Brown County, WI Diversity Circles

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Brown County, WI, US

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Type: Program

Status: Launched in 2004

Source File:


Brown County Diversity Circles: Bringing together our community through dialougue, understanding, action, and change.

The talking circles in Brown County focus their conversations on immigration, poverty, and racism.

What Are Diversity Circles?
Diversity Circles are non-partisan, small group discussions that meet for two hours weekly for four weeks to address a critical public issue in a democratic and collaborative way. Diversity Circles in Brown County focus their discussions on issues related to immigration, poverty, and racism.

Diversity Circles are led by neutral, trained facilitators who are impartial and help manage the deliberation process but are not “experts” in the traditional sense.

Participants in Diversity Circles consider many perspectives, rather than advocating a particular point of view. Diversity Circles are rooted in dialogue and deliberation, not debate. Consensus is not required. Common areas of the agreement and common concern are found.

Ground rules are used to set a tone for a respectful, productive discussion. Diversity Circles provide an opportunity for participants to work together to improve their community and are based on the following principles:

  • Encourage broad participation. Demonstrate that the whole community is welcome and needed.
  • Embrace diversity. Reach out to all kinds of people.
  • Share knowledge and resources.
  • Combine dialogue and deliberation. Create public talk that builds understanding and explores a range of solutions.
  • Connect deliberative dialogue to social, political, and policy change.

Diversity Circles are part of the Study Circles Resource Center (SCRC) based in Columbus, Ohio. SCRC is a national organization that helps local communities develop their own ability to organize large-scale and diverse participation in dialogue structured to support and strengthen measurable community change.

SCRC works with neighborhoods, cities, towns, regions, and states, paying particular attention to the racial and ethnic dimensions of the problems they address. SCRC has a proven track record of learning from communities to create innovative tools and process and provide advice and training, using what is learned to benefit other communities.

SCRC was created in 1989 by The Paul J. Aicher Foundation – a national, non-partisan, non-profit organization. Since 1989, SCRC has worked with more than 400 communities across the United States on many different public issues.

Why Are Circles Needed?
Issues of race, ethnicity and racism are a focus of increasing attention in our community. Between 1990 and 2000, Brown County's population grew almost 17%. This rapid growth included a substantial increase in racially and ethnically diverse individuals. The racial/ethnic population increase, according to the 2000 U.S. Census, was 161% for blacks, 24% for American Indians, 98% for Asians and 470% for Hispanics. As in many communities nationwide, the changing face of Brown County's population has led to challenges , as well as opportunities.

Brown County Diversity Circles: A New Response
Diversity Circles is a new effort, designed to build a stronger community by involving residents in small-group discussions of how immigration issues touch our daily lives.

Circle Outcomes

  • Fifteen circles have been completed since fall 2004.
  • Circles have expanded to Appleton and Manitowoc with support and guidance coming from the Brown County Diversity Circles Steering Committee.
  • “Do You Know Your Neighbors?” exhibit and DVD were created, highlighting immigration patterns in Brown County as well as sharing oral history of immigrants and descendants of immigrants.
  • Diversity Leadership Summit held in spring 2006 was hosted by Brown County UW-Extension, Green Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, Green Bay Packers, and the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Office of Outreach and Extension. The Summit was attended by 250 individuals.
  • Green Bay Area Public Schools have partnered with Diversity Circles, providing an opportunity for students to participate in Circles.