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Study Circles

Study Circles are voluntary groups of 8-15 people who meet three to six times to explore a subject or issue. A Study Circle process often involves numerous individual Study Circle groups meeting during the same time period to discuss issues of common concern.

Each Study Circle group 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 usually compiled by the sponsor or organizer of the particular study circle and used as springboards for dialogue.

By encouraging people to formulate their own ideas about issues and to share them with others, Study Circles help overcome people's lack of information and feelings of inadequacy in the face of complex problems. At the end of a Study Circle process, participants from all the individual Study Circles may come together in a large meeting to work on the action items from different circles.


  • Engages many people on an issue without having them meet at the same place and time.
  • Fosters new connections among community members that lead to new levels of community action.
  • Can create new connections between the community and government.
  • Allows the community to gain ownership of the issues and gain a deeper understanding of their own and others’ perspectives and concerns.
  • Uncovers areas of agreement and common concern among a diverse group of people.

Challenges to Consider

  • Can be difficult to recruit participation from hard to reach parts of the community.
  • Requires an organizing committee which takes time and effort, leadership, and a working knowledge of community dynamics.

Principles for Successful Planning

  • Develop a Study Circle plan that includes the goal of the Study Circle process, project scope, how to achieve diversity in the circles, and how you will use the information and ideas that come from the circles in the larger project.
  • Recruit participants using a variety of methods suitable for the populations you are trying to reach.
  • Set ground rules for respectful dialogue in the Study Circles from the start.
  • Summarize the results and identify themes across the circles, which can then be used to form the basis of recommendations.


  • Need a person or entity to organize and orchestrate the overall process.
  • Facilitators (paid or volunteer) are needed for each Study Circle.
  • Interpreters, if necessary


  • Discussion materials
  • Gathering space for each Study Circle group
  • Flipcharts, tape, and markers

Planning Time

  • Time is needed to form a representative organizing committee.
  • Additional time is needed to recruit participation, identify discussion topics, and develop discussion materials

Implementation Time

  • Individual Study Circle sessions last 2-3 hours.
  • Study Circle processes can take place over several months, depending on the number of participants and geographic scope of the process.