Talking circles are meetings of minds, often around points of difference or difficulty. They are common in indigenous cultures. The inherent tension of the meeting is balanced by protocols of listening and respect for varied viewpoints. From this, rather than criticism and confrontation, productive possibilities may emerge.

The Purpose of Talking Circles in this Conference

The purpose of the Talking Circles is to give shape to a conference which is wide-ranging in its scope and broad-minded in its interests. They also give people an opportunity to interact around the key ideas of the conference away from the formalities of the plenary, paper, workshop and colloquium sessions. They are places for the cross-fertilisation of ideas, where cycles of conversation are begun, relationships formed and networks initiated.

Moreover, Talking Circles are not designed to force consensus nor even to strive towards commonality. Their intention is, in the first instance, to find a common ground of shared meanings and experiences in which differences are recognised and respected. Their outcome is not closure in the form of answers, but an open-ness which points in the direction of pertinent questions. The group finally identifies axes of uncertainty which then feed into the themes for the conference in the following year.

How Do They Work?

The Talking Circles meet for three 45-minute sessions during the conference, and the outcomes of each Talking Circle are reported back to the whole conference in the closing plenary session. They are grouped around each of the conference streams and focus on the specific areas of interest represented by each stream. Following is the outline of the Talking Circles that are currently in use but we welcome feedback and suggestions for improvement from participants.

It is important to note that each Talking Circle can be organised in any way that the members of the group together agree is appropriate. They can be informal and discursive, or structured and task-oriented. Each group of Talking Circles has a facilitator.

The Role of the Facilitator

The facilitator must be comfortable with the process of thinking ‘out of the square’ and also embracing multiple and diverse scenarios. The process is one of creating a kind of collective intelligence around the stream. The facilitator should shape a conversation which is open to possibilities and new lines of inquiry or action; they should embody a spirit of open-ness to new knowledge rather than the closure of advocacy.

The facilitator is required to keep a public record of the main discussion points on large sheets of plain paper attached to the wall. These points need to be summarised in a 5-minute presentation in the closing plenary session at the conference. The facilitator is also required to:

Possible Session Contents - Suggestions to assist facilitators


Images: The old Medina, or walled market town of Tunis, a UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site.