The Interview Summary
Could you please tell me a bit more about yourself and your role in Outlandish?
- I'm what's called a Collaborator at Outlandish, which is a freelancer working on specific projects. Specifically, I'm a member of the Building Out team to help other organisations build openness, understanding and trust. The initiative started in the summer of 2020.
And how did you first find out about Catalyst?
- In 2021, we were involved in the Definition programme, where we took a cohort of charities through the next iteration of their development of digital tools, and skills. We then completed a follow up cohort, continuing the support.
- I can't remember exactly how we found out about it, but I think it was probably through Abi, who had been working with Catalyst before.
What motivated you to take on the role of coordinating the circles?
- Partly a challenge. Both Abi and I knew enough to know that what was being attempted was quite interesting. There's quite a lot of complexity that we felt we could help with. Our approach is very much in trying to simplify that complexity.
- Being advocates of sociocracy, we're both keen to see that it was being used correctly and well. I was keen to go back to first principles and help the circles function better, and by better, I mean, happier human beings enjoying being together, and decluttering some of the governance challenges that had come up.
What was your first impression of Catalyst and did that change over time? What's your impression now?
- First impression was a bit of overwhelm. On the one hand, there was a certain level of organisation and good intentions, and on the other quite a lot of information to take on board and assimilate in order to be able to facilitate conversations.
- The desire for circles was to create collective governance, co-budgeting, and a community of practice. I think that intention was clear, but there needed to be more detailed clarity around how that actually happens.
Could you tell me more about how these sociocratic principles actually operate within circles? Are there are any differences in the way that they function between the circles and how they interact with each other?
- The key and first principle of sociocracy is that decisions are made by consent, which is different from consensus, consensus being that everyone agrees, whereas consent takes a more pragmatic view, i.e., the absence of disagreement. This principle has generally been widely used and in all of the circles.
- The other principles that are happening are things like talking in rounds. We use check ins and checkouts, building a human component to meeting spaces, and also evaluating how the meeting was.
- What we're not doing so far is the principle of double linking. We're proposing to bring in a variation of that, to help with collective decision making.
What would you say have been the main successes in relation to the circles?
- Groups are starting to lead and determine their own needs, and to have clarity over the purpose and function of these circles for the individuals involved.
- There's also been a real desire in the network and circles to bring in their differences, to surface them, and to challenge each other, and that has been uncomfortable at times.
- A challenge has been knowledge transfer and continuity when people left or joined. Some of the rules of that game have not been clear enough, and that has brought in difficulties for people and some conflicts.
Are these challenges typical to applying sociocratic principles, or are they unique? If you have come across these, how have you handled them in the past?
- The system as a whole isn't clear to people, specifically around co-budgeting and collective governance. The rules of the game were set up by Catalyst as an experiment, I don't think it's clear to people that it is an experiment right now.
- There's also a lack of time and capacity for people to dedicate to team building and forming within the circles. Allied to that, there's an overload or an overwhelm of information.
- A repeated comment from initiative leads is they're not sure what the role of the Catalyst Producer is in the circles, and this might have an impact on the power dynamics.
- I think what is very common and normal is a lack of clarity or shared agreement on the aims of a group and the roles that people inhabit, and how you're going to achieve it and also agreed ways of working.
If you could start all over again, is there anything you would do differently?
- One is having a proper kick-off meeting with the Catalyst Producers. We didn't because we needed to hit the ground running and we didn't allow ourselves even an hour to talk about our roles.
- The other thing is, I hadn't really appreciated that some people weren't asked for their consent for us to come in and facilitate their meetings, the circles. Going back, I would have preferred to take a proposal to the initiative lead circle beforehand.
What is next for the circles? How do you see them evolving over the next 6-12 months?
- One is, in the circles, developing a set of Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) for each circle. The idea of that is to give each circle a really clear sense of identity and mission.
- With the initiative leads circle we were going to do a playback on what we've learned so far and then make a proposal for further changes.
- The main proposal will be the double link approach where we have two representatives from each circle, forming the initiative lead circle with a Catalyst Producer, and then Abi and myself as coaching facilitators.
- We will also work on building the community of practice, building some habits and repeated customs for sharing information and learning from each other more than we've done so far.
- Beyond that, it's hard to say because part of our approach is to enable the circles to start to take ownership of what they want to do. So, it depends on what each circle agrees in their OKRs.