founding of the United State, but also about Bright Spring and the continuation of the Iroquois oral history and its connection with Quakers. This is super interesting history!

thanks CJ for the kind words and changing my status! my stock is rising as I just heard I was one of the new members of the month :slight_smile: here is link to Bright Spring’s story

Paula Underwood, who wrote up this telling, is the keeper of a 10,000 year old oral history that begins when people in Southeast Asia were hit an earthquake followed by a tsunami. All their wisdom keepers were washed away in an instant. They made two pivotal decisions. First they decided to find a friendlier ocean, and ended up at the Great Lakes of New York 10,000 years later. Second, they decided to be a learning people where every person had the wisdom, not just a few. For me, its the first case I’ve found of moving from power over to power with. I’m grateful beyond measure for the Quakers who preserved the story. Paula was also genetically related to Benjamin Franklin. Her telling of the interaction between Franklin and the Iroquois at the Constitutional Convention can be purchased at Franklin Listens When I Speak

blessings all ‘round, s


In somewhat of a defensive mode, I want to offer the now almost historical note that the image was made when everyone was only referring to Endenburg. Yet, I think every person who gets touched by sociocracy changes it. So the intention was to push a bit into the direction of showing more voices. As things stand now, things have shifted yet again, and it very much feels like we’re in a new age - with MANY more voices taking ownership of sociocracy. That was simply not the case 7 years ago… but I’m so happy it is now! So it’s time to edit it again and withdraw the old version.


My reaction: Big themes here. Good work. Hard going…

I really appreciate the initial gesture of digging deeper beyond Endenburg in the past and pointing to a diversity of people taking up this practice in the present, and I think we can go further.

Here’s the premise that I would like to explore or even explode: Our practice began when the first European white male philosopher coined the phrase sociocracy.

However, I don’t see yet how we can say that our practice has Indigenous origins, except to say that we are trying to recover a way of work that has deep roots. People have long known how to circle up, listen with heart, and decide how to go ahead. From another perspective, I think sociocracy is relevant for anyone impacted by settler colonialism, anyone who is seeking to redress the harms of extractive economics and systems of domination and control.

Finally, if we are not actively seeking to decolonize this organization, then by default we are perpetuating the system. I hold that conviction.


Hey, thanks for saying that. I’m so appreciative of you naming defensiveness. It’s totally normal and OK, especially from a founder’s perspective being pushed on critical topics that are often “touchy subjects”. I run into this with Jerry in Social Justice Statement HC. The Statement highlights all the ways in which sociocracy and SoFA could still do more for social justice/liberation movements. That’s not to say SoFA/sociocracy haven’t done plenty already to change people’s lives. Like any performance review or evaluation process it’s a “yes and” type approach. In the case of the statement specifically, I think the main focus should be on pushing beyond comfort and into positive challenge for growth. In this other case, I now see what you did and why you did, and it makes me see it in a different light now. So, thanks for sharing. And in another 7 years to come, maybe we’ll be chuckling about the discussions on this forum because we now (then?) see things so differently, who knows?


Thank you my dear. :blush:
I hope it’ll only be one year until we chuckle about us now :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

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Here’s a thought experiment: What would it take for SoFA to be relevant to Cooperation Jackson? Once upon a time, their organizers looked into sociocracy. How might we connect now?

What about SoFA publications or circle practice would indicate that SoFA is any of the following?
safe space for collaboration | not so safe space | unsafe space

A recent post from the Cooperation Jackson:

I’m currently writing on a semi-related topic in the Writers Workshop. My article does not speak to the origins of sociocracy in its entirety, and instead is an exploration of the history of circle gathering, benefits of gathering in circles, and the modern application of circle-based meeting formats (which spawned its own topic, how sociocracy integrates linear and circular models of facilitation for effectiveness and connection).

I do not draw a direct link between sociocracy and indigenous circle/council practices (if one exists, I didn’t find it), but rather, acknowledge that historically, humans have naturally come into circles for council, healing, and decision making–across the wide earth. While I reference evidence of indigenous circle gathering in North America, Europe, and Africa, I don’t assign or give credit to any one people or lineage for “inventing” meeting in circles because I think it is a quality of our humanness that we gather in circle and not something someone discovered. Again, I only tackle gathering in circles in my article, and not the whole of sociocracy.

In response to THIS conversation about the origin story and the related illustration: yup, that’s a lot of white people. As far as addressing the aesthetics alone, this image could easily be reimagined without the use of photos.

As far as acknowledging contributors: I think it’s important to honor the work and innovations of the brilliant minds who have cultivated the wisdom that is sociocracy as we practice it today, AND I think it is important to include the global, multicultural and indigenous history of consent-based decision-making in the conversation. We can hold both.

It surprises me to think that in the last 50 years, there hasn’t been a single significant contribution to sociocracy by any person of color. There’s a conversation.

In our acknowledgement of the history of peacemaking/decision-making practices, and the indigenous and people of color who made contributions in the field, we can acknowledge that we probably don’t have all the names and faces of pertinent figures in the movement. At the very least, the conversation creates an opportunity to develop the awareness to question the pattern. And then, hopefully, the awareness to not replicate it.