The Dialogue Process in a Large Group: A Proposal

The idea that the dialogue process has to be possible even for a large group struck me as I participated recently in a conference looking back and looking forward on an area of academic inquiry.  Without going into details or naming names, I did not feel that the 2 hours of time spent by 150 people in the session I attended yielded much for the participants, the organizers, or the area of inquiry itself.

What might a large group dialogue look like?  I would propose that it is based on the format for “Group meetings that are reflective and generative,” namely: Freewriting, Check-in, Dialogue Process turn-taking, Individual syntheses, and Closing sharing.   Variations would be needed:

1. Freewriting to: a. get present (clearing away distracting concerns form our busy lives), and b. begin to consider the topic of the session.

2. Check-in: Short account to a neighbor of one’s concern or question about the topic of the session.

3. Dialogue process, i.e., listening with structured turn taking, that builds on the check-in.  Through inquiry more than advocacy (or rehearsal of previously formulated ideas), including inquiry of one’s own thinking, themes usually emerge.  So that what participants say builds on what has been said by previous speakers (as against rehearsing a position established well before the session), the dialogue could involveda central circle of seats for 12 speaker-listeners with everyone else standing or sitting around them.  The initial set of speaker-listeners could be prearranged and allowed to start off the dialogue for five minutes before a facilitator begins to take silent requests (like in an auction) from the rest of the audience.  The numbered card a person in or out of the circle gets from the facilitator secures a turn while allowing them to keep on listening well to what is being said.  When the turn comes up for a person out of the circle, a member of the circle who does not have a card gracefully relinquishes their seat to that person.

4.  10 minutes before the session ends each participant spends a few minutes writing  to gather thoughts that have emerged as they are meaningful for them.

5.  Closing sharing:  In groups of 3-4, each participant shares something they plan to address/get done/think more about based on the session.  (Having this aired in the group–having it witnessed–makes it more likely to happen.)

This is only a proposal.  I’ll make a post if I ever get a chance to facilitate such a session.

About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor is a Professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston where he teaches and directs undergraduate and graduate programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society. His research and writing focuses on the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context, incl. Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (U. Chicago Press, 2005) and Nature-nurture? No (2014, On reflective practice, see Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research & Engagement (with J. Szteiter, 2012,

One Response to The Dialogue Process in a Large Group: A Proposal

  1. Pingback: The Dialogue Process in a Large Group: A variant of World Cafe. « Probe—Create Change—Reflect

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