Today we launch Circle Forward Partners! 


No more Social Profit Strategies!  We loved that name, but our goal with Circle Forward Partners is to make our offerings better seen and understood by the people who need them.

The mission of Circle Forward Partners is to accelerate and expand the use of collaborative governance and the principle of Consent, by providing guidance, facilitation, coaching, training, and design spaces for leaders and social innovators working in complex systems.

Reflections on the Journey Here

Last month, I spent some time reflecting on the story of how we got here.  I delivered my first training in sociocracy, aka “dynamic governance,” in August 2012, to about 50 people in Asheville.  I delivered it with one of sociocracy’s most influential teachers, John Buck, and through it, met Michelle Smith.  

I was there because I had discovered my own heart’s calling, the place where “my deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”   My pathways into collaborative governance came in a Joanna Macy inspired workshop called  The Work That Reconnects:

Photo from Wikipedia: Cueva de las Manos, Argentina

“The central purpose of the Work that Reconnects is to help people uncover and experience their innate connections with each other and with the systemic, self-healing powers of the web of life, so that they may be enlivened and motivated to play their part in creating a sustainable civilization.”

That brand promise held true for me!  It was in that workshop I recognized my own pathways to transformational cultural change — to teach and support the emergence of alternative forms of governance.  I highly recommend the Work That Reconnects.  The seeds I discovered have grown into relationships and experiences that have changed my life.

Governance Change is Fundamental Change

With each passing year and each devastating news event, my passion and faith in my work grows.  I believe we are on track for a transformative shift in how we govern, i.e. in how we make decisions and implement them.  I commit daily to evolving the way organizations and multi-stakeholder networks operate in complex systems.

Governance includes dialogue, and much more.

In a tweet in Sept 2016, Bree Newsome wrote, “Politicians: Stop saying we need dialogue. We don’t need dialogue. We need the state to stop murdering people.”  Sarah Van Gelder picked up and unpacked this quote in a Yes! magazine article, asking “Who has the power to do that?”

That question is one of the essential questions of governance.  At its most basic, governance gives form to power.   A governance system is responsible for how an organization or initiative both envisions and achieves its desired results.  

In reality, we do need dialogue more than ever, as our modern governance systems increasingly need to incorporate diverse points-of-view and complex contexts into decision-making.  AND, we need to consider more than dialogue, including the conditions of the dialogue — who is able to participate and whether participants have power and capacity to implement decisions.  We need to consider the basis for how decisions are made, and whether the structures for implementation are themselves equitable, resourced, and accountable.  This is the realm of governance.

Lessons Learned and Moving Forward

In some ways, it seems no time has passed since I started on this path of teaching and guiding people in fundamental governance change.   In other ways, so much of our thinking and delivery has changed.  It has been an amazing learning trajectory.

Circle Forward includes sociocracy (aka dynamic governance) — and so much more!

A major evolution in our own practice has been to stop teaching sociocracy workshops. Instead of pulling people out of their governance contexts to work on hypothetical situations in a workshop environment, we trust in the self-organizing principle itself, as it reveals itself in particular work contexts.   We’ve stopped fitting organizations into preconceived governance structures; and, like other kinds of strategy in a complex system, we’ve learned to midwife the emergence of particular governance systems through iterative learning processes that always involve a degree of experimentation.  We’ve dropped our identity as “experts,” and instead, trust in members of organizations to be the architects of their own, evolving, living governance systems.   

Like a midwife, or an interpretive guide, we’ve made the journey often enough to help our clients make sense of their experiences and their options, AND we are always learning new things from them.

While we still draw from the brilliance and elegance of sociocracy (for example, our Collaborative Decision-making Package is used by other sociocracy consultants), we have also discovered a vast expanse of experimentation in self-organizing governance, and a whole field of academia built around the concept of collaborative governance:  cross-sector organizational arrangements to address public policy problems that cannot be easily addressed by a single organization or the public sector alone (from the University Network for Collaborative Governance).   

Life-affirming governance

These discoveries have been humbling and exciting, leading us to change business models, brands, and curriculum several times over the past five years, in response to a very complex environment.  We are learning alongside our clients how to get present and sense our next moves, stay nimble, and use the best research, along with feedback from our clients, to continue to improve our delivery of services.

It is in this spirit, we now think of Circle Forward as a nexus of approaches to collaborative governance, and we bring our hard won experience and the latest research into your team.  We think of Circle Forward as a container for life-affirming governance, a disciplined approach to prosperity for all.   It includes practices and principles, but it doesn’t look the same from one context to the next.  It is a living system, that seeks and affirms wholeness, recognizes we are governing in complex systems, and seeks to generate upward spirals or virtuous cycles, and encourage more of what is already working.   

And, it is in this spirit of learning and growing that we launch Circle Forward Partners!  Let us know what you think!

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