When to Use Consent and Consensus Decision-Making

In sociocracy, consent and consensus decision-making are only used for policy decisions. Policy decisions are those that govern actions and allocation of resources (budget, people, etc.). But this leaves questions for many people about when to use consent and consensus decision-making. It helps to look at policy decisions v, operations decisions.

Operations decisions are the day-to-day moment-to-moment activities that implement policies. Operations decisions are normally made autocratically by the leader or by an individual who has been delegated a task. "Autocratic" doesn't mean a dictatorship, however. Leadership style is determined by those being lead as well as the leader.

Policy: What, Who, Where, When, and Why

Policies govern the 5 W's of journalism — What, Who, Where, When, and Why.

Operations decisions govern the sixth W, the How.

When to Use Consent and Consensus Decision-making?

It’s not a fine line but using the 5 W's plus How helps determine when to use consent and consensus to make decision. Consensus makes the best policy decisions. Autocratic or strong leader decisions, however, enable quick decisions and effective actions. Sports Teams, for example, function autocratically on the field for a reason—everyone has to make split second decisions. In this context, stopping to get consent would produce a no-win result.

Everyone Participates in Policy Decisions

A major difference in sociocractic decision-making is that both kinds of decisions involve the same people. Policy decisions are made with the consent of everyone in a working group, participating as equals. The operations leader and the other members of the group consent to the policies that govern how the operations leader will lead, This means the leadership style is chosen by consent and governed by policies decisions. Members of the group have consented to follow the leader's lead.

Not all operations leaders function equally autocratically in leading tasks. One group might have agreed that the leader will decide outright. They like clear instructions. One group might discuss how to double-dig the garden, for example, but it isn’t necessary and can be counter-productive. If the aim is to get the double-digging done, debates on the ethical issues involving the death experiences of worms will not accomplish the group's purpose.

Operations follow policy. If the policy could be better, it is fixed later. If there isn’t a policy, the leader will determine the best solution and a policy will be addressed in the next policy meeting. The leader can consult, and would be stupid if they didn’t, but the point is to execute policy decisions.

The 5 W's plus How

If there is a proposal to increase privacy by the playground, the policy questions needing to be addresses might be:

What is meant by privacy?
Who is responsible for executing the policy?
Where does the policy apply?
When will it be executed?
Why is the policy necessary and what does it intend to do? What is its purpose?
The How with all its details are then handed over to the operations leader who will determine how the policy will be implemented or accomplished in daily actions within the budget.

Since our 5 W’s plus one are being applied outside journalism, there would also be a budget for people and labor and a specific plan for evaluation of results. And the Why would probably be considered first.

Governance v. Execution

Policy decisions don’t change from day-to-day. Governance is normally very stable. Operations decisions can change as necessary, even daily.

Policies should be reviewed annually but needn't be changed unless there is a reason to do so. If there are changes in the group's function or there is new information, policies can be revised at any time in policy meetings using the consent and consensus decision-making process .

Another characteristic of a policy is that it governs the future. Unless the policy states otherwise, it is in force until it is changed or withdrawn. Operations decisions are immediate or near term.

By separating these two, policy meetings and operations will go much more smoothly. Discuss operations aside from policies.