Bringing wisdom into today’s governance models

Watch the full webinar about bringing wisdom from the past and the future into today’s governance models and see how ancestral values connect with sociocracy.

The Iroquois Confederacy is considered by many to be the world’s oldest living participatory democracy – extending across eight centuries. Its governance model emerged from the Peacemaker’s vision for ending warfare between five nations and creating a culture that could sustain peaceful co-existence.  Sociocracy is a governance method receiving increasing attention by the new economy movement because of its aligned values.

In native traditions, there is an understanding that insights arise from exploring old and new eyes wisdom when considering a decision or exploring an innovation. The approach honors the contributions of the past and brings attention to consequences on future generations.

How might we apply these wisdom traditions to our current circumstances?  What’s the bridge between the old and new?  How can the exploration inform our governing structures?

In this interactive, participatory gathering, you’ll experience and learn how to apply tools from both wisdom traditions. Two consultants from seemingly very different backgrounds will compare notes in a dialogue form inspired by appreciative inquiry. Ted is an advocate for self-management and sociocracy, a governance system supporting equal power and effective decision-making. Stephanie is deeply rooted in indigenous wisdom. In exchanging ideas, they noticed how similar and enriching the concepts in sociocracy and indigenous governance concepts are:

  • Both operate from the assumption that group wisdom is a pillar for good decisions and that hearing a diversity of experiences is necessary for a group. Both use circles and rounds (each person speaks, one by one, for example with a talking stick) as a default talking format, creating a space where group wisdom can emerge.
  • Sociocracy arose in a business setting with influence from Quaker education.  Its flow stems from feedback loops. In Indigenous traditions, the cyclic nature of decision-making processes is expressed in medicine wheels.  One wheel for bringing clarity in times of great change is the 4 Step Path: be who you are, be where you are, look around and decide & do. 
  • In Old Eyes Wisdom, a vibrant plurality of approaches is expressed in different viewing points: the wolf organizes, the bear experiments, the turtle is the wisdom keeper, the eagle has the big picture view. Each has its strength and its blind spots. Sociocracy has the same dynamic balance built into its systems: the tension between the safe approach and the experiment, between the operational level and the big picture on the mission level, between individual and group.
  • Sociocracy is centered around humans, giving every stakeholder group a voice. Old Eyes Wisdom includes other voices beyond the human voices: the future, the ancestors (all beings), the water, the air. How can sociocracy learn from that?
  • From an indigenous perspective, humans have unique rights and responsibilities that need to be balanced.  What might we learn from sociocracy’s roles that structure decision-making flow in strategic ways?

Comparing these two paradigms gives us the opportunity to ground ourselves in two traditions that are based on cooperation and humanity, participation and non-violence, personal development and governance so the new economy can be truly aligned with its mission, inside and outside, for a better future for everyone.

In the words of Paula Underwood, “How much peace are you willing to work for?”  Your success will depend on your ability to integrate conflict through how you govern.

More about Stephanie:

Stephanie Nestlerode is a social worker by training and a strategic planner by trade. In her words, “The future we create is the legacy we leave the world’s children.“ She has over 40 years of experience coaching leaders, community coalitions and organizations through change. Her clients have ranged from Boeing and the US Environmental Protection Agency to the City of Austin, Kaiser Permanente and non-profits. Organizations expand their capacity to serve the common good.  Individuals expand their ability to shift with changing circumstances.  As Chief Synthesizer for 7th Generation Labs, she is joining with kindred spirits to create a treasure trove of ways to learn what matters. Studying with Paula Underwood was the beginning of her initiation into learning indigenous wisdom for peaceful co-existence.  Paula was the keeper of a 10,000-year-old oral history which includes the story of how Benjamin Franklin was guided by the Iroquois during the Constitutional Convention for the United States. The story is told in Paula’s book Franklin listens when I speak which can be purchased hereBlack Elk is the native American who declared Paula should be the one to share her wisdom with ‘all listening ears.’

Follow-up resources

First, let me express my appreciation for your participation in ‘Bringing wisdom into today’s governance models.’  It’s a topic that calls for 7th generation thinking – drawing from what worked in the past and imagining what’s possible in the future.  I learned so much in the exploration with you all.  When Paula talked about creating a 500-year plan, she was talking about bringing all 14 generations into the NOW as we make decisions.  From my perspective, that’s the work we launched today. 

What follows are resources based on interests expressed.  If you don’t find your request, it’s because I do not have a resource as yet. I’ll be keeping an eye out for it!  Always feel free to get in touch.

Paula’s Books can be purchased here.  (You will be ordering from Paula’s daughter – Laurie Roberts.)

These books are a good place to start:

  • The Walking People.  The story of the 10,000-year journey and what they learned
  • Franklin Listens When I Speak. The story of the connection to Benjamin Franklin
  • The Great Hoop of Life:  Volume I. Introduction to Paula’s tools including medicine wheels
  • Three Native Learning Stories. One for mind, one for body, and one for spirit.  The one that deals with how to respond to white settlers is Many Circles, Many Paths (spirit)

Other Books:

  • Manual for the Peacemaker:  An Iroquois Legend to Heal Self & Society by Jean Houston. The story of the founding of the Iroquois Confederacy
  • Iroquoian Women:  The Gantowisas by Barbara Alice Mann – details how governance worked in their matriarchal system
  • Rebuilding Native Nations:  Strategies for Governance and Development. Edited by Miriam Jorgensen – is the research conducted by the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and the University of Arizona.
  • 1491:  New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus by Charles C. Mann.
  • Spiritual Politics:  Changing the World from the Inside Out by McLaughlin and Davidson. In speaking to the soul destiny of the U.S. they link it to the Iroquois

Videos related to the 7th Generation Rising

If you are interested in continuing the conversation and receiving updates on our offerings, please just send a request to my email, [email protected].  I’d love to hear how your journey led you here and what would be helpful to you.

Kind thoughts come,


See the prezi for yourself

Further SoFA Reading

5 Strategies for Combining Equity with Sociocracy

5 Strategies for Combining Equity with Sociocracy

The key promise of sociocracy is that all voices matter. In reality our current sociocracy practices are not enough to overcome the way society systemically oppresses the voices of people from poor, non-white, transgender, disabled, et cetera, backgrounds. In this article I define equity, make an argument for why combining equity and sociocracy is so powerful, and share five strategies for embedding equity into sociocratic governance.

Comparing Robert’s Rules and Sociocracy: How Consent Decision-Making Solves Some Problems From Parliamentary Procedure

Comparing Robert’s Rules and Sociocracy: How Consent Decision-Making Solves Some Problems From Parliamentary Procedure

The word democracy comes from the Greek “demos”, and is the shared rule of the people. The original meaning of democracy is a very large umbrella, of which majority rules is only one subset. Sociocracy, on the other hand, derives from “socios,” and means “the rule of the associates.” Sociocracy is one form of democracy as it could be, based on consent.