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Date: 01/01/2014
  • Practices
  • Going Forth
  • Emerging Facilitators
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Creating Study-Action Groups

from chapter 10 of Coming Back to Life by Joanna Macy and Molly Brown; second edition, published 2014. Please acknowledge the source when you use any of these practices.


Study circles are one of the greatest social inventions of our time. Engrossing and fun, they elicit our innate curiosity, raise our sights, and widen our horizons, while offering an immediately rewarding experience of community. They uncover our capacity to think cogently about big issues of common concern — a capacity that we may not have suspected we had. They increase our respect for our self and each other, breaking down barriers of isolation and powerlessness.

These functions are multiplied when participants, wanting to embody the values that arise, undertake projects together — and the groups become study-action groups. The energy that is unleashed, when we move out to do together what we may have felt inadequate to do alone, can transform our lives and our society.

Steps in organizing a study-action group:

  • Choose a topic and select a book or other resources to study.
  • Study groups using Coming Back to Life and/or Active Hope work best when they divide each session between cognitive discussion of the material and an interactive process. This is an excellent way to train facilitators in the Work That Reconnects.
  • Determine the number of sessions the group will hold; people feel freer to join a group when they know the duration is limited. The group’s meeting can always be extended for those who choose to continue. Also choose the frequency and length of sessions. Weekly or monthly meetings of two hours work well.
  • Issue an invitation (say, by contacting selected friends and colleagues, and/or putting a notice on public bulletin boards, in social media groups or in the WTR Network Forum). Aim for the optimal size of 8-12 people. Don’t ask people to commit before they’ve come to an introductory session.
  • Select a venue such as your local church, synagogue, mosque, school, or community center and, of course, consider meeting in one or more participants’ homes. Or, meet online using a video conference platform.
  • Take time in your first meeting to review guidelines for successful study-action groups, and agree on commitments, such as regular attendance, reading and preparation between meetings, etc. Many of the suggestions for guiding the work provided in Chapter 5 of Coming Back to Life are excellent for study-action groups..
  • We recommend rotating facilitators, enhancing the group’s sense of shared responsibility.
  • Honor the meeting as sacred time and space with a simple ritual at the beginning and end. Light a candle, for example, or take a moment of silence to breathe. 
  • Make use of interactive processes to sustain motivation and exercise the moral imagination.
  • If your group takes form and plans to meet ongoingly, consider submitting it as a Community of Practice in the WTR Network Map & Directory
Contributor/Author: Joanna Macy & Molly Brown