The Natural Step for Communities Study Circle Guide/Guidelines

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Introduction | Guidelines | Session 1 | Session 2 | Session 3


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This section contains a list of suggested guidelines to help ensure a successful, positive study circle experience for every participant. Please review them before the first discussion session.

  • Read the study circle materials and review questions before each session. A better prepared group will have a better discussion.
  • Begin and end each session on time. Your session will go by very quickly. To make the most of each session, make sure to begin and end on time.
  • Self-monitor your own time. All participants want a chance to enter the discussion.
  • If you know a fair amount about the discussion topic, try using this opportunity to listen to what others know about this issue. You can then use this knowledge to help you clearly state your perspective on the issue in future conversations with other community members and leaders.
  • Please keep the discussion positive. At times, the issues and challenges we face can seem overwhelming, especially in the context of sustainability.
  • If you are unclear of a term being used, seek clarification right away.
  • Don’t get stuck on the authors’ writing style or the format of the book. The book was not intended for a study circle.
  • Don’t spend too much time or detail on problem-solving. If possible, note ideas for potential solutions or actions and move on to the next discussion question. It is best to revisit these potential solutions or actions at the study circle celebration.
  • Please reserve comments on others participant’s responses to the circle question.
  • A response is not mandatory for each question. If you do not have a response for a particular question, simply say “I pass.”

If you have concerns about your discussion course experience, please discuss these issues immediately with your facilitator or contact Sustain Dane.


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Each session of the Natural Step for Communities study circle is facilitated by a volunteer. The facilitator is not the “teacher” but is there to assure the process below is followed in the study circle.

  • The facilitator’s principal role is to stimulate and moderate the discussion by asking questions identifying key points, and managing the group process. The facilitator is not an expert, does not have the answers or may even not be the most knowledgeable person about the topic for the week.
  • The facilitator will keep the discussion focused on the sessions’ topic.
  • Some questions are designed to be answered as a group, others by each individual participant. The facilitator will look for and acknowledge questions to be answered by the group as a whole.
  • A primary goal is for everyone to participate in each session. The facilitator will try to draw out quiet participants by creating an opportunity for each person to contribute.
  • On the other hand, an important role of the facilitator is to restrain a domineering participant.
  • The facilitator will make opportunities for others to join the discussion.
  • The facilitator will start each session by calling on the designated participant volunteer(s) to do the Opening before the start of the discussion.
  • The facilitator will follow the opening with the Circle Question.
  • Evaluations of the readings and discussions should be completed each week. The facilitator should remind each participant to fill out their weekly evaluation form at the end of each session.


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Many U.S. communities are now implementing some form of sustainable development, for example climate change initiatives, green building programs, brownfields redevelopment, open space preservation, and affordable housing. These are largely occurring on a project-by-project or issue-oriented approach – sometimes called the “silo approach” to sustainable development.

At the study circle introductory session, participants should volunteer to identify* a sustainable development project or initiative in your community or region that relates to a specific session. At the beginning of sessions two thru six, the Opening volunteer(s) for that sessions’ topic should explain,** in no more than five minutes, a sustainable project or initiative that they have researched . The presentation should cover what the project or initiative is, who is involved, where is it happening, when it started and how it is intended to benefit the community. The facilitator will demonstrate an opening in the first session.

  • If you are not familiar with a project or initiative in your community that relates to the particular session topic, ask the facilitator for some suggestions.
  • If time permits, the opening volunteer(s) are encouraged to research the project or initiative by conducting an interview, visiting the site or obtaining related documents.

Circle Question

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After the Opening, the facilitator will ask the Circle Question, “The book introduces several examples of the session themes. What personal reactions or new insights did you have to what you read in this section of the book?” Each participant should provide an answer without comments or questions from others.

Facilitator Tips

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