What role does consent play in sociocracy?

In sociocracy, consent plays a central role in the decision-making process.

Consent is a key principle and a decision criterion used to determine whether a proposal can move forward and become a decision.

Here’s a closer look at the principle of consent in sociocracy:

  1. Decision-Making Criterion:

In sociocracy, consent is the criterion for making decisions. It means that a proposal is deemed acceptable and can be implemented unless there are reasoned objections that directly impact the organization’s purpose or policies. Consent replaces the need for unanimity or consensus, making decision-making more efficient and agile.

  1. Addressing Objections:

Consent focuses on addressing objections rather than seeking agreement from all members. When an objection is raised, it triggers a process of integrative decision-making, where the person making the proposal and the objector(s) collaborate to find a solution that addresses the concern. This process ensures that objections are heard and taken into account in the decision-making process.

  1. Holistic Consideration:

Consent requires decision-makers to consider the organization’s purpose and policies as a whole. A proposal should align with the organization’s broader objectives and not conflict with its core principles or long-term sustainability. The decision-making process encourages a holistic perspective rather than isolated or narrow considerations.

  1. Pragmatic Evaluation:

Consent evaluation in sociocracy follows a practical test. It assesses whether a proposal is acceptable enough to be implemented, even if it may not be the ideal or perfect solution. It focuses on finding solutions that are “good enough” for now and “safe enough” to try. Consent also take into consideration that the proposal meet the circle’s / organization’s needs and objectives within the given context.

  1. Trust and Collaboration:

Consent relies on trust and collaboration among members. It assumes that members trust each other’s judgment and intentions and are willing to work together to find solutions that accommodate the concerns and perspectives of all stakeholders. It fosters a culture of collaboration, open dialogue, and shared decision-making.

  1. Continuous Improvement:

Consent encourages a feedback loop for evaluating the impact and effectiveness of decisions. If a decision proves to be ineffective or needs adjustment, sociocracy enables members to initiate new proposals or modify existing ones through the consent-based process. This iterative approach promotes continuous improvement and adaptability within the organization.

By emphasizing consent as the decision-making criterion, sociocracy aims to create an inclusive and effective governance system where decisions are made efficiently, objections are addressed, and the organization’s purpose and policies are upheld.

It balances individual voices with collective decision-making and encourages collaboration, trust, and ongoing learning.

If you would like to share your comments or personal reflections on this topic, please feel free to do so in a comment below. Thank you.

Best wishes!

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Is there any guidance on what types of decisions should be “consented” and which ones not?

Hello Unai,
Thank you for the question. I guess “should” and “consent” are not in the same paradigm. In my understanding, we “choose” to consent or we “consent” in case we do not “object”, an objection being directly related to the vision, mission and aims the sociocratic circle (working group, team) previously consented. By sociocratic group I understand a group of people who already consented to use sociocracy as their governance method (including but not limited to consent decision-making). To discuss more I invite you to propose this topic on our Community of Practice for Facilitators, as long as facilitation processes include (but are not limited to) the idea of “consent”. I guess where more people share their perspectives on a certain topic, we could gather more clarity and feel the benefits of a colective inteligence. Other people may have other opinions so I invite all those people who are interested about “consent” to share their own answer to your question or just share some reflections about “consent”.
Best wishes.

Thanks @adrian.zarif !
Maybe I can add some context and rephrase my question.
In the sociocratic circles I am part of I have seen both operational proposals and governance proposals being consented by the circle. And of course everyday there are a lot of operational decisions being made that are not consented by the circle. In e.g. Holacracy integrative decision making is used only for governance and roles make their own decisions without waiting for the approval of other roles.

Question: in Sociocracy is there any guidance on what operational decisions need the circle´s consent?

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Consent is used for policy decisions which includes

  • creating roles
  • selections
  • agreements (‘policies’)
  • workflows
  • changes in aims/domains

In theory, everything else is an operational decision that can be made by anyone in the circle (as long as it’s furthering the aim and not violating existing policy).
In practice, as you say, some circles also approve operational decisions by consent. I think that’s ok as long as they are high stakes or in completely new territory.
Beyond that, I think it’s too much and circles should be encouraged to adopt more of a do-first-apologize-later approach :sweat_smile:

Policy and Operations - Sociocracy For All (but wait until later, website is down right now)


Hello Unai,

I guess Ted’s response already gave you the answer to your question and what I will do in this comment will only highlight some quotes about “consent” from the book:

which is the sociocracy manual I use as reference as a sociocracy practitioner:

1.2.1 Design-principles vs. tools

“The consent round is only a tool to ensure the principle of equivalence. If readers can find a better way to live the principle of equivalence than what we are presenting here (without compromising effectiveness), do it. In that case, please share so others can benefit as well!”

