Revised Governance Document

Hello @reeflings,

At the next plenary meeting there will be an item on the revised Governance Document (internal link to the proposal).

Here’s a post with some background that should help you to get to the essence with a bit less of a headache :sweat_smile:

TL;DR: at the plenary meeting, we will seek consent (i.e. is this “good enough for now, safe enough to try”?) on the revised document, focussing mostly on the most important changes (which are explained below).

0. Useful links

This is just the list of links, for your easy refernce. The explanation is in the text below.

1. What is the Governance Document?

The Governance Document is a bit like a constitution: it’s a document that sets out which processes we will follow in certain situations. Like for example how decisions are made, or what we will do when there is a conflict.

Having a Governance Document is recommended, because it creates structure and predictability. There are not a lot of cohousings that have one, but examples include Heartwood Cohousing (Colorado, US) and Earthsong Cohousing (New Zealand).

2. The challenges of our Governance Document

The challenges of our Governance Document (link) are (at least) twofold:

  1. It takes an incredible amount of time to produce it, and even then it will always be terribly imperfect.

  2. There is a risk that paying a lot of attention to process has a paralysing effect, because people don’t want to break “the rules”

The way we deal with this could be as follows:

  1. We keep the document relatively generic, embrace imperfection, make a list of things that can be improved when there is time, and trust that we will manage based on core principles, common sense and mutual trust. Further details on specific issues (e.g. voting on feasibility studies) can also be specified in separate manuals or documents.

  2. Remind ourselves to quickly touch base with somebody else when in doubt, and then get things done (“participation trumps perfection”).

3. Why did the Governance Document need a revision?

The current Governance Document dates back to The Reef when we were only four people, and when we had virtually no notion of sociocracy. The current document is therefore terribly outdated and not in sync with how we do things in practice. Especially the section on decision-making was in urgent need of a review, because it is important to get clarity and predictability around this.

4. What is the most important change?

The most important change is a change to the “importance levels” that determine the decision-making process. The TL;DR is that we will only decide by consensus on membership and long-term financial issues (level 5 “sensitive”) and all the other decisions will be taken by consent.

Going into further detail: in the current document, we have four levels. The third level are less important decisions that are taken to the plenary, and decided by consent, and the fourth level are all important (irriversible) and financial decisions, which are decided by consensus.

The latter was set this way before we had a thorough notion of sociocracy and before we had a lot of experience with decision-making in the plenary. Now that we do, the concern is that in such a system, we would likely to be much slower, because we would need to reach consensus (everybody agrees) on all important decisions (e.g. the choice of the notary, the annual budget etc). Replacing this with deciding by consent should provide an equal level of security, given that it is possible to bring in objections if one sees a risk to the interest of the group.

As a result, the current level 4 “profound impact on The Reef” is now split into a level 4 “profound impact” and a level 5 “sensitive”. In the revised document, only the level 5 decisions (membership and long-term financial issues) will be decided by consensus (i.e. everybody agrees). The new level 4 decisions on the other will be taken by consent.

5. What are the other main changes?
  • We added two new sections at the beginning, mostly to make a couple of things that were implicit more explicit:

    • Section 2 “Formal vs informal governance” => brief explanation
    • Section 3 “Making self-management work” => brief explanation of some key terms, like doer decides, participation means power etc
  • Section 4 “Membership” => this was completely outdated, and has been replaced with the text from the proposals that were consented to. More operational details are included in the onboarding documents (which are easier to update).

  • Section 6 “Teams” => this was completely outdated, and has now been revised in line with our current way of working

6. How will we proceed?

Adopting a document like this at a plenary meeting is a challenging undertaking, because nothing but answering all questions for clarification may take up more time than we have. This means that we may have to tweak our process a little to make things work.

What I propose is that we first do a round of clarifying questions, which will only be open to people who have read the entire document. If we need to prioritise, we will focus on those questions that are needed for people to be able to consent to the proposal. The others we can collect in a separate document (internal link) and/or pick up at one of the upcoming sociocracy trainings and/or collect in the thread below.

After that we can collect comments and concerns, and there again I would propose to focus on essential issues only. Working on this document is very time-consuming, and no matter how much effort you put in, it will always be imperfect, incomplete and inconsistent to a certain extent. The way we solved this in Team Governance is by starting a document with future improvements (internal link). So comments will be very welcome, but if they are not critical, we may need to file them in our “future improvements” document and address them when the occasion arises.

After that the Full Members can move on to a consent round, being mindful of the “good enough for now, safe enough to try” principle.


Hi there!
A very small thing that I will add to our “look at it later” point: looking at what happens when you don’t agree with a decision that was taken at a plenary you couldn’t attend.
In section 5.1.4 : “If you don’t agree with a decision that has been taken, flag this within 48 hours after the minutes are finished.”
And in section 5.2.3 : " If a Reefling missed the plenary meeting where the decision was taken, they can request to discuss the issue again at the next plenary meeting (and only then)."
→ We maybe just need to add "flag this within 48h and then request to discuss… " in 5.2.3? Just to make the process clearer in one single place

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Thanks for noting that!