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Hub DC Citizen Circles Summer Reflections

September 27, 2011 0 Comment

Thank you so much to all who participated in Hub DC Citizen Circles this summer!  We held a reflection on that experience recently and wanted to share what we learned about the process.

Why are we learning in Citizen Circles?

  • To develop personal relationships with others who share our values
  • Apply ideas we’ve had in our head into practice
  • Learn more efficiently by learning from each other’s experiences and splitting up reading with a group
  • To fill a void felt after college
  • To learn in a way that’s fun!
  • To learn something wildly different from what we are used to

Whatever your reasons, it was clear that we all learned not just about resilience or building community wealth, but also about the  process of learning.  Here are some of those lessons that got shared with the larger group.*

Going forward, we’ll be sure to…

  • Remember to incorporate some fun! Even if the topic is serious, it’s easier to get excited about coming to an evening that includes dinner, a fun activity, or even a bottle of wine!  One group made it a ritual to start each week with a 10-minute activity led by one member of the group.
  • Create informal times and spaces (perhaps before scheduled metings) for people to come early, have some coffee and do some planning, reading, or work to prepare. Greg in Systems Dynamics offered this at his house a few hours before their meeting each Saturday, and found it helped everyone be able to do what they needed to come prepared.
  • Surface expectations and goals by no later than the first meeting. We shouldn’t be afraid to break into smaller groups with more focused interests.  Some Citizen Circles this summer tried to hang on too long to bigger groups with too diverse interests. They could have split up earlier, but either did not know this was an option or felt like it was a disappointment to go from 9 people to 4.  In fact, some of the most successful Citizen Circles had only 4 people.
  • Think about chemistry. Are you experienced in the topic and looking to deepen your knowledge, do you just have some interest in the topic and want a good survey of the field, or are you experiencing a transition and want to learn something to help you navigate it?  Getting that information out in the open with your group in your first meeting is really helpful in building a team that helps everyone reach their goals.
  • Schedule the rest of the meetings at the first meeting. It takes a few minutes, but it frees the group up to focus on content and discussion for the rest of your time together.
  • Whoever initiated interest in the topic should plan the first meeting. The first meeting is really important.  You’ll want to plan a good “hook” for the first meeting (a TED talk, a great discussion question, food, etc.) so people have an idea of what it can become. Chemistry and alignment of goals is important, so no hard feelings if anyone doesn’t want to continue after the first meeting.  There was one suggestion to actually sign contracts with each other after that to get all of your goals on paper.
  • Draw on existing resources. For curriculum planning, it helps to find a good existing package of curriculum to discuss and pull ideas from.  Even if you don’t end up using it, it’s a great exercise to get some tangible ideas for activities and topics on the table.
  • Unless you don’t work, stick to one at a time. It seems that people that participated in only one Citizen Circle got the most out of it.  While some did pull off doing two (one person did three!), we’re not recommending it if you want to get the most out of the experience.
  • Use the platform that’s right for your group. Google docs worked well for many Citizen Circles, but there are other options for organizing your group’s conversations and content online, such as P2PU.  For those that used email, keeping one long thread going helped keep everything organized.

* While we hope these tips will be useful to you wherever you are, keep in mind that these reflect our experience in DC.  Your experience- and the methods that work for you- may be very different.

Based on your feedback, going forward we will…

  • Focus on the first meeting. We are going to put a lot more emphasis on helping groups pull together great first meetings, where we’ll work to surface expectations and to come to a consensus on a burning question or purpose that unites the group.  We’re going to invite people who were involved in past Citizen Circles to those first meetings to pass on nuggets of wisdom and help answer questions and avoid common traps.
  • Make it clearer that Citizen Circles require co-leadership. We’re changing our language to make sure people know that Citizen Circles require co-leadership and that there are many ways that can be exercised (e.g. suggesting an outline for the course, volunteering to lead a session, setting up an organizing tool for the group, etc.).  Groups where each person lead a session (identified readings or other resources which others could access before the meeting) were very successful.
  • Have a check-in after 6 weeks. We’re going to treat the 6-week mark as an opportunity to check in and re-evaluate next steps for a Citizen Circle.  Many groups that started this summer wanted to continue, but enjoyed the opportunity to regroup.  It’s great to have the expectation from the beginning that 6 weeks is a check-in and not necessarily an end.

We left the reflection with more energy than ever.  Filled to the brim with so many interesting people and problems that need attention, DC needs this form of learning more than ever.  We look forward to seeing the great things that Citizen Circles will do this Fall!

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