In Sociocracy, why don't we ask for willingness or availability before doing a selection?

From Many Voices One Song (Section 3.6.3)

Whenever we teach this process, there is someone in the group that asks: Why don’t we ask whether that person wants to do that role? How can we talk about them serving in a role if we don’t know whether they are available and willing?

The first answer is that having information reduces the possibilities we have. I (Jerry) was part of a group that had been working together and we were planning to select a facilitator. I had a clear preference for someone and spoke with that person ahead of time, and she shared with me that she was not available. In the formal selection process, everyone but I nominated her in the nomination round, and she ended up being proposed as a candidate and consented to her own selection. Willingness, or lack thereof, may shift.

It makes quite an impression to be told by circle members how qualified oneself is for a role. It is not unheard of that the individual selected says afterward: I would have never volunteered for this role, but I was convinced by the positive feedback I heard here. I feel honored to fill this role.‘ Note that this is not about forcing people into a role. We assume they know that they can say no — and the group needs to allow them that space. They consent to fill the role — which is an active process and very different from being volunteered by not saying no loud enough! This process is designed to help people say yes and to create an opportunity of exploring what a no means and how it could become a yes.

This is why it is best to start the consent round so that the candidate speaks last. To achieve that, just start the round with the person next to the candidate and pass the round in the opposite direction. That way, the nominated person will get to hear everyone else first.

A tricky question is the following: I am one of the people that keep getting nominated, and understand that it is good to give feedback and I understand that people want me in a role. But I am over-committed in this organization. It is just a waste of time to even nominate me as I will object anyway. Situations and statements like these are tricky, and we’d like to share our thoughts because we assume that what we have to say might be useful. First of all, the people who perceive themselves as overcommitted are often the same people that would like to hear more appreciation of their work. Can we hear this as feedback on how much people appreciate our contribution to our circle? The election process is more than just finding someone as quickly as possible to do the job. It can be a time for reflection too on how we spread the work. If we sit through nominations just seeing them as a waste of time, we are missing the wonderful message in it: we appreciate you. Also, maybe more importantly, the fact that the same people are nominated again on a regular basis but then object because they are over-committed is very important feedback. What do we as a circle do with that? How do we interpret that? As a circle, do we think we could make better use of that member’s contribution? Maybe we could talk about their overall package of tasks in the circle. Maybe we can build more leadership around the easier tasks that person is doing so we can free up time and attention for the more visionary work. Whatever we do with it, we want to be sure to notice the feedback this process gives us.

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 3.6.3