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Study Circles


Study Circles are voluntary, self-organizing adult education groups of 5-20 people who meet three to six times to explore a subject, often a critical social issue. Each meeting commonly lasts 2-3 hours and is directed by a moderator whose role is to aid a lively but focused dialogue. Between meetings participants read materials they were given at the end of the last meeting. These materials are used as springboards for dialogue, not as authoritative conclusions. The materials are usually compiled by the sponsor or organizer of the particular study circle; but groups who want to form a study circle on a particular topic can create their own materials or get ready-to-use packs from organizations like Everyday Democracy.

By encouraging people to formulate their own ideas about issues and to share them with others, the study circle process helps overcome people's lack of information and feelings of inadequacy in the face of complex problems. Community study circle programs with many circles on, for example, race relations often conclude with a large open-space-like gathering in which community members connect up with each other around common interest and planned activities for later.

Study circles, being small, democratic and non-expert, can be adapted to virtually any use. Civic organizations, activists, businesses, unions, churches, discussion groups and governments can all sponsor (and have sponsored) study circles to educate and activate people about social issues. Millions of citizens use study circles.



Books and chapters:

Leonard P. Oliver, Study Circles: Coming Together for Personal Growth and Social Change (Seven Locks Press, 1987)

McCoy, Martha and Patrick Scully "Study Circles: Local Deliberation as the Cornerstone of Deliberative Democracy" in The Deliberative Democracy Handbook, edited by Gastil & Levine)

McCoy, Martha. "Study Circles" in The Change Handbook: The Definitive Resource on Today’s Best Methods for Engaging Whole Systems (2nd edition, 2007) edited by Holman, Devane and Cady

Leighninger, Matthew. The Next Form of Democracy: How Expert Rule is Giving Way to Shared Governance…and Why Politics Will Never Be the Same.


Everyday Democracy (formerly The Study Circles Resource Center). Provide training materials, study circle packets, and guidance. They are a national organization that helps local communities develop their own ability to organize large-scale and diverse participation in dialogue structured to support and strengthen measurable community change. They work with neighborhoods, cities and towns, regions, and states, paying particular attention to the racial and ethnic dimensions of the problems they address. Study Circles are at the heart of their process for public dialogue and community change. This process begins with community organizing, and is followed by facilitated, small-group dialogue that leads to a range of outcomes. Study circles don't advocate a particular solution. Instead, they welcome many points of view around a shared concern.    



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