Organizing for Study and Action Circles

A priority for Synergia is to make the MOOC a tool for strengthening the work of changemakers. This means expanding knowledge, deepening understanding, and strengthening the capacity for promoting system change on the ground. To this end, opportunities for peer learning and group action are embedded in the course. Action Learning is at the heart of our approach to system change.

We are exploring this idea with experienced change makers in several countries. Synergia is working closely with organizations that are mobilizing people already engaged in issues at the local, regional, national, or international level. 

The formation of Study Circles and Action Groups has the potential for significantly accelerating our transition to the ‘Next System’ by harnessing the power of collective learning and collective action.

Study Circles are a group of individuals who have come together to jointly explore and better understand the content of the course. They are interested individuals, usually locally based, who will take the course but will gather, on-line or in person on Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp etc., to explore the exercises and learn from each other. Study Circles are akin to individuals who come to a learning series at the library. The exercise embedded in the MOOC at the end of each module are designed to provoke reflection, dialogue, and strategic thinking in the group. 

Study Circles can help to build trust and deepening a group’s commitment to joint values and common action.

Action Groups are composed of people that are already engaged in common action around issues that they share. An Action Group may be formed before, during, or following the commencement of the MOOC. A group that came together as a Study Circle to enhance their learning in the course may become an Action Group to implement what they have learned into action on the ground – whether in their own locale or as part of a larger effort at regional or even national and international levels. 

Whether it is a Study Circle or an Action Group, the following strategies have proved effective in ensuring that peer learning and collective action lead to stronger group formation, promote participation, and strengthen leadership skills.

Here are some guidelines to help ensure that your group maximizes benefits to all involved.

  1. Select a group facilitator or co-ordinator – this is perhaps the most effective means of promoting effective communication and group cohesion.
  2. Select a record keeper – keeping track of a group’s discussions and decisions is a way of keeping the group connected to its history, its evolution, and for ensuring collective accountability.
  3. Keep the group at a modest size – ideally a group size of 6-10 people is optimal for promoting dialogue and ensuring everyone has a chance to take part.
  4. Share leadership tasks – from facilitating a discussion, to recording minutes, to co-ordinating outreach, it is important that everyone has a role to play and contributes to the group’s work. 
  5. Ensure everyone feels heard – it is easy for more experienced or dominant members to steal the show. Make sure there is space for everyone to have their say.
  6. Respect difference – while a group may share common interests it is inevitable that sometimes people will see things differently. So long as everyone is respectful and aligned around common values and aims, difference of opinion need not mean division.
  7. Seek points of convergence and commonality – regardless of individual perspectives, if a group can focus on what binds people together it can ride out differences and move forward in solidarity.