The study circle is a simple process for small-group deliberation. There are just a few defining characteristics:
Study circles can take place within organizations, such as schools, unions, or government agencies. Yet, they have their greatest reach and impact when organizations across a community work together to create large-scale programs. These community-wide programs engage large numbers of citizens in a community -- in some cases thousands -- in study circles on a public issue such as race relations, crime and violence, or education. Broad sponsoring coalitions result in strong, diverse community participation. People participate in the study circles because they see that it provides an opportunity to make an impact on an issue they care about.
Typically, a single organization such as a mayor's office, a school board, or a human relations commission spearheads and staffs the project. In most communities, the organizing begins when the initiating organization approaches other key organizations to build a sponsoring coalition. Most community-wide programs have 10-30 organizations as sponsors or endorsers. Grassroots organizations such as churches, neighborhood associations, businesses, schools, and clubs often take part.
By participating in study circles, citizens gain ownership of the issues, discover a connection between personal experiences and public policies, and gain a deeper understanding of their own and others' perspectives and concerns. They discover common ground and a greater desire and ability to work collaboratively to solve local problems -- as individuals, as members of small groups, and as members of large organizations in the community. Community-wide study circle programs foster new connections among community members that lead to new levels of community action. They also create new connections between citizens and government, both at an institutional level and at the level of parents and teachers, community members and social service providers, residents and police officers.
If you would like to know where community-wide study circles are happening, or where study circle coalitions are forming, please contact the Study Circles Resource Center.
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