Sociocracy Resources

What is Sociocracy?

This is a 18 minute introduction into sociocracy (aka Dynamic Governance) produced by Sociocracy For All. It covers circles and roles, meetings and consent, feedback and selection processes.

Also known as sociocracy, this model offers a flattened, responsive, and more inclusive structure. Congregations that wish to dismantle White Supremacy in their institutions are looking into this model.

We recommend that congregations start small by developing the practice of using discernment circles (see the resources under "Contents" below) for important discussions for boards, teams, and committees before thinking about implementation of Sociocracy as an overall governance structure.

Books

Organizations Offering Training

Shared Leadership with Circles

How might we create communities where each member can contribute equitably in service of mission and vision? Circles are an ancient tried-and-true practice.

Introduction to Circles

Discussion

Where do you already use circles in congregational life?

Discernment Circles

Good Enough for Now, Safe Enough to Try

"There are no failures, only lessons." -adrienne maree brown

Discernment Circle Steps

  1. Create a shared understanding of the situation (context and/or challenge).
    • Share in rounds until a common understanding, picture or narrative is reached
    • End with a round to make sure each person in the circle "consents" to work from that shared understanding
  2. Collect ideas for how to address the situation.
    • In rounds, have each person propose ideas
    • Continuing in rounds, affirm ideas that are "good enough for now & safe enough to try"
    • Organize proposals and ideas
    • End with a round to make sure each person in the circle "consents" to the final list of ideas.
  3. Have a smaller group of "shapers" or "tuners" to turn the final list of ideas into a proposal.
  4. The shapers bring the proposal back to the circle for consideration.
    • In rounds, the circle evaluates the proposal for completeness, i.e. does it include all of the proposed elements from the earlier circle.
    • Establish that the proposal is complete using a consent round. If it is not complete, the shapers will need to rework the proposal and bring it back.
    • If the proposal is complete, go around the circle for clarifying questions about the proposal until all clarifying questions are answered.
    • At this point use rounds to share reactions to the proposal and/or to raise objections with open-heartedness and in service of the mission of the circle and congregation.
    • End with a round to make sure each person in the circle "consents" to the proposal.
  5. Carry out the proposal (Take action!).
  6. Celebrate!
  7. Using rounds, evaluate the actions and impacts of the proposal as carried out.
    • Did we gain any insights about the situation?
    • What went well and should be kept?
    • What didn't go well and should be changed?
    • Proposed tweaks to original proposal (or to start over with a new proposal process)
    • End with a round to make sure each person in the circle "consents" to the revised proposal (or other agreed-upon action).

Circle Process Continuum

color sine waves refracted through concentric water ripples

Humans have been meeting in circles for eons. Today's peace circle practices originated in Native American and other indigenous people’s traditions. At its root, the practice of peace circles provide a container where people with an issue can discuss or resolve it in an environment grounded in the values of love, curiosity, respect, caring, cooperation, mutuality, accountability – the covenantal values of the Beloved Community.

Circles can provide the opportunity for each person to share in turn and to be heard in turn. In a circle, everyone can see everyone else during the sharing, the better to pick up nuances of facial expression and body language. Circles can be impromptu and informal, or they can be intentionally planned and highly scripted.

Circles that promote deep listening, equivalence, and involvement in decision-making can be an effective way to foster diveristy, equity, and inclusion in your congregation. Circles can also be used in times of anxiety or conflict, or when there is a need to address past harms.

You might think of circle processes are a group spiritual practice, with the emphasis on practice! Facilitating circles also takes practice and training, with low-intensity, low-anxiety circles not needing as much skill as circles where people have differences or are in conflict.

The following continuum may be helpful in understanding and using different kinds of circles in your congregation, and the kind of practice and training that are needed for each.

