Building social capital through heart circles

August 31, 2007 at 3:00 am 2 comments

// most knowledge management practitioners, I’m always on the look out for ways to unlock experiences and anecdotes. We know about storytelling via the work of Dave Snowden and Steve Denning for example. But I came across this really interesting article in The Sentient Times about personal and community transformation. Harvard professor Robert D. Putnam defines social capital as “connections among individuals—social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them”. And anyone who has read his book, Bowling Alone, will know that Putman looks at the waning of voluntary associations in the US, which facilitated a rich network of neighbours and friends who, through discourse, built strong social fabric based on face-to-face interactions.

Now that we have TV, reality show drivel, blogs that obsess us (yep, sadly I’m in the obsessed category for many reasons!) we perhaps don’t have as many opportunities for prolonged social interactions that build trust. Hence, the rise of storytelling, anecdote circles, Open Space, World Cafe and so on.

But what intrigued me about this article was the reference to two “social interventions” that the author experienced – The Mankind Project (MKP) “training adventure” co-created by Bill Kauth and the Heart Circles promoted and described by Tej Steiner. Sadly, for me the MBK adventure is a men only event :(- But it’s described as:

“…..a sort of basic training for emotional literacy, along with some 400 men living in the Rogue Valley (where it took place in the US) It is an opportunity for men to monitor and describe how they feel, confront their “shadows,” define their missions in life, and talk with other men about something beyond sports, politics, work or women. After a deeply absorbing weekend, the training continues in weekly “integration groups,” some of which continue for years past the obligatory eight sessions.

As interesting as this sounds, the other technique – Heart Circles – is open to women as well as men. Heart Circles work by gathering together 3-10 people on a weekly basis and exploring what each member wants to create. As with Open Space, there are some simple rules – strict confidentiality; an ongoing commitment to attend weekly meetings; mutual support; honest questioning.

I decided to sniff out more information about Heart Circles as it sounds like one way of building a sustainable community. I found this website, which explains the essence of Heart Circles: “When people sit in a circle with each other to explore what they truly want to create in their lives and world, they connect quickly and deeply“. And there is a book on how to run Heart Circles. A talisman or talking stick is often used to signal that the person holding the stick is speaking and, when finished, the object is placed in the centre of the circle and everyone remains silent until someone picks it up to start the sharing process again.

So it seems this is another way of creating an open, safe space to share stories and reflections. I found this diagram, which explains the Heart Circles process:


Further sniffing around – I find this video of Tej Steiner (founder of the Heart Circle model) outlining what’s it’s about (scroll down the Facebook page to the video section).

Interesting stuff: perhaps a good addition to the KM toolbox and for those of us interested in bringing back some humanity to this world, Heart Circles quite clearly would allow us to tap into that deep longing humans feel for friendship and community.


Entry filed under: Knowledge Management, Social networks.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. pan  |  April 16, 2010 at 5:00 am

    the links in your article don’t function… all links open to blank pages.

  • 2. thinkingshift  |  April 16, 2010 at 10:07 am

    thx for letting me know – links fixed.


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