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This article originated on and was copied here to be forked, expanded upon, and evolve.


A do-ocracy (also sometimes do-opoly, which is a more obvious pun on “duopoly”) is an organizational structure in which individuals choose roles and tasks for themselves and execute them. Responsibilities attach to people who do the work, rather than elected or selected officials.

The term is popular with libertarian management aficionados and Burning Man participants. It also has a Zen nature that can be hard for some people to fathom. “Why is it Lion who posts so many big ideas on CommunityWiki?” “Because Lion posts so many big ideas on CommunityWiki.” Doing a task is in itself justification for you being the person who does that job.

A do-ocratic example

30 people are going to Burning Man and camping together. Mary asks on their MailingList, “What if we organize a food pool so we can all cook and eat together?” Others answer, “Sure, I’d be a part of that,” or “I can make cake on Friday night.” (Or, often, nobody answers!) Soon, Mary is calling camp-mates to borrow pots, pans and utensils, posting weekly menus to the mailing list, collating different people’s dietary restrictions, collecting money for food, and organizing trips to the store to buy supplies. At camp, she posts work signup sheets for cooking and cleanup, answers questions, and fills in when others can’t (or don’t) do their shifts.

A new camp-mate may grumble, “Jeez, why does Mary get to decide what everyone eats and when they work? Who put her in charge?” Older and wiser heads will say, “This is a do-ocracy. If you think you can do Mary’s job, and you want to, then get up there and do it. She’ll probably be relieved. If not, don’t be a jerk and make a big stink about it, or else she’ll stop working so hard and we won’t have anything to eat!”

A second example

In a medium-sized corporation, the IT group has become ossified and unresponsive to their users’ needs. Requests from other parts of the company for computer software or hardware are met with condescending attitudes, over-formal requirements meetings, charge-back, big budget overruns and long schedule delays.

Meanwhile, a pair of graphic designers in the marketing department teach themselves PHP over a weekend to get a customer survey website up for Monday morning (a job that IT spec’d out for 14 months of work). Soon, others in the marketing department are asking the designers for web applications to share product ideas with clients, track hours of contractors, and organize the company softball league. Word gets around in the company that “those guys who wear black in Marketing” will do quick-and-dirty Web apps for whatever you need. The designers’ boss hires another “designer” to handle the increasing number of work requests.

Things come to a head when one of IT’s star 36-month projects is cancelled because “the app those guys in Marketing did for us is good enough.” IT issues an edict on company email that “pirate” software “will not be supported” by IT helpdesk staff and is an improper use of company property (the network). In an executive meeting, the management decides to split off “the guys in marketing” as a new “Experimental Apps Taskforce”, relegating IT to network maintenance and desktop support.

More concepts

From an experienced Burner:

If unsatisfied with someone's project, you are just as free to do your own version as you are to criticize it, shut up, or help make their project better.

Just because you do something doesn't mean the community owes you anything for taking the initiative.

If it's important and/or the do-er is competently considerate, a do-er will consult, include, and invite the community to participate as much as practically possible (while being aware of too many cooks) - because it's better for the community - working on projects increases familiarity, capable folks will rise to the occasion, many folks may want to help but not everyone can take initiative, more hands make less work (freeing up the capable for other projects), and there's less room for complaints if folks had ample opportunities to improve things. Ultimately, balance is ideal, as in most things.

Necessary conditions

Do-ocracy typically evolves spontaneously in groups where:

  • Authority is non-coercive.
  • Culture of participation.
    Each member of the community feels a right and a duty to take on responsibilities.
  • Effort is rewarded with recognition.
  • Stakes are low.
    Typically, if job X or task Y didn’t get done, or got done poorly, it’s not a life-or-death situation.
  • Work is plentiful.
    There are lots of jobs to do, and lots of people to do them.


  • Democracy.
    In a democracy, everyone has a say in what gets done.
    In a do-ocracy, everyone does jobs that they think need to be done, without everyone’s input. [Of course they may be as inclusive as they and/or the community likes.]
  • Meritocracy.
    In a meritocracy, the most qualified people for a job are selected for that job.
    In a do-ocracy, whoever does the job gets it, no matter how well they’re qualified.


