Books Sociocracy Thoughts

A prerequisite for sociocracy is a socios

A prerequisite for sociocracy is that there is a socios, a group of people who share a common purpose and have a social relationship with each other. No socios! No sociocracy! A key question then is how to turn a demos, a general group of people, into a socios? Throughout history, our ancestors have established social communities, embedded their members in complex reciprocal relationships, and built social trust.

Below is an example of the G/wi people’s socios in Botswana. The socios consists of the band and sub-groups called cliques. The example shows how deeply the decision-making is embedded in the social context of the G/wi. The decision-making is done in many ways depending on the kind of decision, while the equivalence of each band member is maintained. It is also interesting to notice how the G/wi balances between avoiding a too weak or a too strong socios. A too weak socios would put the aim (survival) at risk. A too strong socios would make it difficult to leave the band if necessary. The example is from  Politics and history in band societies, edited by Eleanor Leacock and Richard Lee, pp. 23—34:

The band

The social … community is the band.

There is marked stability of the band in its conceptualized identity as a group of people living in a geographically specific territory and controlling the use of the resources of that territory. Membership of the band is somewhat less stable than is its identity. In the absence of structural restrictions – the lack of exclusive qualifications for membership – members are free to join other bands and are, therefore, free to leave the current band.

G/wi bands may, therefore, be seen as stable, but open, communities whose personnel may leave if they wish and which recruits may join if they are accepted. The size of the community is obviously limited by … the state of its resources of food etc.; so, while it is an open community, it is nevertheless a finite one.

Cliques (sub-groups)

Cliques are nearly always unstable groups which are partially or wholly reconstituted whenever the band shifts to a new campsite, i.e. after three to six weeks. The only factor determining their composition appears to be a temporary preference among the constituent households for one another’s close company. Interaction within a clique is significantly more intense than between cliques: most conversation is within, or between, clustered households; the women of a clique usually form a food-gathering gang: the men assist one another with tasks more often than they help men from other cliques, and the rate of exchange of goods and services is generally higher within me group.

Cliques also function as a form of ephemeral segmentation of the band by becoming focuses of opinion and the level at which factionalization initially occurs. Progress towards decision is not, therefore, an even permeation of persuasion through the band. As the diverse strands of argument are ordered and simplified the cliques further function as sub-units of agreement and the balance of opinion shifts in larger-than-individual increments towards one or other of the poles of proposal.


Leadership in the band is apparent at all phases of decision-making. The process of reaching a decision is initiated by somebody identifying and communicating a problem which calls for decision. Leadership may be measured as the extent to which an individual’s suggestion or opinion attracts public support and is thus exercised at the initial stage as well as during the subsequent steps toward final decision. In the main, leadership is authoritative, rather than authoritarian; knowledge, experience of the matter under discussion and firmness of personality are characteristics which win most support. 

Expertise in one field of activity may be seen as not at all relevant to another field and, even in matters which are quite closely related, leadership shifts unpredictably among acknowledged experts with the occasional inclusion of a ‘dark horse’. The emotionally calm atmosphere of many discussions and the general lack of competitiveness partly explain the readiness to separate idea from identity. It often happens that the suggestion finally adopted is one which was initially voiced by somebody who has taken no further part in the proceedings, leaving it to others to take up, and ‘push’ his or her proposal.


Decisions affecting the band as a whole are arrived at through discussion in which all adult, and near-adult, members may participate.

There are many ways of doing it: a quiet, serious discussion with one or two key individuals in the hearing of a few band fellows, or a long campaign of persuasion in which the case is put together piece by piece, allowing time for each to settle before placing the next. Or else a public, but ostensibly private, harangue is contrived by loudly addressing a friend, making sure that the whole camp can hear, i.e. talking-at, rather than talking-to. This ploy of the ‘forced eavesdrop’ avoids direct confrontation with the opposition who would be guilty of bad manners if they were to join in the conversation. However, opponents are free to resort to the same device.

