Patrick Santana
5 min readDec 18, 2014

A do-ocracy (also sometimes do-opoly, which is a more obvious pun on “duopoly”) is an organizational structure in which individuals choose roles and tasks for themselves and execute them. Responsibilities attach to people who do the work, rather than elected or selected officials.

The term is popular with libertarian management afficionados and BurningMan? participants. It also has a Zen nature that can be hard for some people to fathom. “Why is it Lion who posts so many big ideas on CommunityWiki?” “Because Lion posts so many big ideas on CommunityWiki.” Doing a task is in itself justification for you being the person who does that job.

A do-ocratic example: 30 people are going to Burning Man and camping together. Mary asks on their MailingList?, “What if we organize a food pool so we can all cook and eat together?” Others answer, “Sure, I’d be a part of that,” or “I can make cake on Friday night.” (Or, often, nobody answers!) Soon, Mary is calling campmates to borrow pots, pans and utensils, posting weekly menus to the mailing list, collating different people’s dietary restrictions, collecting money for food, and organizing trips to the store to buy supplies. At camp, she posts work signup sheets for cooking and cleanup, answers questions, and fills in when others can’t (or don’t) do their shifts.

A new campmate may grumble, “Jeez, why does Mary get to decide what everyone eats and when they work? Who put her in charge?” Older and wiser heads will say, “This is a do-ocracy. If you think you can do Mary’s job, and you want to, then get up there and do it. She’ll probably be relieved. If not, don’t be a jerk and make a big stink about it, or else she’ll stop working so hard and we won’t have anything to eat!”

A second example: in a medium-sized corporation, the IT group has become ossified and unresponsive to their users’ needs. Requests from other parts of the company for computer software or hardware are met with condescending attitudes, over-formal requirements meetings, chargeback, big budget overruns and long schedule delays.

Meanwhile, a pair of graphic designers in the marketing department teach themselves PHP over a weekend to get a customer survey website up for Monday morning (a job that IT spec’d out for 14 months of work). Soon, others in the marketing department are asking the designers for web applications to share product ideas with clients, track hours of contractors, and organize the company softball league. Word gets around in the company that “those guys who wear black in Marketing” will do quick-and-dirty Web apps for whatever you need. The designers’ boss hires another “designer” to handle the increasing number of work requests.

Things come to a head when one of IT’s star 36-month projects is cancelled because “the app those guys in Marketing did for us is good enough.” IT issues an edict on company email that “pirate” software “will not be supported” by IT helpdesk staff and is an improper use of company property (the network). In an executive meeting, the management decides to split off “the guys in marketing” as a new “Experimental Apps Taskforce”, relegating IT to network maintenance and desktop support.

Necessary conditions

Do-ocracy typically evolves spontaneously in groups where:

  • Stakes are low. Typically, if job X or task Y didn’t get done, or got done poorly, it’s not a life-or-death situation.
  • Authority is non-coercive.
  • Work is plentiful. There are lots of jobs to do, and lots of people to do them.
  • Effort is rewarded with recognition.
  • Culture of participation. Each member of the community feels a right and a duty to take on responsibilities.


  • Democracy. In a democracy, everyone has a say in what gets done. In a do-ocracy, everyone does jobs that they think need to be done, without everyone’s input.
  • Meritocracy. In a meritocracy, the most qualified people for a job are selected for that job. In a do-ocracy, whoever does the job gets it, no matter how well they’re qualified.


  • Burnout. People can get too attached to the do-ocratic system and volunteer for too many jobs, or too much work, and tend to have a low TruckFactor?.
  • Despotism. A person who’s doocrat’d themselves into control of a very necessary system (network, food pool, etc.) can get heady with power and demand rewards or tribute for their work.
  • Frustration. Some people don’t have the time or means to do something, but they do have (real or imagined) expertise. In a doocracy, they will feel overrun and perceive the situation as slipping out of their hands. This can cause frustration. And remember: “Fear is the path to the dark side…”
  • FairProcess?. Doocracy is not always explicitly defined, so there are diverging perception dangers about “fairness”.
  • Resentment. If only a minority of participants in the community do-ocratize themselves into the hard jobs, they can resent others who don’t take on responsibility.
  • The Martyrdom Complex. Some people have a psychological need to work strenuously most of the time, perhaps because they are seeking persecution and suffering, motivated by a desire for penance. In do-ocracy, people with these psychological needs tend to take more responsibility and sometimes make strict rules to impose on others.
  • Complacency. If a minority of people take on jobs, the others can become complacent and ignore new tasks, since “someone else will do it.”
  • Social Exclusion. People who can’t do things, or choose not do things, are often marginalized in decision-making, which compounds social divides.
  • The TyrannyOfStructurelessness?.


  • Open Source Software. Typically, Open Source development groups care less about qualifications, age, and location than how much and what quality of work people submit.
  • IETF. Internet standards are written by… the people who submit standards. Per David Clark, one of the most famous quotes about the Internet: “We reject kings, presidents and voting. We believe in rough consensus and running code”.
  • The BitchunSociety? from CoryDoctorow?’s DownAndOutInTheMagicKingdom. Probably an extreme form of do-ocracy.
  • Wiki.

See Also

volunteer volunteerism democracy governance freesoftware project

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