Steps for a Successful Discussion Course

Before the Course

  1. The discussion course must have a contact person who organizes it. If that person has any questions she can email us at
  2. Gather a group of six or more interested people, make sure you have their contact information.
  3. Collect $28.50 from each person and order the discussion course books as a group through this website.
  4. When the books come in, distribute the books and plan a first meeting at least one week in advance.
  5. Everyone should read the introduction and first chapter before the first meeting.

During the Course

  1. The contact person facilitates the first session of the discussion course. At this session decide upon the best day for all to meet, whether you want to meet once weekly or every other week, if you want to remain one group or split into two and how long the discussion sessions will be. Groups are best when they have 6 to 12 people. 1 1/2 to 2 hours discussion time is recommended.
  2. Every session of the discussion has a facilitator and a presenter. There are eight sessions, ideally each person will have a chance to facilitate once and present once. No-one should facilitate or present a second time until everyone has had an opportunity to do it once.
  3. The facilitator is responsible for calling the meeting to order on time and introducing the presenter. She is also responsible for keeping the discussion moving throughout the session and keeping track of the time.
  4. The presenter is a person who arrives with something to share on the topic of the day’s discussion that is not already in the chapter. It can be a journal or newspaper article, poem or song, a bit of research, reading from a book, a website found or personal story. The presenter has ten minutes to share this information with the rest of the group in the beginning. This is done to underscore the idea that your discussion course is your own, unique to your group. The readings are merely a beginning; your discussion course is what you bring to it.
  5. After the presentation the facilitator chooses a first question for the group to discuss. The group may be shy at first so the facilitator should be ready to gently guide people toward articulating their thoughts. When the discussion question has taken you as far as it will, the facilitator asks the group which questions they would like to use to lead the next part of the discussion and so on.
  6. The facilitator makes sure you spend fifteen minutes wrapping up before the session ends. Ask people if they want to get together separately on any of the “Try This” suggestions. Choose the next facilitator and presenter. Give feedback on how the session went to the contact person.
  7. The contact person (who does not change when the facilitator changes) makes electronic notes on the feedback from each session.

At the End of the Course

  1. Hold a potluck or a tea party for session #8. Allow for an extra half an hour.
  2. Spend a few minutes giving feedback to the contact person on the discussion course as a whole.
  3. The contact person types up the notes from the feedback session and emails all eight session notes to
  4. Your feedback is taken into consideration for future editions of this discussion course as well as for future discussion courses planned on other co-op topics.

This discussion course is modeled closely after the ones developed by the Northwest Earth Institute, based in Portland, OR. More information on the Earth Institute is available at Their wonderful discussion courses on deep ecology, sustainable lifestyle, voluntary simplicity, raising healthy children in a consumer culture, bioregionalism, global warming and globalization can be taken by groups anywhere in the United States. With solidarity and gratitude the organizers of A Discussion Course on Cooperatives celebrate the work of the Northwest Earth Institute. If you would like to participate in other discussion courses, please visit for more information.

Big thanks to The Cooperative Foundation for making the development of this discussion course possible.

East End Food Co-op, Pittsburgh PA
Weaver’s Way Food Co-op, Philadelphia PA
Greenstar Food Co-op, Ithaca NY
The Cooperative Foundation, Saint Paul MN