Talking Circles: Exploring Inner & Outer Power

Design with Dialogue has always met in a circle. From the very start, summer 2008, we held every dialogue by arranging a circle opening with a brief introduction and question, and in talking circle form, would hold at least one round of circle dialogue before exploring any new or experimental form of dialogue.

What if we ONLY met in a circle and hosted ourselves together in a virtual circle form? Could we do that online, where there IS no actual circle?

What shall we explore? The circle is an equalizing form. There is no hierarchy, and the order is expressed by the randomness of seating.

In July we explored questions of power, the types levels and experiences of power – the power to, power of, power over. How do we relate to each other in terms of power (will) and care (love)? How do our social practices reproduce or express power?

The main focus questions was: Where in your life is the manifestation of power revealed?

This focus explored the encounter of our experiences, tensions, and assumptions about power. This gets to our own, the power structures in society, and as expressed in relations. Each person in the dialogue shared a unique point of view, inspired by the practice of giving each time to think in silence, and respond to the questions:

Two styles of facilitation guided the session: Nominal Group Technique (NGT) and the Circle Way. NGT is a group process designed to minimize groupthink and maximize individual autonomy in generation of proposals. The Circle Way, an open interpretation of the timeless indigenous talking circle by Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea, complemented this by recognizing the leadership in each chair and the held intention at the center. The Circle Way served to create the container for our conversation and is informed by an ethic of self-governance. 

Most participants gathered together online by videoconference and in my case, the organizer (Natalija, Peter and Patricia) met together using 3 video connections. Patricia sketched the names of all attendees into a concrete and defined circle during the introductions. We used this as reference (holding a video over the sketch!) to show the progress through the circle, while on Zoom. (We soon learned you could position the single video of the person speaking in the center of her drawing, making each person the center of the circle.)

For those interested in learning from this session, read about the Circle Way (and NGT), and find Natalija’s slides online.