The Shape of Our Masterclass

— some elements of design

by vivian Hutchinson

 2020 35 min read download as Masterclass PDF

The Taranaki Masterclass for Active Citizenship is a strategy of education for the common good. It brings together a diverse group of local people to awaken their involvement in civic life, or in hapū and iwi affairs.

It seeks to have an impact on civic engagement and race relations by strengthening the skills and connections between active citizens who want to make things better in our communities.

There are some key strategies that shape this not-so-usual form of citizen and community education. These are elements of design that are both obvious and not-so-obvious to a Masterclass participant.



The Masterclass has eight main workshop sessions which take place over four months. If we chose, we could do the whole series of classes in a very full week ... but we have deliberately spaced out the main sessions so that participants can take their own time to explore the written material and resources.

Our schedule also enables participants to carry on with most of their working or voluntary activities while only taking one morning, once a week, to attend the Masterclass or to have a catch-up appointment with another member of the group. 

As Masterclass hosts, we are not simply trying to run events, but are creating the space where relationships can grow, and personal transformations might be possible. And we recognise that everyone involved is on a different timeline of when these things can best happen.

So we have designed our classes for slow learning. It is a bit like the slow food movement that was started in Italy in the 1980s. It allows for more depth of conversation and absorption of what you are exploring, rather than just getting to the end. This form of adult and citizen education is not looking for an efficient use of time, but invites a deeper presence within our time.

Slow learning means that important new relationships can grow at their own pace as people get into conversations or make appointments to meet with one another. Participants can explore the books and development resources and reflect on how this information might make sense or be useful in their own lives.

Most citizens are already living in a world which over-values the fast and the busy, which often means they are juggling many responsibilities amidst hurried, stressed, and impatient schedules. Coming to the Masterclass itself is a signal to slow down, breathe, connect and reflect.

There's plenty of time here.



The circle is part of a long-established social architecture within which humans have always come together to have the conversations that matter. A circle is also the universal symbol of community.

The Masterclass does not take place in a traditional schooling environment — with seats and rows of desks in front of a teacher and a whiteboard. By using a circle as the basis of our learning environment, we are making it plain to all participants that we are not gathering to listen to a tutor or an “expert” on anything.

We are citizens and adults. We are primarily here to learn from each other and to invite the wealth of our own lessons and expertise into the room. This does not mean that there are not hosts or facilitators or elders or specially learned people also gathered with us ... it just means that they, too, are a natural part of a diverse and healthy circle. 

Circles can be created in a way that is self-managing ... if you ask participants to stand or sit so everyone can make eye contact with each other, then they will automatically form a circle.

The circle itself is not just a shape or a technique. It is an instrument for learning. It is a container for listening, being heard and being respected. But more than this ... if we get it right, the circle can become a place where we can think and create together.


“Masterclass” might seem an odd title for this form of citizen education. Our learning environment usually looks very different from a traditional “class”, and we offer no qualifications or certificates to indicate any level of Mastery.

We are using the term Masterclass to simply refer to an immersion style of education where some useful skills can be learned or remembered. We have deliberately tried to keep the definition vague so that more people can find their own level of permission to attend.

Our use of the word Masterclass is similar to, and influenced by, the term “wānanga” in te reo Māori which usually refers to a seminar or series of workshops where people meet to deliberate on matters of cultural, religious, historical, genealogical and philosophical knowledge.

The Masterclass seeks to awaken people to their own mastery as a citizen. It seeks to awaken the role that they can play in creating the communities they want to live in, changing the things that are not working, and taking care of the things that they value.

This awakening involves gathering the life skills, the practical capabilities, and the community connections which can make things happen.

Calling our workshops a Masterclass recognises that this awakening can also be an initiation journey ... an apprenticeship for all ages of people who want to step into the competencies of their own active citizenship.



The four-month Masterclass is also essentially a short term learning community which, in many ways, can bring up all the experiences of learning – good and bad – that participants have had in the past.

On our first day of the Masterclass, we try to address this by inviting participants to talk about what learning communities they have been a part of ... and what made them work well?

