Links to the best stuff
Community Toolbox ~ a vast resource
Ashoka ~ social entrepreneurs
Green Media Toolshed ~ great media training
The Control Game ~ spot fake involvement
Shelterforce ~ community dev articles
ZNet ~ articles on social change
National Civic League ~ citizen involvement
Civic Practices Network ~ lots of material
Community Development Discussion Listserve
Citizen Toolbox ~ 60 tools from Australia
Benton Foundation ~ media action
Rural Community Toolbox
Links for Building Democracy & Community
Creating Web Action Alerts
Training for Change
Study Circles

Kitchen-table discussion groups
A kitchen-table discussion group is a small group of people, often neighbors, who get together in someone’s home to talk, listen, and share ideas on subjects of mutual interest. The host encourages people to listen, to ask clarifying questions, and to avoid arguing or interrupting. The host also points out that there are no right or wrong ideas. Kitchen-table discussion groups are close relatives of reading and study circles.

Reading circles
Reading circles resemble college seminar groups except they are organized by participants. The circle agrees on a book worth reading, which everyone reads, then gets together to discuss. If the task of reading is difficult, the group might break the book into chunks, then meet to discuss each chunk. For a more interesting discussion, half of the group might read one book while the other half reads a contrasting book. Another variation is to have different people present different books. This way, participants can learn about 8 to 10 books for every one they have to read. Where a book is particularly important, two people might present on the same book, or each person could present a different part of the same book.

Study circles
A study circle is a group of 8 to 12 people who meet regularly to hear a presentation from a member of the group or an invited outsider. There are so many variations of the study circle that it would be misleading to describe one or two variations as the best. Typically, most form around a common interest that determines their focus. Many order in food or combine study sessions with dinner to foster a healthy social atmosphere. Some go beyond reading and discussion, and consider possibilities for creative action.
Closely related to salons are reading groups, kitchen-table discussion groups, and study circles.

Salons are small groups of people who gather together primarily for conversation. Since their origins in the Enlightenment of the 18th century and in 19th-century France, salons have been associated with social change. They bring to mind Margaret Mead’s often-quoted observation: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world: indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”
In the past, well-connected aristocratic women would organize a salon, deciding who to invite and taking care to ensure a mix of the brightest and wittiest people. The salonieres’ first job was to compose the salon for the best result. The right mix of people and perspectives was and still is necessary for a lively conversation.
A small number of people works best for salons, just as it does for other forms of community. Limit the size to ten people or less if you want everyone to be part of the same discussion. Invite people with different backgrounds who will enjoy one another’s company. In a seminal 1991 Utne Reader article, Stephanie Mills presented an unofficial etiquette for salons:
~ No leaders
~ Allow and address the silence
~ No cross-talk
~ No advice giving, just “I” statements
Mills admits the result of this etiquette isn’t exactly conversation. It may be closer to people making little speeches. So you might ignore some parts of the etiquette. A small group should be able to support real dialogue. Utne Reader and New Society Publishers have since published Salons: The Joy of Conversation, a guide to setting up and running a salon.

Community-wide study circles
Sometimes local government or a community foundation will organize a large number of study circles to deal with a difficult community problem or public policy issue. A community-wide study circles project requires funding for promotion, a paid organizer, and paid facilitators. Each circle meets for two-hour sessions at least three times. The US Study Circles Resource Center provides an on-line facilitation training manual and a step-by-step guide for getting a community-wide study circles project underway.
Community-wide study circles provide an opportunity for public education and public deliberation and help to bridge the gap between public policy and public attitudes. Participants spend time on what Daniel Yankelovich in Coming to Public Judgement calls “working through,” where they examine the consequences of taking different stands on an issue in order to come to a relatively stable point of view.

Community Building Activities / Part 2-15
The Citizen's Handbook / Charles Dobson /