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Sociocracy in

Cooperatives

Manifesto for Wholesome Cooperation

A Sociocratic Perspective. By SoFA Co-op Circle

Humans organize themselves in groups to reach common objectives

Sociocracy and cooperativism stem from the premise that humans thrive as social animals. Quite possibly, cooperation acts as our most characteristic trait as living beings. We need each other. No human effort, made by a lone individual, succeeds. Since the dawn of our species, we have engaged in cooperation, and we’re still figuring out how to do it best. We could certainly do it better than we are now, and sociocracy sheds a light on the way forward.

Sociocracy (also called dynamic governance) means governance by the socios: those who associate together. In other words, if you join, if you participate, you get to have a voice in decision-making. This aligns itself nicely with the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) definition of cooperatives, which states: “a co-operative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.”

Coincidentally, joining other humans in the formation of groups to satisfy our needs and aspirations operates as a human need in itself. Cooperation and connection seem to act as both the means and ends of human activity. In outlining this piece, we divided Sociocracy into three key elements: intentionality, equivalence, and transparency. Merged with the Cooperative Identity, they build a solid framework for wholesome cooperation.

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Why sociocracy?

For many, cooperatives and sociocracy are a great match. Both value shared power, equality, cooperation.

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?

No. Many cooperatives have included all or some tools from sociocracy into their governance. The culture of sociocracy is very similar and compatible with the culture of cooperatives.

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!

Featured Resources for Cooperatives

Sociocracy in cooperatives

Recording of a presentation by Abbie Kempson (as part of a webinar on cooperatives).

Sociocracy and the New Economy

For us, the new economy are all the parts of our economy that are based on values around justice (social, generational, racial, environmental etc.) and cooperation. The underlying insight of the New Economy movement is that competition will always create winners but inherently also losers of a system.

(Read more)

3 tools from sociocracy to use right away (plus magic phrases!)

Many organizations are intrigued by the idea of self-governance using circle-based frameworks. However, it can be intimidating to implement those methods. (…) Is there an easier way?

(Read more)

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 ([email protected]).

  • 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

Sample governance agreement

A document that lays out a governance agreement for cooperative housing - take it an adjust it!

See document

Sociocracy Starter Kit

An article describing the phases of introducing sociocracy in an organization. 

Read more

Meeting posters

Having a visual makes every meeting easier to follow.
Use them in your meeting room, or laminate and bring along?

See posters (pdf)

Talk to a real human!

Individual coaching with implementation teams from communities. Benefit from the experience with dozens of communities in this process - we've been there before!

Learn more

Study group curriculum for groups

6 1.5-hour sessions with exercises, readings, handouts, perfect for groups of 5-8 people. Video-led - just turn on the video and learn! By donation/coaching on a sliding scale.

Learn more

Sociocracy Handbook

Written by the co-founders of Sociocracy For All. 300 pages.

More information and purchase options

“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."

Will Kempe’s Players

theater co-op in NY state, USA

Organizational Structures of Co-operatives

More Resources on Sociocracy in Co-operatives

Sociocracy and the New Economy

Sociocracy and the New Economy

We have been calling sociocracy the “operating system of the New Economy”. We say that sociocracy could be at the heart of the New Economy. Before we describe how sociocracy and collaborative paradigms go together, let’s look at the New Economy. The New Economy For...

Cooperative: Blue Scorcher

Cooperative: Blue Scorcher

A worker-owned cooperative bakery: Blue Scorcher Bakery  Scorcher bakery in Oregon (US) has been running on sociocracy since 2012. Make sure to check out the section on governance on their beautiful website! This case study is helpful if you are part of a worker coop...

Homeschool cooperative

Homeschool cooperative

This case study features a homeschooling cooperative in Massachusetts (USA), after just having started out using sociocracy This case study is helpful if you are a volunteer organization with very flat hierarchy at the risk of burn out would like to get an...