The Reveal: Helping Make Perspectives and Positions Known

Trainers and facilitators call it a lot of things: making learning visible, getting all the cards on the table, surfacing assumptions and insights, increasing transparency, making the private more public.  Whatever the label, "it" always refers to one thing: making more individual perspectives and positions known so that a group of people can discuss them.

When collaborating with folks on workshop and conference designs this year, I've realized that not everyone is comfortable with how to do this or is familiar with the array of options available to do so.  Let me share a few of the core issues I consider in my designs and some specific tools and techniques I have found easy to use.

The Johari Window is one framework that influences how I think about this work as I will be asking people to make public to others information that currently is private and known only to them.  A workshop or conference attendee's comfort to do so is influenced by many factors including the size and composition of the group, the perceived intrusiveness or vulnerability associated with answering the questions, the level of familiarity and trust that exists among everyone participating, and the potential risks or rewards associated with the sharing. The more challenging the ask, the more support that may be required to facilitate the answer.

One of the most important design decisions then is whether the public sharing of the information will be done anonymously or with attribution.

Anonymous sharing can be facilitated by:

  • Real-time cellphone or tablet polling using Poll Everywhere or a comparable platform.
  • A summary of participant responses to a pre-event survey coupled with sharing a Word Cloud of the aggregate response as a compelling visual.
  • Individuals noting responses on index cards to questions posed and then placing them in topical envelopes followed by small groups each taking an envelope, discussing their card content, and creating a summary for sharing.

Semi-anonymous sharing can be facilitated by:

  • Flag Polling with participants raising a red (disagree strongly), yellow (neutral), or green (agree strongly) paper flag in response to questions posed. 
  • Rapid Response Cards. Individuals write an index card response to a question posed. Cards are then quickly passed and read for a brief time period.  To increase anonymity, cards could be shuffled and distributed prior to the read and pass.
  • Groupies involves participants in a small group individually noting their thoughts on a topic. The table's cards are placed in an envelope and swapped with another table. The new cards are then read and discussed with a summary created or reactions/feedback noted before cards are returned to the original table.
  • Think-Pair-Share invites individuals to first note their thoughts followed by more intimate sharing with one person. The sharing can be repeated with new partners.
  • Sit in a Section uses the room set to facilitate like-minded people connecting as participants sit in a section earmarked for individuals holding a participant opinion/position. You can use tables with different color cloths to achieve this goal or physically label different rows of seats.

Public sharing can be facilitated by:

  • Human Graphs with individuals forming a straight line (zero) and moving left or right based on their level of agreement or disagreement with a statement read.
  • Four Corners in which each corner of the room is labeled with a multiple choice option or a level of agreement and people move to the appropriate space when a question or statement is read.
  • Town Halls where individuals self-select to take a microphone and offer responses or thoughts.
  • Personal Billboards in which individuals note responses on a flipchart to a variety of questions posed, sign their chart, and post it.  All participants than do a Gallery Walk viewing others' postings before open facilitated discussion.

For any of these "reveal" techniques, learning designers also want to consider the introverted or extroverted tendencies of participants and enhance the chosen formats to be as inclusive as possible of either tendency.

Additional key inclusion considerations are the sightedness, auditory capabilities, and mobility of participants. You do not want to select a format that will automatically exclude anyone from fully engaging.

Further, avoid using exclusionary language when introducing the format. Example: In Four Corners, a person in a wheelchair can move to whichever corner represents her opinion, but she cannot go stand in the corner to make her selection.

A well-designed session or conference can include a variety of these techniques or approaches, selecting them based on the nature of the content you want to surface, the time available for doing so, and the energy and engagement the technique should support based on where it falls in the program/event.

While not exhaustive by any means, I hope this overview stimulates your thinking about how to better facilitate participants sharing individual information for group-level discussion and decision-making.

How else have you approached this important work?

This is the third post in a summer series on the craft of conference and program design.

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