1.2.3 Change anything you want – by consent

“Consent is the default decision-making method in sociocracy. Consent means that if I make a proposal to the group, my proposal will be approved if no one in the group has an objection to it.”

“By consent, a group can decide to do anything. We often jokingly say, you want a dictator for your organization? We can decide that by consent. (We recommend that the dictator role have a term end, however!) Groups can decide by consent to vote. Groups decide what their governance system looks like at all times. The only thing one cannot do is ignore reasoned objections.”

1.3 Sociocracy in context

“Gerard Endenburg intended sociocracy to be a method that includes and invites people to show up in their organizations as co-responsible whole human beings. Sociocracy was brought to the United States primarily by John Buck, co-author with Sharon Villines of the 2007 book on sociocracy, We The People: Consenting to a Deeper Democracy. Jerry Koch-Gonzalez studied and worked with John, and Ted J. Rau has done the same with Jerry.”

“As time passes since the early days of sociocracy, variations in its application have emerged, most notably Holacracy and Sociocracy 3.0. An exploration of the similarities and differences in the variations of sociocracy is beyond the scope of this book. The sociocratic lineage of Sociocracy For All is “classical” sociocracy - meaning directly from Gerard Endenburg and the Sociocratic Circle Method that he and others developed.”

“We do not intend with this book to start another variation, and we view any fragmentation of the movement around circle-based power with some sadness and skepticism. Our intent is to be Sociocracy For All, which – for us – means that we support any effort to spread sociocracy and sociocracy-related education and application.”

1.4 How to use this manual

“Governance is tricky to teach. The biggest challenge is that one has to know everything at the same time. Practitioners have to know the meeting format, all processes, understand consent, know what a helping circle is, how to do a round, be aware of feedback, have emotional literacy and needs consciousness and more at once – oh, and be aware of operational roles! Sociocratic governance works best if practitioners master it all. How can we achieve that? We tried to write this book so readers can browse through the book, reading sections at a time. That is the reason why there is some repetition in the book, as we strive to keep each section more or less comprehensive.”

Defined membership: what and why

“Circles make policy decisions by consent. Consent is the default decision-making method in sociocracy […] The definition of consent is that a decision is made if no circle member has an objection. Consent decision making only works if we know who those circle members are. In a situation where people drop in and out of a group, we will not know who can be counted on and who needs to be asked for consent if we want to make a decision. Protection of any decision-making group is a high priority in sociocracy, so defined membership is an essential feature of sociocratic organizations.”

2.3 Operations and the internal structure of a circle: Roles

“We have described how circles connect to their related circles through linking and how circles have aims and domains that define their work. In addition, circles need some internal structure to function well. Of course, we can define (by consent) what those features might be in a particular organization. What we describe here is what is considered good practice and has been used in many sociocratic organizations. We have not seen any need to deviate from this basic structure, but readers might find their own way.”

“Why do we define roles? For the same reason that we make policy: for effectiveness , and clarity . For repeating tasks, we do not want to re-invent the wheel every time so we make policy about how it is done. But we also do not want to determine, which circle member is going to take the task every time: that is why we define roles. This is both true for circle roles and for operational roles . It is inefficient to start every meeting having to determine who is facilitator or secretary for that meeting. We want to settle those roles so we can focus on what is relevant.”

“Also, in defining a role, we give the person filling a role the authority to act without having to check back with the circle, and the person a chance to build expertise in that role. Roles in sociocracy are generally about empowerment, building expertise and paying attention. Some people see a circle as a bundle of operational roles in a domain – the holders of roles are the people who carry out the work of a circle. Another way of looking at it is to see all circle members as people who carry out the circle’s operations, while some repeating tasks live in roles. Either way, we are separating roles, like hats, from individuals. One person can wear many hats, but each hat can only be worn by one person. One circle member can hold many roles, depending on resources and skills. Ideally, we would like to see roles distributed among several people as this distributes power.”

Even meeting notes we keep in the AGENDA are final when consented to by all circle members/attendees.

I invite all those who want to discover more about how sociocracy is understood and practiced in Sociocracy For All to participate in the classes and events organized by SoFA.

I hope these quotes from Ted and Jerry will be useful by the readers of this post and comments.

Recommended resources:

Who Decides Who Decides?
Many Voices One Song – A sociocracy manual
Let’s Decide Together
Sociocracy articles and videos
Events and workshops

Best wishes.

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