Tools and examples

There are many different methods and tools to facilitate dialogue interactions and new ones are invented every day.

Some can be arranged on the spot for use in small groups. The tools are simple and intuitive. Even if you have little dialogue experience, you can easily experiment with these.

Other tools are designed for interactions with large, often multi-stakeholder groups. They may last several days or even months. Careful preparation and an experienced facilitator are needed to help you design and facilitate the process. Explore what is the most appropriate tool for your situation.

Tip: When you use a new tool for the first time, just follow the rules. When you trust the process, this allows you to concentrate on the dynamics and on the content of the conversation. Next time you can start experimenting if you want.

Simple tools

Experience level facilititator: * and **

6-3-5 Brainwriting

• Format: face to face & online
• Group size: S, M
• Level of difficulty: **
• Time needed: 30 minutes to 2 hours

A group-structured brainstorming technique for aiding innovation processes by stimulating creativity. It consists of 6 participants supervised by a moderator. The participants write down 3 ideas on a worksheet within 5 minutes (6-3-5). In the following 6 rounds, participants sweep their worksheets, passing them on to the team member sitting at their right. Participants are asked to build upon the ideas on the sheets.
Brainwriting.jpg

Appreciative Inquiry

• Format: face to face & online
• Group size: S, M, L, XL
• Level of difficulty: **
• Time needed: 60 minutes

Alternative for traditional problem-oriented methods. Looks for what is going well instead of what is wrong. It looks for the successes and the causes thereof: the generative capacity that has acted as the driving force. In addition, during interviews respondents formulate wishes they would like to realise in the future. This focus generates positive energy to learn and to realise the desired future.
Appreciative Inquiry.jpg
Rich Picture


• Format: Face to face & online*
• Group size: S, M, L, XL
• Level: **
• Time: 60 – 90 minutes
Joint visualization of cases in small groups of 5 – 7 persons. Through drawing, participants quickly share their understanding of actors, factors and relationships affecting the issue at hand. The end product is usually a flipchart or a digital whiteboard full of symbols, drawings and arrows. It is called a rich picture because it illustrates the richness and complexity of a situation.
Rich picture.jpg

Talking Stick

• Format: face to face & online
• Group size: S, M, L
• Level of difficulty: *
• Time needed: 30 minutes or more
Promotes cooperation and harmony. Only the person who holds the stick talks until this person feels he or she is understood. Others may only ask clarifying questions. It stimulates participants to listen more carefully. The stick is passed around; everybody gets a chance to speak. In a second reflection round, the stick can be picked up in the middle by the person who wants to contribute a new thought.
talking stick.jpg

Timelines

• Format: Face to face & online
• Group size: M, L, XL
• Level: **
• Time: 1 – 2 hours
Timelines can be used to kick-off a dialogue session or trajectory, especially with people who do not know each other and who come from many different backgrounds. All participants are asked to write down key events in the world, in their own lives and on the topic of the meeting on huge timelines on the walls. Next, mixed groups each study one timeline to talk about where this group has been, how they got here and what this means for their work together. Focusing on the past builds community quickly as people experience the world through one another’s eyes. People learn that all views are valued and that everybody owns the markers and the flipcharts.
Timeline 2.jpg

Intermediate tools

Experience level facilitator: *** and **** stars

Appreciative Inquiry Summit

• Format: face to face & online
• Group size: M, L, XL
• Level of difficulty: ****
• Time needed: Several days
Designed to flow through the Appreciative Inquiry 4-D Process of Discovery, Dream, Design and Destiny. The participants’ list for an AI Summit is by design diverse and includes all stakeholders: employees, customers, suppliers and community members.
Appreciative Inquiry Summit.jpg
Draw Toast

• Format: face to face & online*
• Group size: S, M
• Level of difficulty: ****
• Time needed: 2 to 4 hours
Engaging way to get groups to think freshly about mental models. In 3 minutes, each person sketches a diagram of how to make toast. When comparing diagrams, people are shocked to see the wide range of models. Next step: participants draw a picture of how to improve their work as a group. This workshop helps groups to unpack their complex challenge from a systems perspective.
Draw Toast.jpg

