The Story Circle Model (In Depth) In the spirit of egalitarian space and collective consensus of the people which directs bottom up organizing, we use a process called the Story Circle. It is our belief that we include the genius of every person in the affected community no matter what age, gender, economic class, and level of education. The Story Circle allows us to collect ideas and discuss the needs of survivor communities so that every person has an opportunity to have their concerns, issues, ideas of rebuilding and organizing suggestions heard. Through this process we can uncover the issues of the community from the people most affected and then offer the space to come to an agreement on how to resolve those issues. We feel that the most effective way to insure equality within the circle is by allowing equal time to each person.
A Story is each person’s contribution to the topic on the floor. It is as broad and simple as that. It can be a response to a question that is posed or a reflection on an experience. The circle itself is democratic. Everyone in the circle is an equal. Everyone in the circle should be able to see the other. The process for the circle includes establishing the amount of people in the circle, time allocation for everyone to talk within the circle, and a designated facilitator. This process can be used for any meeting situation, including; work group sessions, de-briefing sessions; planning sessions, etc.
To insure an equitable and democratic circle, it is important to be conscious of time. Getting the group to help make an agenda at the beginning does this. There must be a consensus on how much time the session should take. Then, large groups are divided into small groups of 5-7, and definitely, no more than 8 people. Each person is allowed about 3-5 minutes to tell a story. After everyone has spoken once around the circle, each person is given another 3 minutes to sum-up during the second round. Summing up is really important. It provides people time to digest what they learned or thought about as a result of the stories that have heard. There also needs to be another period of time, roughly about equal to the summary, for people to have cross conversation about the issues that come up and to plan what they want to do about it. Then there is follow up activity where people are assigned different tasks to move the ideas from the circle into reality.
Generally, during the first two or three mass meetings, the story circle is really useful for flushing out problems and issues that the people are dealing with and want to address. In this context, the facilitator’s role is to chart out all of the problems and issues. After the issues have been flushed out, the facilitator groups those issues together based on which issues interrelate with each other. The facilitator presents the issue groupings to the larger body and determines whether there is agreement on the issue groups. Once agreement is reached, members of the collective are asked to choose one or two issue groups to work on. In this way, Story Circle is useful to forming the first working groups or committees of the body.
After committees are formed, Story Circle is used inside the committees to discover what solutions people believe will work to resolve the issues that they are working on. The committee facilitator then lays out the solutions that have been offered and an individual workgroup member takes responsibility for achieving each solution. The first task for each member is to find out as much information they can about the solution they have taken responsibility for working on.
At this point, the character of the mass meeting changes. Instead of Story Circle occurring to flesh out issues, they began to be used to understand and authorize solutions based on the work in the committees. Each committee brings a report back to the mass Story Circle which includes the solutions offered and as much information as they have available about the solutions. Story Circle is then used to determine if there is consensus to pursue the solutions that are offered. For all solutions for which consensus is achieved, the committee is authorized to follow through on them for the collective. For all solutions where consensus is not achieved, the committee goes back to the drawing board.
Within every Story Circle there is a facilitator who provides a clear and concise statement of the reason for calling the circle (i.e., debrief or a particular issue being discussed with the survival council). That facilitator helps get things started and monitors the progress of the story circle to make sure that everyone stays aware of what the predetermined rules of the circle are. There is also a monitor that supports and watches for possible problems. The monitor is not there to discipline the people in the story. However, the monitor is there to make sure that whatever rules the group came up with about the facilitation of the circle is respected.
Listening is the most important part of the story circle. In fact, it is more important to listen to other peoples stories than it is to wait to tell your own. Listening is the best way to learn about issues from another perspective or learn new ideas and thoughts about the community and how it is functioning (or not). Waiting to talk is not the same as listening. Just as you want to be heard when it is your turn to talk, you must listen to others. You don’t even have to like the person’s story, but you do have to be respectful of their right to tell it.
The Story Circle process is not a spectators sport. You may find it uncomfortable at first, but like all of this work, be open to the process. In time you may find that it is a process you should be using in every group setting.
People’s Organizing Committee