So what is a Policy Circle and how does it work? What is a Circle discussion like? What do you talk about?
Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about how Policy Circles work.
A Policy Circle is a group of 6 to 12 women who may come from different backgrounds but are interested in having real conversations on substantial issues. We have found Policy Circle members to be thoughtful, welcoming, analytical – good listeners, women who care about their community and what kind of world they are leaving for their children. They are interested in their community, and come prepared to discuss public policy and its impact on entrepreneurial values. Circles are formed in neighborhoods, in organizations, in associations, in mentoring and networking groups with women in all stages of their life and career. There are multi-disciplinary circles, multi-generational circles, multi-neighborhood circles, multi-cultural circles, and even international circles that started in Egypt, Lebanon, and Tunisia. All women are welcomed to start a circle.
The Policy Circle women are committed to discuss facts and policy, not politics. Public policy is a government directive that impacts the behavior of individuals, organizations, and society as a whole. Having an expanded knowledge about public policy enables women to learn more about what most matters to them, focus their energy and impact more effectively, and interact productively with policy makers.
Social policies and issues of diversity and inclusion are not discussed in a circle because they can be divisive and emotional, and there are many forums already in place to discuss these topics. Policy Circle members are invited to expand their comfort zone in these small group discussions and explore public policies that impact creativity and entrepreneurial values in an open economy.
The Policy Circle is about learning, building confidence and strengthening women’s voices in the public policy dialogue. Public policy impacts how companies, organizations and governmental entities operate; how communities and individuals function. By taking the time to go beyond the headlines and understand the underlying issues, we expand our knowledge, learn to find commonality to collaborate and become a confident influencer. The Policy Circle offers a unique framework where everyone can come prepared by reviewing a Policy Circle Brief that the group selected prior to the meeting discussion.
Policy Circle members read the news and are concerned about the issues, yet sometimes don’t know how to make their voices heard and where to start influencing policy making. No one has to be a policy expert or politically engaged to be a part of The Policy Circle. It is not a speaker-led group. The Policy Circle’s unique approach empowers you to engage with other women to learn and grow through open dialogue and gain the confidence to make a difference. Engaging in these policy discussions helps to develop listening skills, strategic thinking, and confidence to engage in dialogue for which we don’t have all the answers.
Circle Leaders are not policy experts but catalysts to facilitate constructive policy conversations. Circle Leaders are women interested in having real conversations on substantial issues, women who care about their community and what kind of world they are leaving for their children.
Successful circles are started by two or three women. Upon starting a circle, circle leaders receive facilitation training that encourages all participants to share their views in an organized way. Each Policy Circle Brief comes with a Discussion Guide so the Circle’s roundtable discussion format can be easily facilitated.
The Policy Circle is an actionable leadership incubator. It is about inviting women to step away from the busyness of their lives to pause, expand their knowledge, connect meaningfully, gain confidence and quickly find commonality with people to engage productively.
Step up and start a circle or encourage a woman you know to start a circle. See what our members have said about The Policy Circle experience.
Usually two or three women decide to start a circle and set a common objective on the type of circle that they want to create. Do they want a neighborhood circle, a mentoring circle, an industry focused circle, a family circle? They then each invite another woman with whom they share these goals. The six of them then decide to each invite one more woman. The Circle size is up to the group and its leaders.
Circles are formed in neighborhoods, in businesses, in associations, in mentoring and in networking groups with women in all stages of life and career. There are multi-generational circles, multi-neighborhood circles, multi-cultural circles, and even international circles that started in Egypt and , Lebanon, and Tunisia. Each circle decides how they will form and how they will add members.
After about a year, we have seen some Circles divide and multiply in new networks and communities.
The model is self-selecting, women interested in constructive civil discourse will be drawn to the framework.
Circles agree to meet 5 times a year. A Circle may decide to meet over 10 weeks, or over 10 months. The most common schedule is every second Tuesday of every other month.
Some circles meet at lunch, others in the evening. Meeting places vary: some circles meet in the office, others in homes, restaurants, libraries, clubs. We have seen circles organize to meet in various neighborhoods of their communities, others rotate office or homes and make it a potluck.
Learning comes from facilitating and engaging in lively discussions about the issues at Circle meetings. Each member brings her perspective, knowledge and individual experience that enriches the dialogue and learning. The power of sharing is invaluable.
To support these discussions, members of The Policy Circle have access to a members-only site where they can find a library of Policy Briefs on key issues. The Policy Circle briefs are not position papers, or talking points. The Policy Circle Briefs frame the issues, provide historical information on how an issue has evolved and what are the goals, as well as current avenues for reform. The Policy Circle Briefs provide curated information by policy experts and are designed to give an overview of a policy issue, featuring links to videos and more extensive resources if someone wants to “go deep” on a particular issue.
The Policy Circle Briefs are a key component of the framework as participants react to the brief not to each other. The Policy Circle briefs keep the conversation focused. Feedback about the briefs can be captured in meeting recaps that are posted on The Policy Circle member-only website.
