Ever since we launched Sociocracy 3.0 in 2015, we have shared resources we create under a Creative Commons License. In an early version of the guide we made what we later considered to be a mistake, by referring to Sociocracy 3.0 as an open source framework. Here’s how we described things back then:

Sociocracy 3.0 was first conceived by Bernhard Bockelbrink and James Priest in 2014, and launched as an open source framework in March 2015. Liliana David joined the team soon after, and together they regularly collaborate to develop both the framework and the website

They seek to make S3 available and applicable to as many organizations as possible and provide resources under a Creative Commons Free Culture License for people who want to learn, apply, and tell others about Sociocracy 3.0.

(from the Practical Guide, ca. 2017)

Some years ago now we decided to drop both the term open source and later, the term framework as we came to realise that neither clearly expressed what Sociocracy 3.0 was, or what we wanted to say. These terms often led to confusion, so, as we realized this, we changed our use of terminology in an attempt to more clearly express what we wished to say.

Why we dropped the term framework in favour of social technology is for another article, but for today we wanted to clarify the objections we discovered for referring to S3 as open source and why for some years now we simply refer to it as free (or cc-licensed) instead.

S3 is not Software

Open source refers to software, where the user typically gets a compiled software, which they can run, but they are unable to change. This puts them at a disadvantage if they make themselves dependent on that software. That is not the case with S3, there is no “source code”, just the text and illustrations in the Practical Guide

If you choose to use the patterns, concepts or principles from S3 and you find you need to change something, you just do it. Maybe copy the text from the website over to your logbook (e.g. to a Google Document) and edit it. So open source is a false analogy here.

The Software Metaphor

We especially want to avoid positing the idea that S3 is in any way like software. People and organizations are in no way like computers or machines that can be “programmed”, and therefore the metaphor of “software (or operating systems) for organizations” paves the way for all kinds of dangerous misconceptions and prevents people from gaining deeper insights into the nature of organizations as complex adaptive systems. That is one reason why we chose the term “social technology” to describe S3.

Free vs. Open Source

The term open source means that the source code of the software is available, and nothing more. But the fact that the source code is available does not necessarily grant you the right to change the software, to compile the changed software, or use the compiled software. So the term open source comes with a misconception of freedom. What people actually mean is Free and Open Source Software (FOSS). 

We deliberately chose to make the Practical Guide – the authoritative description of Sociocracy 3.0 – and other S3 materials on the S3 website available as free content under a CC license that even allows commercial use of adaptations. That’s why we refer to S3 as being free, or  CC-licensed instead of perpetuating the common misconception about open source software.

Openness vs. Open Source

To highlight the flexible nature of S3, and to distinguish S3 from methods and fixed prescriptions, we promote S3 as being “open”, we explicitly suggest people only take the parts they need. We also invite their creativity to remix, extend and adapt things to suit their context, and to combine S3 with other ideas and approaches as they  see fit.

We found that referring to that kind of openness, and at the same time referring to S3 as “open source” is confusing to people, so we prefer to go with only one meaning of “open”.

That is, in a nutshell, why we’re no longer referring to S3 as “open source”, but as as open and free social technology.

Photo by Claudio Schwarz