This week’s technique is the Samoan Circle.
What is a Samoan Circle?
Essentially it is a leaderless meeting that allows all participants to take part or at least witness the discussion that takes place. It needs a good facilitator to make it work well.
What happens during a Samoan Circle?
During a Samoan Circle there is an inner circle of people (say 8-10) participants. There is also an outer circle. The outer circle can be much bigger and should be.
The inner circle then take part in a semi-structured discussion about an important issue (often this can be quite controversial or involve conflicting views). For example, future changes to emergency services. Often set questions are used to guide the discussion and keep it on topic.
The outer circle listens in. If someone from the outside wants to take part they can replace someone in the inner circle by tapping on their shoulder. This does vary though and sometimes people in the outer circle have to wait their turn, for someone to leave the inner circle first. Sometimes every time a topic is exhausted a chair is removed from the inner circle – until there are no more chairs.
People in the outer circle do not participate in the discussion until they are in the inner circle
A facilitator makes sure the discussions stay on track. But the whole process is supposed to be fluid.
Eventually the conversation comes to an end, after everyone who wants to participate has done so. Sometimes there is a time limit to each question.
What are the benefits of a Samoan Circle?
It is very transparent so participants do not feel manipulated by the process
Everybody gets chance to take part, even if they only do so by listening
Works well with controversial issues and encourages people to hear different views
Encourages lots of people to take part
You can add to it. E.g. what people say could be captured by graphic recording
And the negatives?
You need participants to play by the rules (and this takes skill and resources)
The inner circle can be hogged
Shy people may be less likely to come into the inner circle
It does not accommodate detailed co-design or prioritisation
When to use?
For controversial issues and/or conflict resolution
To avoid discussions becoming polarised
To hear from more than just the most vocal and encourage a range of voices to be heard
Find out more
From this useful presentation