Fred's circle training report
Workshop for Neighborhoods -- announcement for 2/16/99 training
On Feb 16-19, 1999 (8:30am to 4:30pm) I attended a "circle process" **
training with 24 other people. Leaders of the training included Kay
Pranis from the MN Dept of Corrections, Barry Stuart, a judge from the
Yukon who has pioneered the current use of the circle and Jessica Hughes
from the University of MN, Office of Equal Opportunity. Jessica also
has roots in my neighborhood tho I just had the privilege of meeting her
at the training.
People in attendance included folks involved in justice, schools,
neighborhoods - a very impressive group that came to feel quite close
after this substantial time together in a situation that permitted more
reflection than people's daily schedules sometime allow. I felt that
folks commitment to attend the whole training (which was largely
observed) lent a feel somewhat like a "retreat" where the logistics of a
remote location impose a certain commitment of uninterrupted time.
I learned of it from an announcement posted on the Twin Cities
Neighborhood mailing list (Nbhd-tc) in which my friend and Nbhd-tc
founding member Kris Nelson gave Kay high praise. In addition to Kris's
commendation, a few other factors led me to attend. It was held about 3
blocks from my house. Rob Sandelin of the Cohousing-L mailing list has
talked about his use of the circle process. Also I was attracted by the
stated goal of promoting the use of the circle in new contexts as well
as the time commitment expectations (see "retreat" analogy above).
The circle process does not seem to lend itself to objective
description. At the training, handouts were distributed at the end and
much of the learning was done thru experiencing a circle process
including some role playing in circles. Despite this I will attempt
a brief description of how I currently picture a circle. This is NOT
an authoratative statement but my impressions.
Participants sit comfortable chairs facing in. There are two "keepers"
participating who are help guide the circle in a low key way. The
keeper(s) present an opening presentation or ceremony which may include
an inspiring reading or performance of some sort that sets the tone
conducive to reflection and cooperation. The actual process is
deceptively simple in that people take turns speaking - typically going
clockwise around the circle. Each person says as little or as much as
they like - several minutes is typical. The person speaking holds a
"talking piece" - typically something with symbolic significance such as
an eagle feather. The person with the feather is the only person that
the group expects to speak.
The open ended speaking format can take considerable time but there is
the assumption that the time is warranted and appropriate. The process
helps avoid legalistic problem solving which follows the letter of the
law regardless of the intent of the law. Instead circles rely more on
the collective wisdom of the community. There is the sense that the
collective non-denominational spirituality of the group is invoked to
promote the harmony and wisdom of the process.
Much contemporary use of the circle process has been in restorative
justice efforts particularly including sentencing circles. Other
contexts where it has been used include child abuse and neglect cases,
staff and team building, workplace conflicts and discrimination
complaints, dicussion of police brutality, victim - offender
conferences, school discipline, in cohousing - community building and
** "circle process" is only one of a number of terms that are used.
Often an application related variant is used such as "sentencing
circle", healing circle" or peace circle". This complicates searching
for information on the Internet where a fluid mix of several common
words complicates searching. The first success I had searching
was when I searched for "Barry near Yukon near circle" on Altavista
where "near" is a meta-word that requires the other words to appear in
This page is maintained by Fred H. Olson fholson at cohousing.org
Circles-MN home page
Last update to this page 6/4/99