The purpose of open question circles is to help us realize our own deepest needs and values regarding a group, organization, community or activity that's important to us and to discover needs and values that are shared by others and held in common. These realizations can open doors to richer relationships, insights and possibilities.
Participants gather in circles of 4 - 7 people, each with a 'Designated Facilitator' who has a card with three things written on it:
- 'What would make _______ [the name of the shared organization, enterprise or circumstance] more wonderful for you?'
- 'What would that do for you personally?' (this question will always be the same)
- 'Thank you.'
After a very brief initial discussion laying out the guidelines for the circle and encouraging participants to listen deeply to each other, each Designated Facilitator asks the person sitting next to him or her the first question. The other person takes a moment to let an answer emerge and then shares it briefly. This process is repeated for the second question. The Designated Facilitator thanks the answerer and hands them the card. The person who just answered the questions then asks the same questions of the next person, thanks them, hands them the card - and so it goes, around the circle.
There is no cross-talk, discussion or criticism during this go-round process and participants may 'pass' at any time. Each person is in complete control of their degree of self-exposure.
A round usually takes about 10 - 20 minutes. Do several of them. They go faster as people learn the process, as they become attuned to deeper layers of meaning in themselves, and as their self expressions become more comfortably congruent with that deeper meaning.
After two or three rounds people start to realize the circle is a safe and inviting space in which to express themselves and be heard. They begin to say things resonant with a depth of meaning seldom touched in ordinary conversation. They tend to relax and become even more engaged, expressing themselves more freely, deeply, and creatively, and a remarkable sense of excitement and connection can begin to build.
Three rounds are strongly recommended. The more rounds, the more shift, depth and magic seem to happen.
After the rounds, it is often useful to have an open discussion period. This allows normal conversation to take place within the newly emergent and expanded context of meaning fostered by the circles. This can stabilize any transformation that has occurred, and so it is sometimes referred to as 'weaving the social fabric.' These discussions can be short, or they can begin longer conversations.
For large groups, you may want to use two or more sets of rounds, mixing the membership of the circles between sets to multiply the connections within the group.