Many Masterclass participants have memories of an education system that may have neglected to foster some important life skills, like:

— how to have a conversation that can go deeper to the things that matter

— how to have difficult conversations with friends, colleagues and strangers

— how to listen for common ground

— how to ask questions that open up insights and possibilities

These life skills are part of the basic toolbox of an active citizen. Yet many of us have never had a formal lesson on how to grow and refine these skills.

The Masterclass is a learning and practicing community in which we get to do this. It also builds a shared infrastructure of public intelligence about how these competencies work to serve our communities.

The chart “New Skills in the Art of Conversation” gives a quick overview of the switch in thinking that is involved in this change of perspective. It contrasts the prevailing and oppositional practice of “debate” with the skills needed to develop a deeper “dialogue” between participants.


A Masterclass is organised in a way that performs the principles it is trying to foster. So instead of treating this learning journey as something that is separate from our communities, the Masterclass itself is an expression of the sort of community that we are trying to encourage.

So it is with the invitation process, which takes place in the 4-6 weeks before the Masterclass starts. We are not looking for customers or consumers ... we are looking for citizens. The invitation process is not an open, free-for-all search for consumers of your event management. Instead, it begins by recognizing, honouring and inviting prospective participants as the citizens they already are. This is their often-overlooked birthright, and they need no other qualification to come to the workshops.

Our preference is for the Masterclass organiser to deliver a specially-printed invitation on which the name of the invited citizen has been written. If there is not already a personal connection to the invitee to hand it to them, then the printed invitation is delivered to their home address.

A hand-delivered printed invitation is our preference because our daily lives are already flooded with emails and Facebook or other social media requests, most of which are automatically disregarded.

The style of our invitation is sufficiently unusual and old-fashioned in this age of digital marketing and email mailing-lists, and we have found that it certainly grabs the attention enough to spark curiosity and consideration.

There are of course many cases where we do not have a personal connection to a prospective participant, or do not know their home address. We may only have an email contact. This is especially true if our intention is to invite people beyond our normal networks or associations.  In these cases, we produce a one-off specifically named PDF file which we email to the invitee with the subject line “Your Personal Invitation to our Masterclass for Active Citizenship”.

It is a citizen choice to be at the Masterclass, and we are deliberately asking for engagement at this level. We discourage people coming to the Masterclass if they are being required to attend by their employer or community organisation, or feel they are obliged to be representing their own organisation or anyone else. It is much better to wait until it is the right time for these people to attend as an expression of their own citizenship.

Saying “Yes” to a Masterclass means saying “Yes” to this level of engagement. It means being open to sharing what is important to you, being curious about what matters to others, and being ready to stand for, challenge and stretch your own views and skills as part of a dynamic community.

Not everyone is up for this learning journey, or are not up for it at the time it is being offered. These choices need to be respected. But if you get the invitation right, and the person does reply “Yes” ... then this is a journey that is already well on its way.


If you are hosting or organising a Masterclass, then — sooner or later — you are going to have the “Money” conversation.

Our approach to fundraising is in itself an important part of the strategies behind the Masterclass. How you deal with the money, or the lack of it, can be a significant way for you to demonstrate many of the principles of generosity that the Masterclass is trying to foster.

The Masterclass is not “free” — but the hosts and organisers do try to provide this education in a way that does not involve a monetary cost to participants.

It is a deliberate part of the design because this learning journey seeks to take people into a deeper consideration of the concepts of “invitation”, “ownership”, “commitment” and “gifts”. In order for the hosts themselves to issue a genuine invitation, it makes sense that they offer it as a gift, and with as few strings attached as they can manage.

This is not made possible by any wishful or magical thinking. Instead it involves a fundraising challenge that is already very familiar to community groups who may be under-resourced or leading a precarious existence.

In Taranaki, we have been able to provide the Masterclass opportunity because it is subsidised by the workshop leaders, the community host organisations, and it has had the support of local philanthropic trusts and government institutions. We also have a programme of encouraging past participants to “pay-it-forward” with donations.

These are all the creative ways that a community makes ends meet, and accounts for the costs of its own education and regeneration. All these funding sources are also unpredictable and insecure, which makes the fundraising a risk which on many occasions does not meet its goals.

