Role of the Sophocrat

Governing with wisdom

The company logo describes the idea. Principal-agent relationships (represented by P and A) are ubiquitous in society, particularly in business and government: the Principal is a decision-maker, an Agent implements the Principal's decisions. In large and/or complex organisations or institutions (governments)  these principal-agent relationships form a complex web. At a system-wide level they can be extremely difficult to comprehend, and to manage effectively.

The role of the Sophocrat (S) is to make the principal-agent relationship work effectively. This is a function similar to that of a thermostat or the 'governor' on a steam engine, in a simple mechanical system. In a social, political and business contexts, it's more complicated.

  • Bounded rationality: 

The Principal has many decisions to make, but limited cognitive "bandwidth" for absorbing and processing information throughout the decision-making process. 
The Sophocrat assists a Principal by: clarifying the scope and intent of a decision; identifying or designing an appropriate decision-making process; engaging with stakeholders; collecting and analysing date; summarising and prioritising information inputs; evaluating options and making recommendations.
For these purposes the Sophocrat is commonly known as a Policy Analyst or Policy Advisor.

  • Information asymmetry:

The Agent holds a great deal of information about their activities, and has the power to provide or withhold information that the Principal may need to make decisions.
The Sophocrat assists a Principal by creating a useful information feedback loop: identifying appropriate performance measures; collecting and verifying raw data; data analysis;  and finally reporting information to the Principal in a manner that is digestible and timely.
For these purposes the Sophocrat is may be known as a Researcher, Business Analyst, or Auditor.

  • Economics of Attention:

A complex system of Principal-Agent relationships is rich in information.  In the computer age, information is increasing in volume, availability, intensity and speed of delivery. 
For information to be useful to the Principal, and effective in supporting the Principal-Agent relationship, it is necessary for a third party to filter, edit, curate, interpret and present information.
For these purposes the Sophocrat requires exceptional communication skills: as a writer (author, journalist, and editor), a designer (for document layout, visual design, data visualisation), and presenter (public speaker, meeting facilitator, lecturer).

These three key ideas can be found in Herbert Simon's Administrative Behaviour.  The concept and practice of the Sophocrat is an extension of Herbert Simon's ideas, developed when I was working at the Crown Company Monitoring Advisory Unit (now COMU), while writing a Master of Public Policy thesis on broadcasting policy.