  • Burnout.
    People can get too attached to the do-ocratic system and volunteer for too many jobs, or too much work, and tend to have a low TruckFactor [If someone was hit by a truck could their work be continued?].
  • Complacency.
    If a minority of people take on jobs, the others can become complacent and ignore new tasks, since “someone else will do it.”
  • Despotism.
    A person who’s do-ocrat’d themselves into control of a very necessary system (network, food pool, etc.) can get heady with power and demand rewards or tribute for their work.
  • Fair Process.
    Do-ocracy is not always explicitly defined, so there are diverging perception dangers about “fairness”.
  • Frustration.
    Some people don’t have the time or means to do something, but they do have (real or imagined) expertise. In a do-ocracy, they will feel overrun and perceive the situation as slipping out of their hands. This can cause frustration. And remember: “Fear is the path to the dark side…
  • Incompleteness.
    Essential tasks for the organization that no-one is interested in doing, will be hard to bootstrap and accomplish.
  • Log Jam.
    [New addition.] Drastic diminishment or death of a community and/or the group momentum may result when controlling management (a single leader or core clique) are afflicted by burnout, sickness, tragedy, or other issues. Consciously or not - isolation will occur when leadership neglects to openly invite and include participation, and inform everyone of management developments and processes to ensure others may take over if necessary.
  • Possessiveness.
    [New addition.] A person who’s do-ocrat’d themselves into control of a very necessary system (event organizing team, group email list, web site administration, etc.) can get heady with power and gate-keep information, entrench core management cliques, claim they know what's best rather than consult and include the community, and ignore or cut out many who wish to help or have input in how things are run or communicated.
  • Resentment.
    If only a minority of participants in the community do-ocratize themselves into the hard jobs, they can resent others who don’t take on responsibility.
  • Social Exclusion.
    People who can’t do things, or choose not do things, are often marginalized in decision-making, which compounds social divides.
  • The Martyrdom Complex.
    Some people have a psychological need to work strenuously most of the time, perhaps because they are seeking persecution and suffering, motivated by a desire for penance. In do-ocracy, people with these psychological needs tend to take more responsibility and sometimes make strict rules to impose on others.
  • The Tyranny Of Structurelessness.


  • Open Source Software.
    Typically, Open Source development groups care less about qualifications, age, and location than how much and what quality of work people submit.
  • IETF.
    Internet standards are written by… the people who submit standards. Per David Clark, one of the most famous quotes about the Internet: “We reject kings, presidents and voting. We believe in rough consensus and running code”.
  • The BitchunSociety
    from Cory Doctorow?’s DownAndOutInTheMagicKingdom.
    Probably an extreme form of do-ocracy.
  • Wiki.
  • Hackerspaces.
    Many Hackerspaces around the world employ some form of do-ocracy, Hackerspace Gent wrote The Hackerspace Blueprint, a document describing how to run a hackerspace using do-ocracy and how to mitigate some of the issues of it.

See also


EvanProdromou: I’ve heard this term pretty often in Burning Man circles, and it occurred to me tonight that it’s actually an applicable model to wiki, open source software, and many medium-sized communities. I thought I’d doocratize myself into a role as expert on DoOcracy and get this page started.

MarkDilley: this is excellent! At a union I worked at a few years ago we called Department Organizers, the volunteer position that has less responsibilities than a ShopSteward?, DOers. A union is only as strong as folks doing things.

BrandonCsSanders: Wow! I love this page. I interpret the BitchunSociety? as a combination of DoOcracy/Meritocracy. DoOcracy: Folks earn whuffie by doing a good job at whatever work they decide needs doing. Meritocracy: When there is contention for a desirable job, those with lower whuffie (less meritorious) are expected to make way for those with higher whuffie (more meritorious). In DownAndOutInTheMagicKingdom, Doctorow call this combination an “ad-hocracy”.

AlexSchroeder: I love it. 😊

discussion continued but was clipped for brevity (read the complete original article)