The Masterclass is not “user-pays”, because we already recognise that, in the bigger picture, it is a community investment that pays us all back in 1,001 unexpected ways. Many of these outcomes are either impossible or inappropriate to put into a funding application beforehand. The Masterclass is about changing the climate of possibilities, and every participant will carry their own particular perspective on how this learning will make sense to them, and be of value to their community activities.

Our decision to provide the Masterclass without a financial charge is also made with the recognition that over 40% of the individuals and families in our communities are living week-to-week financially. They are not in a position to pay for this learning opportunity.

In this context, a “user-pays” financial strategy is one that effectively excludes most of this population from doing this learning. Their diversity and their gifts do not get a chance to enter the room.

Of course, a Masterclass is not at all “free”, and value-for-money is only one part of a decision to participate. This four-month learning journey brings with it many other costs in terms of time, commitment, attention, reflection, connection-building and accountability.

These are the other qualities that also dominate the balance sheet of an active citizen. 


Participation in the Masterclass is not provided on a “first come, first served” basis, but it is “by invitation only”. This is not done to create a form of exclusivity ... but to enable the hosts and organisers to curate a sensible level of diversity amongst the workshop participants.

The purpose of this diversity is to get a bigger cross-section of people and points-of-view into the room. The Masterclass group needs to purposely look like the communities that these workshops are serving ... warts and all.

This does not just mean focusing on age or gender differences, or focusing on an ethnic, religious or political mix ... although these may well be an important consideration.

Curating for diversity also means welcoming different types of people – workers as well as leaders, the outspoken as well as the quiet, the “helpers” as well as the “clients”. 

The host’s choice of people to invite also has a pragmatic side — the invitations might focus on the relationships that the hosts want to develop and weave with other sections of their community.

The invitation might also involve a value judgment on whether or not establishing a relationship with the person is worth the fundraising efforts that organisers also need to do in order to provide the Masterclass opportunity.

We have learned not to have too many people in the Masterclass group who are in the management of social services, philanthropic foundations, or in paid community development jobs ... however tempting it might be to offer them a unique experience.

It is not always the case but, if there are too many community professionals in your group, they can find it more difficult to step back from their job titles and simply be in the workshop as fellow citizens and peers.

The Masterclass does its best work when the participants are as diverse a collection of kinship, friends, colleagues and neighbours as your communities can manage. There should be plenty of people who don’t know each other – or at least don’t know each other well.



The Masterclass series of workshops begins with everyone having breakfast together at a local hotel. We do this because this is what communities do: welcome people with food.

The breakfast lets participants know that they are welcome, and they can relax now because they are in the right place. It also helps them understand that they haven’t come to a training programme ... they have come to a community.

Our introductory breakfast is a chance for participants to overcome the shyness that comes with turning up to a place where there are strangers – because many of the people won’t know each other.

But the breakfast is more than just a process for introducing people to one other ... it is part of a culture of manuhiritanga or hospitality. It is a first stage in whakawhanaungatanga – the remembering and weaving of kinship and community connections that exist in the room.

We also usually have an open invitation to past participants of the Masterclass to come along and be part of the hospitality – to share what this learning journey has meant for them, and the impact it has had on their everyday lives and community projects. 

The workshop sessions over the following months also provide light snacks, with tea or coffee and cold drinks on a side stable. These may be organised by the hosts, or later by the participants bringing a plate themselves.

This is not done simply to provide a refueling station ... but is part of our manuhiritanga. The food and refreshments are provided to create an ongoing atmosphere of welcome and hospitality from which we can do our learning together.


We open our Masterclass sessions with a karakia or prayer because it is usually being held in a Māori-led environment, and this is the usual protocol for Māori gatherings.

The karakia are the first words. They are also a personal invitation to bring all of you into the room.

The Masterclass is not promoting any particular religion, or any strain of Christianity or indigenous spirituality ... and we recognize that our participants come from a diversity of faiths and devotional practices. Or they may be atheist or have difficulties with any religion at all and would prefer a non-spiritual approach to their learning.

