Like most cohousing communities, Pioneer Valley started out using a consensus model of governance. In 2013, in hopes of streamlining our decision making process, we chose to try out a new form, called Dynamic Governance, also called Sociocracy.

  Our community’s organizational structure is centered on four main working groups known as “Circles.” These are: the Buildings & Grounds Circle, Common House Circle, Community Life Circle, and PALS (Plants, Animals, & Land Stewards) Circle. Each Circle has a defined membership, purpose and set of responsibilities and has related sub-circles that attend to more specific tasks.

Each Circle selects its own operational leader, facilitator, secretary, and representative. The leaders and representatives of these four main Circles comprise the membership of the overall management Circle known as Coordinating Circle.  In addition to the four Work Circles and the Coordinating Circle, there is the Full Circle, which is comprised of all members of the community. The Full Circle meets from time to time to make certain major decisions, such as approving the annual budget. The whole community is also invited to attend “Community Conversations” for the purpose of generating input that will help a Work Circle make a decision. Community Conversations are focused on exploration, dialogue and understanding and are not decision making meetings.

Membership in a Circle is open to any community member willing to make an ongoing commitment to attend meetings and contribute to the work of the Circle; membership is a mutual decision between the individual and the Circle. All Circle meetings are open and participation by non-Circle members is determined by the needs of the Circle. To explore joining a Circle, one can talk to any member of that Circle and attend one of its meetings.

Decisions within each Circle are made on the basis of consent, meaning no Circle member has an objection to the proposal in question. Objections are based on concerns that approving the proposal would in some way interfere with the Circle’s ability to accomplish its purpose. Consent decision making is a variation of consensus: no member’s voice can be ignored.

The community’s Circle structure and consent decision making process are adaptations of a form of governance known as Dynamic Governance or Sociocracy (for more information on Sociocracy, please look at this article written by a member of the community,, or ask any member of the community to direct you to those who have been trained in that approach.