The Online Knowledge Center

Table of Contents

What is this module for

  • to understand the concept of circles of supports and be able to initiate one
  • to be able to identify community resources with the person and use them

What is it about

Person centred planning is an individual planning process, but this does not mean that it is helpful to plan with the person alone. It is not only important to discover the strengths and resources of the individual but also to discover and develop the strengths and resources of the personal network and the community.

A circle of support consists of all the people who can support the focus person with her or his future plan. This can be family members, friends, community members and professionals. The focus person should decide who will be invited. In identifying people who should be invited a relationship map or mapping the network could be helpful tools. The focus person should be well prepared for the meeting and decide what should be the topics (and what not). All the people who are invited should get a personal invitation and know what the meeting will be about. The focus person also decides where the meeting of the circle will take place. It is important that it is a place where the focus person feels comfortable. The room can be decorated with things from the planning process like a profile poster, photographs or important things of the person in the middle of the circle. Some planning formats like person centred reviews, MAP or PATH require place for flipcharts on the wall. Drinks and favourite snacks are a good idea. It is important to create a welcoming and valuing atmosphere and not to hold another formal meeting.

The circles meeting should be best facilitated by two people: One person should be experienced in the facilitation of group discussions and processes. The task of this facilitator is to facilitate the discussion in the circle. The facilitator makes sure that ground rules for the circle are established like everybody can speak without being interrupted, comments should be constructive and directed to the future, everybody is treated with respect and dignity. It is important to involve the circle members, but also make sure that the focus person stays in the focus. Often the circle members are really supportive and a positive dynamic will arise developing new opportunities with the focus person. However sometimes resistance, fears and devaluing comments can create a challenging dynamic. The facilitator should be prepared to deal with this kind of dynamics and killer phrases like “we don’t have time or resources for that”, “he can’t do that” or “we have already tried everything”. Overcoming these barriers can be critical for the success of the planning process of the focus person.

The other person that facilitates the process is the graphic facilitator. He writes and draws the results of the planning meeting on big posters or flipcharts. Most people remember pictures better than words, not only people with learning disabilities who can’t read. Our soul thinks in images. Creating an image of a good future is an important task and often demands to focus on important details. How would it exactly look like? In dialogue with the focus person the graphic facilitator find matching pictures for the things that are important to the person. It doesn’t have to be artwork even though some people can create impressing, lively pictures. Many people don’t dare to draw, so it is important to encourage people to try and to discover and develop their ability to draw.

There are a couple of planning formats like person centred reviews, MAP or PATH and problem solving tools that can be used in circles of support.

Exploring, developing and using community resources can be important to create opportunities for the focus person. It is important not only to discover the strengths and resources of the person but also of the community. Often support organisations have very little knowledge about the opportunities of the community and don’t invest time and resources to develop stronger ties into the community. There is a range of tools of community connecting to discover the community from the perspective of the person (e.g. mapping favourite places, making a tour guided by the focus person through the community) or in general. The minibook community connecting offers some them.

How can the message be delivered

We explain the concept of circles of support and illustrate it by stories of circles of supports. If possible we have a person who tells about his experiences with his circle of support.

The participants identify their personal network by using a relationship map or mapping the network. A good tool can be also the family treasure map where the family tree of a person with the jobs and hobbies family members have is drawn together with the person. Participants think about who they would like to invite to their circle of support.

We use team building exercises like the “tower of power” where the participants can build a tower of wooden blocks with a small “crane” connected with strings to up to 24 people to illustrate the challenge and chance of working together in a big circle. Another similar group exercise is the “Strippenzieher” where 12 or 20 people draw a picture together with a pen that is in the middle connected with 12 or 20 strings.

People train their facilitation skills with cards with “killer phrases” (“you can’t do that, because you are too disabled”, “we tried that”, “this is not possible”...) to find good ways to deal with these statements.

We introduce the method of “peer supervision” as a structured method of problem solving ( to be able to reflect on difficult situations in the planning processes.

A first introduction into graphic facilitation skills encourages people to dare to draw. A worksheet on graphic facilitation helps to make first, basic drawings. Books like bikablo (HAUSMANN 2006/ 2008) help to get ideas for simple drawings of complex topics. The participants get to know different methods to explore and visualize the network of a person on a poster such as ‘relationship circles’, ‘my network’ or ‘the family treasure map’. Creating a poster for themselves or a partner is also a good exercise for graphic facilitation.

In order to widen the network of a person and to discover new opportunities it is important to have a good knowledge of the resources in the community. They explore the favourite places and opportunities for a person in the local community with tools from the minibook community connecting (SANDERSON, LIVESLEY, POLL & KENNEDY 2008) like the tool “my places”. A good method is also to draw a community map on a big piece of paper with a diverse group of people including all important places, clubs or key persons in a local community. Community maps can be also done with a real map of the community using pins and pictures to map important places and key people for a person or in general.

The participants in the training course start in this module planning processes inside and outside the course by getting to know the person who wants to plan and initiate first circles. They are introduced to the method of peer supervision and build community of learners to support each other.

Tips for training

As an introduction it is powerful to let focus people talk about their circles of supports and person centred planning processes. It is important to encourage participants to use the planning methods for themselves. Being the focus person or active part of a circle of support is an essential experience.

We use metaphors like hats for different roles to explain what happens if people try new roles or glasses for different perspectives to explain the importance to acknowledge that the world looks different through different glasses. Stories, sayings, pictures, videos and music connected to the topic support people with different learning styles to learn.

Team building exercises are good to experience the power and challenge of good cooperation in a circle. It is helpful to create a good group atmosphere, to explore and value the different talents of the members and to build a community of learners where people support each other.
Drawing and graphic facilitation is quite a challenge for some people. It is important to introduce it in a playful way. At first it is important that people dare to draw not how good they draw.

Exploring the community where people live or work in inclusive groups is a good way to direct the attention of the participants towards community resources.

If you want to know more

O’BRIEN, John & BLESSING, Carol (2011): Conversations on Citizenship and Person-Centred Work. Toronto: Inclusion Press.
O’BRIEN, John, PEARPOINT, Jack & KAHN, Lynda (2010): The PATH & MAPS Handbook. Person-Centred Ways to Build Community. Toronto: Inclusion Press 
HAUSSMANN, Martin (2006): bikabolo – Facilitators dictonary of visual language/ das Trainerwörterbuch der Bildsprache. Eichenzell: Neuland GmbH & Co. KG, 2006.
HAUSSMANN, Martin (2009): bikabolo 2.0 – das Bikablo 2.0: New Visuals for Meeting, Training & Learning / Neue Bilder für Meeting, Training & Learning /. Eichenzell: Neuland GmbH & Co. KG, 2009.
PEARPOINT, Jack (2002): Hints for Graphic Facilitators. Toronto: Inclusion Press.
POLL, Carl, KENNEDY, Jo & SANDERSON Helen (2009): In Community- Practical lessons in supporting isolated people to be part of community. HAS Press.
SANDERSON, Helen, LIVESLEY, Michelle, POLL, Carl, KENNEDY, Jo (2008): Minibook Community Connecting. Stockport: HSA Press.


Metalog Power of Tower – Neuland 
Mammut-Strippenzieher – Karl Schubert Werkstätten