Here at Champlain Valley Cohousing, we organize our governance structure and make decisions using a fairly new-to-the-USA process called Sociocracy (also called Dynamic Governance). Our original founder brought Sociocracy to the initial deliberations. Its use is codified in our founding documents. Sociocracy is both a structure of governance and a set of tools for decision making designed to steer an organization toward is aims. Well executed, Sociocracy gathers together information from all persons impacted by a decision in order to make "good enough for now", time-limited decisions.

Responsibility for executing necessary tasks is delegated to Circles (socios) with specifically defined and consented-to aims. Through repeated cycles of "Leading-Doing-Measuring", Circle members gain real life data which informs the next sets of decisions. Circles are double linked to other circles so that information flows bottom up as well as top down. In Circles, decisions are crafted in a series of rounds where each person has opportunities for input. Objections from any Circle member are encouraged when that person has a concern or a suggestion for improving a proposal. Decisions are final after a round where Circle members give consent by saying "no objection".


Sociocracy avoids the problem of the tyranny of the majority which is the outcome of standard democratic decision making. The imposition of a simple majority over a substantial minority does not bode well for durable good will in a cooperative residential community. Nor does it provide sufficient discussion to consider the ideas of all members of the "socio" prior to a vote.

From consensus, Sociocracy retains the equivalency of input, but adds in critical delegation of most decisions to informed circles with clearly defined, consented-to aims. The circle may hear input from any interest party but final consent is left to the active circle members. Thus, Sociocracy retains significant hierarchical efficiency, unburdened by not having to reach full community consensus on every decision. Through this process of successive approximation, action, and review, circle members continuously gain additional information and are thus able to take increasingly refined actions.

- Larilee Suiter

Compassionate Communication

At CVC, we encourage personal and timely communication. If needed, another community member can be asked to be present to act as a neutral third party. We've been actively (through workshops) learning the ways of Compassionate Communication as espoused by Marshall B. Rosenberg in his book "Non-Violent Communication: A Language of Life". Pan Vera, a devotee of this practice, has led many of us in the process of learning and refining this technique.

"Most of us have been educated from birth to compete, judge, demand, and diagnose, to think and communicate in terms of what is "right" and "wrong" with people. We express our feelings in terms of what another person has "done to us", instead of taking responsibility for our feelings, independent of another person. We struggle to understand our own needs in the moment, or to effectively ask for what we want without using unhealthy demands, threats, or coercion. All of us struggle to some extent with not acting from our best selves.

"We are cultured to some extent to function in our society this way, and when we come to live in community together, we find that despite our very best intentions and highest ideals, our interactions are not always reflective of those intentions or ideals. For most of us in cohousing, this is simply unacceptable, and we find ourselves struggling to find a better way. Our governance systems and our decision making can be only as good as our group dynamics, and the latter can always be improved upon.

"The real secret is that the universal effectiveness of Compassionate Communication (aka NVC or Nonviolent Communication) lies in a practice that involves shifting the intention you bring to the interaction, not on a rigid technique. Pan Vera (workshop leader) is a master in leading people through the steps which help each individual feel how this works in reality and discovering how to express it in their own "voice". Compassionate communication begins with a recognition of and welcoming of our own blaming and judging, applying self empathy as a way of identifying true feelings which underlie the triggers we encounter when dealing with others. From there the next steps toward Compassionate Communication will unfold. This shift in emphasis has a profound impact.

"Even if only one party engages in NVC, they can create an environment of emotional safety, whether the interaction is taking place in the home, work or in cohousing! With this foundation of emotional safety which starts with empathy for one's self, tension and conflict can be defused, feelings and experiences can be expressed without blame, emotional pain and anger can find relief, and ultimately mutually satisfying outcomes can be achieved. And, our efforts to use sociocracy for governance and to create community policies and welcome newcomers in a cohesively intentional way can finally be effective and rewarding."

- Lucy Beck, et al.

Copyright 2014