Briefs are organized into a curricula which provides a path to explore and discuss various policy topics with your circle. You can follow the curriculum as designed or cover the briefs in an order that fits your group’s interests – it’s up to your Circle
Most circles meet every other month with a break in the summer — essentially 5 conversations a year. The curricula includes several series of “5” conversations on specific themes that provide an easy path to planning meetings. Series include: The Foundational Five, Five for Communities, Five for Business, Five that Impact Your Wallet, among others.
We agree to a truce on divisive social issues and instead choose to focus on policy areas where women can unite.
Briefs are regularly updated and available to be read at any time, either before a meeting or if a certain topic piques your interest. After discussing a broad issue, Circles are often interested in learning more about how the issue is being tackled locally or at the state level. The Policy Circle provides information on local state-based policy organizations and a roadmap for local engagement.
Each meeting features a policy topic with corresponding a Policy Brief to be read ahead of the meeting. Members gather and socialize before the host starts the meeting and introduces the topic, highlighting some key facts from the brief and discussion guide.
The designated facilitator leads the 45 minute discussion, employing a roundtable format, and using the discussion guide and the roundtable format. Time is left at the end to identify what can be done to influence the issue, how to discuss the issue as well as plan the next meeting. The Circle may decide to go deeper on a topic by inviting stakeholders, or representatives of a local task force to participate in a future discussion, or the circle may decide to move to the next proposed topic.
Everyone has a role…
To keep things running smoothly, each small discussion group has a:
- A Respectful Facilitator of the discussion group who ensures the meeting stays on track
- A Timekeeper who is mindful of the time and ensures that everyone has a chance to speak, a small 2 minute timer is usually passed around to each participant, or a timer on a phone is used.
- A Reporter who takes notes and is responsible for posting to the private member-only Policy Circle portal a recap of the discussion. This serves as a log of discussions and is helpful to plan future meetings and keep everyone up to date.
The roundtable format enables time for each person to express her views on the issue and manage the discussion. Everyone — from the passionate talkers to the more quiet, thoughtful types — participates in a validating, energizing dialogue. By speaking up you will become more comfortable engaging with others on important issues and perhaps discover your voice on issues you can use when discussing with friends or in a public forum.
Have a look and find out what it is like to be part of a circle.
Circles are organized and managed on The Policy Circle private Member-Only website. Each circle decides on the name of their circle, uses the portal to invite members and to manage the activities of their circle such as posting meetings and events, emailing members, and accessing the Library of Policy Circle Briefs on which the discussions are based.
Between meetings, members can communicate with each other via The Policy Circle Member-Only website by posting articles and events to their Circle page as well as sharing with others Circles in their states. Recent articles, town hall meetings with a local representative, a book signing or speaker visiting — all can be shared using The Policy Circle website.
The members-only website enables circle members to share ideas, resources and to plan events. The site is private and available to Policy Circle members only. You can post articles and organize events for members of your circle only or connect with other circles in your state or across the country. Posts and events can also be tagged by issue so that you can keep up with all posts and events made on an issue that interests you.
Twice a month everyone receives a personalized newsletter that summarizes the posts made to their Circle or issues that they follow. The Policy Circle team also publishes periodic posts summarizing what other circles are discussing, key issues, and events of interest to all Circles.
You’ll find being part of a Policy Circle is validating, empowering and transformational as you learn from other women to articulate your position on public policy. Public policy impacts behavior, so expanding your knowledge on the impact of policy will enable you to focus your energy and resources more effectively.
As your confidence grows, you will find yourself engaging in meaningful policy conversations with colleagues, leaders, moms, friends, and your own family. You realize that you are part of a tight network of women who are paying attention and learning to become influencers.
Policy Circle discussions inform your next life phase, how you engage in the non-profits that you support, how you assess and interact with candidates, how you prepare to lead your organization, community and family.
Start a Circle and start a conversation to change the conversation.
The Policy Circle framework inspires members to go beyond the headlines, ask questions and engage in civil discourse. Confident members often participate in public service task forces or run for office. Conversely, women who have participated in campaign school programs seed circles in their communities.
Anyone who is a problem solver running for office may not start a circle themselves but is encouraged to demonstrate their leadership abilities by recommending 3 women to start a Policy Circle that they can join. Seeding Policy Circles create safe forums where women can share how public policy impacts their daily lives, communities and organizations.
The Policy Circle is a 501(c)3 non-partisan, non-profit organization, as such it does not lobby, endorse nor fundraise for candidates. In fact, party names and labels are not used in any of the briefs. The Policy Circle is a forum to understand the issues, learn how to ask questions to engage in civil discourse.
Men have been great advocates for The Policy Circle by championing circle formation in their organizations or recommending that women in their lives and networks start a circle.
Currently, The Policy Circle goals are focused on engaging women in dialogue about public policy that impacts creativity in an open economy. The Policy Circle is a non-profit, non-partisan educational organization, therefore Circles are welcoming to all. However from our observations, men tend to naturally be more outspoken in discussions of multifaceted issues where no one has all the answers or knowledge.
We therefore suggest circles are formed with only women to host initial discussions and become comfortable with the topic before convening an all-gender audience.
Contact us. We’d love help and answer any additional questions you may have.