It is important for us to be able to host a Masterclass in a way that is welcoming to all these perspectives. Our participants are actively invited to share the wisdom that various traditions have to say about creating healthy communities. Both our spiritual and secular traditions contain teachings and insights that we need right now.

Our prayers or blessings seek to honour these traditions, although the opening of a workshop session may also include a poem, or music, or simply a time of silence. The goal is to open up the type of space in which communities can do their best learning.

It is about inviting all that we are into the room – our minds, our bodies, our feelings, and our spirituality. In many cultures, this invitation also includes the trans-personal – the spirits of the natural world, of the buildings that are containing our gathering, and of the many generations of people who are no longer with us or are yet to come.

A good host will know they have adequately done such an opening when the room feels alive with listening, and with the possibilities of discovery. This is the perfect place to begin our conversations.



Our Masterclass workshops follow a series of eight conversations. (Most of these themes were first offered in the book Community by Peter Block.)

The Citizenship Conversation

An active citizen is someone who has woken up to the contributions they can make to a common good. We are the people who remember that “community” has important work to do, and some of that work has our name on it.

The Invitation Conversation

Transformation occurs through choice, not mandate. The invitation is a call for active citizens to create the communities we want to live in, change the things that are not working, and take care of the things that we value.

The Possibility Conversation

This conversation asks us to imagine what we want our future to be as opposed to problem-solving the past. It frees people to innovate, challenge the status quo, break new ground and create the possibilities that will make a difference.

The Ownership Conversation

Community is created the moment we decide to shape what it can become. This requires us to believe that an organization, neighborhood, community, is ours to bring into being, and to belong to. It also asks: How have I contributed to creating the current reality?

The Dissent Conversation

If you can’t say ‘no’, your ‘yes’ has no meaning. It is only when we fully understand what people do not want that a choice becomes possible. Genuine commitment begins with doubt, and saying ‘No’ is an important way people find their own space and role in the possibilities.

The Commitment Conversation

This is about making promises to fellow citizens about your contribution to a common good. Commitment is the answer to lip service. It also asks: What is the price I am willing to pay for the success of what we want to achieve?

The Gifts Conversation

Rather than focusing on deficiencies and weaknesses, we focus on the gifts and assets we bring to make our best contribution.

The Action Conversation

This conversation uncovers the “instruments of life” that are abundantly available to any active citizen. It also explores how to do things that have your name on it, how to make time work for you, and how to find the assets and allies you need to create initiatives that will make a difference.



While the first workshop (Citizen and Community) and the final workshop (The Action Conversation) have their own unique schedules ... The rest of our community conversations have a similar shape comprised of four main sessions.

9.30am Welcome / Prayer / Karakia / CHECK-IN





12.30pm ends


Each Masterclass workshop begins with a “check-in” from participants with one another. People are invited to pair up, and we encourage them to do this with someone they haven’t spoken to before, or don’t know well. We ask them to share for 5-7 minutes their  response to the question: What has happened to you in the last two weeks that connects to what you are learning in this Masterclass?

The discussion might be about something that has happened in their family, or at a community project or activity, or something they have read, or noticed in the news. It doesn’t really matter which ... the goal here is to get participants engaged with each other, thinking about what they are learning, and drawing the connections they can make between this learning and their families and communities.

This check-in is generally not shared back to the whole group as it would take too long.


We use whakataukī to weave a Māori perspective and world-view into our community conversations.

Whakataukī, or proverbs, are a poetic form of the Māori language often drawn from significant speeches or songs. They may refer to historic events that still carry an underlying message for today.

Whakataukī play an important role in Māori culture and education, where oratory is often anchored in a reference to such a proverb. The whakataukī may open up layers of insight and meaning that might not be so obvious on the surface of things. It also becomes a way of remembering many of the key points being made by the speaker.

The whakataukī used in the Masterclass were chosen by Awhina Cameron of Tū Tama Wahine o Taranaki, and several of these proverbs reflect Taranaki history and traditions.

The whakataukī first appear as part of the preparatory reading for each of our workshop sessions. They are briefly explained at the start of the workshop, or during one of the “stretch” presentations later in the morning.


