Introduction: One-hour Facilitated Dialogue

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The objective of this facilitated session is to create a space for folks to talk about the topics they care about.

The session is based on two well-established facilitation methods: open space and dot-voting or dotmocracy. In a large group, these methods create an equal opportunity for everyone to contribute by making space for each person to suggest topics and decide which topics to discuss.

These instructions will (hopefully) help you create the space and conditions to facilitate this type of session. The session + prep + clean-up should take 80-90 minutes (not including pre-event work like finding the space, writing the invite, promoting the session).

Step 1: Find a Space and Gather Materials

Finding the right space for a gathering depends on a few factors. Keep these in mind when looking for a space:

  • Is it easy/convenient for people to get to the location?
  • How many people can comfortably fit in the space?
  • Is it accessible to people with reduced mobility?
  • Can you arrange the seating to form a circle? This is important in order to create a space that encourages open dialogue.
  • Is there space to set up a flip chart or, alternatively, space to stick a bunch of stickies where the group can read them?
  • Do people have to sign in to access the space? This might take extra time.
  • Is the noise level low enough that someone across the circle can easily hear what a speaker is saying?

Materials needed to facilitate this activity are fairly minimal:

  • Sticky notes
  • Pens or markers
  • Flip chart - optional. You can stick the stickies on any flat surface as long as the group can gather around to access them.
  • Timer

Step 2: Write an Invitation

You are asking people to get together and participate in a discussion. Tell them ahead of time what to expect:

  • Date and time of the gathering
  • Location and any special instructions about signing in, accessing the location/room, etc.
  • If food/beverages are available and any special instructions (cash only payment, etc.)
  • How long the session will last
  • What the meet-up is about
  • Why they should come (what's in it for them)
  • Who is organizing this
  • What's going to happen when they're there. This is especially important if folks are used to a certain type of meeting; giving them a heads-up about a different type of activity will be appreciated.

Keep it simple but complete. People generally like to know what they're walking into before participating in something.

Step 3: Tell Folks About Your Get-together

This is a gathering for people - so you want people to show up. Let them know this is happening using the mediums they prefer. Think about who will be interested in this kind of meet-up and how they get their info: is it online? From newsletters? Posters at work? On boards at the community center?

Write your invitation, send it to people, and promote it.

Tip: social media is a good multiplier and can help spread your message if your audience uses it.

Step 4: Set Up Your Space (15 Minutes)

Get to your space a good 15-20 minutes before your session is scheduled to start. This will give you time to prep your space and get everything ready before people show up.

  1. Arrange your seating in a circle. This is important to create a space where everyone has an equal opportunity to contribute.
  2. Get your materials ready (sticky notes, pens/markers, flip chart, timer). You can spread the stickies and pens/markers around ahead of time or hand them out to folks when they're there.
  3. Nervously check your watch every few minutes, wondering if people are going to show up (optional).

Step 5: Welcome People and Explain the Activity (5-15 Minutes)

As folks arrive, introduce yourself and welcome them to the session. The time this takes depends on how large your group is, if they are getting coffee or food, etc. Keep an eye on the time and get everyone's attention when you're ready to start.

When everyone has settled in a circle introduce yourself, the reason for the get-together, how the activity will run, and invite participants to introduce themselves.

Quick run-down of the activity:

  1. Every person writes down what they want to talk about on a sticky note.
  2. Stick the sticky note on the flip chart/surface designated for that purpose.
  3. Read all the stickies.
  4. Each person gets to vote on which topics they want to talk about. Every person gets three (3) votes.
  5. Topics will be discussed in order of popularity.
  6. Each topic will get an initial five (5) minutes for discussion, followed by another round of voting (Roman style) to decide whether the conversation should keep going or if the group should move on to another topic.
  7. When the time is up, move on to the next topic.

As this is a free-form discussion there will be no notes or minutes shared after.

Tip: let folks know it's ok if they don't want to write a topic down. They can absolutely participate in the conversation!

Tip: if the group is particularly large or animated, use the "hands up/volume down" technique to get their attention: when your hand is up in the air, you stop talking. One person sees the facilitator with their hand up in the air and also puts their hand up and stops talking. A third person, then a fourth will do this until eventually it spreads across the entire group until everyone is quiet. It is very important to explain this method ahead of time to avoid confusion!

Step 6: Write Topics (2-5 Minutes)

Once you finished explaining the activity, invite folks to write down the topics they want to talk about on a sticky note then stick it on the flip chart/surface designated for that purpose.

Step 7: Vote on Topics (2-5 Minutes)

Participants read each sticky note and vote which topics they want to talk about by placing a dot on the sticky note (using their pen/marker). Each person gets three (3) votes; they can choose to use all their votes on one topic or spread them around.

Tip: time is approximate. Pay attention to group interaction and adjust as needed.

Step 8: Organize Topics (1 Minute)

Count the votes (dots) on each sticky note and order the sticky notes by most to least votes. You are now ready to start the group discussion.

Tip: write the number of votes (dots) on each sticky note to make it easy to see the order of the topics.

Tip: us the hands/up volume down technique as needed to get the group's attention and get everyone ready to start the group discussion.

Step 9: Group Discussion (34-50 Minutes)

Pick the first topic, invite the group to discuss it for five (5) minutes. Use the timer. Once the time is up, ask the group to use Roman voting to make a decision whether they want to continue talking about the topic or move on:

  • Thumbs up: keep talking about the topic for five (5) minutes
  • Thumbs sideways: keep talking about the topic for two (2) minutes
  • Thumbs down: move to the next topic

If there are topics with equal number of votes, you have the choice to:

  • pick in alphabetical order
  • pick a topic that hasn't been discussed yet (if this is a series of events with the same theme)

Continue working through the list of topics until the session time is up. Thank participants for coming and tell them about the next event.

Tip: keep timing strict for each topic to allow for more topics to be discussed.

Tip: it is important to end the session on time to respect participants' time. Folks may mill around afterwards and network/chat informally and that is perfectly fine!

Step 10: Clean Up (5-10 Minutes)

Clean up the space, re-arrange seating in original format, pack up materials.

You're done! Hope you had a blast helping folks participate in an excellent dialogue!