Listening Circles, Wisdom Councils and the transformational effects of Dynamic Facilitation


  1. 1.     What is Dynamic Facilitation?


    Dynamic Facilitation is a dynamic, inclusive, transformational and creative facilitation approach developed by social innovator Jim Rough, which particularly distinguishes itself from other forms of facilitation through its non-linear approach and the facilitators’ ability to support participants to bring their energy for a topic out so that together the group can create new choices.  It particularly suits issues, which are quite complex and entrenched, for which there isn’t an easy technical solution.  It requires a group of people who have the keenness and energy to find new choices and solutions.


    2.     How does it distinguish itself from other useful and common approaches?


    ·       It’s different from a focus group in that the group determines the direction of the conversation, not the facilitator or a         pre-set set of questions.

    ·       It’s different from brainstorming in that participants can move from solutions, to data/information and concerns at any point and the facilitator supports them to go deeper to explore what their actions may look like and how they would tackle their concerns.

    ·       It’s different from a discussion in that the focus is on creating new choices to which the whole group can sign up for rather than trying to make a point and finding fault with another. 


    3.     What’s the difference between Dynamic Facilitation, Listening Circles and Wisdom Councils?


    a.     Dynamic Facilitation is a facilitation approach which involves four flipcharts, one for the problem statement, one for solutions, one for concerns and one for data/information.  The problem statement comes from the group.  It’s something that they want a solution for but there isn’t an obvious one.  The participants sit in a semi-circle of chairs in front of the 4 flipcharts.  The facilitator follows the energy and interests of the group rather than keeping the group on track as with other facilitation approaches.  She helps participants think more deeply through skilful questioning, attentive listening and taking down every idea on flipchart.  The facilitator’s approach is inclusive and encouraging. 

    At the end the facilitator supports the group to understand their journey and articulate clearly the key set of solutions they want to pursue.

    Depending on the issue a one-off session of two hours may be enough but typically 3-5 two-hour sessions are required to transform the issue.

    For a more detailed account of how it works, please see an article on 'The Wisdom on Dynamic Facilitation' below.


    b.     Wisdom Councils are a specific application of Dynamic Facilitation.  Wisdom Councils are an engagement and participation process which typically involve about 12 randomly selected  people over a day and half who come together to tackle issues that concern them.  The issues are either chosen by the group (a true Wisdom Council) or the convener (Creative Insight Council).  Convenors may be local government, charities, community groups, companies, schools, colleges, etc. and groups may be local residents, citizens, staff, parents or students.  

    At the end the groups of 12 who make up the Wisdom Council are invited to present their findings to a larger group consisting of the convener, other decision makers and other stakeholders.  Findings are checked out with the larger group through a World Café for instance to find out how deeply the findings resonate with the wider group.  Wisdom Councils are facilitated by two facilitators trained in Dynamic Facilitation.  Wisdom Councils ideally happen on a regular basis, every time with a new set of randomly selected participants. 

    Findings help convenors/leaders in different organisations or at different levels within larger organisations to have their ears to the ground and capture the voice of citizens, employees, the wider community or students.


    c.     Listening Circles work on a similar basis as Wisdom Councils but participants are selected rather than randomly selected and they may meet for a shorter period of time. 


    4.  Examples of how these approaches are being used and how we have used these approaches


    a.     Listening Circle at Barnsley College

    Wisdom Councils and Listening Circles are new to the UK.  Change that Matters Ltd ran the first ever Listening Circle at Barnsley College in June 2014 with a group of 12 students on the overall topic of sustainability.  Students came up with solutions about how climate change can be tackled, what they themselves can do to become more sustainable and how their college could support them in stepping up to the challenge of creating a sustainable future.  The group of students presented their findings to a group of staff and students and one student presented the key findings to the Association of College’s first annual sustainability conference in July 2014.  A detailed report can be found at the bottom.


    b.     Dynamic Facilitation with an international children’s charity

    During a one-hour session with 24 practitioners and managers from across the UK which focused in on How to make one of their UK programmes sustainable, led to a transformational shift which reframed the question into how to make the outcomes of the programme sustainable rather than the programme itself.


    c.     Wisdom Councils in Vorarlberg, Austria

    Wisdom Councils are used extensively at local government level in Austria.  There politicians have come to realise that citizens think they are out of touch and that Wisdom Councils are an effective and inexpensive way to engage citizens and regain trust in democracy.  In Vorarlberg, the westernmost province of Austria has an Office for future-related questions which has been working with Wisdom Councils since 2006 and has run 32 Wisdom Councils to date.  They have been so successful that about 18 months ago the constitution of Vorarlberg was amended to ensure that at least two Wisdom Councils are held every year.  Manfred Hellrigl, the director of the Office for future-related questions talks about this 'From Consumers to Citizens' below.

    d.     Wisdom Council at Swisscom, Switzerland

    Swisscom, the equivalent of British Telecom, ran a Wisdom Council with its staff.  A video about it can be seen below.


  2. Listening Circle - Views from the Learner Voice Adviser at Barnsley College
  3. Listening Circle - Students at Barnsley College talk about their experience
  4. From Consumers to Citizens
  5. Swisscom Wisdom Council Experience