What if we had a method of governance that is more inclusive than democracy, a deeper democracy so to say? I have come across sociocracy as a method of governance in a variety of ecovillages, but also schools, cooperatives and even corporations. I wanted to learn more and completed my recent Sociocracy Leadership Training (SoLT) with a case study about sociocracy at Holma Folkhögskola.
In short, sociocracy is a process for decision making in which all voices are heard. Groups are self organised in circle structures around certain domains, there is a hierarchy in level of decision making, which is not to be confused with hierarchy of power. Decisions are made by consent and shared with the entire organisation in the General Circle. A double link makes sure that two people transfer information to and from this General Circle, and information and decisions are transparent for all. If you want to know more see the wealth of webinars, articles and other resources at Sociocracy for All.
Case Study Summary
- Holma Folkhögskola is a new high school in Sweden providing short courses in fields such as permaculture, transition and sustainability, and a more general high school track based on the same principles.
- The school adopted sociocracy from the beginning and is continuously developing its knowledge and government structure. Challenges were the learning process in parallel with creating a new school, overcoming long meetings, and having the Student Assembly function effectively.
- Sociocracy helped create an adaptive environment with an open flow of information, and has offered a good way of structuring an organisation. Guidelines and rules, such as Picture Forming and Proposal Forming have been helpful.
Holma Folkhögskola is a newly established school in Sweden with a focus on sustainability, ecological cultivation, permaculture and the transition to a post-oil society. Its aim is to get people into Transition Thinking, and the school is unique in how it embodies their green ideology. This is in fact a high school where all teachers are trained in both permaculture and sociocracy. And yes, that includes the maths teacher. It is situated in various locations in Lund and other rural locations, and can easily reach an urban audience, too. From their start in 2015 the school adopted sociocracy as their method of governance. I spoke to Andreas Jonsson, the new school principal, and Chris Wegweiser, head teacher of Resilient Entrepreneurship and one of the tutors on the Permaculture Design Course. They shared both the benefits and lessons learnt from using sociocracy to govern the school.
What Holma Folkhögskola Offers
Holma Folkhögskola is based on two concepts. First, there are General Courses, this is the high school track. It caters to students who have not finished regular formal education, with diverse backgrounds and challenges. A qualified Social Welfare employee is working full time to help cater to the different needs of the students. Depending on the needs of the individual, they can choose a custom program that prepares them for university. In these courses teachers work with students of different ages and abilities. The second concept is Profile courses, the ideological courses such as Permaculture Design, Commercial Organic Growing, and Resilient Entrepreneurship. At least once a week there are practical learning activities, where all students work on gardening or building projects. Following Scandinavian standards the school is funded by the state, and education is free.
“Together we grow a sustainable world”
Currently a total of about 100 students are enrolled in the various shorter Profile courses combined, and 36 students are in the formal education track. The classes are in Swedish, but the school also attracts international students. The school is experiencing continuous growth in students and courses offered. In the near future the school plans to add a further 4 or 5 courses, and it is looking for a larger building to make space for more students.
The Introduction of Sociocracy
Sociocracy was introduced by Esbjörn Wandt who has been running Organic Growing and Permaculture Courses for 20 years. His Permaculture Courses use sociocratic methods to self organise and disperse responsibility and power to different working groups. At the end of the course, it is more or less independently run by the participants. In the beginning Diana Leafe Christian, author of Creating a Life Together, spent two weeks at the school to implement the new structure and facilitate workshops. Since then, both internal and external sociocracy courses are run regularly to allow anyone who joins the project to be trained on the next upcoming course. Chris joined the school in fall 2016, when the school only in its 2nd semester. Five new staff members joined the one-day Sociocracy ‘crash course’ before entering into the organisation. He expressed it would be great if there were resources available for a longer introduction course, and Andreas emphasised it is indeed important to have knowledge of sociocracy at all levels of the organisation.
The Circle Structure
Legally, the school is an ‘ideological association’, or a non-profit. It is owned by its eight member organisations, ranging from Permaculture Sweden to the Biodynamic Association and the Transition Network. Each organisation has a representative in the board, as part of the Top Circle. The role of school principal is a necessity in order to receive state funding.
Andreas mentions it has been challenging for the school to keep the circle structure up to date with the changing domains of the circles. Each circle decides over their unique domain, without overlapping the domain of another circle. Trying to get the participants circle to function has been a challenge. The participants circle includes students of all courses, once a month they can share ideas and concerns with the Student Council. Once a month participants or their representatives can come to the Student Council. But since people drop out of the circle when they finish their course, it’s hard to have continuity. The aim is to find a model in which the participant circle can influence the structural model and path forward. This is a work in progress.
Chris tells me there are colleagues who are not so enthralled with Sociocracy. There have been a lot of long meetings, and they weren’t always efficient. The General Circle had lengthy weekly meetings, which has now changed to meetings every third week. There was also confusion on the various steps in sociocracy, and doubts whether they were doing it right. It is perceived as a good method but not the quickest method, meeting issues were not always resolved. There have been a lot of misunderstandings on what sociocracy is, but it has improved over time. Chris shares that as a result of limited time and resources, which comes with starting up a new school, it is not possible to hire an external Sociocracy expert, or dedicate a week to Sociocracy training instead of a day. This would have many benefits. Though there has been no training yet on Non Violent Communication (NVC), both Andreas and Chris recognise its importance and, in retrospect, feel it would have aided in a number of situations.
Benefits of Sociocracy
Starting a fast-growing new school whilst implementing sociocracy has been an interesting combination. Learning sociocracy as a school, growing the teacher team, and developing innovative courses, means it change is constantly happening. For Andreas, sociocracy is the future. He believes sociocracy makes an organisation resilient, and adaptive. It promotes an open flow of information, and allows everyone to take part. Chris mentions how sociocracy allows for delegation. Because every circle has their own domain, and delegates in the General Circle, there is no need to have everyone involved in decision making, yet there is room for everyone’s ideas. Chris sees sociocracy as a good way of structuring an organisation, as it offers are good guidelines and rules, such as Picture Forming and Proposal Forming. It can also be complicated, since there is a lot to remember. Which steps to take to reach consent, how to deal with objections, and so on. The approach “good enough for now” has been especially helpful. With so much new staff and new courses being founded on different campuses, it helps to move forward. Then they can they celebrate decisions, then test them, and that fits them well. The focus on feedback loops and testing ideas through policy review dates has also benefited the school.
What’s Waiting in The Future
Chris has observed a growing number of people reaching out due to a healthy curiosity about sociocracy. He recognises that sociocracy is blossoming, and anticipates significantly greater adoption over the next 5 years by various organisations and communities. Andreas also sees that growth is happening, even though he acknowledges that reshaping an entire organisation is a big undertaking. For Holma Folkhögskola sociocracy is the future: resilient and adaptive, with an open flow of information.
With thanks to …
Andreas is teacher of the Permaculture Design Course and starting in his role as the new school principal officially in 2018. This role is planned to develop into be a shared role between Andreas and the current principal Hugo.
Chris is head teacher of Resilient Entrepreneurship and one of the teacher on the Permaculture Design Course. Formerly teacher at Uppsala University.
And of course with much gratitude for all the support and teachings of Jennifer Rau and Jerry Koch Gonzalez from Sociocracy for All.