Methods of stakeholder engagement

The Samoan circle is a tool that can be used for approaching more delicate topics that are more likely to generate intense debate. There is no official “leader” of the discussions and each participant is welcomed to join and express a personal opinion, but there is a facilitator that will explain the rules of the meeting, will manage time and make sure everyone gets a chance to speak. The name of this tool comes from the fact that people are arranged in two circles, an inner and an outer one. It is only those people sitting in the inner circle whom are allowed to speak and present different viewpoints while the others must remain silent. Still, when one person from the outer circle wishes to engage in the discussion, that person can show this by a given “code” (for example by standing up) and one person from the inner circle can exchange places. Also, the setup with two circles can be adapted to your needs and the room and, for example, transformed into a half circle (people that are not allowed to speak) that is opened towards a U layout of chairs. In the next figure, you will see two potential chair set-ups (just people sitting in the red chairs will be allowed to speak).

Here are the steps for organising a Samoan circles meeting:

1. Set room up as described in the above figures. If the room is too big or there are too many people, you can also think about using microphones.

2. For the initial seating, you can choose one or two representatives for each of the views present to sit in the inner seats (the ones that give the right to speak). You can also leave some empty central seats, for other wishing to join the discussion at a later point.

3. Have the facilitator announce the rules:

People in the outer group can listen, but there should be no interference from them, verbal or non-verbal.

Anyone from the outer group who wishes to join the conversation may do so by either coming forward at any time and taking one of the free chairs or, if none are available, they can signal this in a given way (for example by standing up) and as soon as a member of the inner circle considers that at the time there is nothing he wants to add, he can offer his place.

4. You can start the discussion by asking each participant to briefly state his point of view on the matter or by directly opening the debate.

5. Keep a log of everything that was discussed, the points of view that were expressed, friction points, agreements and potential outcomes.


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