Good Governance Guide

Within this guide, you will more information on the concept of Talking Circles as well as additional reading and resources on good governance! You can toggle to either of the applicable sections via the buttons below.

All About Talking Circles

A wonderful practice to incorporate into your Blue Lakes meetings are Talking Circles.  Talking Circles stem from the traditions of Indigenous peoples, and are centred on equality among participants. This practice is based on the principle of sharing power rather than having power, which relates back to non-hierarchical structures. Talking Circles are used for many different reasons, but they all share the same essential guidelines: everyone in the circle is equal, decisions are made by consensus, and everyone agrees to abide by the guidelines established by the group in order to work towards a common goal. Every gathering uses a talking piece that is passed within the circle to regulate communication within groups. The circle keeper provides the talking piece which may be a symbolic item. The talking piece allows individuals to share their thoughts, which in turn encourages active listening and creates meaningful discussions. The talking piece is passed clockwise around the circle, allowing every individual to voice their thoughts, concerns and stories. The role of the circle keeper is to guide participants through the Talking Circle by ensuring that everyone takes responsibility for helping to keep the circle. We recommend that your Blue Lakes group rotates the circle keeper to avoid creating a hierarchical structure. Lastly, Talking Circles are about being mindful and respectful. Here are some tips when facilitating a Talking Circle with your Blue Lakes committee:

  • Arrange the seating in a circle, with chairs facing inwards to create a welcoming and equal environment
  • If they need to individuals can pass the talking piece when it’s there turn, with the intention to have more time to think or to pass entirely
  • Mute electronic devices such as cell phones and computers
  • Speak with truth, and be open to listening to others

When faced with decision making, we encourage using a consensus or general agreement structure to discourage appointing a decision maker, such as a president who may hold power over the group.  A general agreement structure can be used if a decision cannot be reached within three turns of the circle.  In this case, we recommend taking the majority vote to progress.  Another option is following a consensus method that can be determined through the consensus-level system.

The consensus levels are as follows:

  1. I can say an unqualified yes to the proposed decision. I am satisfied that the decision is an expression of the wisdom of the group.
  2.  I find the proposed decision perfectly acceptable.
  3.  I can live with the proposed decision; I’m not especially enthusiastic about it.
  4.  I do not fully agree with the decision and need to register my view about why. However, I do not choose to block the decision. I am willing to support the decision because I trust the wisdom of the group. (Group finds a way to address remaining issues.)
  5.  I do not agree with the proposed decision and feel the need to stand in the way of this decision being accepted. (Group finds a way to address remaining issues.)
  6.  I feel that we have no clear sense of unity in the group. We need to do more work before consensus can be reached. (Group finds a way to address remaining issues.)

When each participant chooses a consensus level of 4 or less (referring to the consensus levels), consensus is achieved.  If any member chooses a level of 5 or 6, consensus will not be achieved.  Be sure to address any issues that are raised by participants who are at level 3 or higher.

There is great value in diverse perspectives and knowledge, as we can learn from different people and their experiences.  Diversity amongst any group, team or workplace will result in improved decision-making and goal success.  Diversity goes hand-in-hand with inclusion because  sustaining diverse groups will not succeed if there is no sense of belonging for all individuals.  Groups must celebrate individuality of all members, and allow everyone to express their perspectives.  Once again, a Talking Circle is a great method to structure an inclusive meeting.

We encourage your Blue Lakes group to create an equal, unbiased and inclusive environment for all individuals.  After all, inclusive groups improve team motivation, meaning greater stewardship efforts will go towards our lakes.

Additional Reading & Resources


If I just explain the facts, they'll get it, right?


Engaging the public in biodiversity issues

Forging Inclusive Solutions

Lifelong Learning & Holding Community Dialogues

Roca Inc. (2004). Circle Keepers Manual. Retrieved here.

Six Traits of Inclusive Leadership

Talking Circles Used for Disaster Management

Talking Circles & Ethical Leadership

Why it matters how we frame the environment

Winters, A.  Using Talking Circles in the Classroom.  Heartland Community College. Retrieved here.

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