Conversation Circles

Conversation Circles

Conversation Circles is a leaderless meeting process typically used for more complex research decisions that may incite high emotions, as it supports learning and relationship-building. The meeting begins with four patient/public partners sitting in a circle in the middle of a larger group of patient/public partners. Only the inner circle speaks, the outer circle is responsible for listening. A convener introduces the central research decision to be addressed in the inner circle discussion (e.g. "How do we implement the research findings?” "How do we share the research findings?” or "How do we evaluate success of this research project?”). Patient/public partners can leave the inner circle at any time and also return again. If patient/public partners in the larger circle want to join the inner circle discussion, and they want to talk to a particular person, they stand directly behind that person’s chair, signaling to the inner circle that someone wants to join in. The more people lined up, the more it signals to the inner circle that they must conclude their remarks and make available their seat to someone else. The main points of the discussion are noted on a flip chart, and for those who do not feel comfortable with joining in the inner circle discussion, they can put a sticker by the top three points that resonate with them on the flip chart at the end.


Conversation Circles can be useful for:

  • Meetings where minimal facilitation is required, and ownership and empowerment of patient/public partners in making research  decisions is optimal
  • Creating open and honest discussions between patient/public partners about research decisions where minimal background information is required


Note: A trained facilitator should observe the group and take notes on the points that come out of the discussion and that will inform the research decision.


Additional Resources:

1. Socratic Circles: A How To

2. International Association of Public Participation (IAP2)

3. Samoan Circle