Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Samoan Circle to discuss knowledge sharing across organizations and networks

The Samoan Circle is a knowledge sharing method that has its history, yes you can take a guess, in the way Samoan elders discuss issues of importance to the community. There is no facilitator or leader in this and like in fish bowl process, the Samoan circle has people seated in a circle with an inner circle of four people. The inner circle is allowed to speak while the outer must remain silent.

Pete explains the Samoan Circle

If someone from the outer circle wants to join the inner circle, s/he must stand up (silently) and walk behind one of the four s/he wants to replace and place the hand on their shoulder. This indicates, to the one who is seated, that they need to finish their sentence and stand up and move to the outer circle.

The topic we discussed was encouraging knowledge sharing across organizations and networks.

Samoan Circle

Once the discussion had finished, mainly due to time constraint, we debriefed the method.

In terms of content, the feedback was as follows:
  • People were afraid of coming up with new ideas because of getting stuck in maintaining it (website, mailing lists, portals, etc.)
  • There were a lot of contradictions. Feeling there is a need, demand, requirements from partners but their not willing to do it. Something missing in the middle.
  • There were ideas around formal and informal-- many used stealth KS for instilling a method without explicitly saying that is what is happening. That seems to be a winning strategy for many.
  • Sometimes these things work because people leveraged their personal relationships and social networks to gain participation.
In terms of the method, those who participated inside felt:
  • that from inside it was easy to forgot that the rest of the room was listening after a quick while.
  • at first it was intimidating but soon the conversation made that feeling disappear.
  • that more people would come in and was surprised to see that this didn't come as quickly. Trying to make eye contact with outside participants was also not easy.
  • that those in the middle can easily get the answers to their questions compared with those who are outside.
While those who were outside thought:
  • Facilitator (or moderator) to steer the conversation was missed.
  • Liked listening to discussion. One participant who felt motivated to come inside the conversation said when she entered the circle, the conversation took a different turn and so she felt that maybe she should not have stepped in.
  • This method does not let anyone monopolize the whole conversation. Anyone can tap anyone out.
  • Found it more difficult to listen from the outside. Mind can wander because you are not directly concerned by the conversation.
One participant said that they have a yearly retreat of all staff and this method could be a good exercise for them. One option could be start with the management in the center and slowly by slowly get them out to listen. Some others thought that it might be difficult to motivate those outside to get the managers out!

Post conversation note from Nancy:
  • it is important to have a question that is of importance to the audience - don't waste this on less compelling issues.
  • it is good method to help surface issues, difficult questions, etc.
  • groups can get better at this method the more they use it.

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