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What does Sociocracy have to do with co-ops?
Sociocracy offers a decision making and governance model in line with the ethos of the cooperative identity, which honours and centers the human individual within the organisation. As values-based and principle-driven socio-economic organisations, co-ops benefit from an operating system that has a coherence and a synergy with the Cooperative Identity. Sociocracy is an approach to decision making and organizational structuring that is relatively quick and easy for a co-op or start-up group to start using.
The mission of Sociocracy for All (SoFA) is to make resources for learning and implementing Sociocracy accessible to everyone. SoFA has created the SoFA Co-op Circle as a vehicle for addressing the unique and specific needs of co-ops considering sociocracy. SoFA democratizes the process of learning sociocracy through an international peer group of cooperators who use sociocracy. SoFA Co-op Circle offers an opportunity to join a global community of practice around sociocracy in co-ops, working together and sharing resources to contribute meaningfully to a more just and sustainable world.
The SoFA Co-op Circle is currently developing and delivering tools, methods, and educational materials to support Co-ops in adopting Sociocracy, including:
- Case studies of co-ops using Sociocracy
- Sample language for use in bylaws, and tools for making bylaws development and revision easier.
- Workshops on Sociocracy for Co-ops, for presentation at conferences and as video recordings available online
The SoFA Co-op Circle meets every four weeks, online via Zoom web conference. The Co-op Circle’s website can be found at http://sociocracyforall.org/coops/, and their email is email@example.com.
The SoFA Co-op Circle currently consists of founders of new co-ops, members of existing co-ops, and professional co-op developers. We are particularly interested in getting more members who are members or founders of co-ops, especially worker-owned co-ops, as well as supporters and allies of co-ops. We invite cooperatives and cooperators using sociocracy to join our vibrant community of practice and inquiry.
Visit sociocracyforall.org/sociocracy/ to learn more.
Some cooperatives using consensus or majority vote find it challenging to have the decision making they are longing for. Decisions might take a long time or don’t include everyone in the same way. With sociocracy, many of these issues disappear:
- Clarity: small, trusted teams and people in clear roles make it easier to define each other’s responsibility and authority. Fewer discussions have to be discussed by everyone – and yet, those smaller teams have more headspace to actually listen to everyone’s input.
- Calm meetings: rounds and consent and an orderly meeting format help so no one gets ignored and nothing is forgotten.
- Connection: smaller teams and rounds help build trust, belonging and togetherness.
Is sociocracy hard to do?
While it’s easiest to implement sociocracy in a young organization. cooperatives with more than 100 working members have introduced sociocracy. It takes facilitation training and clarity around consent and roles and a clean circle structure that supports collaboration in all operations.
Where do we start?
Read and watch the information on this site. If you are interested in suggesting sociocracy at your workplace, make sure to read The Sociocracy Starter Kit first. You will notice that it suggests involving other people in your exploration as early as possible. Having seen dozens of organizations in this situation, we really mean it!
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Featured Resources for Cooperatives
Sociocracy in cooperatives
Recording of a presentation by Abbie Kempson (as part of a webinar on cooperatives).
Which Co-ops are Already Using Sociocracy?
This list is FAR from complete. You can add your co-op by sending an email to Ted (firstname.lastname@example.org).
- Equal Care coop (UK)
- Outlandish (UK)
- Unicorn Grocery coop (UK)
- El Roser (Spain)
- Green City coop (UK)
- Blue Scorcher Bakery (OR, USA)
- El Semillero (Spain)
- Forth River coop (USA)
- Eugene Alliance for Somatic Education (OR, USA)
Learning and Implementation
“Meeting times have shortened and, generally, our members feel good about working together in a sociocratic way.”
"We have less ego-driven conflicts and laborious meeting agendas have given way to productive, enjoyable ones."
More Resources on Sociocracy in Co-operatives
When the Swiss design and development agency Nothing AG spun-off one of their internal products into an independent business called Peerdom, the Peerdom team initially started by replicating their mother company’s implementation of sociocracy.
Case study of sociocracy in SCCAN. Its mission is “To inspire and promote, connect and support community-led action in Scotland to address the Climate Emergency.”
Sociocracy was developed with small groups in mind. When and how can we apply it to large groups?
Understanding the difference between operations and policy is key to making fast and good decisions. The idea in sociocracy is to empower operational decisions (so they can be made by anyone who is authorized) and to make policy decisions to guide and improve those operational decisions.
An article about governance of (large) platform coops and the tweaks we’d have to make to use sociocracy successfully.
Sociocracy: The Worker Co-op Operating System (By John McNamara. Originally posted on workersparadise.) Over the last couple of years, I have had the incredible opportunity to work with Sociocracy For All (SoFA). This organization has worked diligently to bring the...
Sociocracy and cooperativism stem from the premise that humans thrive as social animals. We need each other. No human effort, made by a lone individual, succeeds. See how sociocracy and coops are a natural fit.
An IT tool to display roles and circles with their holders and attached descriptions.
Solawi Bodensee is a German association with around 90 members. Solawi is an acronym for “Solidarische Landwirtschaft” which is translated as “solidary agriculture” and meaning “sharing the harvest”. It is similar to the US-concept of CSA, Community Supported Agriculture.
Recorded in March 2019 at Co-operatives UK, Abbie Kempson (Unicorn Grocery, Manchester) leads the introduction to sociocracy and is joined by Pete Burden (SeeStep, East Sussex) and Kirsty Warren (Greencity Wholefoods, Glasgow). All provide their practical views using the techniques in their organisations and how it supports governance systems. From https://www.uk.coop/resources/webinar-talkan-introduction-sociocracy
3 decisions every young organization will make. They will happen either way, either consciously with a good and inclusive system, or unconsciously with old biases kicking in. Which would you rather do?
The practical sociocracy handbook written by the co-founders of Sociocracy For All. 300 pages full of real-life support!
A worker-coop bakery in Oregon.
Do we have to endure “disruptive” team members if we want to be inclusive? What crosses the line, and what helps us?
A worker-owned bakery in Oregon that implemented sociocracy years ago.
We are a mix cooperative school (composed of working members and consumer members). We started working with sociocracy from the very beginning of the foundation of the cooperative.
We seek out small producers and bring you their heirloom varieties of everything from apples to beans to tomatoes. Being a cooperative means that stewardship of the business is spread out among the workers.
Unicorn is a successful worker co-op grocery in Manchester, England. Established in 1996 by a small group of people committed to social change, we set out to create an alternative to supermarket shopping – to provide affordable, fresh and wholesome food to our local community, run by motivated worker-owners with a shared social and environmental agenda.