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Guidelines for Transition book groups and study circles in general

The following guidelines are a great way to set the tone for any book group or study circle. We typically read them together at the first or second meeting of a group.

They were originally written for the Transition Handbook Discussion Course. They are from pages 3-4 of the course study guide (PDF of study guide text)

- Bart Anderson / Transition Palo Alto / Energy Bulletin

How It Works

This course is designed to be run collectively by the participants themselves. It does not have a single leader, and no one person is held up as the expert or authority. Each week a different person from the group should be designated as the facilitator, whose role is simply to keep the conversation on track.

This approach is similar to the Transition model itself. It reminds us that we must learn to look to each other as experts, and for each of us to become our own experts.

This course is designed to foster a personal experience of our global predicament and of a solutions based in community. The discussion questions are not written to solicit right or wrong answers, and the course is not about seeking immediate solutions.

As the Handbook suggests, much of the work of Transition involves the "Heart," or inner work. Most of us grew up with cultural stories that valued human "progress" above traditional measures of well-being, and even above ethics. Change will be difficult unless we can unlearn and rewrite those stories.

The questions in the course have been written to stimulate personal discussion and examination of these stories, and how we might collectively rewrite them to create a world that's better than the one we live in now.

Your group can decide for itself how to rotate the position of facilitator from week to week.

We recommend that the size of the group be 8-12 people. Fewer participants won't produce the same energy and synergy. With too many, not everyone will feel included.

We recommend that each session be 2 hours (no less), typically once a week over a six week period.

Meetings seem to work well if they start with a check-in. This gives everyone a chance to let us know how they are feeling and how the week went. It helps people become present and allows them to focus on the discussion. And people like getting to know each other.

Following the check-in, the Discussion Course includes a circle question. After the facilitator asks this question, the members of the group can each take a turn answering it.

This process helps make sure that everyone is included.

For the Facilitator

The following guidelines are suggested for the facilitator.

Make sure everyone is heard. Each person has a different level of comfort with speaking in groups. Try not to let the more outgoing people dominate the conversation. Suggest that many, concise responses from more people are more productive than fewer lengthy responses from fewer people.

You may need to prompt the quieter people by asking the question directly to them. One purpose of the circle question is to have everyone speak. Use this opportunity to "break the ice" for the more quiet people.

You may also need to ask someone who has been speaking too long to conclude their thoughts and let others speak.

Notice when the conversation becomes too "theoretical," and bring it back to the question at hand. This happens when the topic becomes something far beyond the control of the people in the group, such as what the government should do, or about some predicted crisis, or about some technology. People also get theoretical when the topic becomes uncomfortable or it feels unsafe. You may notice changes in body language; people start squirming in their seats or some other anxiety display. This course will deliver the best experience for everyone if the conversation stays focused on the personal connection to the material.

Depending on the size of your group, there may not be enough time to address all the questions in this Guide. It's better to skip some questions than to rush through them. Again, make sure everyone has time to respond to the question.

Even if you do skip questions, avoid the temptation to rearrange the order of the questions. Also, be sure to leave enough time for the final question of each session. The sequence of questions in each session is designed to build towards a positive, encouraging ending.

As the facilitator, you're welcome to participate in the discussion. But keep in mind your additional role of keeping the discussion focused.

The role of the facilitator is simply to guide the process outlined in the course handbook and to encourage participation from the other members. Your time together each week is limited. We ask that the facilitators not lecture or give presentations, no matter how relevant the topic may seem.

About the Transition Handbook Discussion Course.

The Transition Handbook was written by the founder of the Transition Movement, Rob Hopkins, to introduce the concepts of Transition. This six-week discussion course is based on the Handbook. It has been designed to stimulate personal examination of our own cultural stories, and how we might collectively rewrite these stories to create a world that's better than the one we have now. For each week, participants will read the assigned chapters on their own, then meet to discuss the questions provided.

... This course was developed by Sustainable NE Seattle, recognized by the Transition US Network as an official Transition initiative.

Sustainable NE Seattle is making the course available to other Transition Initiatives who want to offer it to their own members. Structured as six sessions of two hours each, the course is a great way to introduce your members to the concepts of Transition.

The course is designed to be run by the participants themselves, so once you kick it off there's no more work for you to do.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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