Continuum of Circle Practices in Congregations

Type of Circle Purpose Facilitation Skill Level
Peace Circle
  • Sharing of stories
  • Community Building

Minimal

(Trained/Mentored by other Congregational Leaders)

Small Group Ministry
  • Personal Spiritual Development
  • Community Building

Minimal

(Trained/Mentored by other Congregational Leaders)

Discernment Circles

Moderate

(Formal In-House Training or Outside Training)

Decision Circles
  • Forming (by Consent) to a Proposal for Action
  • Electing (by Consent) Individuals to Leadership Roles
  • Serving the Mission of the Congregation

Moderate

(Formal In-House Training or Outside Training)

Policy Circles
  • Creating Policies and Other Guiding Documents for the Congregation
  • Serving the Mission of the Congregation

Moderate-to-High

(Formal In-House Training or Outside Training)

Healing Circles
  • Sharing of Stories After a Generalized Hurt or Trauma
  • Communal Pastoral Care

High

(Outside Training)

Resilience Circles
  • Developing Shared Understandings of Generalized Issues Around Culture, Inclusion, Power, Oppression, etc.
  • Deep Community Spiritual Practice and Resilience

High

(Outside Training)

Restorative Circles
  • Creating an Opportunity to Address a Harm That Has Occurred in the Community
  • (Needs the Consent of All Parties Who Participate)
  • Community Healing and Conflict Transformation

Professional

(Outside Facilitator Recommended)

Restorative Justice Conferences
  • Creating an Opportunity to Address Complicated Harms That Have Occurred in the Community
  • (Needs the Consent of All Parties Who Participate)
  • Community Healing and Conflict Transformation

Professional

(Outside Facilitator Recommended)

Additional Resources

Picture Forming

3 views of a diamond: top, side and 3-dimensional

On your board, committee or team, you need to make many different kinds of decisions. Sometimes you have a challenge that you need to address. Sometimes you have a project that you need to plan or a task that you need to complete.

Although it is tempting to move right to brainstorming and then decisions, you can improve the quality of your process by taking time to create a shared understanding of all of the things that should be taken into consideration.

Dynamic Governance (aka Sociocracy) calls the process of creating a shared understanding picture forming.

When an individual looks at something from a single perspective, they can miss other dimensions or facets. For a visual metaphor, think of a multi-faceted jewel. When you look at it from one angle it looks like a circle. When you look from another angle it looks like a triangle and trapezoid stuck together. But when you pick it up and feel its weight and examine it from different angles, its complexity comes into awareness and you see it with new eyes.

When people come together to make a decision, they often have only a partial understanding of the issues at hand. Many conflicts start because one person "sees a circle" and assumes everyone else sees the same thing, and another person "sees a triangle/trapezoid" and assumes that is the shared understanding.

A group can use the circle process to look at the dimensions of a situation or challenge in order to form a common picture that can be used to propose ideas for policy or projects. As with all Dynamic Governance circle processes, all of the members need to consent to the finally list before moving to talking about proposals.

Here are some examples of prompts or guiding questions for a picture forming round.

  • What questions do we need to answer to make a good and complete policy?
  • What do we need to consider about "______" before we start proposing ideas?
  • Who is being impacted by this situation and what are their needs and concerns?

For more on inclusive decision-making, read about Shared Leadership with Circles.

Discernment Circle

In response to the report Widening the Circle of Concern, congregations are rethinking aspects of congregational life that reinforce systems of oppression so that our congregations might become welcoming and diverse communities of communities that prioritize inclusivity and purpose.

Many congregations are exploring Dynamic Governance (also known as Sociocracy) as an existing model that offers a way to be inclusive while still being effective. Many intentional communities and progressive organizations have adopted this as a governance model.

Instead of recommending that a congregation adopt Sociocracy as a top-down governance change, we are suggesting that congregations start by trying out discernment circle practices for complex decisions in their committees and teams.

This training (a work in progress!) is offered to congregational teams so that they can learn, practice and introduce circles to their congregations. The course is self-paced, with materials available on-demand. Practice sessions are offered by the facilitators.

Training fee: $30 per participant

Take This Training (Note: You will redirected to a separate website, UU Institute, which is managed by the UUA.

How To Take Trainings from the UU Leadership Institute

Register for trainings at UU Institute. Once you register you will get an email with a confirmation link that you need to click to activate the account. (You may need to check your spam folder. Please add uuinstitute.org to your safe senders list.)

You can then go back to the site and go to the electives option in the trainings menu and scroll down until you find the class and click on it. You must take part 1 first (which is free), then once approved, you can proceed to part 2 (which costs $30).

There is a a full video tutorial on how register for the site, purchase a training and how to navigate the trainings.