Samoan Circles

Description:

The Samoan circle is a leaderless meeting intended to help negotiations in controversial issues. While there is no ‘leader’, a professional facilitator can welcome participants and explain the seating arrangements, rules, timelines and the process. As with the Fishbowl process, the Samoan circle has people seated in a circle within a circle, however only those in the inner circle are allowed to speak. The inner circle should represent all the different viewpoints present, and all others must remain silent. The process offers others a chance to speak only if they join the ‘inner circle’.

Objectives:

Samoan circles are similar to Fishbowls.

The aim to stimulate active participation by all parties interested in or affected by an issue, and allows insights into different perspectives on an issue.

Outcomes:

All present at a Samoan circle hear the range of opinions and ideas expressed, and are therefore better informed on the issue, and the aspects of the issue that are under debate. Those who do not speak, nonetheless have the chance to hear whether someone else expresses their views, and the chance to speak out if someone in the ‘inner circle’ steps out and allows them to take their place.

Uses/strengths:

  • Works best with controversial issues.
  • Can avoid severe polarisation.
  • Allows a large number of people to be involved in discussing a controversial issue.

Special considerations/weaknesses:

  • Dialogues can stall or become monopolised.
  • Observers may become frustrated with their passive role.

Resources required:

  • Suitable venue to take central table with concentric circles
  • Roving microphones
  • Staff
  • Facilitators
  • Recorders

Can be used for:

  • Engage community
  • Develop community capacity
  • Build alliances, consensus

Number of people required to help organise:

  • Medium (2-12 people)

Audience size:

  • Large (> 30)
  • Medium (10-30)

Time required:

  • Medium (6 weeks - 6 months)

Skill level/support required:

  • High (Specialist skills)

Cost:

  • Low (< AUD$1,000)

Participation level:

  • Low (Information only)

Innovation level:

  • Low (Traditional)

Method:

  1. Set room up with centre table surrounded by concentric circles of chairs.
  2. Arrange roving microphones.
  3. Select one or two representatives for each of the views present to constitute the core of the Samoan circle.
  4. Seat these people in a semi-circle surrounded by two-four open chairs.
  5. Clarify that once the discussion begins, the facilitator may withdraw and watch as a silent observer or facilitate the discussion.
  6. Before the discussion begins, arrange for the facilitator to announce the rules and ask for agreement from all:
    • People in the larger group can listen, but there is no talking, booing, hissing or clapping.
    • Anyone from the larger group who wishes to join the conversation may do so by coming forward at any time and taking one of the ‘open chairs’ on either end of the semi-circle.
  7. Indicate that the discussion may begin with a brief statement from each representative and then proceeds as a conversation. Representatives discuss issues with each other as the larger group listens.
  8. Record viewpoints expressed and commonalities identified, and agreements or outcomes reached.

References:

  • Kraybill, R (2001) ‘Facilitation skills for interpersonal transformation’, Berghof handbook for conflict resolution, Berghof Center. Available online: http://www.berghof-handbook.net/general_intro.htm
  • http://www.iap2.org