School Circles - a documentary which celebrates democratic education in Holland

We have known about the philosophy of organising groups called sociocracy for a while - a multilayered method of collective decision-making which makes great claims to be an advance on, or enrichment of, our standard models of democracy.

Here's a forthcoming documentary (trailer above) which charts how sociocracy is revolutionising education in Holland. From the blurb:

School Circles is an independent documentary that explores the practice of democratic schools in the Netherlands. The film shows students, teachers and staff members coming together to dialogue, discuss proposals, mediate conflicts and make decisions about their school life.

However these schools not only challenge the mainstream education, but also democracy as we know it. They put into practice Sociocracy, a method for collective organisation based on self-regulating systems, in which the decisions are made through consent.

School Circles connects the theory of sociocracy to its practice within schools, taking us to new possibilities of organising ourselves and our communities.

The basic principles of sociocracy are as follows: 

1. CONSENT

Policy decisions are made with the consent of those they most directly affect. Consent is defined not as agreement, but as “no objections.” One can consent as long as the proposed decision will not adversely affect one’s ability to work toward the aims of the organization.

Policy decisions are those that determine how an organization will function. Consent is required from individuals in policy decisions that affect their domain of responsibility. Policy decisions include allocation of resources including budgets; assignment and descriptions of roles and responsibilities; how work, events, or services will be accomplished and evaluated; how records will be maintained; etc.

The elections process, which was once referred to as the fourth principle, is used to assign roles and responsibilities. It can also be used for any consent decision that has more than two possible options.

2. CIRCLES

Policy decisions are delegated to circles composed of all members of a decision-making body— a department, team, work group, etc. In meetings of the circle all members function as equals and elect their own officers: a chair, a facilitator, and a secretary/logbook keeper.

Day-to-day operational decisions are made by the operations leader within the policies established by the circle and the larger organization. The operations leader is an equal member of the circle.

3. DOUBLE LINKING

The operations leader and at least one representative elected by the circle, participate as full members of the next higher circle. Circles are arranged in a hierarchy of decision-making. For example: a board, a general management circle, department circles, unit circles, etc. The double links create overlapping circles with participation in policy decision-making by members of both circles. This establishes communications both up and down the organization and creates a feedback loop that encompasses the whole organization.

Double links are unique to the sociocratic circle method of organizing.

PRACTICES

There are a number of practices that are essential to the application of the principles. While the principles are essential to establishing and maintaining an organization in which all the members are equivalent, the practices may vary if equally effective.

The Elections Process. This process allows all members of a circle to participate in assigning roles and responsibilities in order to choose the best person available.

Rounds. Rounds in which each person speaks in turn, are used to maintain equivalence in a meeting. They balance the discussion giving each person the opportunity to speak and to ensure that everyone participates in decisions.

Evaluations. Each policy decision is reviewed annually. Some reviews will be very quick and others extensive. Evaluations include evaluations of individuals in their roles as circle members.

Transparency. Transparency is essential when all members of an organization are involved in decision-making and expected to take a leadership role in their own development and in the development of their circle. All data in a sociocratic company, except for proprietary or security information, is open to both employees and customers/clients/members. Good decisions require full information.

It will be fascinating to see how this model plays out in the context of a school, and not a company or organisation. 

And by contrast... this Dutch video from Aeon magazine beautifully portrays how bad education can be, faced with the great dilemma of a conventional high school experience. Be yourself? Or conform to the group?