We often say ecovillages are living think-tanks: experimental labs where willing participants collaborate in experiments in shifting old paradigms, dreaming new possibilities, and creating practical and local solutions to global problems.
It was this willingness to experiment and to lead in creating sustainable alternatives that brought two GEN-Europe National Networks to the Sociocracy Empowering Organisational Capacity (SEOC) project: a collaboration between ecovillages, civil society movements, and academia to build a community of practice around Sociocracy 3.0 (S3).
S3 is a modular evolution of classic sociocracy, a collaborative and distributed form of governance. It has been developed as a collection of tools – or “patterns”, as they’re known - for effective collaboration in communities and organisations at any scale. From decision-making to organisational structure, from running effective meetings to providing useful feedback, it aims to offer tools that achieve harmonious outcomes through tapping into the collective intelligence of a group, with circles of responsibility bringing decision-making closer to those who do the work, and feedback loops to ensure accountability.
Good enough for now, safe enough to try
Based around decision-making through consent and making swift, experimental agreements that adhere to the principal of good enough for now, safe enough to try, S3 seeks to be an agile system that meets organisations and communities where they are and adapts to their needs – often crucial in community situations where time and resources are scarce, but willingness to experiment and take risks may be high.
Many ecovillages throughout the Global Ecovillage Network use some form of sociocracy to structure their governance and operations, so were keen to get involved in the SEOC project to build their capacity and learn new tools. In the end, the two year project became a collaboration between Asociatia Romania in Transitie (the Romanian Transition Towns movement), Red Iberica de Ecoaldeas (the Iberian Ecovillage Network), Rede Italiana de Ecovillagi (the Italian Ecovillage Network) and Universitatea de Vest Timisoara (Timisoara West University from Romania).
Thanks to a grant from the European Union Erasmus+ programme, members of participating networks received training in S3 and were challenged to take it back to their communities and networks, with the aim of empowering them to collaborate more effectively.
A “spectacular” change
After an initial training-of-trainers in the ecovillage of Panta Rei, Italy, the freshly-minted trainers returned home to Spain, Italy and Romania to organise multiplier events to put their learning into practice and spread S3 as a viable option for communities.
“The impact of the project on the RIE is quite spectacular in many cases,” said Alfonso Flacquer, RIE representative.
“In the community of Amalurra the involvement and the agility of the relations have been improved, as well as the transfer of this knowledge also to the circles of young people, who have become very active and committed to the project. Meanwhile, in the Los Portales ecovillage, where traditional small-scale sociocracy was being applied, the SEOC project has incorporated a new energy that has unlocked and activated innovative dynamics.”
“In the Calabacino, a neighbourhood of 120 people who have lived together for three decades, S3 has finally managed to create circles of collective work and management of common tasks, for the first time in 30 years!”
The Italian Ecovillage Network hosted two S3 training events through the SEOC project. One participant had this to say:
Oh no! I was expecting a comfortable workshop on simple patterns on group decision making process … and now I have to work on myself! The most important learning for me was that methods and procedures are important and can make a difference, but the real key is inner sociocracy: a path of continuous improvement of ourselves, of listening and acceptance of all our inner voices, ours and others’ stories.
The SEOC project is just the beginning of a journey towards more conscious collaboration for the individuals, communities, and networks involved. It also hopes to provide a rich source of case studies for researchers investigating alternative forms of collaboration - so we watch with interest to see how this innovative work between ecovillages, civil society and academia develops.
Is your community using sociocracy, S3, or an alternative governance and decision-making structure? Tell us about it on firstname.lastname@example.org.