Fishbowl

• Format: face to face & online
• Group size: M, L, XL
• Level of difficulty: ***
• Time needed: 45 to 90 minutes

A small group sits in a circle and has a conversation about a topic. Meanwhile, participants gathered in a large circle around them, listen. They may join the conversation by trading chairs or moving their chairs into the circle. Useful if the topic demands one conversation in a large group instead of breakouts. It evokes active listening. Usually, this method is part of a larger process of dialogue and deliberation.
Fishbowl.jpg

Open Space Technology

  • Format: face to face & online
  • Group size: M, L, XL
  • Level of difficulty: ****
  • Time needed: Halve a day or more
    In this method, volunteers offer to lead conversations on a topic. Participants choose voluntarily the session they are interested in by the law of two feet. It is very much like in a marketplace. The method encourages self-organization within the goals of the meeting. Subgroups develop proposals, which are then brought back to the plenary.

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    Six Thinking Hats

    • Format: face to face & online
    • Group size: S, M, L
    • Level of difficulty: ****
    • Time needed: 60 minutes
    Helps groups to look at decisions from different perspectives. It involves play-acting for six types of thinking. Examples are objective/neutral (White Hat), positive/constructive (Yellow Hat) and emotional thinking (Red Hat). The method helps make better decisions by forcing you to move outside your habitual ways of thinking. As such, it helps understand the full complexity of the decision and spot issues and opportunities to which you might otherwise be blind.

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    Social Presencing Theater – 4D-mapping

    • Format: face to face
    • Group size: S, M, L
    • Level of difficulty: ****
    • Time needed: 2 to 4 hours
    Methodology for understanding current reality and exploring future possibilities. Can be practiced at the individual, group, organization and larger social systems level. SMP is not ‘theater’ in the conventional sense. It uses simple body postures and movements to dissolve limiting concepts, to communicate directly, to access information and to make visible both current reality and deeper leverage points for creating profound change.
    Social theatre.jpg

    Socratic Conversation

    • Format: Face to face & online
    • Group size: ?
    • Level: ****
    • Time: 60 – 120 minutes
    A formal method guided by a facilitator. It aims to find an answer to a universal question in a consensual manner. It uses experiences to identify and illustrate what the universal is. Similar to dialogue, individual reflection is central to this method and the focus is on creating a shared understanding. However, Socratic Conversation requires a conclusion: a universal truth. In this respect it differs from dialogue’s open-endedness.
    Socratic Conversation.jpg

    Soft Shoe Shuffle

    • Format: face to face & online
    • Group size: M, L, XL
    • Level of difficulty: ***
    • Time needed: Up to 2 hours
    A conversation on feet: people are asked to move where their feet bring them. It is an energizing method for sharing insights or discussing controversial topics in a group. And furthermore, for group decision making and to bring a fresh wind into encrusted conversation habits. It is an interactive way to hear multiple views and quickly establish key areas of conflict. This could lead to personal growth and creative solutions.
    Shoe shuffle.jpg

    World Café

    • Format: Face to face & online
    • Group size: L, XL
    • Level: ***
    • Time: 90 – 120 minutes

    Easy-to-use method for conversations around questions that really matter. World Café offers a simple, effective and flexible format for hosting large group dialogue with broad variety of stakeholders. In an informal café setting, participants rotate among small groups to exchange knowledge and views on defined topics and from different angles, building on previous conversations. Results are shared in a plenary. Eventually, they integrate individual perspectives into a new collective view.

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    Experienced tools

    Very experienced facilitator: *****

    Future Search

    • Format: Face to face (experiential online)
    • Group size: L, XL
    • Level: *****
    • Time: 2,5 days

    An interactive and dynamic planning process with 50 to 500 representatives of different interest groups around a shared issue. They share stories about their past, present and desired future. Through a sequence of exploratory, creative and reflective dialogue sessions, they discover their common ground. Typical results are shared visions, draft policies, strategic frameworks, process designs and action plans owned by all stakeholders.

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