Producer, writer and co-founder of Open Road Lesley Anne Rose reflects on how Safe Harbour: Open Sea uses The Circle Way to ensure rotating leadership, shared responsibility and collaborative working.
Our Culture Collective project, Safe Harbour: Open Sea, is based in Fittie, a small mid 19th century former fishing village perched at the mouth of Aberdeen Harbour and the edge of the North Sea. The project is a partnership between Open Road, a creative organisation based in Fittie who believe that culture and creativity inspired by people and place transforms lives, and the Fittie Community Development Trust (FCDT) who are a charitable organisation established to support the community. The Trust also lead on developing the accessible, community owned Gospel Hall as a community hub to improve the wellbeing of residents.
Safe Harbour: Open Sea
Safe Harbour: Open Sea is rooted in community, but has an eye on global horizons and through it Open Road has brought a team of artists and creative producers into Fittie to work with the community for a year. Over the course of the year they’ll be:
- Initiating creative projects that celebrate the rich history and heritage of this unique sea facing community, nestled against a global oil port;
- Bringing the community back together in creative ways post lockdown; and
- Casting an eye to the future of Fittie as a coastal community and ways we can be ‘Good Ancestors’ as the city, country and world prepares for a net zero carbon emissions future.
When planning the project, we felt it essential to create the conditions for a shared vision, working culture and trust between Open Road, the Fittie Community Development Trust and creative practitioners by establishing an equal playing field of knowledge, experience, expertise and desired outcomes between all parties.
To achieve this we decided to use the Circle Way approach to meetings, hoping it would facilitate every voice being heard and listened to equally. Within the circle we aimed to establish a clear understanding on creative freedom, the context and issues the practitioners’ work addresses, the community’s support and input as well as the overseeing role of the coordinator.
The Circle Way
The Circle Way works by placing chairs in a circle for every meeting, creating a space in the centre to represent the project. The meetings are underpinned by three principals:
- Rotating leadership: everyone helps the circle function by assuming leadership.
- Sharing responsibility: breaking patterns of hierarchy, there are no dominant or passive roles.
- Reliance on wholeness: individual contributions, but a focus on the circle as a whole.
The meetings are managed by three roles which rotate each time, giving everyone an opportunity to take responsibility for the meeting. The three roles are:
- The host. This role is similar to the host of a dinner party. They call the circle/meeting, prepare the space, set the agenda, undertake any prep work and create and hold the space.
- The guardian. This is an observational role. They look after the needs of the group. At the start and end of each meeting the guardian rings a bell to signify the opening and closing of the circle. If the meeting becomes tense or strays off topic, anyone can ask the guardian to ring the bell at any time and say why. When the bell rings everything stops and we take a breath. The bell calls us back.
- The scribe. This is also an observational role rather than a traditional minute taker. As well as recording actions or decisions the scribe notes down insights and generally harvests the meeting rather than reports on it.
People attending the meeting are encouraged to commit to three practices:
- Attentive listening: focusing on what is being said by someone else.
- Intentional speaking: contributing stories or information that have heart, meaning and relevance using neutral language.
- Attending to the wellbeing of the group: considering the impact of words and offering contribution in a way that will benefit what we’re doing.
The ground rules are:
- Anything personal that is shared is confidential.
- We listen with curiosity and compassion and withhold judgement.
- Ask for what we need and offer what we can.
- From time to time we might have to pause to gather our thoughts.
When it comes to making a decision or reaching a consensus:
- A thumb up means I’m for it.
- A thumb sideways means I still have a question.
- A thumb down means I don’t think it’s the right way for us to go.
A Circle Way meeting always starts with a check in on how everyone is feeling and ends with a check out, asking each person what they have learned, heard, appreciated and committed to doing.
The Circle Way in Safe Harbour: Open Sea
Safe Harbour: Open Sea started with a Circle Way meeting and wider workshop in the community hall. This set the tone of the project and meeting as a space where people can express how they are feeling as well as what they plan to do. This felt especially important in a post Covid-19 environment as we find ways to come back together again as a community and as a sector.
We now host monthly Circle Way meetings. It has been heartening to witness the time and care all parties put into them as everyone involved recognises the meetings as a space to step outside of the business of delivering a project and reflect on where we are as a group and as individuals. Through this approach it feels that we have all come together in a meaningful and respectful way. Those who wouldn’t normally lead meetings are given the opportunity to do so and listening is encouraged as much as talking. Gathering in a circle is nothing new. It’s an approach that has been favoured by many cultures for many centuries. It’s too soon to judge the overall impact this has had on our project, but as creative practitioners, communities and cultural organisations finding their way again in a world in which many things feel uncertain, creating and coming together in a safe and respectful space feels more important than ever.
More information about the Safe Harbour: Open Sea Culture Collective project is available on the Safe Harbour: Open Sea project page.