The first main section of the workshop contains the keynote speeches from participants (... not the hosts). These speeches have been prepared in response to the particular conversation topic that is the overall theme for that day.

At the start of the Masterclass, all participants are allocated a topic (possibility, ownership, gifts etc...) to give a keynote about. During this session they are asked to stand and speak for 5-7 minutes.

It is an oratory session, and they are welcome to speak from notes. The content of the presentation is completely up to the individual, but it usually involves sharing a little about their own lives, and then telling stories that are connected to the conversation topic.

In preparation, speakers are encouraged to read any of the relevant chapters in Peter Block’s book Community, or take a look at the community development resources in our Masterclass Database. These resources can be used as a spark to getting in touch with their own stories and inspirations.

The participants are discouraged from planning to use whiteboards, PowerPoint presentations or videos, or leading the rest of the group in interactive exercises during their keynote time. In these presentations we are seeking to emphasise a more fundamental and simpler form of citizen oratory.

A keynote is the sound that unlocks. It speaks to the heart of the matter, and it also leads to the rest of it.

A keynote does its work through stories. And these stories can contain the many and various ways of drilling down to the basic infrastructure of an idea or value or principle.

Our Masterclass keynote sessions are a way of affirming that any group of active citizens already contains a great deal of wisdom and insight concerning the things that are important to us. The challenge is to value this natural resource, and then invite it forward so that these stories and values can thrive and do their work.

The keynote sessions are also another way of affirming that the Masterclass is not for spectators. We are asking each person to authentically step up and speak to the things that matter to them.

Many participants have told us that the idea of public speaking is daunting. This is to be expected. Such speaking is a serious act of taking ownership of the learning process. To be heard with respect, in a circle of peers, is also an initiation into a deeper level of your own citizenship.

We live in a majority culture that has devalued the common forms of community oratory and, at most of our public events, people are encouraged to become consumers of delegated speakers, celebrities, politicians and performers. We are not usually invited to speak to one another.

Yet standing and speaking in a circle is one of the oldest capabilities of our human species. The ability to speak with one another about what really matters to us is also the primary asset in how communities heal and regenerate. This speaking is a heritage and a muscle that every active citizen needs to revive and exercise.



The next section of our workshop involves breaking the large circle of participants into small conversation groups of 3-5 people. The host invites people to purposely seek out other participants whom they may not know very well.

The small groups then take 30-45 minutes to talk about the theme for the workshop, and to discuss what struck them from the keynote presentations.

While it is important for the group to have the unique conversation they need to have, each group is also given a small card of strategic questions which they can choose to use as a prompt for further conversation, or to help them stay on track.

The small groups are where the real work of our Masterclass starts to get done. Participants are reminded that this is a time to practice the skills of paying attention, suspending judgments in favour of curiosity, asking deeper questions, and exploring the things that you hadn’t thought of beforehand.

Peter Block describes a small group as “the unit of transformation” within community conversations. And he defines “transformation” here as a change in the nature of things, and not just an improvement.

In a small group, it is much easier to cross the threshold of everyday talking and give each other permission to have the conversations that matter. A transformation becomes possible because the small group has the space for reflection and for exploration – important first steps in reconsidering what you already know, and imagining what might be possible.

Small groups have got the room for trying out your quarter-thoughts, for being respectfully challenged as to your assumptions, and for gaining courage in talking about some of the more difficult things that are concerning you.

The small group also allows all voices in the room to be heard by someone else, especially those who are shy or do not have a great deal of experience or confidence in speaking up.

The small group is also a place where the “I” can begin to become the “We”.

In the small group, we get to speak and share in a way that is based on our own uniqueness and individuality, but we are doing so in a circle of peers who are there to remind us that we are a part of something that is larger than our own lives and activities.

And this matters, because within such a conversation, we get to remember that we are much wiser, together.


The next major section of the workshops are the “stretch” sessions. These are a time when the Masterclass hosts, or invited local elders, get the opportunity to present their own perspective on the workshop topic.

They take about 15-25 minutes, and their session might include PowerPoint or short videos.

