At PBP, we practice using shared-decision making power through consent and sociocracy. When objections arise, I look to the phrase "good enough for now, safe enough to try" as a north star.

Ingrid Haftel
Director of Community Education

At PBP, one of the ways we try to live our values is by practicing participatory democracy and shared decision-making internally. One way we do this is by practicing sociocracy–it’s a system of governance that combines consent decision-making with a circle-based structure. (A circle is a team of people working together toward a shared aim–and who have autonomy to make decisions related to that aim.)

One area of sociocracy where we’ve been deepening our practice recently is consent decision-making. For example, our entire team meets as an Organizational Circle* to make decisions that impact the organization as a whole, and we recently worked together to set five major goals to guide our work for the remainder of 2023. Each of those goals went through its own consent process, where every team member has the opportunity to: ask clarifying questions about the proposed goal, give quick reactions to the proposal, and object or consent to it. Feedback is usually offered in rounds, where every team member is asked to speak or pass.

Phew! Right? Because it is a lot of work. Moving each of our five organizational goals through a formal consent process has taken longer than it would have if our Co- Executive Directors just decided to adopt them without any input. And it’s taking longer than a survey or other feedback process without the accompanying decision-making power might have taken, too. However, while it can take more effort, it also feels more rewarding. In a consent process, each of us is able to feel seen, heard, and empowered to weigh in on the issues that impact our work and organization. We really built these goals together!

This slower pace is a speed we know from our work helping communities across North America implement participatory democracy practices–some of our community partners call this the “speed of trust”; others remind us that it takes the time it takes. But we also know that slowing down doesn’t have to mean stopping (although stopping is okay, too). In fact, in sociocracy, objections by participants are not discouraged—they're welcomed as valuable information that can be used to make a proposal stronger.

A step-by-step consent process helps us make a decision together in an orderly way.
Deciding by consent meaning no endless discussions and no coercion. A group simply approves a proposal when it's good enough.

Working through objections is an area where I’ve personally both struggled and grown. It was during a recent consent round to approve our annual budget that I offered my first formal objection. I felt a little queasy making it—I knew that the proposer had already spent a lot of time on it, and needed to move it forward to keep all of the other plates she was responsible for spinning.

I think it’s helpful to dig into this reluctance lots of us share when it comes to making objections. I know it often comes from a beautiful place: care and kindness for our colleagues and comrades, and a desire to make things easy and gentle for each other. But I also see how my reluctance to object has been shaped by aspects of white supremacy culture: yielding to a sense of urgency, expecting tension to end in defensiveness, and my own, deep-seated fear of conflict. There’s also a flip side to objecting: thoughtless objections–or worse, objecting for objecting’s sake–are harmful, and fail to honor the hard work and consideration people invest in their proposals.

That’s why sociocracy calls us to calibrate our objections to this measure: “Good enough for now, safe enough to try.” To me, this feels like a simple yet radical north star for building a practice of participatory democracy and shared decision-making, together. It’s a measure I’m learning to use in different ways each and every day, and I feel honored to get to practice it with my colleagues here at PBP!

We lean heavily on resources from Sociocracy for All to guide our learning and practice. Check them out for lots more info and trainings!

* Note: In addition to our Organizational Circle, separate circles define the specific aims of different work areas–like the Communications Circle, the Campaigns & Advocacy Circle, and the Operations Circle.