Holacracy Community of Practice Archive, 2015-2019 Community Holacracy Web Site

Gap In Constitution : Definition of Policies and their Rules

Help, please.  I know that a previous version of the constitution held some basic definition of POLICY but I have just read through the current version over and over and do not find.  There is much about defining a Domain Policy by the Role who holds authority, but I find nothing about what a Policy can and can't do, require, deny on broader terms.

Somewhere in a previous version I obtained the information below, summarized in bullets and possibly simplified language by me:


Grants or Constrains Authority to Impact Domains

  • May allow outsiders to impact the circle’s Domains
  • May limit how a circle’s roles can impact circle Domains


Policies can not require action

  • They can merely limit or allow actions
  • To expect action, create an Accountability


Roles with a Domain may also define Policies

  • Done by the role, outside of circle meetings


Am I missing somehow, in my fine-toothed combining, clear description of POLICY in the current document?

Your rapid response(s) heartily appreciated!!


6 Replies
Dennis Ross


Para 1.4 contains this definition of Policy:

"You may also define “Policies” for your Domains, which are either grants of authority that allow others to control or cause a material impact within a Domain, or limits on how others may do so when otherwise authorized.  Before a Policy is valid, you must first publish it in a forum convenient to all Partners who may be impacted."


Additionally, the following is from the glossary on the Holacracy App:

Policy - A Policy allows or limits others from impacting a Domain.  For example, if a "Social Media" Role owns the Domain of "corporate Twitter account" then a Policy might be enacted to allow "Events Promotion" Role to make posts to Twitter (e.g. "Events Promotion has permission to post events-related content to the corporate Twitter account")

I hope this helps.

- Dennis

Karilen Mays

I have noted that it felt like policy definition was too indirect in prior constitution versions and maybe this one too Keith. I think part of it is because policy as a construct is less clear than accountability, though Dennis has helped you I see with the reference. Keep the questions coming!

Frederik Fleischmann

Hi Keith,

I have had exactly the same problem two days ago and was about to ask the same question here. What a coincidence!

I consider this to be a gap in the constitution that should be filled. The whole policy topic seems to be very complicated and the Constitution doesn't help in making this clearer. I can't find the place in the Constitution where it states the a policy may not require action. I suppose it is implicit.

There is some discussion about Policies here: ...5#459827542080279505

And this Wiki helps (but it refers to Version 4.0 of the Constitution): http://wiki.holacracy.org/index.php?title=Policy

The way I see it, there are two ways to move forward:

  1. Introducing a clear definition of Policies into the Constitution
  2. Introducing that a Policy is any rule that the Organization wants to introduce (therefore aligning Holacracy Policies with how policies are usually seen in conventional companies and allowing Policies to require actions)

I think the second suggestion implies several drawbacks and would need lengthy discussions to correctly be implemented in Holacracy but in the end might help to align Holacracy practice with Holacracy theory and make Holacracy more approachable.

Keith Jarvis


I found the source of my material - it is from the Holacracy Practitioner Certification Training manual, and my text is verbatim.

This is clearly a gap in the present constitution and absolutely MUST get into the update - #1 as mentioned by Frederik: Introducing a clear definition of Policies into the Constitution.

Thank you



in my opinion, there is no gap in the Constitution. In Art. 2.1.1 it says:

"Further, each Circle may control its own functions and activities, as if a Domain of the Circle, for the purpose of defining Policies that limit the Circle’s Roles."

Therefore a policy can limit all functions and activities of the Roles within the Circle. This in combination with:

"You may also define “Policies” for your Domains, which are either grants of authority that allow others to control or cause a material impact within a Domain, or limits on how others may do so when otherwise authorized."

gives a pretty good definition of what a policy is.


The weakness of the term "policy" in holacracy is, that it's used for different contexts:

  1. Policies regulating Domains. Granting & restricting access (Art. 1.4)
  2. Policies regulating Circle "functions and activities, as if a Domain” (Art. 2.1.1)

In this context, the consitution mentions explicitly these things that I consider examples:

  • Regulating how to deal with Multi-Filled Roles (Art. 2.3.2)
  • Creating a Cross Link Policy (Art. 2.7)
  • Regulating the outside of Governance Process (Art. 3.2.1)
  • Amending the Governance Process (Art. 3.3)
  • Amending the Tactical Process (Art. 4.2)


(For the sake of completeness: Article 5.4 uses the term "policy" to describe any kind of regulation that was in place before holacracy was adopted. But this area of interest is out of scope here. I don't think that this is the main source of confusion regarding policies.)


