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Dynamic Governance promotes inclusive decision-making that reflects co-op values.


The Northwest Cooperative Development Center (NWCDC) teaches Dynamic Governance as a tool cooperatives can use to enhance members' voice and to strengthen co-op values of democracy and solidarity. This model provides openness in deliberations and accountability for decisions. Dynamic Governance, also known as sociocracy, provides a renewed cooperative advantage that engages owners and stakeholders.

NWCDC learned about dynamic governance from its clients. Two rural Oregon cooperatives--Blue Scorcher Bakery in Astoria and Our Table, near Portland--sought a governance model that included everyone's voice. While working with them, NWCDC staff gained an appreciation for this decision-making model.

The Center invited Jerry Koch-Gonzalez, of Sociocracy for All (SoFA), to lead a workshop at the 2016 Co-op Roots Conference in Spokane, Wash. A NWCDC staff member participated in SoFA's Sociocracy Leadership Training and participates actively in SoFA's Coop Sector Circle to bring the benefits of Dynamic Governance to more co-ops.

How does Dynamic Governance benefit co-ops?

This governance method operates on the basis of participation, accountability and consent. Participation through Dynamic Governance means the inclusion of all relevant stakeholders: front-line staff, management, members, consumers, suppliers, etc.

Accountability occurs through feedback loops, with decisions reviewed for efficacy at every level. Consent is reached through the agreement of members who help to make the decisions that affect their work for the cooperative.

Participation occurs in work units, known as circles, which help co-ops remove artificial separations between management, staff, directors, engaged members and other stakeholders. The process taps into the synergies available by creating space to hear all voices. Dynamic Governance aligns governance and operations with the mission of the co-op.

Each circle--from those with the broadest scope, such as the board of directors, to the narrowest, such as a set of front-line staff--creates and implements the policies affecting the work in its domain that relates to the co-op's overall mission statement.

In this way, key stakeholders of the organization have accountability for the success of the co-op's mission. Circles identify problems and develop solutions together through open discussion that happens in a "round-robin" format, which ensures that all voices are heard. If a problem affects more than one department (or circle), it might be deferred to a higher level in the hierarchy.

Dynamic Governance engages accountability through a double-linked hierarchy, from the top-down and bottom-up. A top management circle consists of managers from each department and staff representative from each department.

The general manager (appointed by the board) hears from both the frontline staff and management regarding the department's ability to meet established goals. Decisions also have built-in accountability through a planned feedback loop. Circle members decide if a proposal is "good enough for now."

Review determines if goal accomplished Generally, decisions include a date for review to determine if it accomplished what the circle expected. This review creates an ability to adjust decisions as the market changes or new information arises. It also provides reassurance to those who have doubts about the decision and provides opportunity for the decision to succeed --or to identify a needed change.

Participants consent to the decisions that involve creating accountability of all circle members to the implementation of their decision. Making decisions through each participant's consent, instead of traditional parliamentary procedure, may seem scary. But in practice, it allows the group to work through disagreements.

While many co-ops use majority rule, anyone who has experienced a contested, 5-4 board decision knows how frustrating that can be. Circle participants develop true buy-in to the organization's decision, as they were part of the discussion and can understand why the group took a specific course of action.

Growing numbers of cooperatives have begun to implement Dynamic Governance, with the help of local workshops and training. Consent, accountability and participation match up well with the co-op values of openness and honesty.

Dynamic Governance connects different stakeholder groups (member-owners, staff, producers, consumers) to the mission of the organization and to each other. By providing all of these individuals a voice in the organization, Dynamic Governance also builds loyalty. This creates a stronger cooperative advantage and builds resiliency within the marketplace.

John McNamara

Editor's note: McNamara is a cooperative development specialist with the Northwest Cooperative Development Center in Olympia, Wash.

Caption: The Northwest Cooperative Development Center (NWCDC) learned about dynamic governance from two of its Oregon cooperative clients--Blue Scorcher Bakery in Astoria (seen here) and Our Table restaurant, near Portland. This model of co-op governance helps ensure that everyone's voice is heard. Photo courtesy Blue Scorcher co-op
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Title Annotation:A Voice for All
Author:McNamara, John
Publication:Rural Cooperatives
Date:Sep 1, 2017
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