By Dan O’Reilly-Rowe, 2009.

Finding new and interesting ways to configure a group discussion is a perpetual challenge for facilitators. The concentric circles method for facilitating a discussion allows participants to have a number of short, but focused, 1-on-1 conversations with other members of the group.

Goals

  • Enable short, focused discussion between pairs of participants.

Participants

Unlimited.

Equipment/Resources

None required.

Duration

Unlimited.

Activity

  1. Arrange participants standing in two circles, one inside the other. The inner circle faces out, the outer circle faces in, so that each participant has a partner that they’re facing.
  2. If the group has an odd number of participants, facilitator should also have a partner. If group has an even number of participants, facilitator should move around the group to keep folks on task.
  3. Facilitator puts a question to the group related to the topic at hand. The inner circle speaks on the question for a defined period of time (3 minutes works well), while the outer circle simply listens and does not talk. The roles then switch, and the outer circle then responds while the inner circle listens, silently and attentively. Facilitators should keep a close eye on the clock on both turns.
  4. The outer circle then rotate to their left one position, so that each person now is facing a new partner.
  5. The facilitator asks a new, related question, and the process of speaking and listening is repeated.
  6. Repeat as many times as you have questions.
  7. Once questions are exhausted, return entire group to sitting in a single circle.
  8. Discuss what interested the participants, or emerged as trends from their 1-on-1s in the concentric circles.

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