Solution Circles

A Solution Circle is a quick way of solving a problem by making the best use of everyone’s time and abilities. It usually takes less than an hour and so are perfect for busy people! They encourage a group of people to:

  • work together to find the answer to a shared problem
  • find ways of overcoming obstacles or barriers to achieving a shared goal
  • concentrate on solutions.

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How to do it

Preparation

  • You will need to appoint: three people to run the session: a facilitator (to act as timekeeper and make sure everyone stays focused on the topic); a presenter (who has in-depth knowledge of the problem and the goal); and a recorder (to note the main points of the discussion).
  • Invite appropriate people with an interest in the issue. About 6-10 people is a suitable number. These participants must be prepared to come forward with helpful, constructive ideas, not just obstacles.

Developing Questions

  • It is vital that you express clearly what the shared problem is and what is wanted from the participants.

Facilitating the Session

  • To start the session, the facilitator welcomes people to the 'circle', introduces the presenter (and recorder) and explains how the group is expected to work. If appropriate, each participant can introduce him/herself, but the facilitator must ensure that these introductions are kept very short.
  • Then the presenter is given a specific amount of time (no more than 10 minutes, which must be made clear at the outset) to explain the problem, making use of examples, documents or whatever else will help people to understand the situation. The recorder summarises this information on a flip chart.
  • Next, the participants have a set period (similar to the time allowed to the presenter and similarly must not overrun) in which to put forward their creative ideas in a helpful, 'can do' way. There is no room here for making barriers – only suggestions for progress. The facilitator will need to make sure that everyone has a chance to speak, but must not let anyone dominate or try to interrupt the flow of good ideas. In this session, the presenter simply listens and the recorder continues to write down the main points.
  • Time is then given for dialogue between the presenter and the participants (set aside a specific period as for the two previous sessions); this is the time for people to ask questions, explore possibilities and seek clarification, but both questions and answers must be brief and to the point! Once again, the focus is on what can be done, not what can't be done.
  • And now is the time to decide which of the suggestions can be taken forward within the next few days or weeks. This is very important and, if at all possible, at least one action should be identified for the presenter to carry out within 24 or 48 hours. One of the participants should be chosen to contact the presenter to check progress the following week – and this should be fed back to all the participants.
  • Finally, a few minutes should be allowed for reflection and evaluation of the exercise. Everyone should be asked to sum up their feelings about the session in one phrase or sentence – or just one word.

Immediately after the Session

  • Notes should be written up and circulated to the participants.

 

Pros

  • This is a powerful tool for getting people 'unstuck' if a problem looks difficult to overcome.
  • The title – Solution Circle – gives the correct message to all participants; they must concentrate on solving an issue, not adding to it or ignoring it.
  • It doesn't take long to organise or hold an event.
  • People may even enjoy it!

Cons

  • You must make sure that your presenter is extremely well informed and capable of providing focused, informative answers to the participants.
  • The presenter must also 'sign up' to the process and be prepared to carry out the tasks agreed by the group.
  • Make sure your recorder is available to write up the notes very soon after the sessions – and make sure these are circulated to everyone who took part.

Resources

  • Staff time to recruit appropriate participants, to write up notes and circulate them
  • Venue and catering
  • Reimbursement of out-of-pocket expenses of lay participants

Top Tips

  • Since this technique is time limited, use of a timer (clock, stopwatch, appointed individual or whatever else is appropriate) is acceptable, both overall and for some of the specific elements.

Sources and further information

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