The purpose of a stretch session is to pull the particular conversations in a transformational direction. Their job is to sharpen, challenge and extend our collective thinking about how our communities address their challenges, and can thrive and prosper. The stretches are also a time to weave personal and cultural histories, community development experiences, and local tikanga and knowledge into the topics of the workshop session. 

During the Masterclass in Taranaki we offer two “stretch” sessions which are designed to provide a bi-cultural lens into aspects of the conversations, and perspectives on community, hapu and iwi development.

The invitation to local elders to create their own “stretch” sessions can itself become a feature of the Masterclass experience. It can be a challenge to ask older and experienced friends and colleagues (of all cultures) to “step into” their eldership. Yet, in doing so, this can be an important bridge in introducing the work and practical knowledge of a previous generation to a younger group of active citizens.


While the workshops are usually held once a fortnight, we describe the Masterclass as a weekly commitment because we are also encouraging participants to make one-to-one appointments with one another. The appointments are a chance to get to know each other better, and to reflect on what they are learning.

The meet-ups are also an excuse to do the personal weaving of connections that build and strengthen our shared sense of community.

The participants are encouraged to make appointments with the people they know the least ... and they can meet up at their own homes, or at a local café.

We encourage them to turn up with a question. It might be as simple as: What are you learning at the moment? Or it might dig a bit deeper: What is working well in your community right now? What is inspiring you at this time?


We distribute three books during the Masterclass which are gifted to participants. They provide background reading and much more detail about the ideas, issues and practical examples of the community and cultural strategies we are exploring together.


Workshop 1. The Citizenship Conversation

Community: The Structure of Belonging
by Peter Block
Publisher: Berrett-Koehler
ISBN: 1523095563 (2nd Edition 2018)
also available on Kindle and Audible Audiobook
Publisher Website:

Peter Block’s “Community” is distributed at our first workshop session. It gives participants an overview of the six themes that Block offers as a framework for community conversations. It also comes full of insights and provocations about how community change happens, as well as links to other thought-leaders in community development and transformation.


Workshop 3. The Possibility Conversation

How Communities Heal: Stories of Social Innovation and Social Change
by vivian Hutchinson and the New Zealand Social Entrepreneur Fellowship
Publisher: The Florence Press
ISBN: 978-1-927176-21-4
also available on Kindle
available from Florence Press / The Jobs Research Trust
Also freely available on Website:

The second book we distribute is “How Communities Heal” by vivian Hutchinson, and it is handed out during the Possibility Conversation. This book tells the local stories of a remarkable group of New Zealand active citizens and social entrepreneurs who are leading practical projects in their communities, and in our nation.

The New Zealand Social Entrepreneur Fellowship was a unique learning community which met over seven years (2006-2012) to explore systemic and sustainable solutions to New Zealand’s social and environmental challenges.

The book profiles the personal stories of these innovators and their activities for social change. It also includes a series of articles on social entrepreneurship, and the tools and ideas that are helping make these projects happen.


Workshop 6. The Commitment Conversation

Te Wheke: A Celebration of Infinite Wisdom
by Dr. Rangimarie Turuki Pere CBE
Illustrated by Nancy Nicholson
Publisher: Ao Ako Global Learning New Zealand Ltd
ISBN: 0-9597994-9-4
Enquiries to Box 14, Tuwai P.O.,
Wairoa, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
Publisher Website:

The third book is “Te Wheke” by Dr. Rangimarie Turuki Pere, and it is handed out during the Commitment Conversation. The book is a guide to aspects of tikanga which underly a mātauranga Māori perspective on many of the conversations on the Masterclass. The concept of Te Wheke (the octopus), as developed by Dr Rangimarie Pere, has become part of many training and education programmes in this country, particularly in the arenas of health and mental health, education and social services training. This book itself has become a taonga that has introduced many non-Māori to an indigenous world-view.



At the start of the Masterclass, we also hand out a private internet keycode to each participant, which gives access to an eclectic database of videos, radio interviews, papers and documentation on elements of our community conversations as well as aspects of community and iwi development. There’s also some artwork, poetry and music that we like.

The purpose of the Masterclass Database is to spark the curiosity of participants into a whole range of inspirational and critical thinkers, as well as practical tools and ideas for community-building activities.

