Patterns for decentralized governance

Distilling the patterns of sociocracy as a governance protocol

  1. explicit, i.e. it’s clear what the overall aim of the organization is
  2. collectively held, i.e. there is a commitment to collaboration and shared ownership

Why we need a better approach


Typical governance issues fall into familiar clusters:

  • Power is decentralized but there’s a lack of cohesion and/or clarity.
  • Power is centralized and there’s a monopoly of power among a few

A solution

A solution lies in combining the best of hierarchical patterns — their clarity and cohesion — with the best of decentralized patterns — autonomy, flexibility, and closeness of those doing work and the decisions for that work.


There are two basic patterns. It’s important to appreciate them separately but also to see how they mutually support each other. Using them separately does not unleash the same potential as using them together.

Decentralized decision-making in domains

To achieve decentralization of authority, we “chop” it up into areas of authority called domains. Whichever group owns a domain is the final decision-maker in that domain that cannot be overruled even by a “higher” circle.

  • Domains are generally held by a defined collective (a circle), but a circle can decide to give certain authorities to individuals in roles in a circle.
  • Each circle will have an aim that corresponds to the domain; for example, the circle that maintains the website needs to be the final decision-maker on topics of the website.
  • A key ingredient is that aims and domains are not only associated (like “glued together”) but can also be subdivided and passed on.
  • A circle can form a subcircle and give it its aim of and domain which will be a subaim and subdomain of the forming circle’s aim/domain.
  • No circle can exist without a “parent” circle.
  • A circle can’t entrust a subcircle with an aim or domain it didn’t own.
  1. an aim (a subset of the parent’s aim)
  2. a domain (a subset of the parent’s domain)
  3. a place in the system (no orphans!)
  4. 1–2 connecting links to the parent circle; i.e. at least one member of the circle also needs to be a member of the parent circle.
  5. defined but open membership; new members can be added with the consent of the existing members.
Diagram from
Many Voices One Song. Shared power with sociocracy (2018)

Consent decision-making

For any given proposal in a circle, the circle members will evaluate whether the proposal is compatible with the circle’s and its parent circle(s) aim(s).

How to get there

How to get to a decentralized system highly depends on the size of the current organization. For groups of 10–15 people involved, it’s often possible to build the foundation together and set up the rules of the game to decentralize and, if desired, grow using decentralized patterns. A resource for that situation is the book Who Decides Who Decides. How to start a group so everyone can have a voice (2021).



Sociocracy, Non-Violent Communication, Linguistics

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