Principle of Consent
The “principle of consent” means that a decision has been taken only when none of the circle members who are present have any argued and paramount objection against that decision.
The consent principle differs from “consensus” and “veto”. With consensus, the participants in decision making are “for” a decision. In consent decision making a “not against” is required. With a veto, arguments are not necessarily given. In consent decision making, an argument must always be given, as well as an indication as to whether the objection is paramount or not.
The principle of consent establishes the first « rule » of sociocracy:
(1) Governing by consent
Consent governs decision-making: Not every decision requires consent; there is consent about the agreements in which decision making is organized differently. Not all decisions need to be taken with consent. Consent allows persons or groups to take decisions independently.
Decisions are made when there are no remaining “paramount objections”, that is, when there is informed consent from all participants. Objections must be reasoned and argued and based on the ability of the objector to work productively toward the goals of the organization. All policy decisions are made by consent although the group may by consent decide to use another decision-making method. Within these policies, day-to-day operational decisions are normally made in the traditional manner.
(2) Organizing in Circles
The sociocratic organization is composed of a hierarchy of semiautonomous circles. This hierarchy, however, does not constitute a power structure as autocratic hierarchies do. Each circle has the responsibility to execute, measure, and control its own processes in achieving its goals. It governs a specific domain of responsibility within the policies of the larger organization. Circles are also responsible for their own development and for each member’s development. Often called “integral education,” the circle and its members are expected to determine what they need to know to remain competitive in their field and to reach the goals of their circle.
Circles are connected to the next higher circle by a double link composed of the operational leader and a circle representative. These two linkages function as full members in the decision-making of both their circle and the next higher circle. The operational leader of a circle is selected by the next higher circle and represents the larger organization in the circle’s decision-making. A representative is selected by the circle to represent the circle interests in the next higher circle.
At the highest level of the organization, there is a “top circle”, similar to a Board of Directors, that connects the organization to its environment. Typically these members include representatives with expertise in law, government, finance (including investors), community, and the organization’s mission. The top circle also includes the CEO and at least one representative of the general management circle. Each of these circle members participate fully in decision-making in the top circle.
(4) Socicratic Elections, or Elections by Consent
Individuals are elected to roles and responsibilities in open discussion using the same consent criteria used for other policy decisions. Members of the circle nominate themselves or other members of the circle and present reasons for their choice. After discussion, people can (and often do) change their nominations, and the discussion leader will suggest the election of the person for whom there are the strongest arguments. Circle members may object and there is further discussion. For a role that many people might fill, this discussion may continue for a few rounds. For others, this process is short when fewer people are qualified for the task. The circle may also decide to choose someone who is not a current member of the circle.
These four principles are requirements for an organization to function sociocratically, because they are interdependent, each one supporting the successful application of the others.
In addition to these four principles, sociocratic organizations apply the circular feedback process of directing-doing-measuring to the design of work processes, and in business organizations, compensation is based on a market rate salary plus long-term and short-term payments based on the success of the circle. With the exception of proprietary knowledge, all financial transactions and policy decisions are transparent to members of the organization and to their clients.