Several weeks ago we wrote about the importance of facilitation for productive deliberations. Indeed, the literature and practice of deliberation emphasize the catalytic roles that facilitators often play in guiding communication towards its most effective ends. Thus, as the introductory and foundational activity for our new DCI Fellows, it seemed critical to center our orientation around the skills and techniques required of effective deliberative facilitators: organizing, hosting, and facilitating.
On September 5th and 12th we organized two virtual orientation sessions for our twelve DCI Fellows and two student Co-Conveners. While we certainly would have preferred gathering in person to get to know this outstanding cohort of individuals, we utilized the circumstances to demonstrate the importance of thoughtfully organizing a deliberation in both virtual and in-person spaces. The Fellows discussed such organizing techniques as selecting topics that are “ripe” for a group, using creative strategies to make a deliberation engaging, orienting participants towards taking action – broadly defined – on a topic, and taking the important steps required to actually get people “in the room” for a deliberation.
The second area of emphasis was hosting a deliberation. Fellows learned about the different roles of co-conveners, facilitators, and participants, as well as the necessity of articulating guiding principles and ground rules for a deliberation. Several participants connected with the idea that the way in which a facilitator hosts a deliberation has a profound impact on the conversation itself. As one Fellow stated, “It was helpful to discuss the process of bringing together people for deliberation and learning more about the roles of facilitators. It was useful to know that deliberations are not supposed to run through facilitators but rather through the deliberators. To this point, I think I will appreciate the role of facilitator and the opportunity to listen.”
The final focus was on the actual skills and techniques available to facilitators in a deliberation. After group discussions on deliberative moves such as reflecting, guiding, connecting, and intervening, Fellows witnessed these facilitation techniques in action by taking on the participant roles in two deliberative activities. The first used the Living Room Conversations’ model and its conversation guide, “Politics: Can We Talk,” while the second utilized the National Issues Forum model to discuss the costs and quality of healthcare in America.
Fellows cited these conversations as particularly informative in understanding what makes a facilitated deliberation unique from other modes of discourse. As one Fellow put it, “During our deliberations, I was struck by how unusual the conversation felt. This is not to say that I have never been part of deliberative discussions, but the discussion was far from a debate….The deliberations had intentional flow to them; everyone had the opportunity to speak. I not only felt listened to but was also given ample opportunity to listen.”
DCI Fellows will continue learning and honing their deliberative and facilitating skills throughout the year. They will begin utilizing these skills by facilitating Deliberative “D” Teams in the coming weeks. The Fellows will also begin sharing their experiences with deliberation on the blog, beginning with Davidson junior Tyler McLaren next week!