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Peer Problem Solving Circle Exercize

At the Closing the Distance Project staff meeting in Waterloo in June 2003, the Peer Problem Solving Circle method developed by Mike Balkwill and Bill Lee was used for cross-regional consultation. When project staff and leaders from all the regions are together at a Reflections session, it is an opportunity for each region to get helpful reflection on their particular issues from their colleagues from other parts of the province.

At the Waterloo Reflections Meeting, each regional leadership group brought forward a "problem statement" worked out in advance. Each regional group presented its problem in a Peer Problem Solving Circle for analysis and consultation with their colleagues. Presenters, of course, also acted as "problem solvers" when their regional colleagues presented their own problem statements to the Circle.

The following describes the objectives, roles and process in the Peer Problem Solving Circle method. Then, you are invited to apply the process to one of the problem statements brought to the Waterloo Reflections session.

The objectives of the Peer Problem Solving Circle are:

  • To learn a three step problem solving process
  • To solve problems!

There are three roles in the Peer Problem Solving Circle:

Problem presenter: One of the members of the group volunteers to select an issue and present it as a "problem statement" to the group. The issue can be any problem that is related to work. It may be a technical or task issue, a process issue, or a personal issue - as long as it is related to the work.

The presenter(s) will prepare a written, one-paragraph description of the problem to circulate at the beginning of the session.

Facilitator: The facilitator has the primary responsibility for leading the group through the problem-solving stages, and acts as timekeeper. It is this person's role to remind people of the task for each stage of the process and help them to stay focussed.

Problem solvers: The members of the group participate in the primary problem-solving tasks of clarifying the problem and generating possible strategies. The members of the group may dialogue with the presenter, but they can also talk with each other.

Observer: One member of the group volunteers to observe the problem solving discussion and not to participate. This person notes her/his observations on the consultation process for report back to the circle.

Each problem solving session follows the same general process:

  1. (5 minutes)  Check In: The Facilitator reviews the agenda with the group, ensures someone volunteers to be the Observer and leads a "check-in" round with all participants to be sure the format is clear.

  2. (5 minutes)  Problem Presentation: The Presenter describes the problem or key challenge of the project.

  3. (15 minutes)  Problem Clarification: The members of the group (Problem Solvers) talk with the Presenter and with each other to clarify the aspect of the problem with which she/ he wants help. The Facilitator assists this discussion.

  4. (20 minutes)  Develop Strategies: The members of the group talk with the Presenter and with each other to develop possible strategies that will address the problem. In the discussion the Presenter identifies what she/he will do and what needs to be done by others to implement the strategy.

  5. (5 minutes)  Summary: The Presenter selects the strategies she/he will implement to address the problem.

  6. (10 minutes)  Closing Rounds: The Facilitator leads a "check-out" round with all participants and asks the Observer to offer her/his summary of how the process worked.

© Social Planning Network of Ontario