At the UHD workshop on Day 1 we had people work in small groups to craft responses to challenges that a moderator might encounter. Tom Workman did a fabulous job of leading this exercise. I’m glad that we have a video recording so I can go back and harvest his pearls of wisdom.
People are just waiting their turn to “have their say”
Ask the participants to relate their comments to what they heard earlier. Listening is not just reloading. Talk about what good listening is during the groundrules. The investment in the groundrules up front is really critical. We may need to return to the groundrules, but need to do so in a way that doesn’t make it sound like we are the groundrule police.
The moderator can say, who else has a story that relates to what we are hearing. This is bridging. another tactic is to ask if there are other perspectives.
All comments are directed to the moderator
Encourage responses from others non-verbally. Redirect the comment. Sometimes the moderator needs to step back so that they don’t seem to be the center of attention. There are some non-verbal cues we can use such as literally stepping back. Chairs are set in a circle which takes the moderator out of the “front of the room.” Also, don’t be afraid of silence. Trust the silence. If the moderator is too quick to speak up, then it puts them back into the driver seat. Remaining silent tells the group that it is ok that no one has anything to say right now. Also, spreading hands out to the group and using “we” language.
There are “sidebar” conversations or interruptions
Invite the sidebar conversation into the larger conversation. Ask them if they have something to add. “You seem to be having a lively conversation. Would you like to share?” “Can I get the group to bring this back into one conversation?” We are nice people and worry about someone getting offended, but allowing sidebar conversations is unfair to the rest of the group. Remember that some people are not accustomed to speaking to the large group. Perhaps those engaged in sidebar conversations want to speak and do so with a subset of the group. Help them feel comfortable contributing to the larger group.
The group mainly concurs on each choice
Push beyond the ramifications; press for details. Provide motivation for understanding an alternative point of view. At some point they will have to take their deliberation to a wider audience so moving beyond full agreement would be excellent preparation for going out into the community. Some moderators use an empty chair to symbolize who might have a different perspective.
The pro arguments have no negative consequences
Moderator can serve as a devil’s advocate. How do we get people to think about the outcome? There is a difference between agreement and consequences, so perhaps we need a different strategy than playing devil’s advocate. “Consequences” may not be a term that people can relate to so be prepared to use different terms such as “side effects.” The NIF materials are stuctured so that there are consequences or downsides for each approach.
People speak theoretically/analytically
Ask people to give an example. Reframe the ultimate question. Ask “why?” and “why is that important to you?” Bring people back to the stories.
The forum is cerebral and lacking feeling
Ask for a personal story that relates to whatever is being discussed. Ask what people are willing to give up. These strategies help to make the issue real. We can ask people to share feelings. But we have to be careful because it is an odd experience going through a forum because you are revealing yourself, but you are still holding something back. This is not a group therapy session, after all. Another counter point is that sometimes people don’t want to talk about their feelings because they don’t want to generalize their feelings onto the group. They often appreciate the chance to divorce from their feelings so that they can be more open. We need to talk more about the role of emotion in public deliberation. The quest that we want to continue to talk about is, how do we incorporate safely issues related to emotions.
Remember, that it is important for the moderator to feel comfortable and to develop their own style.
Comments ignore prior comments
Reframe the comments, and summarize. Refer back to earlier comments. Return to the earlier comment and ask the person if they could say more.
Reflection on the exercise:
All of the ways in which things can go off track are just part of human nature. These are not bad, nor are they malicious. These things just happen and we carry on.
Part of the problem is that this is not how we are conditioned to talk. We have been taught to sit down and shut up or stand up and shout. Where do we go to practice the skill of deliberation?
Tom’s charge to moderators. However you do this is good. There is something valuable in the stumbling. So what if we never get to #3. Something may have happened in that group that is valuable information. It is our desire to make it work, but we need to allow ourselves to live in the ambiguity. Going off track is not a sin. It is a knowledge opportunity.
How cool is that?! Beautiful, Tom!