The Margolis Wheel

Posted by Doc
Feb 15 2009

This is a technique that I got from the marvelous book Participatory Workshops: A Sourcebook of 21 Sets of Ideas and Activities by Robert Chambers*.

Quoted from the book:

An intense and good experience to come near the end**. This enables participants to share and receive advice on real problems and opportunities. It reinforces solidarity and mutual support. It can also surprise people with their own ability to counsel others.

You need four-six pairs of chairs, facing each other, arranged in a circle. As many circles of pairs of chairs as fit the number taking part. Allow ten minutes for briefing and reflection, plus:

4 pairs of chairs – 25-30 minutes
5 paris of chairs – 30-35 minutes
6 pairs of chairs – 35-40 minutes

  1. Ask participants to reflect and choose a problem or opportunity they face or will face. This can be in their work and/or when they return to their institutions, or be any personal problem on which they would like advice. Stress that everything that passes is in confidence between friends.
  2. Ask everyone to sit in a chair, any chair. Those on the inner ring are counsellors, and those on the outer ring their clients. There are three minutes only for each round of advice, roughly one minute for posing the problem, and two minutes for the advice.
  3. After two minutes warn that only one minute is left. After three minutes, all the outer ring (clients) move one seat in the same direction. The inner ring (counsellors) stays put. Repeat the procedure.
  4. When the outer ring has gone round, counsellors and clients swap seats. The process is repeated with the roles changed.

Tips and Options

  • Encourage note-taking, otherwise much will be forgotten. Notes can be taken on the run, or two minutes or so can be set aside at the end of each full circuit for making a personal record.
  • It may be wise to place people from the same organization or department into different clusters of chairs.
  • If numbers do not fit, facilitators can take part, or volunteers can sit out and observe, or an extra pair of chairs can be added to one or more circles (in which case stop the bigger circles when the smaller circles have finished their round).
  • Write down the times when change-overs must take place. (Otherwise it is easy to mess up the timing).

Source: Participatory Learning and Action: A Trainer’s Guide citing Alan Margolis, personal communication.


* Robert Chambers is a research associate of the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, England. He is one of the world’s most influential proponents of participatory development. His other books include “Whose Reality Counts?”, and “Challenging the Professions.”

** While Chambers suggests this for the end, I think that this can effectively be used as part of a progressive approach to larger meetings. For instance, start with Open Space, then integrate activities like The World Café and the Margolis Wheel to refine communication and understanding.

One Response

  1. […] Techniques that either involve the group without discussion (Starfish, Timeline) or that enforce a structure that gives everyone equal time and attention (Circle of Questions, The Margolis Wheel). […]

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