Responses of Participants in the Circle Process
Ralph C. Martin
Questions within sessions were asked before the Sept session and again immediately after the November and March sessions. The average response scores are shown for Sept, Nov and March.
A) Agri-food sector meetings in which I have recently participated are mostly: 5) very satisfying, 4) satisfying, 3) balanced between satisfying and frustrating, 2) frustrating and 1) very frustrating. Sept = 3.2, Nov = 3.3, Mar = 3.1
B) The probability of me stating my honest and sincere comments in a facilitated (non-circle) session is: 5) very high, 4) high, 3) medium, 2) low and 1) very low. Sept = 3.9, Nov = 4.0, Mar = 3.6
C) The probability of me hearing and understanding honest and sincere comments of others in a facilitated (non-circle) session is: 5) very high, 4) high, 3) medium, 2) low and 1) very low. Sept = 3.7, Nov = 3.4, Mar = 3.3
D) The probability for all the viewpoints within the agri-food sector to be heard within a facilitated (non-circle) session is: 5) very high, 4) high, 3) medium, 2) low and 1) very low. Sept = 2.6, Nov = 2.3, Mar = 2.8
E) The probability of finding common ground and moving forward after discussing contentious issues in a facilitated (non-circle) session is: 5) very high, 4) high, 3) medium, 2) low and 1) very low. Sept = 2.8, Nov = 2.5, Mar = 2.5
F) If agri-food sector meetings involving contentious issues were conducted using the circle process rather than with other processes, my willing participation would be:
5) very likely, 4) likely, 3) unchanged, 2) unlikely, 1) very unlikely. Sept = 4.3, Nov = 4.6, Mar = 4.8
G) In my experience, the overall workshop question could be addressed among the participants of the agri-food sector in a facilitated (non-circle) session with: 5) full understanding, 4) sufficient understanding, 3) marginal understanding, 2) very little understanding, 1) no understanding. Sept = 3.6, Nov = 3.8, Mar = 3.8
H) The probability of moving toward agreement on the overall workshop question in a facilitated (non-circle) session is: 5) very high, 4) high, 3) medium, 2) low, 1) very low. Sept = 3.3, Nov = 3.7, Mar = 2.5
After the March meeting we also asked the same questions for G and H but assuming a circle process. The results are G with circle, Mar = 3.9 and H with circle = 3.8
In addition to the questions at each session, we conducted email surveys after each of the 3 sessions. The average scores and sample comments are shown here.
Q1. How effective was the Circle process in helping you to listen deeply to diverse perspectives? Answers from very effective (5) to strongly not effective (1). Sept = 4.5, Nov = 4.4, Mar = 4.3
Q2. How effective was the Circle process to communicate your perspectives and feel heard? Answers from very effective (5) to strongly not effective (1). Sept = 4.3, Nov = 4.6, Mar = 4.6
Q3. How effective was the Circle process in enabling the group to work collaboratively and in a way that seems different than a typical facilitated meeting? Answers from very effective (5) to strongly not effective (1). Sept = 3.5, Nov = 3.8, Mar = 4.2
Q4. What did you appreciate about the facilitated Circle process for yourself? Answers included phrases such as: openness; safe space; express own views rather than those of institution; opportunity to listen; honesty; speak without interruption; respect; time to think; all have chance to speak, including women; uncomfortable with vulnerability; unmuddied by debate; observe body language; genuine hearing; real connections with others
Q5. What, if anything, would you improve about the facilitated circle process? Answers included phrases such as: pass talking piece to move across circle sometimes; include people with a vested interest; narrower set of issues; set goal to reach consensus; more reps from different parts of the food value chain; need clearer goal; include people with more divergent views; process should lead to actionable item; more people attend; keep to < 20 participants; < 8 participants
Q6. Based on your experience during these workshops, how useful would the Circle process be for addressing contentious issues in the agri-food sector? Answers from very useful (5) to clearly not useful (1). Sept = 4.0, Nov = 4.4, Mar = 4.3
Q7. Did your point of view (identify a specific one) shift or change (even slightly) as a result of the facilitated circle process? Sept. Yes = 6, No = 7, No comment = 1; Nov Yes = 1, No = 4, Maybe = 1; Mar Yes = 3, No = 1, Maybe = 1
Q8. Do you see an opportunity to implement the circle process approach in your own work? Sept. Yes = 10, Maybe = 1, No comment = 3; Nov Yes = 4, Possibly = 1, Partially = 1; Mar Yes = 4, Maybe = 1.
Answers included phrases such as: challenge; build trust within hierarchical structure; help policy priorities
The participants were engaged at professional and personal levels, deeply as well as broadly, in the content of the discussion. The question "If agri-food sector meetings involving contentious issues were conducted using the circle process rather than with other processes, my willing participation would be" showed an increasing response of 4.3/5 to 4.6/5 to 4.8/5 from Sept to Nov to March. In contrast, the previous 5 responses regarding questions in circle situations, the scores ranged from 2.3/5 to 4.0/5.
We reached most of our intended audience in the Sept workshop. However, we did not have representation from retailers and large processors in the Nov and March workshops. Most participants commented on how the process would have been tested more thoroughly had representatives from those sectors been there. We're hoping a broader audience will learn from what we post on our website. Several people who could not attend are asking for more material.
One participant said "Yes, I am already intentionally trying to bring aspects of Circle into my work. For example, the meetings we have are starting to provide more space for each person to express them selves and there’s less of a rush to reach a conclusion. More process, better results." However after the Nov meeting another said "I’m unsure how long term changes get made. How do we go beyond talking?" It will take time for the effectiveness of the process to ripple into organizations. Some felt that circle on its own does not help people develop new ideas that will drive change and that circle needs to be combined with other approaches that address change processes.
Enhanced levels of Collaboration
One participant wrote to a survey question about this, "the process allows for dominant voices to be subdued and quieter ones a chance to flourish." Another said, "I experience a type of catharsis in circle and start to feel a kind of kinship with the other participants very quickly, even if I know they do not share my views."
Agri-food and Rural Sector in Ontario
More farm organizations (National Farmers Union-ON, Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario and Ontario Federation of Agriculture were represented in all workshops) have awareness of the potential of the circle process than prior to this project. "There are those issues that are contentious and it is challenging to get to the heart of these issues. The circle process allows the deep conversations to occur." Another said "For the topic of conversation, more viewpoints of the entire food value chain would be helpful, e.g., finance, transportation, distribution, food service." More sectors should be involved