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Seating arrangements

Group dynamics and levels of participation are also influenced by seating arrangements. There are some particularly effective methods for breaking down power imbalances and encouraging participants to take a full part in proceedings. These include circles, half circles and fishbowls. A fishbowl consists of an inner group of participants taking part in a discussion or activity. They are surrounded by a larger circle of participants. Those on the outer circle listen, observe and ‘witness’ the activity. Participants can take turns between sitting in the outer circle and sitting in the centre. Those on the outer circle can ask questions to those in the middle. Another technique is the Margolis wheel. This involves four to six pairs of chairs facing each other, arranged in a circle like a wheel. This exercise helps participants to realise that everyone has knowledge and experiences worth sharing (see below).

                        

The Margolis Wheel. Participants are asked to reflect on a particular challenge or issue they face. Those sitting on chairs in the inner ring are counsellors and those on the outer ring are clients. The clients rotate after brief consultations with counsellors. When the outer ring has gone round once, they swap with those in the middle and become counsellors.

Another exercise is to ask participants to sit in a circle on the ground. This can subtly weaken or reverse power relationships. It is harder for one person to dominate without standing up, and if they do they tend to exclude themselves from the task at hand. The power remains with those on the ground as they are the ones sorting the cards, drawing the maps, writing the notes or in the photo above, placing the seeds to score the matrix. Quite simply, sitting on the ground is a good leveller; setting a tone which is open, collaborative and egalitarian