Section 2.G: Descriptions of Agenda Items Specific to Particular Sessions

In this Section:

This section describes more specialized topics and activities that are likely to appear only on the agenda of particular meetings.

Personal Introductions

We encourage those groups in which participants have never before met to devote extensive time to introductions — enough time that people feel safe and comfortable with each other. Even groups in which members already know each other should spend some time getting to know each other better. This encourages cooperation and makes the process go easier and faster later on. No matter what introductory process is used, each person’s comments should be fairly brief and each person should be given approximately equal time to share with the group. This basic principle of equality is important to keep in mind throughout the START course.

Here are some suggestions for things that might be shared:

So that people can answer adequately, choose only three or four of these items for people to answer in the initial meeting and maybe a few more at a later meeting.

Generally, it is not a good idea to ask people simply to tell what change work they have done since that often produces a situation where a few people in the group talk at length about their experience while others say little or nothing and feel inadequate because they have had less experience.

Here are two ways you might structure the introductions:

Go Around the Circle

Traditionally, people sit in a circle and each person introduces her/himself in turn around the circle. This has the advantage of allowing everyone to speak for her/himself and to take the time they need, and for everyone else to hear what they have to say. However, it has several disadvantages: people may talk too long, those who are comfortable speaking about themselves in groups may talk much longer than those who do not, and some people may boast while others minimize their accomplishments.

If you anticipate encountering these difficulties, you can either limit each person to a set time, or use the following process:

Introduce Another

Break into pairs of people (each person chooses the person sitting next to her/him or someone she/he does not know well). For 2-3 minutes one person in each pair introduces her/himself to the other (and the other listens and, perhaps, takes brief notes). Then the timekeeper calls time and the other person introduces her/himself for 2-3 minutes. The group reconvenes and each person, in turn, introduces her/his partner to the group as a whole.

The content of what people say to each other in the pairs may range over many themes, so individuals should not be expected to be able to remember everything to re-tell to the group. Indeed, this is an advantage since almost no one can talk about another person for an excessively long time. This process also is usually much safer for those who do not like to talk about themselves or those who have trouble talking in front of a group. For especially taciturn people, their partner can attentively ask questions and draw them out.

Presentation and Questions — Introduction to START

The person convening the group may want to take 5 or 10 minutes to give some background information about START. This should include defining what START is, providing some historical background, briefly explaining the content and process, describing its relationship to social action, and perhaps telling an inspiring story. The introduction to this study guide provides most of this information. After the presentation, you might allot a few minutes for answering essential questions, but do not let this go on too long (more than 10 minutes) — the best way to understand START is just to do it.

The convener should briefly outline what is required of participants (see the list in Section 2.B) so everyone has a realistic idea of what they are getting into.

Also, depending on the group, the convener may want to introduce explicit ground rules for behavior. For some groups, agreeing by consensus to ground rules will make the group feel safer since it will be clear that obnoxious behavior will not be tolerated. But for others, establishing group rules at the first meeting will introduce the worry that others in the group might be problematic. In this case, it is better to wait and discuss ground rules only if problems arise. At the first meeting, you want to establish a hopeful, upbeat atmosphere and suggest that things will probably go well, not focus on potential problems.

Some possible ground rules:

Brainstorm and Discussion — Expectations and Hopes for the START Course

A quick brainstorm — with ideas recorded so the group can refer to it later — is a good way of checking out whether people’s expectations are realistic and whether the group is meeting them. Either a brainstorm or a “think and listen” session might be focused by asking people to tell the group (1) ways in which they see themselves using what they will learn from the START course, or (2) a major hope or goal they have for the course. If people have unrealistic or contradictory expectations, this should be made clear and resolved at this time.

Discussion and Questions — About the START Study Guide

The creation of a democratic process — in which everyone participates equally and takes equal responsibility for the success of the group — requires that everyone in the group read and be familiar with this study guide. Ideally this should be done before the first meeting. If this is not possible, time for reading and discussing the study guide should be built into the introductory sessions in such a way as to permit any clarification or group decision-making needed before the group moves into the analysis sessions of the START course.

Reading Sets Collection A, typically used in Session 2, specifically calls for everyone to carefully read all of Chapter 1 and Sections A–F of Chapter 2 of this study guide, to skim Sections 2.G and 2.H, and to look over the other chapters.