These 2 things are totally different in kind and they should be clearly separated in the constitution.

Because context no. 1 is aiming at regulating the modus operandi, how do roles interact with each other in order to fulfill their respective purposes and get things done.

The 2nd context, on the other hand, opens up a very broad set of situations that can be affected. The examples provided in the constitution clearly aim at changing the constitutional processes (i.e. Governance & Tactical), so I guess it was the main intention to enable holacracy driven organizations to build on these structures and create their own.

But the exact phrasing provided in Art. 2.1.1 opens the floodgates for all kinds of interpretation and application.

I think we really need to find different wordings for these different contexts.

And I already have an idea.


Originally I studied political sciences and there is a very clear distinction between different dimensions of the political sphere:

  • Polity is referring to structure and institutions. Usually it's focus lies upon the constitutionally defined structures and institutions of a country, such as government, parliament, political parties, supreme court or even the legal system. Looking at polity, you ask questions like: What institution owns which responsibilities? How are these institutions related?
  • Policy is referring to the content of political debates. What is it that politicians want to achieve? Which social problems do they want to solve? Think of the term "policy-making". It's about the specific content of regulations that are implemented to define how we live together.
  • Politics is looking at the inside of political processes that ultimately lead to decision-making, such as elections, procedures of voting or impeachment. Most of the time focssing on the processes inside a polity or between polities as they are handing over issues from one to the other.


So for instance: A political party (polity) wants to set an upper limit on emissions from cars (policy). In order to do so, it introduces a bill (politics) into parliament (polity). Only if that bill gets the majority of votes (politics) from the representatives (polity) it will pass.


(It's bad luck, that the term "policy" now appears with two different meanings. That's why I will distinguish them by using the terms "holacracy-policy" and "political-policy")


But this example is only focussing on using the system, i.e. creating political-policies, not changing the system.

Very different processes take place if you want to change polity. For example if you want to change the rules of procedure of your parliament, a very different process takes place. And even another process takes place, if you want to found a new political party. And yet another process takes place when you want to change the government. That last one we usually call election.


In terms of Holacracy I propose to think about creating different environments of regulation:

  1. A holacracy-policy regulating a domain is similar to political-policy because it's about regulating the way the roles interact with each other. But still I think we should choose a different word because the term is a bit misleading. I'd propose something like law, rule, bill, act, when referring to regulation of interaction between roles.
    I think this wording would help to distinguish it from the second environment pretty well.
  2. If a member of the organization desires to change the constitutionally defined structures, such as the governance process, the tactical process or creating Cross Links, it should be called something like "creating an amendment".

I think for this kind of polity-changing output it's important to differentiate, what is in the original constitution by Holacracy One and what originated from the particular organization. Referring to "amendments" as opposed to the "constitution" would do the job perfectly fine.


Changing Roles & Circles is nothing that has to do with holacracy-policies in the first place, but I feel that we should consider these processes as well, when we talk about differentiation of the framework. But right now, I don't have a good idea on that one…
In Holacracy, the term for changing Roles is simply "Governance Process", but you all know that this refers to many other things as well. In the political sphere, when changing a polity you generally need to change the constitution. But as described before I'd rather use that phrase differently and not - again - put different things in one basket.


Next thought: Is a Role even comparable to a polity? Meaning: Is it like a political institution? Or is it rather a player within the system? For instance, consider the relation of a corporation towards the political system. It's certainly not a polity, because it is not a political institution. But it is a significant player inside the system of law and thousands of laws are addressing to regulate the behavior of corporations.

I feel like a Role in Holacracy is a mix of both: institution, as well as player.


Maybe someone of you guys has a good idea here?


I am really curious about what you think about this idea

Do you think the framework of polity, policy, politics can serve as a proper blueprint for Holacracy?

Do you think it's overcomplicating things?

Please give me all the criticism you've got!


Last, but not least: Appreciation to Fred, who is preparing me to become a Facilitator. We have a lot of vital discussions, one of which led me to this idea. - Awesome guy! You should meet him at least once in your lifetime!