Sociocracy: revolution, chocolate, peace, work - a history
Early history, pacifism and Quakers
Little known in the UK, sociocracy is more widely practiced in mainland Europe, after being developed in depth in the Netherlands several decades ago. First proposed in 1851 by philosopher August Comte, founder of sociology and the Religion of Humanity in response to the French Revolution, and further developed by Lester Frank Ward, prominent early environmentalist and advocate of equal rights for women, and Kees Boeke. Boeke was influenced by the Quaker movement in Britain and married Beatrice Cadbury, of the famous chocolate family; together they became Quaker missionaries and were expelled from Britain during the first world war as pacifists. Boeke was nearly executed as a result of a paper he wrote developing sociocracy, that was found after he was arrested during the second world war in the occupied Netherlands, for harbouring Jews.
What is sociocracy, and why is it relevant now?
Sociocracy started to accelerate a little over a decade ago, when substantial work appeared in English for the first time. One definition of sociocracy, or collaborative governance, is "governance by consent of equivalent individuals". Our website is a gateway to simple and comprehensive descriptions, videos, case studies, articles and other resources.
It is a system which includes the participation of all who are affected by a decision. It has been used by individuals, families, schools, third sector organisations and communities like the Non Violent Communication network, and many businesses where it has shown to be more effective than traditional management and leadership approaches. It has been chosen both as an efficient model for organising and interacting, and as a practical method for applying ethics to the workplace. In the face of complex global and local challenges, it provides an alternative to any one group, ideology or a majority steering our collective course; it is critical that we engage all diverse voices in co-creating the wisest solutions.
How does sociocracy resolve the barriers to organisational democracy?
Many organisations seek to increase democracy and accountability in government and institutions. Business schools and entrepreneurs talk of more collaboration, openness and democratic management. But what do we actually mean, in practical terms? Do we mean electing representatives? Do we mean voting? What are the barriers to organisational democracy? It can be seen as time consuming, expensive, cumbersome, and suffering from the tyranny of the majority, adversarial debate, and creating winners and losers.
Sociocracy is a means of achieving democracy and accountability in organisations, in which all actively contribute to its direction. It is more sophisticated, cheaper and easier to apply than democracy, and respects all voices, and solves several problems in the traditional workplace too. The 2011 Employee Engagement Report unmasks the reality: that less than 1 in 3 of us feel engaged at work, and almost 1 in 5 is completely disengaged. Managers grapple with getting staff to 'buy in'. Sociocracy makes work more fulfilling at top and bottom.
Sociocracy is founded upon equivalence of voice, decision-making and elections by consent; self-organising ‘circles’ carry out work, and 'double-linking' representatives interconnect the elements of an organisation. Feedback and evaluation is built into all activities. The top circle, broadly equivalent to a traditional board, maintains connection to the outside world and stakeholders affected by the activities of the organisation and incorporates short and long term planning including sustainability and economic fairness.
Why is our work important?
We feel that this is a critical time for society, business and planet. We feel that sociocracy is a necessary, urgent and unique response to the current financial, environmental and democratic crises. We feel that it is the sort of model that brings about the New Economics that is emerging in response to these crises of our times, borne of the recognition that work can be more meaningful. Work does not have to be at odds with our own values, trading self esteem for a regular pay cheque. Business does not have to be at odds with the needs of planet and people.
Please sign up at our interactive website SociocracyUK to find out more and stay connected, or please get in touch if you 'd like to chat, meet or get involved, help us develop sociocracy in the UK, or get help to introduce it in your place of work.
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