February 23rd, 2007

Trouble at the beginning

Last spring our local NVC group ventured into sociocracy. At a group retreat, the group made some specific decisions in how to move forward. (I had other plans and missed this meeting.) Through a number of email messages and conversations, I’ve come to believe that the group’s implementation of sociocracy is proceeding in ways fundamentally at odds with the intentions of sociocracy, in hearing and addressing the needs of everyone affected by created policies. In this note I want to lay out some of my current understanding of what’s happening and to look for how to get the process back on track. In particular, I want to develop more clarity about how I might most helpfully contribute. Here’s a partial description of what has happened, as I currently understand.

  • The group decided to disband the existing “core team” and to create two new sociocratic circles, called the “Training Circle” and “Compassion University”.
  • It was agreed that the new circles would define their own aim.
  • It was agreed that “Each circle will create membership criteria to be presented to the GC [General Circle] for consent that they are congruent with the aims of the organization.”
  • A first phone meeting was called privately for a limited group of people, coinciding with the old “trainers” group (including only trainers approved by the local or global NVC organization and excluding other trainers and other group members), plus Sandy, our executive director.
  • An early agenda item called “sociocratic consent Sandy member of TC” had the description “as I understand the agreements from GC: Sandy can choose to be part of any circle, given the circle gives consent”.
  • The next agenda was called “NCC affiliated trainers”, described as “Discussion on if and what are criteria to join training circle.”
  • The meeting did take place, involved paramount objections from Sandy, and left most or all agenda items unresolved and raised some upset.
  • An invitation, this time public, was issued for others to join the next meeting.

As I’ve reflected over reports of what was said and agreed to at the retreat and the phone call, I notice some things don’t make sense to me. I offer these puzzlements up for discussion, as a starting point for helping us better understand our intentions and how to support them consistently.

  • I don’t understand what it could mean to say that a circle creates its own membership criteria. After all, a circle’s decisions are made by its members. Who is there to decide on membership criteria before such criteria exist? In this case, as far as I know, some people (the formerly-approved “trainers”) were spared the consent process.
  • Similarly, I don’t understand how a circle can choose its own aim. How can a circle exist without an aim? I don’t understand how one could decide whether to form and/or join a group without having the aim defined first.
  • I don’t understand how a circle can define exclusion criteria while staying with the intent of sociocracy. I understand the purpose of sociocracy as being a way to make sure all needs (related to a given aim) get addressed and supported as well as possible, even the needs held by a minority. Now imagine a circle that is allowed to both (a) have power (e.g., who gets promoted on the group web site and who doesn’t), and (b) exclude some people who embrace the group’s aim (e.g., supporting those who share NVC). I don’t understand how exclusion can have any effect but to defeat the effective, sociocratic approach to fulfilling the aim.

I suggest the following solution to these quandaries:

  • Anyone can define an aim and propose creation of a circle. (Aim first, then circle.)
  • If such a circle forms, then everyone who says s/he embraces the aim is invited to participate in the circle. (No membership criteria to be defined by a circle that doesn’t yet exist.)

I’d like some feedback about how this solution fits with successful sociocratic experience.

The title of this post comes from the name of an I Ching hexagram (also called “difficulty at the beginning”).

Trouble at the beginning

I love the discussion here (in the section called “Trouble at the beginning”) as it relates to our group’s transition and learning process.


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