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Group Exercises

Group Exercises

Social Problem-to-Causes Web Chart

The group starts by writing an issue of concern in the center of a large wall chart (several taped together are often useful), such as “heavy U.S. reliance on the automobile” or “the inadequacy of health care in our town.” Group members then suggest what they feel are important causes of the problem. As group members suggest various items, these items are written on the chart around the central concern and connecting lines are drawn from each item to the central problem. When the group is satisfied that major direct causes have been identified, they then concentrate on what they feel are the principal causes of those major direct causes, which in turn are causing the central problem. As numerous second, third, and perhaps even fourth-level causes are added, the diagram assumes the appearance of a web. The entire procedure can take from half an hour to an hour.

This visual process enables a group to trace the root causes or effects of any specific concrete social condition. It quite literally results in a “big picture,” locating the issue of concern in the center of a web of forces directly related to it. It facilitates a group analysis of a problem and — by identifying some “handles” on the problem — can also be of considerable value in helping the group plan a strategy.

Note: it is very important to make the central issue on which you concentrate a very concrete one; if it is too vague you will soon become lost in questions of what various terms “really” mean.

Social Problem-to-Consequences Web Chart

This exercise is the same as the one above except that instead of listing important causes of a problem, you list important consequences of a problem. This is a good way to trace the ripple effects of a bad situation.

Visions of a Good Society

Vision Gallery

This is an effective technique for helping people think of positive, achievable aspects of a good society.

Divide the group into small groups of 3-5 people each. For 10-15 minutes, have each person write down major features of a really good society that she/he would like to see, assuming there were no constraints of money, political power, etc.

Note that this individual thinking can be done from several different perspectives, and it is generally best if all members of the subgroup agree on what perspective they would like to adopt, such as:

  •         A description of a major function in such a society, e.g., healthcare, education, transportation
  •         A description of the kind of community one would like to live in
  •         What kind of work people would do, and where they would live
  •         A description of “a day in my life” in a good society

When these descriptions are completed, have each person share his or her ideas with the rest of the small group. Then have the group combine the best points of all its ideas and record them on a wall chart. This may take the form of a picture, a graph, or a list of items. When the small groups are finished, have them come back together and hang their papers side by side on a wall in a gallery of visions of a new society. Have spokespeople for each small group explain the main points of their vision.

This procedure can take from 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours depending on the group’s wishes.


  •         What might this community look like ten years from now, ideally?
  •         What would a day in my life look like in this community? In an ideal society?
  •         What kind of factory would I like to work in?
  •         What would the U.S. look like?

Vision Scenario Writing

Instruct participants to write a description answering the question, “What will a good society/ world/ town/ personal life look like in 10 years if the most optimistic changes occur (though kept within realistic bounds)?” The scenario might be written as if it is a newspaper story ten years hence describing conditions as they would exist then compared to now. Then have each person read their description to the group.

Since these descriptions can take a long time to write, they can also be done at home before the session.

Brainstorm Characteristics of a Good Society

Hang wall charts with five columns marked “Economic,” “Political,” “Social,” “Personal,” and “Other.” Then have the group successively brainstorm characteristics of a good society for each of the topics.

Once the brainstorming is finished, if there is time and the group wishes to, the facilitator can focus on each item in turn and ask whether the whole group agrees it is a characteristic of a good society. For those items for which there is not agreement, people with opposing views might briefly tell their reasons.

Think and Listen about Visions

For 5 minutes in silence have each person think of aspects of a good society that are important to her/him. Then have each person, in turn, take 3 minutes to tell her/his key vision ideas to the whole group. A recorder might list the ideas on a wall chart.

Connecting Problems to Social Change Solutions

If groups do not act to help resolve the problems they learn about, they often suffer from feelings of powerlessness and become frustrated and inactive. Here are some exercises that help identify feasible action solutions. Even though the action ideas generated in these exercises are usually not acted on immediately, conceiving of them is still a valuable step since it reminds participants of all the things that could be done and encourages them to consider acting.

