Study circles are voluntary self-organizing adult education groups of 5 - 20 people who meet three to six times to explore a subject which is often a critical social issue.
Each meeting commonly lasts from two to three hours and is directed by a moderator whose role is to foster a lively but focused dialogue. Between meetings, participants read materials they were given at the end of the last meeting. These materials are used as springboards for dialogue, not as authoritative conclusion. The materials are usually compiled by the sponsor or organizer of the particular study circle, but groups who want to form a study circle on a particular topic can create their own materials or obtain ready-to-use packages from other organizations.
By encouraging people to formulate their own ideas about issues and to share them with others, the study circle process helps people deal with their lack of information and overcome feelings of inadequacy in the face of complex problems. Study circles, being small, democratic and non-expert, can be adapted to virtually any use - voluntary organizations, activists, businesses, and government.
Discussion groups and governments can all sponsor (and have sponsored) study circles to educate and activate people on social issues.
By participating in dialogues: Citizens gain 'ownership' of the issues, discover a connection between personal experiences and public policies and gain a deeper understanding of their own and others' perspectives and concerns. They discover common ground and a greater desire and ability to work collaboratively to solve local problems - as individuals, businesses or organizations.
Community-wide study circle programs foster new connections among community members that lead to a better and deeper understanding of the issues as well as new levels of community action.