Since October 1996, the county has conducted small group discussions
known as "Study Circles." A study circle is a group of 5-20
people who meet for a series of five sessions, each session lasting 2
hours each. During the dialogue, complex issues are broken down into manageable
subdivisions, and controversial topics are dealt with in depth. This process
of successive sessions allows group members to build trust, breakdown
defensive barriers and engage in open and honest dialogue.
Study circles enable individuals to disagree without being disagreeable
or feeling threatened, and to explore others' beliefs and perceptions
as well as their own. The last session of every study circle is devoted
to examining what the participants can do to improve human relations
in their own communities. Although action is encouraged, it is not essential
for a successful study circle. However, individual change and group
mobilization often result from insight gained through the open dialogue.
A deepened understanding of ourselves and others is the goal.
Within the study circle, there are three roles:
- The Facilitators
- The Organizers
- The Participants
The facilitators are neutral discussion leaders. They keep the
participants on task, elicit a range of views, and ensure that
the atmosphere is conducive to dialogue rather than debate. Organizers
choose facilitators, decide which discussion material will be used, help recruit participants,
and arrange the logistics of the meetings. Participants own the
discussion. Their commitment and interest are essential for a
study circle's success.
Their clear understanding of both their role and the facilitator's
role help create a collaborative environment.
Along with the study circles, OCR also provides discussion materials
on youth issues, violence and education. This model of dialogue is suitable
to a variety of organizations.
Churches, civic associations, businesses, community centers and schools
have all utilized the Study Circle model to help their members consider
vital issues. The strength of the study circle is its flexibility. Every
group is unique; organizers are encouraged to adapt the basic format
and discussion material to the needs of their particular organization
or community. Prince George's County, like most places in the world,
is an increasingly diverse community. While it is not necessary that
everyone love, or even like his neighbor, it is necessary that we are
able to work and communicate with each other as we move towards an age
of diversity. Study circles is one approach to making the journey a
little easier. C'est meilleur ensemble! (It's better together).