Social Problem-Solution-Action Brainstorm

This exercise helps groups to rapidly gather and make sense of information by listing the problems discussed, possible solutions to them, and specific actions people can take to help achieve the solutions. Focusing on actions helps prevent people from becoming depressed and bogged down in too much disheartening analysis.

  1.     The recorder makes three columns on wall charts and heads them “problems,” “solutions or visions” and “actions.”
  2.     For 2 minutes the group brainstorms the problems that were discussed in that session and the recorder rapidly writes them in the “problems” column of the wall chart. Continue for another minute if the group is going strong and wants more time.
  3.     For 2 minutes the group brainstorms solutions to the problems listed in the first column and the recorder rapidly writes the solutions in the second column. Continue for another minute if needed.
  4.     For 2 minutes the group brainstorms projects that groups could adopt and lifestyle changes individuals might take to achieve the solutions in column two. Continue for another minute if needed.
  5.     How to do a specific project. The facilitator asks the group to quickly choose one of the projects or lifestyle changes that were brainstormed. The facilitator then asks, “How could we achieve that?” and the group brainstorms its answers while the recorder writes them on a new wall chart. The list should consist only of positive ideas without criticisms. When the group feels that the list is long enough, the facilitator again asks the group to pick an item from this newly brainstormed list and repeats the question, “How could we accomplish this?” This cycle of selecting a project idea and brainstorming how it could be accomplished is repeated 3 or 4 times until the projects and lifestyle changes become specific, clear, and achievable.

This whole procedure usually takes from 30 to 45 minutes, but can, if necessary, be shortened to 20 minutes.

Social Problem-Solution-Project Chronicle

Before the first report is presented in a session, the recorder makes 3 columns on the wall chart, headed “problems,” “solutions” and “projects.” Then, as each report is given, and during discussion, the recorder extracts any problems, solutions, or projects mentioned, and writes them in the appropriate column. This helps focus the discussion more on change, helps the group produce more useful and practical ideas, and is a good memory device. All the past “action” wall charts can be brought out and hung up each week.

Sharing Thinking

Often just a simple “think and listen” process — taking time in a group for each person to think about an issue and then sharing that thinking — can generate a wealth of insights, information, and exciting new ideas. It seems a particularly good way of applying our own experience to larger issues and making new connections between them.

  1.     A particular problem or issue is chosen which everyone focuses on. People in the group spend time thinking by themselves with pen and paper (this time can be taken either before or during the meeting). Alternatively divide into “think and listen pairs” — one person thinks aloud for a designated amount of time while the other listens silently, maybe taking notes for the person who is thinking, then reverse roles. The attention of another person can stimulate new thinking, and the process can help people to organize and articulate the important points before sharing them with the group. Not having any feedback from the listener is important in creating a safe environment just for thinking.
  2.     After the designated amount of time, people return to the group prepared to share their thinking. The available time is divided equally between each of the participants. Each individual shares her/his thinking with the group leaving a short time at the end for clarifying questions.
  3.     After hearing from everyone, the group spends some time discussing what has been presented. Finding common threads in people’s sharing and isolating important factors helps to incorporate the personal thinking into group thinking.

Vision-Action Crystal Ball

This exercise helps groups to relate their future visions of society to the development of social actions today.

  1.     Individually or in small groups predict how the world, nation, and/or your own life might look ten years from now if present trends continue.
  2.     Share these briefly with the whole group.
  3.     Individually or in small groups write a description of your vision of the world, nation, local community, or your personal life ten years from now if maximum success for positive change happens (be very optimistic but not impossibly unrealistic). It might be written as if it is a newspaper article at that time describing conditions.
  4.     Then write a scenario of events that led up to the good society. What caused the changes? Be as specific as possible. Emphasis here should be on the causes that brought about the good society, not so much of a description of the good society itself. Try to make it believable.
  5.     What role did groups you are involved with play? What did you do? What did you do in the first year (i.e., the next year from today)? (This exercise can also be used for specific issues and shorter time periods such as the climate change crisis over the next 5 years or U.S. military intervention over the next 3 years.)