Vision, Mission, and Aims in Sociocracy

Language: Français

Sociocracy uses vision, mission, and aims to clarify the goals of the organization and what you’re working towards as a group.

Introduction: vision and mission

Organizations exist for a reason: humans enjoy the sense of belonging and collaboration and form organizations to reach something they wouldn’t be able to accomplish alone. 

3 people having a meeting as an example  of introduction of vision and mission and aims in sociocracy - Sociocracy For All

Often, organizations form because the founder(s) have a vision of what they’d like to see in reality, like a world without hunger or education for everyone, a world where everyone belongs. 

That vision – and the fact that it is not yet a reality – motivates us to form organizations. We decide to set out on our mission of making the changes necessary to close the gap between the world we have and the world we want. That mission becomes the why of our organization. 

The mission of our organization will be somewhat broad and indicate what issue we’re going to focus on, like reducing hunger, providing education for everyone, promoting intentional communities – it speaks to the broader issue that the organization attempts to address.

VisionMission (Example)
a world without hunger
education for everyone
world where everyone belongs
reducing hunger
providing education for everyone
promoting intentional communities

Organizational aims

Let’s say we have a mission “to feed the hungry.” Where do we even start? This mission is not actionable because it’s too big and unspecific to act on it. That’s why we need aims. Aims are concrete descriptions of things that we can act on.

a world without hungerto feed the hungryrunning a food bank in Amherst MA
education for everyoneto provide education for everyoneOffering an affordable afterschool program in Chattanooga
world where everyone belongsto promote intentional communitieswriting blog articles about ecovillages in Latin America

In that, the aim describes what the organization is actually going to do to work towards its mission. A good test on whether we’ve described the aim is this: if your great aunt asks how you spend your time in the organization, and you say, “we are reducing hunger,” she will most likely not have a clue what you do. If you say, “We run a food bank in Amherst, MA,” it will be much more apparent. That shows the difference between a mission and an aim – the former is inspirational, the latter is actionable. 

Circle aims in sociocracy

The aim for the whole organization is carried out by different circles, each taking on a piece. In this way, the organizational aim gets divided up into circle (sub)aims in a fractal manner. The aims now get more and more specific on each level, for example, going down to “purchasing and preparing snacks for the afterschool program.” 

In addition to aims, circles have domains defining their scope of responsibilities and authorities. A circle’s domain should encompass what’s needed to achieve its aim. As a simple example, it’s most empowering to task a circle with the aim of cooking lunches for a school if we also give that circle the authority to use and maintain the kitchen. 

How you find your aim in sociocracy

A simple prompt to find an organization’s aim is to ask: why does your organization exist? Typically, people’s response will be their mission: “Because we want to raise awareness about climate change.” 

bullseye as an example to how to find your aim in sociocracy

How we’re going to do that can be expressed in a “by”-phrase. Example: “We want to raise awareness about climate change by conducting science projects that explore climate science with elementary students.” Or: “We want to raise awareness about climate change by writing articles about climate change for a general, progressive audience.” The by-phrase gives you the aim.

If your aims stay vague, your circles won’t know what the wider organization is tasking them with and might struggle to operationalize it. It’s almost best to over-specify because that’s easier to detect than aims that are under-specified. For example, in the above aim, if the organization decides to work with middle school students in addition to elementary school kids, the aim would need to be broadened. Yet, if the aim is underspecified – for example, “writing articles about climate change,” then the organization will spend a lot of time arguing where to publish and what our target audience will be.

From the overall aim to circle aims

Diagram showing how sub-aims go into sub-circles - Sociocracy For All
How sub-aims go into sub-circles

A good prompt to go from the organizational aim to circle aims is to ask, “what needs to be done so you can achieve your overall aim?” Typically, people will mention 4-12 aims that then can be clustered into aims and sub-aims. (This video series leads you through drawing a circle structure!)

What if we need to change our aims in sociocracy? 

In the center is a circle that wants to change it's aim in sociocracy.  It's parent circle needs to give consent.  The aims of the sub-circles might be affected. - Sociocracy For All

Aims in sociocracy are not set in stone. The basic design principle is that aims are approved locally, which means the parent circle needs to consent to the aim change as well as all sub-circles who are affected by the change. (To change an organization’s overall aim, the Mission Circle and the General Circle need to consent.)

From here, it’s all easy. All we need to do is put the aims and domains into a table that corresponds to the circle structure. You can see an example table and a corresponding circle diagram below.

Example Circle to help to change our aims in sociocracy. Structure General circle has sub-circles: Distribution Circle, fundraising Circle, people circle Distribution circle has sub-circles: store circle, delivery truck circle People circle has sub-circles: volunteer management circle HR & schedule circle - Sociocracy For All
An example circle structure diagram.
Distribution CircleReceiving and distributing items to those who need it.Stocks, storage space, cooling room; contact to donor stores
Store CircleOffering a fully stocked walk-in store accessible to all.Store space. Fridge. Counter space.
Delivery Truck CircleDelivering items into distribution points.Truck. Driver schedules.
Fundraising CircleRaising funds for the organization.Donor management system
People CircleMaintaining a welcoming and well-run working space to keep the food bank running.Membership policies. Mailing list (CRM).
Volunteer Management CircleAttracting and onboarding volunteers, incl. running open houses.Volunteer schedule. Volunteer policies.
HR and scheduleProviding a healthy, safe and caring work environment for all staff.All HR policies and processes
Job listings. Insurance.
General CircleSupporting circles and negotiating aim/domains of circles.Budget
Mission CircleHolding the organization true to its mission to feed the hungry
Operationalizing the mission into aims.