The time taken for discussion is naturally limited by the urgency of the matter under consideration; the need to arrive at conclusive agreement before the passage of time and events closes off an option is clearly recognized by the band. Less urgent matters can be debated for longer. Discussion is then intermittent with the subject cropping up from time to time until a satisfying solution to the problem is reached.

“… the band is reluctant to come to decision under the sway of strong feelings: if discussion becomes too angry or excited, debate is temporarily adjourned by the withdrawal of the attention of the calmer participants until things cool down. Withdrawal is not usually physical – to get up and move away is too explicit a gesture of rejection. It is, rather, an auditory withdrawal. Members signal their lack of sympathy with the heated mood by affecting preoccupation with other matters.”

Public decisions cover a wide field.”

In a community as small and as intimate as the band, the parameter of affairs of public policy intrudes far into what a larger-scale society would regard as the domain of private, or personal decision.

Consensus & ‘significant opposition’ (consent)

Band decisions are arrived at by consensus – a term in common use but without much common meaning. Consensus is not unanimity of opinion or decision.

Consensus is arrived at after a series of judgements made by people who all have access to a common pool of information. As the etymology of the word suggests, it is arrived at when people consent to judgement and decision. They may not all actually possess the information and may choose not to make the judgements themselves, but the opportunity must always be available.

Consensus is reached by a process of examination of the various proffered courses of action and rejection of all but one of them. It is a process of attrition of alternatives other than the one to which there remains no significant opposition. That one, then, is the one which is adopted. The fact that it is the band as a whole which decides (i.e. that each adult and near-adult member has the opportunity to participate in the process) is both necessary and sufficient to legitimize what is decided and to make the decision binding on all who are concerned with, and affected by, it.

“… consensus is reached when there remains no significant opposition to the particular proposal.

‘Significant opposition’ … is the dissent of one or more band members to whom the proposal is not acceptable, who feel themselves unable to ‘live with it’ and who are not prepared to concede the decision.

Power & coercion

“… the element of consent in consensus negates coercion, and vice versa. Furthermore, the egalitarian nature of G/wi society makes improbable a political style in which an individual or faction coerces the rest of the band into withdrawing opposition to a proposal.”

It must also be considered that the openness of the band as a social unit would eventually bring about the defeat of a forceful faction when the other members exercised their freedom to move to another band in much the same way as auditory withdrawal is used to adjourn debate when feelings run too high.

Power lies in what the band judges to be competent assessment of the gains and costs of following a particular course of action and the entries in that book-keeping include not only the material benefits but also the social balance-sheet.

The style of band politics is facilitative, rather than forceful, seeking ways of getting things done, means of accommodating dissent and transposing discord into harmony without drowning out the dissenter’s distinctive melody. Leadership is authoritative, rather than authoritarian and what an individual strives for is cooperation in the activities he or she wishes to undertake.

Related posts:
Sociocracy requires a new mindset
Scrum vs. Sociocracy
Sociocratic principles can be implemented in many ways
Sociocracy is a method, and still it isn’t
Implementing sociocracy without sociocracy
Sociocracy as practiced by the G/wi
Policies vs. agreements
Scaling sociocracy is all about the context
Unspoken sociocratic principles
Cultural dimensions of sociocracy
Holacracy vs. sociocracy
The phenomenology of sociocracy
Are Holacracy and sociocracy Teal?
The big misconception in sociocracy
Is Sociocracy an empty method?

Related posts in Swedish:
Holakrati, holokrati och sociokrati
Hur införa sociokrati i en organisation (del 1)?
Hur införa sociokrati i en organisation (del 2)?
Sociokrati är som permakultur, fast för människor
Sociokrati är som en skogsträdgård
Kurs i kväkarnas beslutsmetod, som sociokrati bygger på
En historisk tillbakablick på kväkarnas beslutsmetod
Sociokratibok: Idag publiceras boken
Några tankar om sociokrati
Min gästblogg på #skolvåren: Att organisera oss rätt

By Jan Höglund

I share my reading, book reviews, and learning in my blog.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *