A Map of dialog processes – Part 2


Richard Moore


  The Israeli-Palestinian School for Peace

In 1972, a group of Arabs and Israelis came 
together to create a village where they would 
live together voluntarily. They called this 
village "Neve Shalom" / "Wahat El Salam", which 
means "Oasis of Peace" in Hebrew and Arabic.  In 
1976, the community founded a School for Peace 
which was to create encounter programmes for Jews 
and Arabs, drawing on the community's rich 
experience of living together.  They believed 
that if they could just bring Jews and Arabs 
together in a real personal encounter, the 
dominant stereotypes would be reduced, and peace 
would become possible.

Today, the founders recognise that they began 
with a naïve outlook. They soon discovered that 
the "contact hypothesis" - the idea that all you 
need to do is to meet and get to know the other - 
doesn't actually fare well empirically. If you 
just bring people together and enable them to 
become friends, what happens is that they simply 
manage in their mind to separate their new friend 
from his/ her group. The attitude is essentially, 
"You are ok, you can be my friend, but you're not 
typical, you're not like all the other Jews/ 
Arabs/ black people/ white people..."  This 
mental rationalisation is called "sub-typing".

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a conflict 
between two peoples, rather than between 
individuals. The School for Peace team realised 
that stereotypes are just a symptom, revealing 
deeper conceptions that are hard to eradicate. 
Collective identities are real, and constructed 
by stable and deep-rooted beliefs. Contrary to 
some theories, they are not easy to educate away, 
or to buy off with economic development.

Based on this reality, the School developed a 
more sophisticated and critical approach to 
encounter programmes. They set it up as an 
encounter between two national identities, and 
started encouraging participants to identify with 
their group. Today's approach was developed 
through trial and error, and only gradually and 
in hindsight did they find more and more social 
science theories supporting it.

The Process

The intention with the programmes is to allow 
participants to examine their own identity 
through the encounter with the other group in 
authentic and direct dialogue. It is really 
around creating awareness and understanding, 
enabling participants to comprehend the turbulent 
and violent processes taking place all around 
them in Israel, and their own role in the 
conflict. The School creates a safe space that 
allows participants to examine their feelings and 
thoughts in a group. They critically examine 
things ordinarily taken for granted, challenge 
the existing reality, and pose new possibilities. 
According to Rabah Halabi, "In awareness, however 
painful, is embodied one of the most human 
values: the right to have a choice, and the 
option to change and be changed."

Each of the programmes involves equal numbers of 
Arabs and Jews as participants, and equal numbers 
of Arab and Jewish facilitators as well.  The 
groups are usually divided into small groups of 
approximately 16 participants - 8 Arabs and 8 
Jews, with one Arab and one Jewish facilitator 
assigned to each group.  Both Arabic and Hebrew 
are official languages and participants are 
encouraged to speak in their mother tongue with 
translation. The facilitators' role is to clarify 
the processes, to analyze and mirror back to the 
group what is going on, and to create links to 
the external reality in ongoing dialogue with the 

The groups meet in two fora: the binational 
encounter group (Arabs and Jews together), and 
the uninational group (Arabs and Jews meeting 
separately).  The participants usually spend 
about 3/4 of the time in the encounter group and 
1/4 of the time in their uninational group.  At 
first, participants tend to criticise the 
introduction of the uninational group.  They 
don't see its value given that they have come 
together in order to meet across cultures.  But 
as the conversations become more conflictual, the 
uninational group becomes a safer place where 
they can feel free to be vulnerable, to examine 
their own identity, to share deep realisations, 
and also to explore sub-identities within their 
group.  These sub-identities include for example 
the difference between Muslim, Christian and 
Druze Arabs, and between Ashkenazi (European) and 
Mizrahi (Middle Eastern) Jews or liberal and 
nationalist Jews. It is harder to examine these 
differences in the bi-national encounter group 
because the Jewish-Arab line of identity is what 
is prominent there.

The topics that are central to the intergroup 
dialogues are around inequities, Israeli 
politics, cultural dynamics, and the experience 
of being Jews and Arabs in Israel. The 
participants are inviting to bring up topics that 
they find interesting or troublesome. The idea is 
that for social change to happen, a dialogue 
needs to happen between these two groups that is 
real, genuine, and eye-to-eye. In order for the 
two groups to come together at an equal and 
authentic level though, the facilitators have 
found that the Arab group in every process has to 
first become strong, to shake off their 
inferiority, and uproot their internalised 
oppression.  If they can build a clear, 
confident, aware, and demarcated in-group 
identity, they are better equipped to conduct 
intergroup dialogue.

The groups at the School for Peace are assumed to 
be a "microcosm". This means that even though 
they are not demographically representative, all 
the elements of the larger society may be found 
in some form in each person and each group. The 
facilitators at the School believe that the 
process that unfolds over and over again in these 
groups reflects the path the overall society is 
on, and the journey Israel as a country needs to 
go through.

The actual process may differ depending on the 
programme.  We provide two examples below - a 
university programme and a youth programme.


So far, the School's programmes have been 
attended by 35000 people from different walks of 
life - from attorneys to activists, 
schoolchildren to teachers. Through these 
programmes, they have not only impacted the 
individuals participating but also their friends, 
colleagues, and families. They also teach courses 
at Israel's main universities.

We are not aware of the extent to which the 
approach has spread and been replicated in other 
countries. The situation in Israel and Palestine 
is of course extreme, but many of the dynamics 
that show up sharply in this process are 
archetypal dynamics common between minority 
groups and powerful majority groups.  We feel 
that the process is highly relevant to racial, 
ethnic, or other minority-majority dynamics in 
different contexts, and aspects of it even to 
dialogues between sectors, generations, or other 
kinds of groupings.

Case Examples - Adult and Youth Programmes
Adult Programmes

The university programme described here took 
place at Tel-Aviv University in 1996-97. A group 
of 16 students, half Arab half Jewish, met over 
22 sessions of 3 hours each. The group went 
through five phases, typical of these programmes:

1. Initial explorations and declarations of 
intent: In this first phase, the participants 
were being polite and cautious and the group 
boundaries were unclear.  Each group was 
identifying with members of the other group, and 
the discussion was focused on the nature of the 
encounter.  The Jews were trying to focus on the 
individual level, to avoid political discussions, 
and to separate this experience from reality, and 
were more vocal. The Arabs were criticising the 
process for being unreal because it wasn't 
representative.  2. Strengthening the Arab group: 
Now, the Arab group started to solidify and 
unite, showing courage, and drawing strength from 
each other through the uninational meetings. They 
would express differences in the uninational 
meetings but not in front of the Jewish group. 
The groups started sitting separately and 
expressing their identity more clearly.  The 
Arabs started dominating, focusing on demanding 
rights, and criticising the Jews as oppressors. 
The Jews, as liberal university students would 
support their cause, but start to feel hurt and 
distressed.  3. Resumption of power by Jewish 
group: The Jews experienced a loss of control and 
power, and hence an eradication of their 
identity. They didn't know how to cope with the 
unfamiliar, strong Arab identity. They expressed 
frustration and despair and considered leaving 
the programme. They started now joining the 
victim position, pointing out how the Arabs were 
reversing the roles, and alluding to the Arabs' 
lack of sensitivity and humanity.  "We understand 
you, but you don't understand us." A struggle 
ensued over who is more humane.  The Jews 
regained control by targeting the Arabs at their 
weak spot. The Arabs now felt distressed, and the 
Jews felt they were back in control.  4. Impasse: 
Both sides were exhausted and despairing. The 
dialogue felt as if it had been wrung dry.  Then, 
one person started speaking to the choices facing 
them. Despair shifted to action, and out of a 
sense of lost cause emerged a different depth of 
dialogue.  The Jews accepted the balance of power 
and met the Arabs "eye to eye".  5. A different 
dialogue: The Jews owned up to their own sense of 
superiority and became willing to talk about 
themselves as rulers and the strong group.  There 
was a sense of breakthrough and mutual respect. 
The humanity of both sides was restored as both 
the "oppressed" and the "oppressors" were 
liberated within this microcosm.  The group 
identity became less central again and 
participants returned to being individuals.  The 
dialogue returned to practical questions around 
how to live together and how to return to reality.

Youth Programmes

The Youth Programmes are the most common 
programmes at the School for Peace.  These are 
four-day programmes, more structured than the 
adult programmes, and not quite as 
psychologically intense as what is described 
above.  In the youth programmes, usually about 60 
eleventh-grade students aged 16-17 come together 
and divide into four groups of 14-16 people who 
work in parallel through the four days.

The first day is focused on getting acquainted 
personally and easing anxieties.  A comfortable 
and optimistic atmosphere is created. 
Participants introduce themselves, learn each 
other's names and the significance of their 
names, talk about familiar topics such as school, 
home, and future plans, and share personal 
stories in pairs.  The focus is on what they have 
in common. Games and activities help to break the 
ice, and an exercise is introduced that can only 
be solved through collaboration across cultures. 
Political discussions are avoided. The power 
relations are still present however, in that the 
Jews will tend to be most vocal and everyone is 
speaking Hebrew.

The second day they start getting to know each 
other's cultures.  In mixed groups of 4, they are 
given cards with discussion topics about cultural 
differences.  The conversation starts being about 
"the way we do..." and "the way they do...". 
Here the dialogue transitions from interpersonal 
to intergroup dialogue, and the youth start 
coming face-to-face with their feelings of 
superiority and inferiority.  After a uninational 
meeting, they come back into an encounter session 
that now starts to broach politics through a 
"photolanguage" exercise.  Participants are asked 
to select a photo from a collection, and use it 
to describe how they feel as an Arab/Jew in 
Israel.  The Jews tend to pick photos that 
reflect peace, comradeship, complexity, and 
possibility while the Arabs tend to pick photos 
that reflect destruction, despair, and grief. 
The Arabs become strong and start talking about 
rights and discrimination.  The Jews challenge 
them on their humanity.  Each side is struggling 
to justify its own narrative.  The day ends in 
uninational meetings.  Here, the Arabs oscillate 
between actively demanding unity and feeling 
disappointed and hopeless.  The Jews oscillate 
between their desire for equity and friendship 
and their need to protect the status quo. This is 
the first time many of them have been required to 
really engage and argue with a group of Arabs.

The third day is run as a simulation game.  The 
youth are asked to imagine that 50 years into the 
future there is a comprehensive peace between 
Israel and the Arab states but the status of the 
Arab minority within Israel hasn't changed. 
Demonstrations happen, and the Israeli government 
opens up negotiations with the minority around: 
security, education,  symbols and representation, 
and the character of the state.  The youth now 
have to create negotiating teams for each of 
these four topics and imagine that they are in 
this political process. They struggle with 
whether it is just a game, or whether it is for 
real.  They are challenged to really figure out 
what they stand for and what kind of society they 

The fourth day, they have a closing dialogue and 
talk about how to take their lessons home.  Each 
participant writes a letter to be copied for all 
the others in an album to remember the 
experience, and each is given a certificate of 
attendance in a celebratory ceremony.


The School for Peace approach is surprising and 
contrary to much of what we have been taught 
about dialogue. What attracts us to it is its 
emphasis on authenticity and facing up to 
reality, and developing a process that is not 
imported from a different context, but truly 
applicable to Israel.

Most, if not all, of the other methods in this 
collection emphasise strongly that individuals 
have to speak for themselves, and that being a 
representative of a group or organisation 
inhibits dialogue. Here, the centrality of 
collective identity is not ignored but 
incorporated.  It is interesting that the Jewish 
participants at the School for Peace often 
initially want to emphasise the individual, 
develop friendships, create sub-categories, 
divide the Arabs into different types of 
individuals, and generally separate people from 
politics.  The Arabs in turn emphasise unity and 
group affiliation.  We feel that it's important 
to understand this perspective of minority and 
disempowered groups, and we are aware that many 
of the other tools profiled here have been 
developed by people of more privileged 

That said, the School for Peace approach is 
difficult and complex, and participants can feel 
it is not respectful of individual differences 
and allowing personal expression. To us, 
including this approach is not so much a 
suggestion of replicating it as a whole, but more 
to consider the questions it raises about the 
difference between individual and group 
encounters, and to incorporate aspects of it in 
other processes where groups are coming together 
and power differences are present.


Rabah Halabi, Ed. Israeli and Palestinian 
Identities in Dialogue: The School for Peace 

Open Space Technology

"With Open Space, there are not ideas that remain 
hidden or unspoken. Everything emerges." - An 
Open Space practitioner

Open Space Technology allows groups, large or 
small, to self-organise to effectively deal with 
complex issues in a very short time. Participants 
create and manage their own agenda of parallel 
working sessions around a central theme of 
strategic importance. What Open Space presents to 
us is, at the very least, a new way to hold 
better meetings. It can however grow to become a 
new way of organising that infuses entire 
organisations or smaller communities.

Harrison Owen initiated Open Space Technology in 
the mid 1980's. He had had several experiences of 
good to great conferences where the real 
highlights were the conversations outside of the 
formal agenda. This led him to wonder whether a 
different way of organising might not be 
possible. His question moving forward became how 
to combine the level of synergy and excitement 
present in a good coffee break with the 
substantive activity and results characteristic 
of a good meeting.

In seeking for answers, he took some of his 
inspiration from witnessing a four-day long rite 
of passage for young men in a west African 
village in Liberia. Though there was seemingly no 
organising committee or formal structure, the 
four days ran smoothly with all 500 people 
managing themselves, the activities, events, 
food, music, and all the other aspects of the 
ceremonial process. From this experience, Owen 
took some of the fundamental principles that have 
come to shape Open Space today. In brief they 
are: the circle as a centre from which organising 
takes place; a breath, or rhythm, that people 
know and can organise around; the village market 
place where connections are made around different 
offerings; and the bulletin board, where 
information is posted and shared.

Open Space has since become the operating system 
beneath some of the largest self- organising 
meetings the world has seen. The benefit of Open 
Space is that people get involved in 
contributing, and working through, the areas that 
they are truly engaged in and committed to. The 
danger (to some) is that freedom is given to 
people to choose their response and involvement 
without being controlled by a planner or 

How it works

An Open Space meeting can last from two hours to 
several days. When people gather they co-create 
the agenda of the meeting together, allowing it 
to be shaped by the passion and interest of the 

Every Open Space meeting begins in a large 
circle. One facilitator is all that is needed. 
After an initial welcome, he or she will open the 
space, by introducing the theme, or burning 
question, which has brought people together. She 
explains that within the next hour, their agenda 
will be formed on the large seemingly very blank 
wall. She explains that all of the sessions will 
be posted and hosted by the participants 
themselves. People are invited to propose 
sessions and discussions on topics that they 
themselves are passionate about and willing to 
take responsibility for, in response to the theme 
or question at the centre. But before beginning 
the collective agenda-making, the facilitator 
still needs to explain the basic principles and 
one law of Open Space.

Four Principles

'Whoever comes are the right people'.  This 
principle speaks to people to let go of their 
need to have certain specific people join their 
group. Perhaps they would like the people in 
established positions of power, or the experts in 
an area. With this principle people are invited 
to acknowledge that those who care enough to 
freely choose to join a conversation are the best 
ones to do good work in that area.

'Whenever it starts is the right time'. This 
principle recognizes that while a session may 
begin at a certain hour, creativity and 
inspiration don't always work according to our 
desired timing. Things really get started when 
they are ready, not before, and not later.

'Whatever happens is the only thing that could 
have'. This invites people to let go of 
expectations for how things should go, or where 
they should lead to. We need to learn to let go 
of these expectations and instead be present and 
pay attention to what is actually happening and 
emerging between us.

'When it's over, it's over.' We don't know how 
long it takes to deal with an issue. In Open 
Space, the issue is more important than the 
schedule. If we finish before the allotted time 
is over, then move on to something else. We 
should not stay somewhere just because the 
schedule tells us to. It also works the other 
way. If we have not finished when our agenda slot 
is over, we can self-organise to extend it into 
another agenda slot, making sure we post it on 
the wall for others to know, and/or find ways to 
continue the work on the issue beyond the 

One Law

The "law of two feet" encourages people to take 
responsibility for their own learning, peace of 
mind, and contribution. If someone is in a place 
where they feel they are not learning, or able to 
contribute, the law of two feet encourages them 
to leave and move on to another group, where they 
think they might add more value, and feel more 
engaged. They may also choose to do something 
else altogether. Most importantly people 
shouldn't be somewhere where they feel they are 
wasting their time.

From this law follows that some participants will 
become "bumblebees", people who fly from one 
session to another, and just like bees, 
cross-pollinating what is going on between 
sessions, and/or "butterflies", who choose at 
times to skip formal sessions and listen to their 
own sense of what they need to do in a given 
moment. Sometimes two butterflies meet outside of 
the sessions in informal conversation, and a new 
topic might arise out of that conversation.

These principles and the law provide the 
container for the Open Space, enabling people to 
take full responsibility for their own learning 
and contribution. They create a context in which 
people can be focused and work hard, but remain 
flexible and open to surprise. "Be prepared to be 
surprised' is a typical reminder in an Open Space 

With these basic instructions, the group is now ready to fill their empty wall:

  Main Room Tea Room Lounge Library Garden 
8:30-9:30 Community Meeting 9:30-11:00 
11:30- 13:00      13:00- 14:00 Lunch 14:00- 15:30 
16:00- 17:30      17:30- 18:00 Convergence

The facilitator asks people to think about their 
idea or burning question in response to the 
theme. After a short period of silence she 
invites whoever is ready to come to the centre, 
grab a marker and piece of paper, and write down 
their idea or question, read it out loud, and 
post it on the wall - choosing one of several 
pre-arranged space/time choices. Sometimes there 
are a few moments of quiet, but invariably people 
jump up and begin to write and post sessions. 
Within a short period of time, the agenda for the 
day or for the week is laid out. People go up to 
the wall to read the different offerings, signing 
up for the groups they wish to join. Now the work 
can begin.

During a longer Open Space, the group will come 
back together as a whole for a brief meeting in 
the morning and evening, to report on main 
breakthroughs, to post new sessions as they occur 
to people, and to help maintain a sense of the 

The facilitator of each group needs to compile 
the report of their session. Typically the 
outputs are typed and compiled during the 
duration of a meeting for people to go home with 
the final report. Where decisions need to be 
made, time needs to be allowed for focusing and 
prioritizing the full output. This can be done in 
a matter of a few hours, even with larger groups.

"The 2 days of Open Space that followed were a 
success, a miracle in the words of the CEO and he 
added that 3 years ago they received a thick 
report from ___ (a famous international strategic 
company meeting in Israel) that cost $1.5 milion, 
and they could implement a little. Now we 
produced something much better in the cost of 1 
page of their report, and it seems that we can 
implement it all." - Avner Haramati


Open Space is being used around the world - it 
has been used in townships in South Africa, in 
dialogues between Israelis and Palestinians in 
the Middle East, in many corporations, in the NGO 
sector for planning and community involvement, 
and in the Public Sector with similar uses. It 
can be used for 5 people or 1000.

According to Harrison Owen, Open Space works best 
where conflict is present, things are complex, 
there is huge diversity of players and the answer 
was needed yesterday. The personal investment is 
critical coupled with a real sense of urgency 
among participants. The greater the diversity, 
the higher the potential for real breakthrough 
and innovative outcomes. It works particularly 
well in the move from planning to action, where 
real action is facilitated by people stepping in 
and taking responsibility where they care.

Case Examples - South Africa's Transition and International Summer Villages

The first case is a description taken from an 
article by Harrison Owen on the beginning of Open 
Space Technology. In the early summer of 1992, 
OST was used in one of the South African 
townships to promote useful discussion among 
several political groups. The focus of 
conversation was on improving communications in 
the area. For a full day, representatives of the 
various political parties along with nearby 
industry (largely white) worked together. It 
would be a supreme overstatement to say that all 
issues were resolved, or that love and light 
broke out in full abundance. But the discussions 
were intense, productive, without rancor, and 
contrasted sharply with conditions in a 
neighboring township where conversations had 
ceased and bloodshed commenced. There was also a 
continuing benefit. Several days after this 
particular gathering, one of the participants 
called to say that for two years as president of 
a local school organisation, he had been 
attempting to get the people involved in creating 
their future. Nothing had worked. They sat like 
bumps on a log. Then he tried Open Space 
Technology, and his problem was reversed. The 
people became involved, and he had but one 
option. Get out of the way.

A second case shows an example of how Open Space 
together with an Appreciative Inquriy process 
helped an international organisation build a 
common platform and plan for the future. 
Children's International Summer Villages (CISV) 
is a not-for-profit organisation, which develops 
cross-cultural understanding in children and 
youth from around the world through peace 
education. They have over 60 national offices. 
They wanted to develop a new strategic plan 
involving the grassroots of their organisation.

They decided to use an Appreciative Inquiry 
process with Open Space to combine the potential 
of Appreciative Inquiry to collect information, 
and build a shared foundation, direction and 
vision for the future with the potency of Open 
Space to mobilise people into action in areas 
they care deeply about.

Each country received a handbook explaining the 
Appreciative Inquiry process, and began a 
large-scale interview process to collect stories 
of personal experiences of inspiration and beauty 
that people carried with them from their time 
with the organisation. Several thousand 
interviews were synthesized into a storybook with 
a summary of core values and wishes for the 
future. The book became the foundation for a 2 
1/2 day AI summit, in which people immersed 
themselves in the stories and data, building 
pride and clarity around what they do well and 
where they can naturally grow their strengths. 
From this, they developed tangible goals for the 
future (in the form of provocative propositions).

An overall umbrella theme for the future became 
the theme for a one day Open Space session, which 
included 150 people from across the world. The 
results were explosive. Lots of practical ideas, 
and plans, and focus areas emerged for CISV, 
which at the end were prioritized and voted on by 
the participants and several others who 
participated online. When reporting on outcomes 
from small groups, people related their reports 
to the overall goals, ensuring that everyone 
understood the implications of each report and 
how it tied to the overall vision before voting. 
Everyone, including online participants, voted on 
the top priorities for CISV. They also identified 
where they were willing to initiate moving the 
organisation forward.

What they accomplished with this process was a 
plan, which had become alive in people and had in 
a sense begun even before the action steps were 
executed. They used AI and Open Space to rekindle 
grassroots passion, engaging commitment to 
implement from the outset.


Open Space works particularly well when the 
passion, engagement and burning questions are 
present. In such a situation, it truly helps a 
group move forward swiftly and clearly. On the 
other hand, it can fall flat when the engagement 
or interest is low. People need to be present 
because they want to be, not because they have 
been told they must be. For these reasons the 
intention is vital, as is expressing it clearly 
in the invitation to join an Open Space session, 
meeting or conference. With a clear intention and 
in the presence of a real need, Open Space is a 
beautiful testament to how little organising is 
required by an organiser when allowing people to 
self-organise their way forward. In fact, the art 
of the planner, with most potent Open Space 
sessions, is learning to truly get out of the way.

Open Space can be run on its own, but our feeling 
is that it works equally well and sometimes 
better when combined with other tools and 
processes, such as World Café, Appreciative 
Inquiry, Scenario Planning, and others. In this 
case, ending with Open Space is most typically 
the norm, allowing an initial process of 
clarifying ideas and views to be followed by 
stepping into taking responsibility for certain 

One of the reasons why it's important to combine 
Open Space with other processes is that a key 
risk is that an Open Space conference ends 
without convergence happening between the 
different groups.  A lot of great conversations 
may have happened in small groups, but they 
haven't been woven together adequately.  Finding 
the ways to lay the groundwork for a productive 
Open Space session and to create this convergence 
and reconnection with the whole is an important 
challenge for facilitators and organisers using 
this process.  Also, while Harrison Owen points 
out that Open Space is useful in situations of 
conflict, the risk is that conflicting parties 
choose to just work with the people who agree 
with them.  In that situation, combining it with 
processes that are more directly aimed at 
resolving conflict (rather than being productive 
in spite of conflict) can be useful.

Open Space is all about handing the 
responsibility back to people themselves. Two 
core questions characterizing Open Space are: 
"What do you really want to do," and "why don't 
you take care of it?" As with the World Café and 
many other forms, the real art form lies in 
identifying the right calling question that truly 
draws people out of themselves and into a shared 
arena of thinking and acting together.

  "I can't imagine that there could be a better 
method for enabling a group to discover its 
potential." - Open Space practitioner


Owen, Harrison. Expanding our now. The story of Open Space Technology.

Owen, Harrison. Open Space Technology, A users guide.
  Scenario Planning

Scenarios are possible and plausible pictures of 
the future. They are created through a series of 
conversations, through which a group of people 
invent and consider several varied stories about 
how the world may turn out.  Ideally, these 
stories should be carefully researched and full 
of detail, able to expose new understandings and 
some surprises.  Scenarios are powerful tools for 
challenging assumptions about the world, and in 
so doing, they lift the barriers of our own 
creativity and understanding about the future.

The term "scenario planning" was originally 
coined by the RAND Corporation during and after 
World War II, as part of their corporate 
strategy. When Herman Kahn left the RAND 
Corporation, he set up the Hudson Institute and 
further developed the process, and went on to 
write a book called "The Year 2000" which was 
published in 1967. Since the late 60's, the 
process has taken off as a tool and has evolved 
considerably from its origins.

Scenario planning as a process started with a 
paradigm of "predict and control", where 
probabilistic scenarios were sketched out about 
the future. This paradigm as a basis for the 
process has changed significantly over the years, 
mainly due to the work of Pierre Wack at Shell in 
the 1970's. Wack separated issues which were 
predictable from those which were uncertain, and 
worked with uncertainties and how they influenced 
various scenarios.

Nowadays, scenario planning then supports the 
notion that the world is inherently uncertain. 
Scenarios are used not so much as a tool for 
predicting the future, but rather as a process 
which challenges assumptions, values and mental 
models of various stakeholders about how 
uncertainties might affect their collective 
futures. By encouraging scenario planning 
processes at different levels of an organisation 
or community, old paradigms are challenged, and 
innovation encouraged through surprising possible 
stories of the future. Scenarios therefore help 
develop new and valuable knowledge.

By bringing multiple perspectives into a 
conversation about the future, a rich and 
multidimensional variety of scenarios are 
created. Scenarios encourage storytelling and 
dialogue between people who would not necessarily 
share their perspectives with each other. As 
Peter Schwartz points out: "Scenario-making is 
intensely participatory, or else it fails."

Preparing for a Scenario Planning Process

Before embarking on a scenario process, it is 
important to establish whether it is the right 
process to use, and in what context it would be 
most useful. Scenarios are generally used when 
the following conditions exist:

- There is a high level of complexity in a given 
situation which is difficult to understand - 
There is a longer term (at least a few years 
ahead) focus required in looking into the future, 
and how to respond to it - There is uncertainty 
about how the external environment will impact a 
particular situation - There are resources 
available to invest in a series of conversations 
amongst different stakeholders over a period of 
time, and to distribute these scenarios 

Scenarios can also be very broad and are not 
necessarily useful if the focus and purpose is 
unclear. Once a particular organisation or 
community has decided to use scenarios, the 
following questions will help make the outcome 
relevant to all concerned. The scenario- planning 
process can then be adapted to these specific 

- What is the purpose of this process?  - How 
many "players" need to be part of this process in 
order to view the necessary perspectives of the 
future? - What parts of the external environment 
are important to focus on when considering these 
scenarios?  - Is there any level of control by 
any of the stakeholders of these external 
variables?  - What is the time horizon?  - Who is 
endorsing this process at a leadership level?  - 
Who needs to "buy-in" to the potential outcomes?

The Process

There are many ways of developing scenarios. The 
process below is but one simple example of how to 
facilitate a scenario-building exercise, which 
considers the important principles of uncertainty 
and control. South Africans Chantal Illbury and 
Clem Sunter have mapped out this process for 
building a set of scenarios to consider for 
future strategy:  The horizontal axis represents 
the continuum of certainty/ uncertainty, and the 
vertical axis represents the continuum of 
control/ absence of control. All of the steps of 
this scenario process are numbered in order and 
move through the four quadrants highlighted in 
the diagram. The scenarios themselves are 
generally based on a set of different 
uncertainties which may play out in the future, 
and where there is absence of control by the 
"players" of the game.

The steps of the process are explained as follows:
1. What are the rules?

In any given situation, rules of "the game" are 
certain, but not necessarily controllable. "The 
game" is a metaphor of the context being examined 
in the scenario process.  It is important to 
firstly distinguish between the written and 
unwritten rules of the game. The unwritten rules 
can also be referred to as "tacit", and are often 
socially constructed. By surfacing these 
unwritten rules, it is easier to better 
understand "the game". On the other hand, written 
rules are often aspirational - they are aspired 
to by the organization, but not necessarily 
implemented in reality.

Control Absence of Control Certainty Uncertainty 
2 a. Key Uncertainties 2 b. Scenarios 1. Rules of 
the Game 3. Options 4. Decisions Predictability 
Potential impact Uncertainty 2 Uncertainty 3 
Uncertainty 1 Uncertainty 4 2. a.  What are the 
key uncertainties

The next step in this scenario process is to map 
out the key uncertainties for the future. This is 
a highly creative step, where it is important to 
get multiple perspectives of what is uncertain. 
By mapping the key uncertainties in order of 
importance and level of uncertainty, the group 
can start to decide which ones to explore in more 
detail to start developing scenarios. The diagram 
below assists the process of prioritizing 

2. b.   Develop the scenarios

As mentioned above, scenarios can be viewed as 
multiple pictures of the future. This glimpse can 
give participants an understanding of what is 
possible, and the motivation to plan towards 
their preferred scenario.

A useful technique to decide on the preferred 
scenarios is to expand on the key uncertainties 
by examining the possible outcomes of those 
uncertainties. For example, in a country context, 
one of the uncertainties might be economic 
growth. So the scenarios could explore the 
stories which would unfold if there would be high 
economic growth or low economic growth.  To give 
a scenario a more multi-dimensional aspect, two 
key uncertainties could be explored - see graph 
below. Scenarios are developed to surprise us, 
and to bring to the surface possibilities we 
wouldn't normally anticipate for the future. This 
means it is important to base the scenarios on 
uncertainties which have low predictability and 
high impact (uncertainties 3 and 4 in graph 
above). The graph below is an example of 
scenarios which may be developed based on 2 key 

  3. Identify options for future action

Options are determined from the scenarios. The 
scenarios can be seen as the bridge between the 
key uncertainties and options - they help order a 
group process in a way that paints a set of vivid 
and detailed pictures of what is possible, and 
therefore the possibility to map out options to 
match each of these scenarios. It is therefore 
important that the scenarios are written up in a 
lot of detail, and explore all components of a 
given situation. This will assist the process of 
mapping out options of action for each scenario.

4. Make decisions

The final stage is to make decisions based on the 
scenarios and the options. Illbury & Sunter refer 
to George Kelley who introduces us to the 
"personal construct theory". He claims that we 
make decisions based on our own interpretations 
of the world, which are informed by our 
experiences. If our experiences are cut off from 
those of others, we limit the decisions we make. 
Scenarios help bring these different experiences 
into pictures of the future through a dialogue, 
which in turn helps us make more informed 
decisions for the future.


Scenarios have been used since the 1960s. Back 
then, the process was mostly used within 
companies to help them make more informed 
decisions about the future. Since then, the 
process has been more widely applied to social 
contexts with multiple stakeholder involvement. 
Scenarios have been used extensively all over the 
world in varied contexts from mapping out country 
strategies (Jamaica, South Africa, Botswana, 
Kenya and others), corporate strategies (Shell, 
Anglo American, OldMutual), as well as at 
multiple community levels.

Case Example: Mont Fleur Scenario-Process, 1991, South Africa

In his book, Solving Tough Problems, Adam Kahane 
tells the story of facilitating the Mont Fleur 
Scenarios.  In 1991, 22 key influential South 
African figures came together for a 
scenario-building process about the future of the 
country. It was shortly after Mandela's release, 
when the future was very uncertain and divided.

The group attending included leaders from the 
left (ANC, PAC, National Union of Mineworkers, 
South African Communist Party), as well as their 
adversaries from white business and academia. 
They all saw the reality of South Africa from 
different perspectives. Participants included 
Trevor Manuel, Tito Mboweni and Vincent Maphai.

The group sat for a couple of days talking to 
each other. They met multiple times over a period 
of months, and talked through a number of 
scenarios. They eventually decided on four 
scenarios they found most plausible for South 
Africa. These scenarios were all based on the 
question of: "How will the transition go, and 
will the country succeed in "taking off"?

The four, richly explained stories were based on 
bird analogies. Firstly, there was the Ostrich, 
where the white government sticks its head in the 
sand to avoid a negotiated settlement. Then there 
was the Lame Duck where the transition goes on 
for too long, trying to satisfy all parties and 
not succeeding. Thirdly, there was Icarus, where 
a black government comes to power and institutes 
a massive public spending policy which bankrupts 
the economy. Finally, the most positive scenario 
was The Flight of the Flamingos, where a 
successful transition takes place, and where 
everyone is South Africa rises slowly together.

From the group, the Flamingo scenario was 
unanimously agreed on as the best alternative. 
These scenarios were written up in a 25-page 
report and distributed widely through the media, 
and workshops all over the country. From these 
multiple engagements, the outcomes of Mont Fleur 
had a significant effect on the economic policy 
of South Africa. Many leaders and politicians 
have referred to these scenarios in various 
debates and discussions.

This process was so remarkably successful for four overarching reasons:

1. The timing was right - it was the window of 
opportunity to create a new future at the 
beginning of South Africa's transition. There was 
much uncertainty and absence of control.  2. 
There was top political buy-in and participation 
at all levels.  3. The process itself built 
meaningful relationships and all involved bought 
into the scenarios, which also demonstrates 
excellent facilitation. 4. The follow-up was 
extensive - the stories were well written in 
detail, and communicated through mass media, 
television, and workshops. Many political 
speeches and strategy sessions referred to this 

These scenarios proved to be powerful tools for 
both planning and debate, and are still spoken of 
over 10 years later. The Mont Fleur process 
highlights the impact of facilitated dialogue 
about the future, and the power of stories.


Many organisations work in an increasingly 
complex situation both internally and externally. 
When we are faced with complex systems, one of 
the key capacities that is needed is to be able 
to not only work from one point of view or frame 
of reference. Scenarios help us to work 
simultaneously with more than one perspective and 
story, and to take actions that make sense across 
multiple frames.  The real power of the scenario 
planning process is the ability to bring many 
different stakeholders into a conversation about 
the future, thereby creating collective ownership 
of these sets of pictures, and building important 
relationships across differences.

The outcome of a scenario-building process can be useful in two ways:

1. The set of possible stories of the future help 
a group/ organisation/ community respond to that 
situation should the event arise. This is a more 
responsive interpretation of the process. The 4 
scenarios chosen at the end may not have an order 
of preference (good or bad), but rather map out 
the positive and negative outcomes of all 
scenarios. This is typically an outcome of an 
organisation-specific process, where the primary 
purpose would be to respond in a more informed 
manner to situations as they arise.

2. A more proactive response would be to strive 
towards the scenario of choice, and map out 
strategies to help a group move towards that 
picture. Scenarios would therefore have an order 
of preference amongst stakeholders involved, and 
the most preferred scenario is the one to strive 
for.  Peter Drucker once said: "The best way to 
predict the future is to create it". Scenarios 
are a powerful way of moving towards a more 
desired future, as has been highlighted by the 
incredible outcome of the Mont Fleur scenarios. 
The process and examples we have used in this 
explanation demonstrates this view of futurist 


Hansen, M. et al. What's Your Strategy for 
Managing Knowledge? In Harvard Business Review: 

Illbury, C & Sunter, C. The Mind of a Fox: Scenario Planning in Action.

Schwartz, P. The Art of the Long View: Planning for an Uncertain World.

Van der Heijden, K. The Art of Strategic Conversation.
Kahane, A. Solving Tough Problems.
Sustained Dialogue

The key distinguishing feature of Sustained 
Dialogue is precisely that it is sustained. 
Over extended periods of time, the same group of 
people join in consecutive meetings.  The 
underlying assumption behind this is that, in 
order to address conflictual issues, we need to 
not just look at the concrete problem to be 
solved, but at the underlying relationships that 
get in the way.  And, changing relationships 
isn't something that happens in a day, or at a 
brief workshop or conference - it's a dynamic, 
non-linear process which takes time and requires 
commitment from those involved.

Sustained Dialogue was developed primarily by 
veteran US diplomat Dr. Harold Saunders, inspired 
by a long career in international affairs and 
peace processes.  Key to the inspiration behind 
Sustained Dialogue was his work as co-chair of 
the "Dartmouth Conferences", an unofficial, 
multilevel, unique peace-making venture between 
the US and the USSR, started in 1960 and 
continued over a process of more than 30 years. 
Over years, the same participants sustained their 
conversation from one meeting to the next, 
speaking with an increasing sense of freedom, 
reaching greater and greater depth, and building 
trusting relationships and a foundation of shared 
knowledge.  The agenda was open-ended and 
cumulative, picking out themes and taking them to 
their logical conclusion, and allowing new themes 
to arise.  In 1992, members of the Dartmouth 
Conference's Regional Conflicts Task Force 
decided to draw on their experience to foster 
dialogue in a national conflict in Tajikistan, 
and it was through this work that Sustained 
Dialogue was further elaborated and 
conceptualised into its current basic model.

While the process was born from situations of 
conflict and extreme stress, it reflects a more 
universal pattern of human relationships, and can 
be used in a variety of community, corporate, 
regional and national settings. This section is 
based on writings of Harold Saunders as well as 
an interview and materials provided by Teddy 
Nemeroff, who is currently working with IDASA in 
Pretoria specifically on Sustained Dialogue. 
Teddy has worked with Sustained Dialogue in a 
wider range of contexts beyond the international 
peace-building arena, including on youth issues, 
local governance, and with universities.  He 
launched the Sustained Dialogue programme at 
Princeton University which has now evolved into a 
programme at 10 US university campuses, 
specifically looking at race relations among 

Sustained Dialogue is informed by two conceptual 
frameworks: five elements of relationships and 
five stages of a sustained dialogue.

Five Elements of Relationships

As mentioned above, the focus of Sustained 
Dialogue is on the underlying relationships that 
affect a given problem.  Given this focus, it's 
important to understand what is meant by 
relationships and what the different aspects of 
relationship are.  The following five components 
or arenas of interaction make up a definition of 
relationships.  They work in constantly changing 

Identity: The way that participants define 
themselves including the life experiences they 
bring to the present moment Interests: The things 
people care about, that are drawing them together 
Power: The capacity to influence a course of 
events Perceptions of the Other: Including 
misperceptions and stereotypes Patterns of 
Interaction: Including respect for certain limits 
on behaviour

This framework is analytical but also operational 
in the sense that participants in a Sustained 
Dialogue will usually be introduced to these 
elements and will draw on them in understanding 
the nature of the relationships that divide them. 
Sometimes participants can find it hard to talk 
about relationships, but they become apparent in 
the dialogues, to both participants and 
moderators.  In that situation, this framework 
provides a point of reference.

Five Stages of Sustained Dialogue

The Sustained Dialogue process is mapped out in 
five stages.  These stages have been identified, 
not based on what the creators of the process 
necessarily would want to happen, but rather on 
what they observed happening as a natural 
evolution when participants came together in a 
dialogue sustained over time. It's important to 
point out that these stages are a kind of 
idealtype description and not a recipe. 
Generally participants will move back and forth 
between the stages, and will not follow this 
rigidly.  The Sustained Dialogue facilitator also 
will not push them through the process. Still, 
this basic pattern seems accurate and provides 
aboveall a sense of direction for both 
participants and facilitators to a process that 
is otherwise open-ended.  Stage One - Deciding to 
Engage First a group of participants needs to be 
convened.  A good size for a Sustained Dialogue 
is 8-12 people. They should ideally be people who 
are respected community leaders (but not 
necessarily in official positions), who reflect 
the key viewpoints of the topic, conflict, or 
community, and who are willing to come together 
to listen to one another in an ongoing process. 
Though Sustained Dialogue is intended and 
designed to shift relationships, the participants 
will generally be coming together because they 
are motivated by, and focused on, a particular 
problem.  They don't necessarily see 
relationships as the heart of that problem from 
the outset.

Convening an appropriate group of participants 
can be a difficult and drawn out process.  It may 
be hard to get them to commit the time, to accept 
the value of the process, or to be willing to 
engage with others where there is a dysfunctional 
relationship.  Their motivation to join will 
depend on whether they are the right people to be 
involved, whether they have a compelling desire 
to solve a problem, whether they are aware of 
their common interest and interdependence in 
solving it, and whether the conveners succeed in 
communicating the value of the dialogue process.

Once the participants have been identified, Stage 
One is also the time where they together agree on 
the purpose, scope, and ground rules of the 
dialogue.  Sometimes the participants actually 
sign a "covenant" to contract with each other.

Stage Two - Mapping Relationships and Naming 
Problems This is where the conversations actually 
begin. Stage Two is first a process of naming the 
issues - telling stories of personal experiences, 
venting grievances, downloading or "dumping" all 
the concerns, letting it all out, and clearing 
the air. Towards the later parts of this stage, 
participants will start to map the problems and 
the related underlying relationships out in a 
more structured way and they will identify a few 
major issues they want to focus on in a deeper 
exploration.  Stage Three: Probing Problems and 
Relationships At the end of Stage Two and 
beginning of Stage 3, the character of the 
conversation shifts.  "Me" becomes "We". "What" 
becomes "Why". Participants shift from speaking 
"to" each other to speaking "with" each other. 
The group is finding patterns and explanations, 
making connections, and developing concepts. They 
are more interpretive and analytical at this 
stage, probing the dynamics of the underlying 
relationships causing their problems, and 
identifying broad possible ways into changing 
those relationships. The group is now focusing on 
some narrower or deeper issues or leverage points 
in the system, bearing in mind the connections to 
the other issues that were mapped in Stage Two. 
They are arriving at the insights that will drive 
their choices for action. They are also accessing 
their individual and collective will to enact 
change, and coming to a sense of direction.   "I 
would as a white student talk about interacting 
with a black student, and how it was 
uncomfortable.  A black student would tell a 
story about how a white student treated them. 
Stage Three would be where someone would say 
'maybe our experience is similar'.  'Maybe in my 
story, the way I felt is like how the white 
person in your story felt.' This is where we are 
getting into each other's shoes." - Interview 
with Teddy Nemeroff Stage Four: Scenario-building 
While the group has been primarily focused on 
problems until this point, they really step into 
a positive solution space now. They work out what 
practical steps they and the wider community need 
to take in order to change troublesome 
relationships and to overcome obstacles to their 
agreed direction.  If the dialogue is related to 
the political level, they will suggest steps to 
be taken in the political arena, and may relate 
to actions needing to be taken by influential 
players beyond the dialogue group. If it is at a 
more local or organisational level, the dialogue 
group may be focusing more on designing its own 
direct actions. These may be collective or 
individual.   The use of the word "scenarios" to 
describe this stage in Sustained Dialogue is 
quite different from its use in our section on 
scenario-planning.  A Sustained Dialogue 
facilitator could choose to do an actual 
scenario-planning process in this stage, but the 
stage is really about defining scenarios in the 
very broad sense of simply, options for action 
and possible ways forward.   Stage Five: Acting 
Together In Stage Five the shift is from talking 
to action and the previously inward focus is 
redirected outward. The participants are now 
either working out how to put their suggestions 
in the hands of those who can implement them, or 
going out to implement their activities 
themselves. The nature of this action depends 
greatly on the subject of the dialogue, the level 
of influence of members, the level of risk 
involved, and the specific context in which it is 
taking place. This may be the conclusion of the 
process, or it may be that the participants now 
start addressing a new issue or return to one of 
the issues that was raised earlier in the 
dialogue and not followed up.

As stated earlier, these five stages are not 
linear, but there are some patterns even in the 
non-linearity: a genuine and effective Stage 
Three will typically depend on the group having 
gone through Stage Two, so it would generally not 
happen that a group skips from Stage One to 
Three.  They may oscillate back and forth quite a 
bit between Two and Three though, and then jump 
to Stage Four when ready.   In Stages Three-Five 
especially the difference between the diplomatic/ 
political level work with Sustained Dialogue and 
the more community/ youth level work is apparent. 
There is a lot of diversity in how these stages 
play out in different processes, and Sustained 
Dialogue takes a healthy open-ended approach to 
that variety.  As the group moves through the 
five stages, they will usually increasingly take 
ownership of the process, and at times will 
easily self-manage it.  It's important to have a 
facilitator guiding them through it, who 
understands the needs of the group and who is 
able to recognise the five stages and help the 
transitions to happen without pushing the group 
into a new stage prematurely. The style of 
facilitation and the degree to which the 
facilitator intervenes will vary greatly from 
dialogue to dialogue.  At times, the facilitator 
may not need to say anything at all.  At other 
times s/he may be intervening much more directly, 
in a more workshop-style form.  This depends on 
the characteristics of the dialogue group and 
what elements of relationship are at the 
forefront at any given time.


Sustained Dialogue is being applied in several 
distinct types of settings.  Hal Saunders and the 
Kettering Institute focus on its effectiveness in 
conflict resolution at a political or societal 
level. In addition to the extensive work in 
Tajikistan they have applied it in 
Azerbaijan/Armenia/Nagorno-Karabakh, in the 
Middle East and elsewhere.  Teddy Nemoroff's work 
at Princeton as mentioned has led it to being 
used on about 10 university campuses in the US, 
primarily focused on improving race relations. 
Meanwhile, IDASA with Teddy are now applying it 
in both urban and rural areas in South Africa and 

IDASA is also working on training moderators for 
the groups. The training is always run alongside 
an intervention and so is very action-learning 
oriented.  In KwaZulu-Natal currently 9 villages 
are running their own Sustained Dialogue process.

Case Example - IDASA Youth Project in Zimbabwe

In a time of deepening crisis in Zimbabwe, youth 
are a particularly vulnerable group, more at risk 
to hiv/AIDS, and suffering greatly under the 
economic collapse and high unemployment.  Because 
of this, they are also more likely to be taken 
advantage of by political parties.  From May 2004 
through December 2005, IDASA supported a 
Sustained Dialogue initiative to empower youth in 
Zimbabwe in collaboration with the Coordinating 
Committee of the Organizations for Voluntary 
Service (COSV), and its Zimbabwean partner the 
Amani Trust. The intention of this project was to 
reduce the political exploitation of youth and 
strengthen their self-reliance, by building 
relationships, developing a deeper understanding 
of their issues of concern, and developing 
actions to improve their lives. The project 
engaged 120 youth leaders in Harare from across 
the socio-economic and political spectrum.

The collaboration between the Zimbabwean 
organisations originally was formed as a media 
and advocacy campaign, mobilising 14 Zimbabwean 
NGOs to participate. But as this became an 
increasingly risky political exercise, they 
decided to try Sustained Dialogue instead. This 
shift significantly changed the scale of the 
project, now reaching only about 120 rather than 
the intended 1000's.  But depth of impact 
replaced breadth.  The project worked 
strategically with youth leaders who could 
subsequently make a difference in their 
communities, and impact could be more easily 
monitored.  Also, rather than the message being 
defined centrally and broadcast to the youth, the 
youth defined the issues they wanted to focus on 
themselves, primarily unemployment and hiv/AIDS.

Eight youth dialogue groups of 15 members each 
were launched simultaneously throughout the city 
of Harare.  Each had one youth and one NGO 
activist as co-moderators, who were trained in 
Sustained Dialogue by IDASA. These moderators 
held orientation sessions for the participants, 
where expectations were aligned and discussion 
topics were selected. The groups launched at 
two-day overnight retreats, and then they started 
meeting at monthly half- day meetings at venues 
in their communities. The groups started out 
cautious because of the political situation and 
the sensitivity of the issue of hiv/AIDS, but as 
they progressed and trust increased, they began 
opening up to sharing more intimately.

The political climate and events in Zimbabwe made 
it difficult for the project to function and for 
youth to make it to meetings. Despite these 
challenges, the project achieved significant 
results. It succeeded in created spaces the youth 
didn't have, for talking and thinking together 
about their challenges. Half of the groups 
managed to engage youth from both sides of the 
political spectrum while all of them managed to 
bring in diversity of interests and backgrounds. 
The youth gained knowledge about the issues, an 
increased sense of agency, stronger relationships 
and skills in dialogue and conflict management. 
This led to increased youth leadership in the 
communities, mitigation of community conflicts, 
and youth violence, and the development of plans 
for addressing community challenges.   Commentary

According to Teddy, there are two questions to be 
asked.  The first is: will dialogue and improved 
relationships help this situation and is it worth 
the effort?  Convening and sustaining a Sustained 
Dialogue can be a lot of work.  The second 
question is: is the timing right and how is this 
going to interact with the context, with what is 
going on in the outside world?  Will it conflict 
with other processes that are already going on to 
try and resolve the issue?

Sustained Dialogue is most useful in situations 
where relationships are dysfunctional, there is a 
lack of trust, and official processes are not 
working because the issues are not easily solved 
in a negotiation-type setup.  Sustained Dialogue 
is not a space for debate or for official 
negotiations among formal representatives.  It is 
also not a purely interpersonal process, nor is 
it a skills training. And it is not a quick fix.

The strength of Sustained Dialogue is in its 
flexibility and simplicity.  The open-endedness 
allows a group to go where it needs to go, and it 
is important to look not only for the expected 
impact, but also for the positive unexpected 
results. The main challenge is that it isn't a 
ready- made methodology, with a step-by-step 
guide. The two frameworks - the five elements of 
relationship and the five stages of Sustained 
Dialogue - provide a very basic but useful sense 
of direction and reference point. This means that 
the process relies greatly on the intuition of 
the facilitator, as well as his/her skills, 
personal attitudes and capacities, and contextual 
understanding. The facilitator needs to be able 
to respond to a wide variety of situations and to 
draw on a wide repertoire of possible ways of 
interacting in the group.  Ideally, this 
repertoire is built up from experience.

Besides the nature of this process as sustained 
over time, another aspect that strikes us about 
this process as distinguishing it from most of 
the others in this collection is the nature of 
Stage Two and the transition to Stage Three. 
Venting seems to us to be highly underrated in 
many processes.  The release participants get 
from letting everything out and getting things 
off their chest, and the shift that happens when 
that has been done, can be highly generative. 

Saunders, Harold A Public Peace Process : 
Sustained Dialogue to Transform Racial and Ethnic 

Sustained Dialogue: A Citizen's Peace Building 
Process - Guide prepared by Teddy Nemoroff

Diving In: A Handbook for Improving Race 
Relations on College Campuses Through the 
Process of Sustained Dialogue By Teddy Nemeroff & 
David Tukey

Empowering Zimbabwean Youth Through Sustained 
Dialogue by Teddy Nemeroff (case study prepared 
for UNDP)

www.sdcampusnetwork.org www.sustaineddialogue.org 
www.kettering.org  The World Café


The World Café is an intentional way to create a 
living network of conversations around questions 
that matter. It is a methodology which enables 
people (from 12 to 1200) to think together and 
intentionally create new, shared meaning and 
collective insight. Although people have been 
meeting in ways sharing the same spirit of the 
World Café for centuries, the actual methodology 
was 'discovered' and formalized by Juanita Brown 
and David Isaacs in 1995. Since then hundreds of 
thousands of people have been meeting in World 
Café style across the world.

The host of a World Café makes use of the café 
metaphor quite literally. The room is actually 
set up like a café, with people sitting spread 
out in groups of four at different tables, for 
deeply participative, high-quality conversations. 
They are guided to  move to new tables as part of 
a series of conversational rounds around 
questions that matter to them. With each move, a 
table host remains behind, sharing the essence of 
his/her table's conversation. The others move out 
into the room and connect to what other tables 
have talked about, in this way networking and 
cross-pollinating the conversations. The café, 
with its ability to weave and further build 
insights, new ideas or new questions, enables 
collective intelligence to evolve through a group.

The World Café is based on a core assumption that 
the knowledge and wisdom that we need is already 
present and accessible. Working with the World 
Café, we can bring out the collective wisdom of 
the group - greater than the sum of its 
individual parts - and channel it towards 
positive change. Finn Voldtofte, one of the early 
World Café pioneers actually sees the café as the 
unit of change force in any system or 
organization as it engages, inspires and connects 
different parts of a system. As Margaret Mead 
once said, "Never doubt that small groups of 
committed people can change the world. Indeed it 
is the only thing that ever has."

Four conditions to create café magic

Many people who have participated in a really 
energetic and effective World Café, speak of the 
human "magic" that arose in the conversations and 
exchanges, as they moved from one to another 
conversation, evolving a theme or deepening a 

Through the work of café practitioners, four 
conditions have been identified that enable 'café 
magic' to occur:

1. A question that matters: Identifying 
compelling questions is an art form. For a 
question to matter to a group, it needs to have 
personal relevance to each person. They need to 
be invested with a real stake in the question and 
its answers. Good questions open up to a diverse 
range of thinking, are thought provoking and 
stimulate creativity. A good question places the 
ball in the court of the participants - showing 
them they are needed, valuable contributors to 
the whole.

2. A safe and hospitable space: Often meeting 
spaces are not very inviting. Here the café 
metaphor gets played out, and care is taken to 
create an inviting and warm environment. Often it 
is complete with café tables, table-cloths, 
flowers and candles. When people step into the 
World Café, they immediately know that this is 
not just another formal meeting. In addition to 
the physical environment, though, is the creation 
of an actually safe space, where people feel 
comfortable enough to contribute what they are 
thinking and feeling. If for example a group from 
the same organization participates in a World 
Café, care should be taken that people know they 
will not be punished later for saying something 
in disagreement with a colleague or superior.

3. Mutual listening: This condition emphasizes 
the importance of listening over talking. It 
connects to the underlying assumption that the 
knowledge and wisdom we need is already present. 
Collective insight will only emerge as we honour 
and encourage each person's unique contribution. 
Margaret Wheatley has said that "Intelligence 
emerges as a system connects with itself in new 
and diverse ways." As each person offers his or 
her perspective, they are contributing to the 
increasing intelligence and insight of the whole, 
often in surprising ways.

4. A spirit of inquiry: It is common for people 
to arrive to workshops and events with their 
expert knowledge, deliver it and leave without 
having shifted or grown in their own views at 
all. In the World Café, a spirit of inquiry is 
key. This means that people are truly in 
exploration together. They bring what they know, 
think and feel about a given question to the 
table, but they are willing to go beyond that, to 
work together to uncover new insights, different 
perspective, and deeper questions. We can all 
always learn more. Fostering a spirit of inquiry 
and curiosity for what is not known, will help 
overcome resistance to new or different thoughts.

The following guidelines are directly related to 
the four conditions, and can help a facilitator 
to enable the creation of these conditions.

1. Clarify the purpose: Before bringing together 
people for a café, clarify the purpose of the 
café. Understanding the purpose is necessary to 
be able to decide who should be there, the 
questions to discuss and the finer details of the 

2. Create Hospitable Space

3. Explore Questions that Matter: Don't 
underestimate the care needed to succeed in 
identifying good questions.

4. Encourage Each Person's Contribution

5. Connect Diverse People and Ideas: The 
opportunity to move between tables, meet new 
people, actively contribute your thinking, and 
link discoveries is one of the distinguishing 
characteristics of the World Café. Design your 
cafe for maximum cross-pollinating without making 
the rounds themselves too short.

6. Listen for insights and share discoveries: 
Encourage each café group to take a bit of time 
for reflection to notice "what's at the center of 
our conversation?" After several rounds of café 
conversation it is helpful to engage in a 
conversation of the whole group to explore 
together which themes and questions are arising.

Café Etiquette

The World Café homepage suggests that a simple 
way to invite participants to engage optimally in 
the World Café is by sharing the following "Café 
Etiquette" with them.    * Focus on what matters 
* Contribute your thinking and experience * Speak 
from the heart * Listen to understand * Link And 
Connect ideas * Listen Together for deeper 
themes, insights and questions. * Play, Doodle, 
Draw-writing on the tablecloths is encouraged!


The World Café website and the new book released 
in 2005 about the World Café profile numerous 
stories of how this approach has been used in 
different contexts across cultures, sectors, 
social classes, and generations.  According to 
the website, the World Café is valuable when you 

* To generate input, share knowledge, stimulate 
innovative thinking, and explore action 
possibilities around real life issues and 

* To engage people--whether they are meeting for 
the first time, or are in established 
relationships--in authentic conversation

* To conduct in-depth exploration of key strategic challenges or opportunities

* To deepen relationships and mutual ownership of outcomes in an existing group

* To create meaningful interaction between a speaker and the audience

* To engage groups larger than 12 (up to 1200!) 
in an authentic dialogue process

The café is less useful if there is a 
predetermined outcome, there is a desire to 
convey one- way information, or a group is 
working on detailed implementation plans.

Case Examples - From Maori Forestry Claims to Norwegian Town Planning

The café is a very simple tool, which has been 
used in many different settings. We include a 
couple of examples to show it breadth of use. 
These cases have been chosen from several others 
from the World Café website.

In New Zealand the café was used by an 
organisation to create a gathering to increase 
knowledge, networking and agreement among diverse 
Maori groups all working to claim back forests 
from the Ministry of Justice. The informal warm 
atmosphere of the World Café worked incredibly 
well with the traditional ways of the indigenous 
Maori people. Experts on the claims process were 
brought in to provide insights and perspective, 
and conversations among claimant groups and 
others around tables occurred throughout. The 
purpose was to progress Maori treaty claims, and 
the process was to hear diverse views, network 
with those who knew more, and to consider next 
steps. This first three day café looks likely to 
spark several others in other regions in New 
Zealand, with an intention that the final outcome 
be a vision of partnership between the Maori and 
non-maori people of the land.

The World Café has also proven itself as a tool 
for town planning in Norway. The head of culture 
for a suburb of Oslo made use of the café as a 
way to get input and involvement from citizens 
involved in culture for a plan for the cultural 
activities of the future. They were used to 
people being rather passive at town meetings, and 
so the World Café was brought in as a way to 
fully engage people.

The café kicked off with a simple exercise that 
everyone had to join in: everyone had to draw a 
simple picture to express what they wanted to 
achieve with culture in their community. From 
here they began sharing their ideas, writing down 
their comments, insights and questions on the 
tablecloth.  Weaving in and out between groups, 
they gathered new ideas or solutions to elaborate 
on. Each table had members of the cultural 
department helping to gather the main ideas that 
would later be used in the formal cultural plan.

The set-up and structure of the café meant that 
everyone became deeply involved in thinking 
together around the issues, challenges and 
possibilities of culture in the future of the 
town. Ideas that could work for many sectors had 
been shared. The informal creation of relations 
and the creation of a sense of wholeness in the 
group was a very important side-benefit. At the 
end of the meeting, the main learning for the 
organizers was that it is much more important to 
find ways to engage the energy and commitment of 
the people who are involved, than it is to 
produce a piece of paper with the formal plan.

Our third example is the Financial Planning 
Association - a membership association of 
financial planners in the US. They have been 
making use of café as a way to build and bridge 
their new organization after a merger of two 
independent groups. During the first year, they 
hosted around 15 cafes, described as falling into 
three overarching categories:

Member cafes were cafés for members that mostly 
focused on bringing members together for 
networking. The questions asked were very broad 
and simply aimed to generate stimulating 
conversation and new insights together.

Event-driven cafes were cafes integrated as part 
of existing events for the different 
constituencies of the association. These enabled 
people to participate in technically specific 
conversations, learning from each other in the 
process. The goals of most of these were personal 
and business specific notes that the participants 
took for themselves.

Purpose driven cafes were convened with a very 
specific purpose in mind and some kind of 
expected outcome, such as reaching consensus on a 
major decision, or to plan out specific workgroup 


The World Café is a strong tool to ignite and 
engage a larger group of people through good 
meaningful questions and inviting safe space. The 
process of bringing the diverse perspectives and 
ideas together can really give a group a sense of 
their own intelligence and insight that is larger 
than the sum of the parts.

One can use the World Café  with as little as an 
hour, or convene a gathering over several days. 
If it is part of a longer gathering it is often 
used in combination with other tools. The 
divergence and breadth of ideas often generated 
through a Café are helpful to follow with an 
"Open Space" process, where participants have to 
step in and take responsibility for specific 
areas of an issue, joining with others with a 
shared commitment to further an area. The Café 
can also offer a useful alternative to "report 
backs" if people have been in working in 
"taskforces" or "committees".  Rather than having 
each group stand in front of plenary to speak to 
words on a flipchart, a Café can be created where 
people from different groups move between the 
tables and capture the key insights.

The aspect of meaningful questions is absolutely 
essential for a successful Café. Questions that 
may matter to the organisers may not be as 
compelling to participants. Where a designer of a 
World Café process is not sure of the questions 
that will ignite a group, he or she can simply 
have an initial question which seeds further 
questions, eg. "What question, if answered, would 
make the greatest difference to the future of the 
situation we're exploring here?"


Brown, Juanita and David Isaacs. The World Café: 
Shaping Our Futures through Conversations that 
Matter http://www.theworldcafe.com  ADDITIONAL 

The dialogue universe seems endless. In addition 
to the ten tools we selected to cover in depth 
and exemplify by cases, we have, through 
experience and research, come across a wide 
variety of other approaches. We've included this 
section as a brief overview of some of these 
additional tools which it was beyond the scope of 
this project to cover in depth but yet deserve 

Bohmian dialogue

"What is the source of all this trouble? I'm 
saying that the source is basically in thought. 
Many people would think that such a statement is 
crazy, because thought is the one thing we have 
with which to solve our problems. That's part of 
our tradition. Yet it looks as if the thing we 
use to solve our problems with is the source of 
our problems. It's like going to the doctor and 
having him make you ill. In fact, in 20% of 
medical cases we do apparently have that going 
on. But in the case of thought, its far over 
20%." - David Bohm

David Bohm (1917-1992) was a well-known quantum 
physicist, who made significant contributions to 
theoretical physics, particularly in quantum 
mechanics and relativity theory.  The connection 
from physics to dialogue may at first seem 
unclear.  However, Bohm's understanding of 
physics was deeply aligned with his view of the 
nature of reality, the nature of thought and the 
meaning of dialogue, and the connections between 
them. Throughout his life, he was actively 
involved in politics and philosophy, with one of 
his key inspirations being the Indian philosopher 
J. Krishnamurti.

We include David Bohm's approach to dialogue in 
this collection because it is a method unique in 
its own right.  It's important to recognise 
however that Bohmian dialogue is far more than a 
method. It's a philosophy and a worldview, which 
we can only introduce very briefly here, and Bohm 
is one of the most quoted people in this field.

Bohm believed that thought shapes our reality, 
and that dialogue shapes thought and thought 
processes. He used to emphasise that dialogue 
comes from the roots "dia" ("through") and logos 
("meaning") and so to him the word "dialogue" 
signified "meaning flowing through us". He saw 
dialogue as a process of direct face-to-face 
encounter by which people could participate in a 
common pool of meaning - a kind of "shared mind" 
or "collective intelligence". It was not a 
process by which one person would try to convince 
everyone else of his/her idea, but rather where 
the participants would engage in creating a 
common understanding. To him, thought was one big 
process, and it didn't really make sense to break 
it up into "my thought" and "your thought".

You could say Bohm's approach to dialogue was his 
form of activism. He observed many of the crises 
faced by the world, and attributed them to a 
dominant worldview of fragmentation rather than 
wholeness. He saw a breakdown of communication 
and relationships, and he believed that the key 
problem was an incoherence of thought, and an 
inability to see how our own thinking behaves, 
and how the process of thought creates problems 
even more than it solves them.  The overriding 
intention with his approach to dialogue was thus 
to understand consciousness, to explore 
day-to-day relationship and communication, and to 
overcome fragmentation.

"Dialogue is really aimed at going into the whole 
thought process and changing the way the thought 
process occurs collectively. We haven't really 
paid much attention to thought as a process. We 
have engaged in thoughts, put we have only paid 
attention to the content, not to the process." - 
David Bohm

In a Bohmian dialogue, 15-40 people convene in a 
circle.  This range of group size is specified as 
a number that is not too large for depth and 
intimacy but large enough to allow subcultures to 
form and become visible.  The groups generally 
meet more than once, for about two hours at a 
time, regularly over an extended period of time.

There is no pre-set agenda.  The idea is that the 
absence of an agenda allows for meaning to flow 
freely and undirected.  The group decides when 
they meet what they would like to talk about and 
how they would like to proceed.  It's important 
to emphasise here that the fact that there is no 
objective or intended outcome for the dialogue, 
does not mean there is no reason for it.  As the 
group stays with the process over time, the 
deeper meanings are revealed. The dialogue leads 
to increased coherence, creativity, and 

This process of undirected inquiry often leads to 
frustration and discomfort.  The groups are 
encouraged to work through the anxiety, and to 
allow it to draw them creatively into new areas. 
While emotion is not in focus, it is considered 
useful.  Frustration, chaos, and emotion can all 
help to create meaning if the group doesn't try 
to move away from them. Friction among 
subcultures allows participants to surface their 
assumptions - to see their own thoughts and those 
of others.

The most important practice of Bohmian dialogue 
is suspension. Participants try to suspend their 
assumptions, judgments, reactions, impulses, 
emotions.  Suspension is not the same as 
repressing them, postponing them, or blindly 
following them.  It means attending to them, 
noticing them, and observing them without judging 
them as right/wrong.  Your thoughts, physical 
sensations, and emotions are exposed so they can 
be seen by yourself and others.  The group 
becomes your mirror, mirroring back the content 
of thought and the underlying structures.  The 
listeners reflect back the assumptions they think 
are behind what is being said.  As the thought 
process becomes observed, it changes.

A facilitator is useful in the beginning of a 
Bohmian dialogue to hold the group through this 
process. The facilitator would usually start by 
talking about dialogue and explaining the meaning 
of the word, and the principles and practices of 
this particular approach. The facilitator is 
however not seen as a neutral outsider, but 
rather participates in the group as an 
individual. She should ideally work herself out 
of a job as soon as possible, once the group has 
established a dialogue practice.

Bohmian dialogue is clearly very different from 
how we normally function.  We generally pay 
attention to the content of our thoughts - our 
ideas, opinions, questions, insights - but not 
the process of forming them. We usually find it 
very difficult to let go of judgments or ideas 
because we identify deeply with them, we hold on 
to and defend them. If we view thought as a 
larger system that moves through us and around 
us, we may be able to take a step back and to see 
how what is going on within each of us is a 
reflection of the dialogue group and how what is 
going on in the dialogue group is a reflection of 
the larger society.

Bohm, David. On Dialogue Bohm, David, Donald 
Factor, and Peter Garrett (1991) "Dialogue: A 
Proposal" http://www.laetusinpraesens.org

  Citizen Councils

Citizen Councils are experiments in democracy. 
Their purpose is to define through dialogue what 
the People of a community, city, or nation as a 
whole would really want if they were to carefully 
think about it and talk it over with each other. 
There are a variety of different related forms, 
which we are roughly grouping under the overall 
header "citizen councils". These include "citizen 
consensus councils", "citizen deliberation 
councils", "wisdom councils", "citizen juries", 
"consensus conferences", "citizen assemblies", 
and "planning cells". They differ in the number 
of participants, the selection process, the 
mandate, the meeting time and frequency, whether 
they are permanent or temporary, their level of 
expertise, the media participation, etc.  The 
common thread of the Citizen Council is the act 
of collecting a small group of citizens (usually 
12-24) who together comprise a "microcosm" of 
their community or society.  These are not 
elected representatives in the political sense. 
They speak for themselves as individual citizens, 
but they embody the diverse perspectives and 
capacities of their wider group.  Because of this 
composition, their decisions are likely to be 
similar to the decisions the wider group would 
have come up with if able to engage in a similar 
dialogue at a large scale.  If their process is 
made visible to that wider group as it unfolds, 
they can also be stimulating similar 
conversations to happen informally across an 
extended area.  The members of the Citizen 
Council come together face-to-face to engage in a 
facilitated dialogue or deliberation around one 
or more issues concerning the population from 
which it was selected. The dialogue approach 
needs to be one that enables diverse members to 
really hear each other, to open their minds and 
expand their understanding, and to engage each 
other in seeking creative solutions. The dialogue 
may be a few days or may be a longer period of 
time. It usually results in a final statement 
released to the larger population and to the 
authorities. In order to come up with such an 
agreement, the members have to explore their 
diversity, go deeper to the point of common 
ground, and help each other to see the whole 
picture.   One of the most famous examples of a 
Citizen Council was the MacLeans experiment in 
Canada.  In 1991, Canada's leading newsweekly 
Maclean's brought together 12 Canadians at a 
resort north of Toronto. They held firm divergent 
beliefs, reflecting the main differences in 
public opinion in the  deeply divided country. 
But they were also all interested in listening to 
each other's points of view.  For three days they 
engaged in a facilitated dialogue, all the while 
being recorded on television. At the end of the 
process, they published a four-page consensus 
vision for their country. 
http://www.wisedemocracy.org  Atlee, Tom. The Tao 
of Democracy

Communities of Practice

Communities of Practice are part of life, though 
they are often not explicitly named. A Community 
of Practice is an organisational form that 
assists with knowledge sharing, learning and 
change. It is generally a self-organising group 
of people who have come together to share 
knowledge on a particular field of practice. 
The process of explicitly naming and cultivating 
Communities of Practice is becoming increasingly 
widespread in both corporate, government, and 
civil society settings worldwide.  This 
development is a response to increasing 
complexity and the shift to a knowledge society. 
The assumption here is that knowledge can no 
longer be packaged, externalised, and put in 
databases and remain relevant over time.  We need 
to be able to draw on living, tacit, contextual 
knowledge, which primarily exists within people 
and can only be volunteered, not conscripted.

Communities of Practice are designed to be able 
to transmit knowledge voluntarily on a "pull" 
basis (as and when needed for a specific problem 
or situation) rather than on a "push" basis 
(where the expert decides what others need to 
know and presents it to them in a one-way 
communication).  This process requires strong and 
trustful relationships, because it relies on 
"know-who" in order to transmit "know-how". 
Communities of Practice employ a number of 
different dialogue tools in order to to build 
these relationships and enable learning among 
their members.

The paradox of this organisational form is that 
it often fails if it is over-managed, but does 
need to be cultivated to be sustained. It needs 
to be supported, yet be left to create its own 
boundaries and identity to be successful. After 
all, relationships are largely determined by 
chemistry and by building trust over time.

Wenger, Etienne. Communities of Practice http://www.etiennewenger.com
  Deep Ecology

Deep Ecology is both a philosophy and a movement. 
The term was coined by Norwegian philosopher Arne 
Naess to contrast with the kind of 
environmentalism that is motivated by purely 
human interests. The Deep Ecology philosophy is 
premised on the assumption that nonhuman life on 
Earth has intrinsic worth beyond its usefulness 
for human purposes, and that the current level of 
human interference with the nonhuman world is 
excessive. This philosophy has inspired an array 
of experiential and dialogic practices, primarily 
developed by John Seed and Joanna Macy, intended 
to help "decondition" people from centuries of 
putting human interests above all others.  Joanna 
calls this work "the Work that Reconnects".

The Work that Reconnects aims to help people 
experience their innate connections with each 
other and the web of life, so that they may 
become motivated to play their part in creating a 
sustainable civilization. Participants experience 
and share their innermost responses to the 
present condition of our world, reframe their 
pain for the world as evidence of their 
interconnectedness, and build relationships of 
mutual support and collaboration.  They also gain 
concepts, exercises, and methods which help to 
make visible the power they have to take part in 
the healing of the world.

This work came mainly out of the 1970's in North 
America where it brought together thousands of 
people - antinuclear and environmental activists, 
psychologists, artists, and spiritual 
practitioners. One of the most famous exercises 
is called "The Council of All Beings". Here, 
participants take on the role of different living 
beings and engage from the perspective of that 
being in a dialogue on what is happening to their 

Deep Ecology is really a different worldview.  We 
include it here because it challenges and widens 
our conception of what dialogue can be, to 
include dialogue with the non-human world, as 
well as dialogue with our past and future. We 
also find that the structured exercises it offers 
can shift participants out of their comfort zones 
and into a state of openness, in which further 
dialogue can then take place.

Macy and Brown's "Coming Back to Life: Practices 
to Reconnect our Lives, Our World," provides an 
up-to-date description of the theory behind the 
Work that Reconnects, some sixty exercises, both 
new and old, and guides to designing and 
facilitating workshops. 

Dynamic Facilitation and Choice-Creating

Breakthrough. The most exciting and uplifting 
experience a group trying to solve a problem can 
have, is when a new option becomes available 
which no one had thought of before. Something 
that creates synergy between the different 
options the group has been disagreeing about. 
Something that overrides or somehow makes 
previous concerns irrelevant.  This is what 
Dynamic Facilitation tries to make happen by 
creating a space called "Choice-Creation". 
Choice-Creation brings together the openness and 
transformative approach of dialogue with the 
deliberative approach of trying to actually reach 
specific conclusions to specific problems.  The 
facilitator plays an active role, helping 
participants to determine an issue they really 
care about, and to say openly, clearly, and 
respectfully what is on their minds about it. 
Throughout this process the facilitator is 
working with four flipcharts at the same time - 
lists of Solutions, Problems, Data and Concerns. 
As group conclusions emerge, a Decisions 
flipchart is added. The facilitator is constantly 
following the natural dynamic flow and 
spontaneity of the conversation, rather than 
trying to manage an agenda.  Dynamic facilitation 
was developed by Jim Rough in the early 1980's. 
According to Jim, it is particularly valuable in 
situations where people face important, complex, 
strategic, or seemingly impossible-to-solve 
issues, when there is a conflict, or when people 
seek to build teamwork or community.

http://www.ToBE.net  http://www.SocietysBreakthrough.com
Focus Groups

Focus groups are a form of group meeting used 
primarily in the qualitative research field - in 
academic and market research. It usually consists 
of a relatively small group of 6-12 people. Often 
a focus group is brought together early in an 
exploratory study, and the conversation can be 
used to help develop questionnaires or other 
surveys for more quantitative research. The 
benefit of a focus group as opposed to a survey 
is that participants have a chance to interact, 
bouncing ideas off each other and reacting to 
each other's comments. This helps to get more 
conscious answers from participants, creates 
possibility for new ideas to be generated, and 
also provides information about the relationships 
and dynamics of the group. Most importantly, a 
focus group helps to answer "why..." questions 
whereas surveys can primarily answer "what..." 
questions.  The focus group is particularly 
useful when an organisation wants to start up a 
new project, and it is unclear how the community 
will respond.  What will their key concerns be? 
What are the obstacles that might get in the way 
of the success of this project?  What are the 
forces that might help it succeed?  What are the 
reasons behind people's preferences? This is 
generally more of a consultative process than a 
meeting of stakeholders who will actually be 
involved in acting together to implement the 
project. A Focus Group is not necessarily a 
dialogic process but it can be. The other tools 
described in this section such as Circle and 
World Café can be used creatively within a focus 
group session.


The flowgame was created in Denmark in the late 
1990s by a group of friends and fellow 
faclitators, who had come together to design a 
game that would support each of them in 
furthering their own work and learning. The 
members of this first group were Toke Moeller, 
Monica Nissen, Finn Voldtofte, Jan Hein Nielsen 
and Ouafa Rian. The game has since been through 
several iterations, and continues to evolve.

The purpose of the Flowgame is to bring "flow" to 
an area of the lives of the people playing. Each 
player brings a question or a personal intent to 
the game, which s/he wishes to develop clarity 
and insight around. The game is played over a 
period of one to three days with 4-6 players and 
a host around a gameboard.

The game draws inspiration from the four 
directions of the "medicine wheel", a concept 
drawn from Native American cultures, in which 
each cardinal direction holds a perspective for 
personal and authentic leadership. Whichever the 
question or intent that one brings to the game, 
it will be viewed from these perspectives during 
the course of the game. The following description 
is taken from the Flowgame briefing materials: 
The North - The innovative perspective: Your 
courage to find new paths and break new ground in 
your life and work, to move ahead when called for.

The East - The deep vision and perspective, the 
long view: To clarify your passion, vision, 
energy - to keep the overview and find coherence 
and connectivity to the world surrounding you.

The South - The perspective of the community:  To 
open the good relations, to be in rhythm with 
others, team spirit, synergy, synchronicity.

The West - The perspective of action: Getting 
things done making it happen, being methodical, 
being practical and doing it in a sustainable way 
for you and the greater whole.  A pile of cards 
lies in each of the four directions on the 
gameboard. Each card poses a meaningful question, 
enabling joint reflection and sharing of 
knowledge and experiences.  Depending on the way 
the die falls, as players are sailing through the 
four rivers on the gameboard, a player will pick 
a card, and reflect with fellow players around a 
question drawn in one of the four perspectives. 
The end of the game is when someone has sailed 
through all the four rivers, and thus had his or 
her question illuminated through shared 
reflection and inquiry from many different 
angles. It is quite normal for the time to run 
out before people have actually sailed through 
the full scope of the game. The Flowgame is a 
fun, interactive way of dealing with deep and 
meaningful issues and questions as an individual, 
but also as a team. After the success of the 
Flowgame focusing more on the personal leadership 
of individuals, the game has been adapted to be 
able to deal with more collective questions, of 
teams or groupings within organizations. 
Additional questions relating to the 
organisational sphere will then be added, 
specific to each particular organization or 
grouping. The Flowgame is facilitated by a 
Flowgame host, and cannot as yet be run by 
someone who has not been trained for this. For 
more on the Flowgame, or if you would like to 
play a game, contact Marianne 

  Graphic Facilitation and Information Design

A picture is worth 1000 words. A graphic 
facilitator is skilled at visualising what people 
are saying during a dialogue. When a graphic 
facilitator is present, a wall will be covered 
with white paper at the beginning of a dialogue 
process.  At the end of the workshop that paper 
will colorfully tell the whole story of the 
process, with words, mindmaps, symbols and 
images.  Rich pictures can capture the complexity 
of the discussions and the meeting in simple 

An information designer will listen to what 
people are saying throughout a process and turn 
it into diagrams, tables, and models.  S/he will 
continually be reflecting back to participants 
their own knowledge in a different form for them 
to react to.

Graphic facilitation and information design are 
not necessarily dialogue processes in and of 
themselves, but they are tools that can play a 
major role in the quality and success of a 
dialogic process.  They help to make the group 
more aware of itself and of the patterns that are 
emerging in the conversation.

http://www.groveconsulting.com http://www.biggerpicture.dk
  Learning Journeys

John le Carre has said that "the desk is a 
dangerous place from which to view the world". 
Learning journeys are about getting out from 
behind the desk, out of the comfort of the home, 
the conference room or the hotel, to explore and 
experience the world first-hand.  Learning 
journeys are physical journeys from one place to 
another.  They are also mental journeys, 
challenging participants' preconceived notions 
and assumptions about current reality and 
possibility.  Learning journeys as such, once 
again, are only dialogue methods in the very 
broadest sense of the word - engaging in a 
dialogue with reality.  But the key distinction 
between a real learning journey and a typical 
"field trip" or "study tour" is created by 
introducing dialogue methods.

In a learning journey, when a group visits an 
organisation or community, they are invited to 
sit down one on one or in small groups in 
empathetic dialogue with local stakeholders to 
understand their reality.  Before a visit, they 
clarify their own intention and questions, and 
they often receive training in how to "suspend 
judgment" and listen not only with an open mind, 
but also with an open heart and open will.  After 
a visit they hear each other's perspectives and 
through conversation come to a deeper 
understanding and a more whole picture of what 
they have experienced together. They become aware 
of what others saw that they themselves may have 
been blind to, and discover the value of 
broadening our understanding of what it means to 

  Listening Projects and Dialogue Interviewing

Many of us are actually not used to being 
genuinely listened to. The most common form of 
listening is the kind where we are constantly 
judging what the speaker is saying, or waiting 
for an opportunity to say what we ourselves want 
to say.  When you create an opportunity for 
really just asking questions, listening with an 
open mind, and connecting to what another person 
is saying, you can actually help that person to 
uncover a knowledge they didn't even know they 
had. Through an open-ended conversation delving 
deeply into the interviewee's life experience, 
knowledge, needs and concerns, the issues are 
brought to life in their mind and heart.  They 
themselves realise things they hadn't seen 
before, about how they feel and what they can do 
about it.

This kind of interviewing and listening can be 
relevant in many situations. It may be a way to 
mobilise people to participate in a particular 
project, to develop a network, or simply to 
awaken them to act as individuals. As an example, 
"Listening Projects" are a specific form of 
community organising, used since the early 1980s, 
in which trained interviewers go door-to-door 
asking citizens powerful questions about local 
issues. The interviews will usually last about 
one hour. Once the interviewees become convinced 
that the intentions of the interviewer are 
genuine, that this person is sincerely there to 
listen to them and not to judge them, they will 
open up and share their perspectives. The Project 
generates change not by telling people what to 
do, but really just by asking questions and 

http://www.listeningproject.info http://www.ottoscharmer.com
  Quaker Meetings

The Quakers are a Christian group, more formally 
known as the "Society of Friends". The group was 
founded in 17th Century England, when many were 
challenging established beliefs and the 
institutionalisation of the Church. Friends 
emphasise the personal relationship with God and 
believe that if they wait silently, there will be 
times when God speaks to them directly in the 
heart. They hold regular "business meetings", 
quite unlike any other business meetings you 
might have experienced, and their model has 
inspired many secular groups as well.

The meeting is an exercise in attentiveness, and 
in listening to the promptings of the Spirit. 
Whatever the topic, the overriding intention is 
to discern the will of God, and the entire 
meeting is seen as worship.  The Quakers prepare 
to come to the meeting in an open state of mind 
and willingness to listen attentively.  They 
strive to open themselves to what others are 
saying, suspend their prejudices, and always 
consider the possibility that they their own 
strong convictions may be wrong.

People who attend their first Quaker meeting are 
always struck by the silences.  The meeting 
begins and ends with silence.  They observe 
silence in between individual contributions.  The 
silence allows for reflection, and act as a brake 
to avoid any one individual seizing control or 
dominating. Each person normally only speaks once 
on a subject unless responding to questions with 
factual information. Having spoken once to the 
issue, they trust that if further valid points 
occur to them, someone else will raise them.

They speak honestly and frankly, but do not have 
arguments or debates. When there are differences 
they are resolved through conversation. The 
facilitator continually identifies areas of 
agreement and disagreement to push the dialogue 

Quakers also work by consensus rather than 
majority decisions.  Their perspective is that a 
prophetic voice is often lonely, and so if a 
deeply felt concern or dissenting perspective 
continues to come back, they will listen to it. 
All the ideas and solutions belong to the group, 
not to individuals.  The names of the people who 
speak ideas are not reported. The goal is "unity, 
not unanimity."

  Socratic Dialogue

A Socratic Dialogue is a search for truth. This 
approach of course draws its origins and name 
from the life of Socrates, the ancient Greek 
philosopher. It usually takes place in quite a 
small group, for example 6 people.

The most important rule in a Socratic Dialogue is 
to "think for yourself". The dialogue usually 
starts with a philosophical question, that is, a 
fundamental question that can be answered by 
thinking about it. Participants are invited to 
suspend their judgments, approaching this 
question with an open mind. They strive for 
consensus, not because it is necessarily 
achievable but because the desire for consensus 
helps to deepen the investigation and to listen 
deeply to all points of view. They allow their 
underlying assumptions to surface, unravel, and 
be examined.

Key to a Socratic Dialogue is that, while the 
question is philosophical, it is always applied 
to shared concrete experience, and the group 
remains in contact with this experience 
throughout. Participants bring in specific 
examples, against which what is being said can be 
tested. General insights are drawn out from this 
in-depth understanding of concrete examples.

Story Dialogue

As with the circle, it is clear that human beings 
have always used stories to communicate. Before 
we had writing, stories were used to convey 
information and wisdom across generations because 
they are easier to remember than isolated facts 
or concepts. We are in a sense, "hardwired" for 
stories. Yet, we increasingly tend to 
disassociate the concepts we are trying to convey 
from personal stories that illustrate them.

The "Story Dialogue" technique was developed by 
Ron Labonte and Joan Featherstone when working in 
community development and health in Canada.  They 
saw it as a way to bridge the gulf between 
practice and theory, and to recognise the 
expertise that people have in their own lives, 
and which is best communicated through stories. 
It uses stories to draw out important themes and 
issues for a community, moving from personalised 
experience to generalised knowledge.

In Story Dialogue, individuals are invited to 
write and tell their stories around a generative 
theme - a theme that holds energy and possibility 
for the group.  As a person shares their story, 
others listen intently, sometimes taking notes. 
The storytelling is followed by a reflection 
circle where each person shares how the 
storyteller's story is also their story, and how 
it is different. A structured dialogue ensues 
guided by the questions: "what" (what was the 
story), "why" (why did events in the story happen 
as they did), "now what" (what are our insights) 
and "so what" (what are we going to do about it). 
The group closes by creating "insight cards", 
writing down each insight on a colored card and 
grouping these into themes.

  Theatre of the Oppressed

During the 1950's in Brazil, theatre director 
Augusto Boal started asking questions about why 
theatre had to be in the form of "monologue". Why 
did the audience have to always be passively 
consuming the performance? He started 
experimenting with interactive theatre, creating 
instead a "dialogue" between the audience and the 
stage. His assumption was that dialogue is the 
common, healthy dynamic between all humans, and 
that oppression is the result of the absence of 
dialogue and the dominance of monologue.

Over the past 50 years, the "Theatre of the 
Oppressed" (TO) has developed into a large system 
of diverse games and interactive theatre 
techniques, being used in communities across the 
world. TO is primarily created as an instrument 
to enable the "oppressed" to concretely transform 
their society, by transforming monologue into 
dialogue.  All the TO techniques pose dilemmas 
and challenges to participants, related to the 
core social problems and power structures of 
their particular communities and society at 
large.  The techniques help to move out of the 
head, and more into the body.  This enables 
people to meet across diversity of cultures and 
levels of education, and it also allows to access 
more unconscious dynamics. The TO workshops, now 
run not only by Boal but by hundreds of 
facilitators, are a training ground for action 
not only in theatre but in life.

The most well-known form of TO is called "Forum 
Theatre". In Forum Theatre a dilemma is posed to 
the group in the form of a theatrical scene, 
which usually has a negative outcome. 
Participants are asked to step into the play and 
take on the role of one of the actors to try to 
change the outcome.  They are invited to imagine 
new possibilities and solutions, and to actively 
try to make them happen in the moment. As a 
result of the group problem solving, highly 
interactive imagining, physical involvement, 
trust, fun, and vigorous interpersonal dynamics, 
the participants learn how they are a part of 
perpetuating their own problems and how they can 
be the source of their own liberation.    Boal, 
Augusto. Games for Actors and Non-Actors 

  The 21st Century Town Meeting

How do you engage 5000 citizens actively in one 
town meeting, and enable them each to give 
substantive input to public decision-makers? This 
is what happens in the 21st Century Town Meetings 
of AmericaSpeaks. Updating the traditional New 
England town meeting to address the needs of 
today's democracy, AmericaSpeaks restores the 
citizen's voice. At the gatherings, facilitated 
deliberations happen at tables of 10-12 
participants.  Technology then transforms these 
discussions into synthesized recommendations. 
Each table submits their ideas through wireless 
computers, and the entire group votes on final 
recommondations.  Results are compiled into a 
report in real-time for participants to take home 
at the end of the meeting, immediately 
identifying priorities and recommendations. Since 
the organization's founding in 1995, 
AmericaSpeaks methodologies have engaged over 
65,000 people in over 50 large-scale forums in 
all 50 states and the District of Columbia. 
Meetings have addressed local, state and national 
decisions on issues ranging from Social Security 
reform to the development of municipal budgets 
and regional plans.


Having explored through this diverse set of 
tools, you may be excited about some that you 
want to experiment with, perhaps nervous or 
apprehensive about others, or overwhelmed by the 
variety. How do you decide what method to use in 
a given situation? How do you perceive whether 
what is needed is a Future Search, Open Space, 
Deep Democracy, a Change Lab, or just a 
contemplative walk in the park?

The intention of this section is to give some 
pointers on how to navigate the variety of 
options offered in the preceding pages. We 
confess to a certain wariness in writing this 
piece.  The reality is that there are no 
universal recipes, and there is an infinity of 
different contextual situations. While there are 
most certainly good and bad process choices for 
each case, there is never only one ideal method 
that will work.

Experienced facilitators and dialogue conveners 
will be able to ask explorative questions to 
understand the particularities of a situation, 
and work with the options posed by the different 
methods. Often, they will develop a customised 
process which is not fixed until it is past, 
because they will continually be responding to 
what is happening in the group.  On the other 
hand, a facilitator with such a high level of 
experiential knowledge, skills, sensitivity and 
creativity is not always available. For these 
situations, World Café, Open Space, Circle, and 
Appreciative Inquiry in particular are a big 
gift.  These processes are easily applied by less 
experienced facilitators and can still make a 
world of difference. In general, one of the most 
important things to consider is that the 
facilitator should be comfortable with the 
approach chosen. You are better off with a 
grounded and confident facilitator applying a 
simple methodology well, than with a 
sophisticated methodology applied poorly.

The variety of dialogue methods available to us 
today have emerged in different situations but in 
response to quite similar needs and discoveries. 
They are part of a wider shift that is happening 
as complexity and diversity increase and people 
become more aware of their interdependence, and 
hence their need to hear each other, to 
understand, and to collaborate. We noticed in our 
research that most of them in defining themselves 
contrast themselves to the mechanistic paradigm 
of organising - the boardroom, the classroom, the 
bureaucracy, the traditional conference model 
with speakers and audiences.  They generally 
don't explain how they are better than or 
different from other genuinely dialogic methods. 
While bureaucracies and expert-driven conference 
models are surely alive and well, we find that 
there is broadly an increasing awareness of more 
participative forms.  It is misleading to present 
the choice as being only between the 
"traditional" or "mechanistic" and one specific 
dialogic approach.  Here, our intention then is 
rather to make some comparisons within the 
dialogic field.

Assessing the Methods

In comparing and assessing the methods, we've 
tried to break some of the different possible 
situations down into two matrices.  The first 
matrix covers different possible broad purposes 
you are trying to achieve.  The second covers the 
broader context, who the participants are, and 
whether the process requires a facilitator 
specifically trained for this approach.  We have 
then listed the ten methods which have been 
profiled in depth here and put an "x" underneath 
each situational factor if we think it applies to 
the pure form of that method.  We have for now 
not included the methods which are only briefly 
described in the "additional tools" section.

It's important to recognise that this matrix 
approach is a bit brutal and has clear 
limitations. This type of analysis isn't the way 
a facilitator would decide on what process to use 
in a given situation. That person would rather go 
to the "foundations for a successful dialogue 
process" - assessing what is the purpose and the 
need and who are the participants, and then 
designing content, process, and physical 
requirements based on that. However, this rough 
picture may still help someone who's trying to 
get an overview and to distinguish between the 
different applications at a more general level.

There's a story and a conversation behind every 
"x" we have placed in these matrices. This is 
subjective on our part, and in going through it, 
we became aware that the originators, 
practitioners, and advocates of some of these 
methods might well feel that theirs matches all 
of these purposes and situations.  We've tried to 
be a bit more selective than that, but of course 
it always depends on how you are using the method 
to fit with a particular purpose. This is a level 
of detail which is beyond the scope of this 
assignment, and really where the facilitator's 
own tacit knowledge from experience and intuition 
comes in.

The matrix would obviously be useless if we put 
an x in every box, and so we have chosen not to 
do that.  That doesn't mean it would be wrong. 
Each of the processes can basically be used in 
most if not all of these situations, but it would 
require a creative adaptation or sensitivity on 
the part of the facilitator, and most likely 
involve combinations with other methods.  For 
example, a Change Lab as it is currently designed 
assumes implicitly that the participants are 
leaders from their fields meeting on an equal 
footing.  When the Change Lab participants 
reflect serious power differentials or diversity 
of social class, they might need to draw on the 
principles or practices of Deep Democracy or the 
School for Peace in order to level the playing 
field, but they would still continue with the 
Change Lab as their overarching process.

The Purpose Matrix

As mentioned earlier, being clear on purpose is 
key to a successful dialogue.  Here, we have 
outlined 11 different possible purposes a process 
can have:   - Generating awareness  - 
Problem-solving - Building relationship - Sharing 
knowledge and ideas - Innovation - Shared vision 
- Capacity-building - Personal/ leadership 
development - Dealing with conflict - 
Strategy/Action planning - Decision-making

We have then tried to assess which tools work 
particularly well for each purpose.  A process 
will usually have a combination of these purposes 
and be more specific, but some will be in focus. 
The large bold X's are the purpose for which we 
feel this process is best suited, while the 
smaller x's are additional strengths of the 

                  1. The Purpose Matrix

This matrix may be useful not only in assessing 
what methods work for a given purpose, but 
perhaps also to provide inspiration in 
articulating the intentions and objectives of a 

In looking at the purpose matrix, you will notice 
that the Change Lab for example has a large 
number of x's because it meets a large number of 
purposes, but it is also an intense and high- 
investment approach.  If only some of these 
purposes are required, you may well be better off 
with a more simple approach. Similarly, Future 
Search has a large number of x's, but is a very 
structured approach, emphasising strategy 
planning.  To understand these matrices, it is 
important to reflect back to the applications and 
commentary sections of the descriptions of the 
specific method.

The Context Matrix

In this table we considered a few of the 
situational factors that might vary across 
methods, including contextual factors, the nature 
of, and requirements for, participants, as well 
as the facilitator's level of training. The 
factors include:

High complexity <- -> Low complexity in the 
context  By complexity, we mean that cause and 
effect are far apart in space and time in 
relation to the issue being discussed, there are 
divergent opinions and interests related to the 
issue, the context is constantly changing, and 
old solutions no longer work (no simple recipes 
are available). It is worth noting that, as 
mentioned in the introduction, the overall 
emergence and evolution of these approaches is 
really in large part a response to increasing 
complexity, so in fact, all the approaches are 
intended and specifically designed to be 
applicable in situations of high complexity. You 
will notice in the matrix, that we see five of 
them as really only relevant in such situations, 
while the rest can also be useful in situations 
of lower complexity.    Conflictual <- -> 
Peaceful context  In defining conflict, we were 
looking at whether the issue or group was 
emotionally charged, and whether different, 
entrenched positions seem incompatible. Is it 
difficult for people to "agree to disagree"? Are 
there sub-groups who have conflicts with each 
other beyond a meeting of individuals, perhaps 
related to a larger societal conflict?  This 
could include situations where agression, anger, 
and attack are taking place, but it wouldn't have 
to be that explicit.

All the approaches may be found useful in 
conflictual situations if the focus is just on 
finding common ground despite the conflict, being 
able to move forward without getting drawn into 
negativity and stalemate.   But if the intention 
is to go directly into the conflict and resolve 
it, to release underlying tensions and 
relationships, and to negotiate a way forward 
acknowledging the differences, there is a smaller 
set of approaches that are relevant.  These are 
the ones we have chosen to "x".  In the deeper 
version, where emotions need to be surfaced and 
the group is going into its more unconscious 
processes, we would limit this list even further 
to Circle, Deep Democracy, Sustained Dialogue and 
the School for Peace.

Small group <- -> Large group  We picked the 
number 30 as a useful breaking point between 
small and large groups. Our understanding is that 
this is where a critical mass of diversity 
exists, but where the whole group also starts to 
be constraining and the need emerges to alternate 
between small groups and the whole. For some of 
the processes, that number may not exactly be 
accurate.  Scenario Planning for example could be 
done with a larger group than 30 though not too 
much larger. For more specific numbers, see each 
process description.

Microcosm/ Multi-stakeholder <- -> Peer-focused 
Several of the processes are specifically 
designed to "get the whole system in the room", 
while others are less dependent on this, and can 
work within a more homogeneous group. Under 
"microcosm" we have ticked only the processes 
that explicitly are designed for a group that is 
seen as a reflection of the larger system, though 
other processes might also be useful for such 

Diversity of power and social class Power 
dynamics may bring specific requirements in. Can 
this process work across levels of power and 
social class? Often participants will be very 
aware of other forms of diversity such as 
culture, gender, race, and age, but will not 
necessarily realise the diversity of power and 
how power dynamics and hierarchy affect the 
group. Some of the approaches are explicitly 
conscious of this impact and include ways of 
dealing with it.

Generational and cultural diversity We have 
picked generational and cultural diversity, but 
this category could also include gender 
differences, sectoral differences, and other 
forms of diversity of thought. Generational and 
cultural diversity often overlap with diversity 
of power and social class but this isn't always 
the case.  Note that for this category and also 
for the power category we have only ticked the 
processes that are particularly good for this 
kind of diversity. Dialogue is always about 
bridging differences.

Facilitator Training This final column looks at 
whether a facilitator needs to be specifically 
trained for this process.  Note that Circle, Open 
Space, World Café, and Appreciative Inquiry are 
the easiest for beginner facilitators to use.  We 
have also not ticked Future Search because we 
felt a person with strong facilitation skills 
does not necessarily need a Future Search 
specific training, but they do need to be a 
strong facilitator.

               2. The Context Matrix  Assessing a Facilitator

Choosing the right facilitator is as, or in some 
cases more, important than choosing the dialogue 
method. As with the methods, however, your choice 
of facilitator will depend on the situation. In 
thinking about this, we developed four spectrums, 
reflecting different types of facilitators:

"One method by the book" ----------- "Mix-and-match"

Some facilitators choose to become experts in a 
particular method and do it by the book, while 
others will never tire of discovering new methods 
and will draw on a broad repertoire in a 
"mix-and-match" type of approach.  The benefit of 
a facilitator who is deeply experienced with one 
method is that you know what you get.  If you 
know what you want is an Appreciative Inquiry 
conference, you are better off with someone who 
sees him/herself specifically as an AI 
facilitator.  The "mix-and-match" type will 
likely not be able to stick with one approach 
because they will constantly see possibilities of 
combining.  The benefit of the combining is that 
you may get a more customised process that fits 
your need and your group like a glove.

Two old adages are relevant here.  When you meet 
a single method facilitator, remember that "if 
the only tool you have is a hammer, the whole 
world looks like a nail". But maybe you are not a 
nail. The facilitator should be able to explain 
what the situations are in which their method 
doesn't work.  On the other hand, when you meet a 
mix and match facilitator, remember the saying, 
"know the rules before you break them".  A lot of 
these methods have an internal consistency and 
logic - there is a reason why they are designed 
as they are.  A facilitator who enjoys combining 
needs to be very clear on why s/he is doing it 
rather than using the methods in their pure form, 
and should be able to develop a process with its 
own internal consistency, logic, rhythm and flow.

"Directive and structured" ------------- "Going with the flow"

Some facilitators will co-design an agenda, 
usually with the client or group coordinator, and 
then guide the participants through that process. 
A Future Search is an example of a process that 
is quite structured.  The group moves from one 
phase and exercise to the next, and there is a 
time limit on each step.  The facilitator needs 
to help the group move through this process in 
this order.

Other facilitators will literally go with the 
flow and allow the process to unfold.  The idea 
here is that no one knows in advance what exactly 
needs to happen for a certain group, certainly 
not an external facilitator.  Such a facilitator 
will come in and will respond to the group's 
needs, offering methods and approaches as they go 
along that are relevant in the moment. An example 
in terms of the methods in this category would be 
Sustained Dialogue, where there is a natural 
direction groups tend to go in, but the 
facilitator is drawing on a variety of approaches 
and needs to help the group to uncover what it 
needs to uncover.  Again, this approach may be 
the most appropriate because it is the most 
adapted to your specific needs, but it requires a 
high degree of trust in the facilitator, and a 
willingness on the part of participants to engage 
in an open-ended process.

"Knowledgable on content" -------- "All that matters is process knowledge"

A common debate among facilitators is around 
whether a facilitator needs to know anything 
about the content the group is discussing.  For 
example, if a facilitator is hired to support a 
dialogue around hiv/AIDS, do they need to know 
anything about who the players are in this field, 
what the key inter-related issues are, what the 
politics around it are, and what the statistics 
are?  Or is it enough that they know how to 
facilitate a process that enables the 
participants to process their own information and 
come to their own answers?  Some facilitators 
like to know something about the content so that 
they can help the group find patterns and draw 
out conclusions, while others believe neutrality 
and objectivity on the part of the facilitator 
are fundamental and that deliberate lack of 
knowledge of the issue in fact helps in this 
regard.  Which type of facilitator you go for 
will depend on whether you feel your group needs 
help in processing information, or whether they 
have that covered and just need help with 
process, preferring for the facilitator not to 
get too involved in the content.

"Societal knowledge" --------- "Psychological knowledge"

The issues at the center of a dialogue can be 
located at different levels. Some are deeply 
psychological issues. The relationships within a 
group may be related to participants past traumas 
or current insecurities. Sometimes a facilitator 
may find him/herself in a situation that borders 
on therapy.  Some facilitators have a very clear 
boundary here emphasising that facilitation is 
not counceling or therapy, and will take the 
conversation back to the core issues the group is 
dealing with.  Others see these psychological 
factors as deeply intertwined with the group's 
ability to solve everyday problems, and will go 
into them to try and resolve them.

These are two very different sets of skills. 
Often a facilitator with a deeper psychological 
knowledge may not be as well-versed with 
societal, political, economic issues and vice 
versa.  What kind of facilitator you choose 
depends on whether you feel this group needs to 
go into its group unconscious or whether it needs 
to focus on more conscious, rational, or 
practical issues outside of themselves.  If a 
facilitator with a deep understanding of 
psychology comes in, the group is likely to go 
into that space sometimes even if they don't want 
to.  If a facilitator without it comes, they will 
be restricted from going into it even if they do 
want to.

Because of the nature of dialogue, all the 
processes can lead to people going through a 
fundamental questioning of their core beliefs, 
which can be unsettling. Deep Democracy is the 
most psychologically oriented approach here, but 
the School for Peace approach also benefits from 
facilitators who have some psychological 
awareness.  The Circle and Sustained Dialogue can 
also be processes where participants open up to a 
point of significant vulnerability, but in these 
and the other approaches, therapeutic skill is 
not necessarily required.

"Teamworker" --------- "Solo"

Some facilitators prefer to work "Solo" because 
they will then have the freedom to improvise and 
follow their intuition without having to check 
first with partners, which they fear slows down 
the process. Solo facilitators sometimes describe 
their work as an artform, and focus on the 
interplay between them and the group as opposed 
to wanting to work with a facilitation team.

At the other end of this spectrum are 
facilitators who see they have some limitations, 
and prefer to build a team with other 
facilitators where they can complement each 
other.  This teamwork approach can provide a 
balance between some of the other spectrums here 
- for example combining a facilitation team where 
one is more knowledgeable on process, the other 
on content, where one is more knowledgeable on 
societal issues and the other on psychological 
dynamics, or where one is good at seeing the 
overall flow of where things are going and the 
other brings in an expertise in a particular 
technique.  Among Sustained Dialogue 
practitioners, the prevailing wisdom is that the 
best moderating teams are "insider/outsider" 
teams.  The insider would be familiar with the 
content, culture, and personality dynamics of the 
group, while the outsider brings in process 
knowledge, and the ability to be objective and 
ask stupid questions or "play dumb".1

General qualities

We have outlined a number of common differences 
in facilitators, and pointed out that there is no 
one perfect facilitator for all siutations. 
Still, there are a few general qualities that we 
think are important for every facilitator to 
have.  These include: 
1  Thanks to Teddy Nemeroff for pointing this 
additional spectrum out to us in his feedback to 
Version 1.0.

Strong listening skills. All facilitators need to 
be able to listen. They need to listen to and 
hear the intention behind the dialogue in 
advance, and be able to listen to and hear 
participants during the process. This enables the 
facilitator to be flexible to design an 
appropriate process, and during the process to 
mirror back to participants what is going on and 
to help the group become more aware of itself. 
Strong listening skills depend partly on the 
facilitator's ability to let go of her own agenda.

Personal awareness. A really strong facilitator 
need to be able to understand what is going on 
within herself when she is with a group, as much 
as what is going on in the group.  This is quite 
a profound meta-skill of facilitation, which is 
particularly important in less structured, more 
open-ended processes, and especially the more 
psychologically oriented processes.  The 
facilitator is essentially holding the group, and 
needs to avoid projecting her own issues and 
insecurities onto the group.  Personal awareness 
also relates to confidence, humility, the ability 
to be honest about one's own limitations (what 
one is and isn't capable of), and the willingness 
to not control or "over-facilitate", and to hand 
over a process to participants when they are 

Asking good questions. As mentioned earlier in 
this report, asking good questions is in our 
field an art form.  The right questions will wake 
participants up, "light their matches", link in 
to what they care deeply about, and make visible 
their interdependence in finding the answers. 
They will surface new insights they hadn't 
thought of before in understanding the issue in 
focus.  A simple phrasing of a question can 
determine whether people feel hopeless and 
despairing or curious, energised, strong and 

A holistic approach. Being able to assess which 
method to use in a given situation, or whether 
one's preferred method is applicable, requires a 
facilitator to understand the particular context. 
Taking a holistic approach is also about being 
able to see patterns and help the group make 
connections as they work, and recognising that 
multiple intelligences are at work.  The more the 
whole person can be invited in to a dialogue the 
more successful it will be, and the more 
equitably people will be able to engage.


We have greatly enjoyed this process, and are 
left deeply impressed with all the work we have 
found going on in this field. We look forward to 
continuing the journey, and to experimenting with 
the new knowledge we have gained.

Mille Bojer Pioneers of Change Associates
PO Box 197 Westhoven 2142 Johannesburg South Africa

Phone: +27 11 673 4333 Cell: +27 83 260 9163 Email: •••@••.•••

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