Restorative Circles

Restorative Circles and Community Building

Created by Jarling Ho and Duncan Autrey, 2019

Learn how circles can be used for restorative justice, community building and collectively processing experiences

  • Understand what a Circle Process is and when it is most valuable
  • Learn how circles can be used as a restorative practice

Tools and Tips

Defining the Circle
Preparing for a Circle
The Circle Process & Guidelines

Reflection Questions

Considerations for choosing a circle process

Building on Values through Restorative Circles

  • Respect
  • Honesty
  • Humility
  • Inclusiveness
  • Shared and Personal Responsibility
  • Empathy

What Is a Circle?

A circle is a gathering that is characterized by thoughtful preparation, powerful questions, and an egalitarian structure. Members of a group, team, movement, or community are all comfortably seated in a circle. Everyone is invited to participate and all voices are considered equally important. Read More

Applications for Circle Process

  • To build relationships within organizations, communities and neighborhoods
  • To process a shared experience (for example, a school shooting or tragedy in the community
  • To heal social and political divides, particularly related to matters of equity and inclusion
  • To foster open and safe conversations on sensitive topics
  • To restore the relationship between the community and a person who has caused harm
  • To restore and transform a community after a harm or rupture by identifying a path to reconciliation and the systemic causes behind a problem
  • To welcome back or reintegrate a former community member

When is Circle Process Useful?

Circle processes can create a different path for group members to relate to and support each other in striving after a common mission or vision, especially when tensions arise in the struggle to move society forward or when different perspectives or approaches stall organizations in accomplishing their goals.Read More


  • Circles provide a non-hierarchical format that allows participants to have an equal share in the conversation.
  • It is a holistic format that creates a space to bring the voices of everyone together to share their perspective(s) on an issue.
  • The circle process lifts up marginalized voices and the voices of those who tend to be quieter and it regulates the voices of those who tend to take up a lot of space.
  • Circles are useful for community restoration and transformation.
  • The act of physically sitting in a circle provides a sense of community and belonging and supports the format of the discussion.
  • Circle processes facilitate deep listening.
  • Circle process is designed to create brave and sacred space.
  • Circles can shift the focus of conversations from confrontation to shared interests.

The embedded characteristics of equitable voices (non-hierarchical form), deep listening, and face-to-face communication in sacred space offer a counterpoint to current fast-paced, debate-centered, and technology-based communication practices. The structure contributes to circles being ideal for deepening relationships, processing difficult experiences, and restoring groups, teams, and communities after a rupture.

Reflection Questions

Questions to consider when choosing a circle process

Examine these questions within the context of your own work or a contemporary global issue that relates to your work in social change.

  • Is relationship building important for the group?
  • Will the group benefit from developing shared understanding about the diverse experiences?
  • Are there voices that have been marginalized or not heard?
  • Does the issue at hand effect the whole group or system?
  • Do you want to support the whole group in processing complex information, news, or situation?
  • Will the issue at hand benefit from having the perspectives of the whole group or system?
  • Is there a need for collective healing or restoration?

Note: If your intention is to convince or change other people’s perspectives, then the circle is not right for you.

Tools and Tips

Defining the Circle

The first step of a circle process is to define the scope of the conversation and who needs to be involved. [read more]

  • Topic – What is the topic, or issue, or conflict that we want to address?
  • Goal – Ask yourself honestly, what is your intention? What do you want to accomplish or experience for yourself and others?
  • Who to invite – Who needs to be part of the circle to ensure that all perspectives and stakeholders are included? Ask others to identify those who need to be part of it. If there is desire to exclude certain individuals, then the circle process is not appropriate.
  • Voluntariness – Are people willing to sit down and talk about this?
  • Convener – Who is a trusted person or group of people who can act as conveners for the conversation?
  • Circle Keeper and Host – Who will this be and what will their responsibilities be? One individual can be both the circle keeper and host, or it can be separated out. [/read]

Roles for circle process include:

  • Host/Convener – A group or individual that issues the invitation, prepares the physical space, helps determine the scope of conversation, and participates.
  • Guardian/Circle Keeper – A person whose role is to track the tone of the conversation, maintain a safe and open space, and, with the help of others, call for pause when needed.
  • Circles can also choose to have specific timekeepers to help keep the conversation moving and scribes to record decisions or other items important to the group.

Preparing the Circle

Once you have determined that a circle is suitable for the situation, identified who needs to be there, and identified who will be the circle keeper, then you move onto planning the circle. [read more]

  1. Crafting questions – Conveners and/or hosts prepare questions that are open-ended and that elicit different responses. Questions that evoke shared values in the group, and that allow individuals to share their stories and connect with each other are the most helpful.
  2. Invitation – Everyone who needs to be included should receive an invitation. The invitation should clearly communicate the topic, the intention, who is convening the circle, why the person is invited, and explain that the process is voluntary. Ask participants to RSVP.
  3. Materials – Find a talking piece that will have meaning for the group and will encourage respectful speaking and listening. Decide if materials (eg: notepads, chart paper, information, snacks, etc.) are necessary and whether they serve the purpose of the circle.
  4. Preparing the space – Choose a location that is symbolic and feels safe for all of the participants. Arrange the correct amount of chairs in a circle. Make sure there are enough seats for everyone; that there will be no furniture in the center of the circle. Some may create a symbolic centerpiece for the circle, (a candle, flowers, an object that represents the group), or leave the center empty.[/read]

The Circle Process

The following offers a basic description of  a circle process. [read more]

  1. Opening – Host/Guardian/Circle Keeper or convener shares the topic and intentions of the circle and opens with a ceremony or ritual.
    • Introduce the talking piece
    • Talk about time parameters (eg: time per person, timekeeper), if relevant.
    • Agree on the communication guidelines
  2. Question Rounds – In each round, every participant will have the opportunity to answer the same question while all others listen attentively. The talking piece is passed around the circle.  Participants can choose to pass, either in that moment or for a particular question.
    • Beginning Check-in – A chance for participants to share names and relationship to the topic.
    • Questions about the topic – A series of rounds each with a question that deepen understanding about the issue.>
    • Check-out – A chance for people to share their reflections on the circle.
  3. Closing
    • Reminder about any confidentiality agreements.
    • Circle Keeper closes with closing ceremony. [/read]

Sample Communication Guidelines

  • Respect the talking piece (ie: Listen to the speaker and don’t interrupt)
  • Speak from the heart
  • Listen with your heart
  • Speak from your own experience
  • Refrain from attempting to persuade
  • Confidentiality


DPACE Guide for Crafting Powerful Questions

Books and Articles
The Little Book of Circle Processes by Kay Pranis
The Art of Powerful Questions
Fostering Dialogue Across Divides by Essential Partners (2017)
  • Pre-meeting considerations: pp. 27-57
  • Crafting Questions: pp. 24 & 159-166

The Circle Way by Ann Linnea and Christina Baldwin

History, Defining Restorative | Restorative Practices. IIRP,

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