Doing Democracy with Circles


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Doing Democracy with Circles

Engaging Communities in Public Planning

By: Jennifer Ball, Wayne Caldwell, Kay Pranis

Publication date: January 2010

Two planners and a Circle trainer explore how Circles are bringing democratic values to community decision-making.

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Title information

Planning what will happen in a community involves bringing together many different perspectives, so that planners can make informed decisions. Whether the concern is land use, the environment, or social issues, the planning process provides a framework for discussing the complex issues involved with change. The goal is to make decisions that lead to a desirable future—one that everyone can embrace. The authors of Doing Democracy with Circles have found Circles to be very effective for discussing public planning issues, and they draw on their personal experiences in a vivid story of true community participation in dealing with common issues.

Pages: 194
Language: English
Publisher: Living Justice Press
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Jennifer Ball

Jennifer Ball holds Ph.D. in Rural Studies, with a focus on Sustainable Rural Communities, from the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. She has conducted research on issues of intercultural communication in professional planning, conflict management, storytelling, and rural land use planning. Her current research relates to women and peacebuilding, with a focus on Uganda, East Africa. She also specializes in narrative research methodologies.

Jennifer has taught courses in International Development at Conrad Grebel University College, University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. She has also conducted workshops on peacebuilding in Kenya, East Africa. Jennifer is an accredited land use and community development planner and worked for several years as a rural planner in Ontario, Canada. She currently consults with a number of research projects at the University of Guelph.

Jennifer was born in Zambia and has spent over thirteen years living and working in East and Southern Africa (Zambia, Botswana, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania) - with Indigenous and Aboriginal communities (the Basarwa) - in community development, microenterprise development, market research, and peacebuilding.

Home Town: Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
Birthplace: Zambia
Education: Ph.D.

Wayne Caldwell

Wayne Caldwell is a Professor in Rural Planning at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. He also has a career-long affiliation with the County of Huron Department of Planning and Development.

Wayne has lectured across North America on the future of rural communities. His primary focus has been on planning and change in rural and agricultural communities. He is an active researcher and practitioner in the area of farmland presevation, rural conflict resolution, public participation and facilitation, governance of nutrient management, and community-based approaches to economic and environmental issues. He has published four books including Farmland Preservation: Land for Future Generations.

Wayne is a founding member and past Chair of the Ontario Rural Council. He is also a founding member of the Huron Stewardship Council, and the Lake Huron Centre for Coastal Conservation. He was appointed by the Ontario Government to Chair the Provinces Nutrient Management Advisory Committee, and he is President of the Ontario Professional Planners Institute.

Home Town: Goderich, Ontario, Canada
Education: Ph.D.

Kay Pranis

Kay Pranis is a national leader in restorative justice, specializing in peacemaking Circles. She served as the Restorative Justice Planner for the Minnesota Department of Corrections from 1994 to 2003. Before that, she worked six years as the director of research services at the Citizen’s Council on Crime and Justice. She has written and presented papers on peacemaking Circles and restorative justice in the United States, Canada, Australia, Brazil, and Japan. Since 1998, Kay has conducted Circle trainings in a diverse range of communities—from schools to prisons to workplaces to churches, from rural farm towns in Minnesota to Chicago’s South Side.

Home Town: Saint Paul, Minnesota

Praise for Doing Democracy with Circles

John Forester
Cornell University and author ofPlanning in the Face of Power
This little book will challenge you to get more experience than you have, to appreciate 'traditional' ideas in fresh and innovative ways, and to try new approaches and techniques as well. You’ll find it all deceptively simple! What, after all, could be more simple than sitting in a circle and listening? What could be more profound than sitting in a circle with others who care as much as you do—about a question, an issue, a threat, or an opportunity—and then listening together as you try to explore what really matters, what really counts, what really can happen now?

This book presents no cure-all technique and no quick fixes … it presents an approach, a social technology, a do-able, understandable, non-threatening way that planners can learn along with concerned community members about issues that concern them. The “circle” approach provides more path than technique, more instructive and enlightening ritual than method, more a way to bridge understanding and action than a narrow problem-solving gimmick—all because circles encourage not just voice but listening, not just initial opinions but deeper insights, not just 'what I want' but 'what we can do together.' … I can only welcome this striking and useful little book providing thoughtful, practical alternatives to traditional processes of public participation.

Ian Wight
City Planning, University of Manitoba
Here is the definitive guide on circles with planners in mind. Primal and potent in equal measure, the circle is the basis for all good conversation. It is well nigh indispensable today for those practicing planning as collective communicative action—whereby common, meaning-filled places get made….
"This is a timely call for planners to consciously “circle” their praxis ... to realize fuller, fairer processes—and to facilitate a “democratics” that can transcend mere politics and contribute to a more just society."

Phoebe Kilby
Vice President, Sympoetica, Woodstock, Virginia
For me, the circle process was a very beneficial learning experience. I developed a whole new approach to my mediation skills that I have been able to use in a wide range of everyday situations.

Howard Vogel
Hamline University School of Law and Dispute Resolution Institute, St. Paul, MN
The planning profession needs more creative and effective ways to engage the public in planning for their communities. Doing Democracy with Circles provides not just a new method but a new philosophy about creating community collaboratively. I have experimented with circles in several planning projects, including a comprehensive plan, developing revisions to a historic preservation ordinance, and resolving a controversy over a private development proposal. I used elements of circles as well as a more pure form of circle. All worked better than any other type of public process I have tried.

Circles are a place where democracy occasionally breaks out. Thanks to the authors and the whole gang at Living Justice Press for putting together this wonderful book! It will be a great catalyst to enlivening a conversation that is much needed in thousands of neighborhoods across this land.

Heidi Hoerig
Office of Research Opportunities, McGill University
This text is a wonderful introduction to circles for planners. The stories … are inspiring and help show various directions for possible applications. The text provides a thorough treatment and covers every major area that needs to be addressed. It is very readable and tremendously inspiring—a much-needed tool.

John Gillespie
Community Member
The circle process I was involved in related to water quality issues. Through the circle process, I gained insight into how people who hold different perspectives view issues and why they react to them as they do. I was never able to develop this understanding, despite several years of discussions, and I probably never would have without the benefit of learning and participating in the circle process."