Anecdote Circles

Brief Description

From "Anecdote circles are a narrative technique like focus groups except they're facilitated to elicit stories rather than judgment and opinion. The collected stories reveal what is really happening in your organisation and what people value. Anecdote circles are a powerful tool to gain insight and new perspectives."

From Cognitive Edge: "An anecdote is a naturally occurring story, as found in the "wild" of conversational discourse, usually about a single incident or situation. An Anecdote Circle is a way of capturing these. It is a lightly facilitated, group based Method. People are selected that have some form of common or shared experience. As an example they will be prompted to “Share either a good or bad experience when…” in relation to this common or shared experience. Anecdotes can then be applied across a wide variety of organizational endeavors, from culture to strategy. They may also later be tagged or signified and placed in a Narrative database. The general operating principle of the anecdote circle is this."


Developed by Shawn Callahan and his colleagues at with inspiration from Dave Snowden, Sharon Darwent, Brian Bainbridge, Viv McWaters and Bob Dick

When to use

This technique is designed to elicit people's examples and direct experiences. The objective is to get specific examples rather than opinions, arguments or points of view.

How to use

High level facilitation skills are required to facilitate this technique. Ideally the facilitator will have participated in an anecdote circle and feel comfortable asking open questions in a small group.

Tips and Lessons Learnt

From"We find you can run anecdote circles with between 4–12 people with 6–8 being the ideal number. An anecdote circle typically runs for 60–90 minutes or whenever the group runs our of energy. The longest anecdote circle I’ve run lasted 2.5 hours—it was exhausting."

Focus on three key aspects:
- Design effective themes
- Select participants and the invitation
- Craft story- and anecdote eliciting questions

Examples & Stories

From Australian River Restoration Centre:

"The story questions

The following questions are used to elicit experiences. Ask one question at a time, and avoid moving to the next question until the discussion of the current question has been fully exhausted. You may find that the discussion will naturally flow from the current question into the topic of another question before you've asked it - if this happens let it happen as you can always come back to the original question later.
Theme 1: Information Management
This theme seeks to explore the information flows within your organisation, and between your organisation and other stakeholders.
  1. Think about the last time you needed to find NRM information for your work. Did you find what you were looking for? When have you been impressed by how easy it was, or alternatively frustrated by how long it took or hard it was.
  2. Think about the last time you needed to find information from your stakeholders. What worked and what didn’t work? Were you pleasantly surprised or disappointed with what you found?
Theme 2: Knowledge Sharing
  1. Think back to when you needed assistance in finding something or solving a problem? How did you go about it, who did you contact, what happened?
  2. Think about how you communicate in the region, either in your area or with other areas. It might be just going to talk to someone to meetings, to email, talking to the boss about work etc. When do these work well? When are they just a waste of time?
  3. A common problem is duplicating work because you don’t know someone else is doing the same thing. How do you find out what’s going on in the region?
  4. Picture yourself down the pub this evening and one of your friends was there and they were trying to decide whether to accept a job offer to work in the region. What examples would you give them that would either encourage them to accept the offer or which would cause them to think twice.
  5. There is potentially lots of value sharing knowledge with stakeholders outside the region. These might be land holders within the region, other regions, government or research bodies. When have you worked with these groups and what happened?"

Who can tell me more?

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Related Methods / Tools / Practices


Resources's Guide to Anecdote Circles:
Cognitive Edge's Anecdote Circles method document
Australian River Restoration Centre:


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