By John Buck, Certified Sociocracy Expert

The sociocracy talks about circles in two different ways. One is a circle meeting where everyone sits together. The other kind of circle involves feedback looks, the concept of a circular process. 

At a very active community mediation center that offered free and low cost mediation services to anyone in the community, their sociocracy-based general circle pinpointed a problem: their case intake process was not functioning efficiently. 

Sometimes a citizen’s request for mediation would get delayed or misrouted or key information about the case would be missing from the case file. Furthermore, case requests would arrive through in-person visits, by phone, by email, and occasionally by regular mail. The center could receive requests 12 hours a day, six days a week, which meant that many different staff members were involved in the process. 

The general circle formed a special task group to investigate and develop process improvements.

I spent a lot of hours with the task group to coach them. First we laid out all the steps in the process. 

  • Exactly how did requests arrive (the input)? 
  • What steps were needed to document and sort the requests? 
  • What steps did the case handlers follow to schedule a mediation between the parties, arrange a room somewhere in the community to hold the mediation, and assign a mediator (the output)? 

We determined that the process had 10 steps. For each step, we created a “circle process” consisting of a precise policy (set of instructions) for the step AND a way to assess (measure) how well the step was being handled and who would do the measuring. 

For the most part, the persons assigned to do the measuring were the operative staff plus the next person down the line who received work from the previous step. For example, the person doing step six would also be the “measurer” for step five. 

Once the new circular processes were installed, the office saw immediate improvements. 

  • Staff that handed the tasks in shifts had exact instructions posted clearly by each desk so that there was consistency. 
  • Staff responsible for doing their own measuring soon refined the instructions even further. 
  • The Mediation Center director noticed a certain feeling of pride in the processes, especially because the staff now were clear how they could improve the office processes themselves. 

The mediation program now had the capacity to handle its continued growth.