Scriptapedia/Connection Circle

Connection Circle

This script it used to see important variables and connections between variables at the start of a session.


Promising practices

Primary nature of group task



Preparation time: 10 minutes

Time required during session: 30 minutes

Follow-up time: 15 minutes


  1. Sheets of large paper, such as butcher block paper, with blank connection circles (1 per small group)
  2. Dark thick tipped markers (1 per person)
  3. Photocopies of variable list (1 per person)
  4. Example of a completed connection circle on paper or in presentation slide format


List of variables


Connection circle



  1. At the start of the exercise, separate participants into small groups and give each group one blank connection circle and a set of thick tipped markers.
  2. Introduce the exercise by stating, "The goal of our first exercise is to identify the variables and the connections between them that are important in the system affecting [insert topic, e.g. the social and emotional health of African American girls]. We are going to draw a connection circle. A connection circle is a visual tool that can help us identify and understand problems and see the connections in a system. First, let me show you an example."
    • Tell participants, "We are going to start with a large circle."
    • Next, explain that the participants will then pick two variables that are connected and draw a line with an arrow pointing in the direction of influence. Say that the arrow shows causality and it can indicate both a positive or a negative situation. Provide an example to the participants.
    • Say, "Next, you will pick another set of variables that are connected and draw an arrow to show causality. After about 15 minutes or so, you might have something that looks like this." Show an example of a completed circle.
    • Tell the participants that there are several points to keep in mind before starting:
      • First, for a connection that goes in both directions, draw two separate lines, one going in one direction and the other going in the other direction. Remember that the arrow shows the direction of influence, or of causation. The arrow can represent something positive or negative.
      • Second, it may be easier to bend some of the lines to make them easier to follow, and that’s OK.
      • Third, the variables and connections can be based on the data sharing or personal experiences.
      • Fourth, this connection circle is the overall or combined group picture of what may be happening for [topic]. Some variables and connections may be common to all communities. Other variables and connections may be specific to only one community or group.
      • Finally, a recorder does not need to be chosen for the groups. Each person can participate by generating ideas and making connections on the circle.
  3. Tell participants that they will have 15 minutes to complete the exercise, and a warning when only five minutes remain will be provided. Tell participants that their task is to identify connections that impact [topic].
  4. As groups work on their connection circles, facilitators walk around the room, observe how the groups are doing, and coach them. The focus of coaching moves through three phases:
    • For the first phase (approximately the first five minutes), the focus is on clarifying the instructions and providing positive reinforcement that the participants are on the right track. For example, tell participants, "That looks great. You have several variables representing [topic] and connections with arrows pointing in one direction."
    • During the second phase, focus on helping groups improve their skills in developing the diagrams and representing their discussion. For example, tell participants, "Remember, if you want to show a relationship that goes in both directions, draw two separate lines," and, " Seems like you’re having a lot of disagreement about whether the variable is the same for all communities. Why don’t you try adding a second variable and representing both ideas on the page, even if they feel a bit contradictory, or are only relevant for some communities."
    • During the final phase (approximately the last five minutes), look for a group that has a good example to start the next exercise, and role model how one explains the connections as follows:
      • "You have 5 minutes left before we return to a large group. That looks great. I see how [variable 1] is influencing [variable 2], and this is influencing [variable 3], which then affects [variable 4]. Nice job."
  5. Tell the groups to stop after 15 minutes.
  6. Ask participants to share out their connection circles with the larger group as time allows. Have all participants move around the room to each connection circle as it is presented. Presentations should focus on sharing out the connections that the group found most important or relevant.

Evaluation Criteria

  • Connection circles with many connections including one or more feedback loops
  • Participants see a system




Originally documented as part of the Rise Sisters Rise project in July 2011 and based on materials developed by the Creative Learning Exchange.


Revised by Jessica Cohen to reflect current practice (2018)




  • Give every participant a marker to encourage participation from all
  • Use hand motions help to explain polarity:
    • “+” polarity = two thumbs up or two thumbs down (change in same direction)
    • “-” polarity = one thumb up and one thumb down (change in opposite direction)
  • Have polarity rules on the whiteboard / flip chart paper for reference
  • Participants will resonate with different explanations of polarity (direct and inverse relationships, connecting to math - multiplying two negatives makes a positive)