A Guide to Regenerative Governance
Collective decision-making creates more opportunities to listen and deepen our connections, restoring our human fabric and the ecosystems we inhabit.
The term “regeneration” evokes images of gardens and wind energy, while “governance” sounds like boring decision trees and dusty board meetings. So what is “regenerative governance” supposed to be?
When I think of governance, I think of my colleagues and friends. The things we want to do together. Our ways of doing things that reflect who we are and how we want to show up.
And that’s when governance becomes something deeply familiar and connecting — rather than cold or theoretical. It’s about us. You, me, the people we choose to work with.
But let’s start a the beginning. What exactly is governance?
Governance is for everyone!
Governance is the set of processes that steer our organizations, and that includes:
- Who decides what?
- How do we decide?
- Who has what information, and what do we do with that information?
Governance is like a language — the language we use when we do things as a collective. For example, if you and I go to the movies together, how will we decide what movie to see? Who decides? And how? We will make that decision somehow — and all of those ways are governance.
These examples show that governance matters to everyone — not just ‘other people’. And yet, many of us aren’t interested in thinking about governance because it’s “boring” or “work.” And what choices are there anyway? The choices in our mainstream societies are pretty limited:
- We can use systems that we are told are “fair,” like parliamentary procedure, or majority vote in general. But we all know that those systems often become a game of winning and losing. And there shouldn’t be losing in a team that works together. (Try a majority vote in your family, when 3:2 means two family members get outvoted and their opinions don’t make a difference. Ask them if they experience that as “fair”!)
- Those who reject those systems sometimes dismiss — in an effort to reject oppressive governance — orderly governance systems altogether. And they stick with unorganized systems, hoping that it’s a way out of coercion, meanwhile re-creating informal power structures and biases again while enduring creating lengthy and frustrating meetings. Things don’t get accomplished. People disengage.
The governance systems we typically operate in, both the coercive, top-down systems and too informal, ineffective systems, are unsustainable. They suck the energy out of us, waste our resources, and shut down those who disagree or whose experiences are different from the mainstream, leaving us in an information monoculture. That’s not a way to govern sustainably.
And given the level of division and fragmentation in our institutions, it’s not enough for governance to be non-extractive or non-oppressive. There’s too much healing to be done.
So, let’s aim for the sky! What would it mean to claim governance as something we choose for us? And what would it look like to not only be non-extractive but actually have regenerative governance?
Putting ‘regenerative’ into governance
In general, regenerative systems are self-restoring. Everything in the ecosystem gets used, transformed, re-used. The system transforms and adapts locally to its environment.
How does that translate to governance? Regenerative governance needs to close feedback loops to make sure relevant information flows freely, making sure decisions are healing relationships between people instead of disenfranchising or dividing them. It needs to increase trust and connection among people and revitalize creativity.
Examples of regenerative governance tools
Hearing everyone. How we decide matters. In consent decision-making (from sociocracy or Holacracy), a decision only moves forward if no team member objects. Better than voting, consent decision-making acts as a safety net; by integrating objections, we learn from and about each other and together make our proposal good enough for everyone on the team. That way, we can make sure our solutions work for everyone. We govern and reconnect at the same time.
Adaptivity. We need to review and evaluate our decisions and actions so we can evolve. And even the governance system itself — similar to the rule book of a board game we’re playing — needs to be evaluated. Is it working for us? If not, what could we change? In a living system, those governance rules have to be clear but flexible so people can adapt them to the circumstances. Out-of-the-box systems aren’t going to do that, and rigid cookie-cutter systems won’t either. Simple designs with fractal patterns give us the resilience and adaptivity we want.
Local decision-making. We need to push decisions as close as possible to locally-focused teams. In sociocracy, for example, decisions are made directly by those who work together in a team. Local decision-making empowers the teams and helps make sure that those affected by a decision can be heard.
More voices through feedback mechanisms. Involving those affected by decisions in the decision-making process is already a lot. To go beyond, organizations need to tap into feedback from those who aren’t present. This goes alongside maximum transparency and open budgets and salaries, and with proactive approaches to hearing those whose voices have been historically dismissed.
More listening and more collective power. Small, trusted groups are in themselves an avenue for healing. Rounds — the simple practice of talking one by one — is among the first tools to adopt for more restorative practices in our decision-making. If we know each other, work alongside each other, listen to each other, we can restore connection where fragmentation divided us.
We get many hours of instructions on writing essays in school, but we never learn how to make a group decision without creating winners and losers. I dream of a world where peer-oriented governance systems are taught alongside other cultural technologies — they are essential like reading and writing. A world where we empower people to shape the world around them so it works for them. Where more collective decision-making creates more opportunities to listen and to deepen our connection between people. Governance can be a way to restore our human fabric and the ecosystems in our midst.
Three things you can do right now:
- Help promote this article by sharing these posts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. Sign up here for email alerts when articles like this are shared on social media.
- Read the article “3 Tools from sociocracy to use right away” to improve your very next meeting.
- Learn about sociocracy as a governance option. Sociocracy For All offers free webinars and free ebooks for download.
Post Growth Fellow, Ted Rau, is an advocate, trainer and consultant for self-governance with sociocracy.
After his PhD in linguistics, he encountered a peer-oriented governance system in his intentional community and became curious about ways of organizing grassroots groups effectively yet equitably. He is co-founder of Sociocracy For All, a nonprofit with a mission to equip people with the skills and knowledge to self-govern and self-organize. Born in Germany, he lives in Western Massachusetts.
Ted is transgender and a parent of children between eight and 17 who say “our family is five queer kids and three dads”. Ted has published many articles and two books on self-governance, Many Voices One Song. Sharing power with sociocracy (2018) and Who Decides Who Decides? How to start a group so everyone can have a voice (2021).
Find out more about the Post Growth Institute on our website.