The selection points to a lively ecosystem of approaches to community development and social change which have informed the design and content of our Masterclass. This collection also changes slightly with each workshop depending on the research and further discoveries of the hosts and organisers. 

The Masterclass Database files are stored on a Google Drive online archive which is accessible on any desktop browser, tablet, or mobile phone. The Google archive directly plays any audio and video files, and also has an in-built viewer for PDF documents.



Each Masterclass workshop session is completed with a whaiwhakaaro or sharing circle. This is much more than a “check-out” exercise ... it is a time to reflect on and summarise the nuggets of wisdom and insight that have emerged during the session.

Participants are encouraged to stand and speak about what has “struck” them during the sessions, and what are some of the conclusions and questions they are going home with.

The term whaikōrero refers to a familiar form for oratory on a marae. This is a formal form of speech-making usually made by men during the powhiri or welcoming ceremonies. During the whaikōrero, an expert in oratory will display his knowledge of language, genealogy, and pūrākau. This is done to join or bind people together and to wake us up to our connections and interconnectedness to each other and the environment.

In community meetings and adult education throughout New Zealand, the term whaikōrero has more recently come to be used in a more casual or informal sense. In our Masterclass, we have chosen to use a different word, whaiwhakaaro, to refer to convening a simple circle which can encourage the sharing of more considered thoughts amongst our participants.

In this type of sharing circle, there may be the use of a “talking stick” which is passed between speakers. Speaking is not expected, but it is certainly encouraged. People usually only speak once ... and they are not interrupted or asked questions. They can speak for as long as they choose, but they are expected not to speak again before everyone else in the room has been given a chance of participating. People usually stand to speak in a random sequence determined by when the speaker feels it is their time. Alternatively, a host might choose to guide an order that will proceed around the circle.

Our form of circle sharing used in the Masterclass in Taranaki is influenced by the process used by Kuia Matarena (Aunty Marj) when she was hosting gatherings at Parihaka in the 1970s. She often used an informal oratory circle as a simple way of welcoming visitors, encouraging them to introduce themselves and to personally step into the history and traditions of the marae.

During our circle sharing sessions at Tū Tama Wahine o Taranaki, we pass around a tokotoko or walking stick that had belonged to Kuia Matarena. It has become a tangible connection to her ongoing mission of encouraging friends and strangers to have the conversations that matter with one another. 


While you are welcome to share and copy this Masterclass resource, we certainly encourage you to make it your own. Every community is different, and every active citizen arises from a different network of relationships and personalities.

Some of what we have shared in this Guidebook is generic and may prove immediately useful. But you will also have your own resources of local stories and elders and unique ingredients which can help you shape the citizen education that will be right for your place.

In Taranaki, this initiative has grown out of communities that are Māori and Pākehā. In many parts of Aotearoa, your community might more usually be Pacifica, or African, Indian or Asian immigrants.

Creating your own Masterclass can itself become a way of reaching out to this local diversity, and inviting them to share their gifts of insight and understanding with other citizens.

Your Masterclass is going to look different ... so be open to surprises. And make sure you treat our Guidebook of resources as a starting point for making-your-own learning journey.

And let's keep supporting each other as our communities embark on these learning journeys. Please keep in touch ... and let us know what you are discovering and how you have improved things. All the best!



Notes and Links

vivian Hutchinson QSM is a community activist and social entrepreneur who has worked mainly on issues of race relations, social justice, job creation and philanthropy. He is a co-founder of Community Taranaki, and author of How Communities Heal — stories of social innovation and social change (2012. He is also one of the creators of How Communities Awaken - Tū Tangata Whenua - a Masterclass for Active Citizenship which is run in partnership with Tu Tama Wahine o Taranaki

First published online in June 2020

This paper Some Elements of Design is part of a larger series of essays by vivian Hutchinson entitled How Communities Awaken. For more information, visit

Tū Tama Wahine o Taranaki and Community Taranaki were awarded the ACE (Adult and Community Education Aotearoa) 2020 Award for Community Programme of the Year for the Masterclass for Active Citizenship. For more information, visit

ISBN 978-1-92-717642-9 This paper is licensed for distribution under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License