Presentation of Reports — Relating the Readings to Societal Change

When presenting reports on social problems, there is a tendency to focus on the problems rather than on solving them. Here is one way to ensure at least part of each presentation focuses on solving problems:

Every time a report is given, the last minute might be devoted to its change implications: new goals, criticism of old goals and present efforts, or specific projects the group could do. If the allotted time period is about up and the presenter hasn’t focused on change implications, the facilitator might remind that person to do so, or suggest that an extra minute be taken at the end for that specific purpose.

Plan a Change Action

Planning and carrying out a change activity can make the ideas discussed in your study sessions seem less abstract. You can actually try out some of the change ideas you have generated and see how they work. The action may raise questions that you can then study and discuss in later START sessions.

Although many of the change actions that we know about are big affairs (such as boycotts, mass marches, starting alternative institutions, etc.), there are many important, smaller activities that a group can do without too much time and effort. Your group might want to do some kind of mini-action once a month. Here are some suggestions:

Proposals for Action

At the last meeting, to stimulate discussion about what you might do next, we suggest that three people present three different proposals describing what your group might do. These could be culled from action ideas generated throughout the course. After these presentations, you might brainstorm additional ideas, discuss them all, and sift through them for the idea that most appeals to your group. Here are some proposals that you might choose or adapt to your specific situation:

1. Develop and Launch an Action Campaign

Your group would choose a particular social problem, find a positive solution, and launch a campaign to implement your solution. Your work might focus first on researching and studying the problem, possible solutions, and various strategies for change, using the skills you have learned from the START course. Or, if you think you already know these, then your work might focus on implementing your preferred solution (and/or challenging those who stand in the way).

2. Work With an Existing Organization to Bring about Change

Your group would choose an existing organization that is currently doing effective positive work. A committed and skilled START group willing to work hard would be a valuable addition to any campaign for change. You might use the skills you have learned in the START course to examine and analyze the principles and program of the group, to assist the organization develop a visionary goal, a strategy for change, or an action campaign, or to help the group with its internal process.

3. Work to Inform Your Community about an Important Issue

Your group would choose an issue, research the existing problems and possible positive alternatives, and then inform people in your community by setting up speaking engagements, arranging to speak on radio and TV shows, writing and distributing leaflets door-to-door or at community events, setting up a website, writing and performing a skit that illuminates the situation, etc.

4. Start or Support an Alternative Institution

Your group would develop or support an alternative institution such as a food co-op, a childcare co-op, a land trust, a community radio station, a local currency (like Ithaca Hours), etc.

5. Launch Two New START Courses

Your group would help arrange and convene two more START groups in your area as a way of rousing, educating, and empowering more people and getting them involved in working for positive change. You might approach organizations with which you are involved, friends, neighbors, or work colleagues. To appeal to a specific audience such as high school students, an oppressed minority group, or a particular occupational group, you might need to modify the format or content. To help get the new START groups off the ground, one or more people from your group might attend and possibly facilitate the first few meetings.

6. Develop an Issue-Specific Study Group

Your group would develop the outline and materials necessary to conduct a study group similar to the START course but focused on a specific issue that you think would appeal to many people. Once completed, you would publish it on the web, publicize it, and encourage others to use it. To test the materials, your group may want to actually convene such a study group. See Section 3.F for some ideas on how to go about developing an issue-oriented study group.

7. Provide Auxiliary Support to Existing Change-Oriented Organizations

Your group would decide to provide some kind of ancillary support to existing organizations: education and training; personal counseling or coaching; fundraising (organizing benefit concerts or dinners, raffles, etc); or material support for staffmembers (babysitting, transportation, meal preparation). This kind of auxiliary support, though seldom honored or valued, can be extremely helpful in enabling small, poorly funded organizations to be powerful and effective.

8. Morph into an On-Going Support Group

Your group would change into a support group, helping each of the members of the group to focus on and do better whatever change work they choose to do individually.

Note: Often it is difficult to get everyone in a START group to agree on a single focus for action. Rather than spending a lot of energy trying to push your whole START group in a single direction, if your group cannot agree, instead encourage each participant to pursue whatever action ideas interest her/him (possibly in an organization with which they already work) and to work with others from the START group (or elsewhere) who share that interest.

Next Section: 2.H. Descriptions of Exercises