Archive for the ‘Public dialogue’ Category

Open mind, open heart

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

A mind is like a parachute.  It doesn’t work if it is not open.”  I saw this this quote, unattributed, a couple of days ago.


A quick online search reveals this as generally coming from Frank Zappa.  Other variations are attributed variously to Sir Thomas Dewar, Anthony J d’Angelo, Tom Evans, Jordan Maxwell, and even the Dalai Lama.

As is often the case, I started to ponder this from different angles:

  • A closed mind is one that doesn’t get a lot of use.  So when the time comes, as it always does, people who don’t use their minds can’t control their descent and they can’t land safely.
  • To extend the metaphor, not taking care of your mind is like not maintaining the parachute or packing it properly.

Naturally enough, the online search also had several ironic variations:

  • A mind is like a parachute. If it doesn’t open, you’re f***d!
  • A mind is like a parachute.  If it is open all the time, you’ll probably end up getting sucked into a jet engine.
  • I used to have an open mind, but my brains kept falling out!

My favourite alternative though was this: “I’d rather have a mind opened by wonder than one closed by belief.”

What variations have you seen or occur to you?  How might you apply this to generate effective dialogue?

Go well!



Visual facilitation tools

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

A little while ago I came across a graphic in an article in Guardian Australia’s (GA) website.  You can find it here: Mandatory immigration detention is a billion-dollar business.  It is an analysis of Commonwealth Department of Immigration spending on private contractors relating to the mandatory detention system.

Now, GA and other have used a number of these web graphics to help communicate.  And of course, the article also uses text and graphs.


Interactive graphic from


The neat thing from my perspective is that this graphic is interactive.  You can click on individual circle to explore a contractor, and/or drag circles around to explore the big picture.  To achieve this, GA has found and organised a large set of information.

In  a workshop the next step would be for people to articulate the various values they have around the data and explore where those values align or otherwise.  This step would be part of the facilitator’s overall workshop design, and run accordingly.

So, how is an interactive graphic different to static images?  What possibilities does it open up for you?  If you were designing a conversation or workshop, how would you you use this kind of tool to help a group make sense of info and build shared meaning together?   What situations would you use this in?

Go well!


A definitively defined topic

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

Here’s an example of a well defined topic in the public space: Judith Curry responds … sort of.  It comes from Tamino’s blog Open Mind.

Tamino opens the post with:

Let’s be crystal-clear what the issue is. The issue is temperature in the Arctic, not some sector of the Arctic, not some season in the Arctic, and the real issue (the point of dispute) is: temperatures since 2000 compared to temperatures in the 1930s (and/or 1940s if you wish). Don’t let anybody — not Judith Curry, not me — get away with avoiding the issue.

The IPCC AR5 (5th Assessment Report) said:  “Arctic temperature anomalies in the 1930s were apparently as large as those in the 1990s and 2000s.”

It isn’t referring to “the Atlantic sector” or “the Pacific sector” of the Arctic, it isn’t referring to seasonal patterns, it simply says “the Arctic.” It says “the 1990s and 2000s.”

Arctic Circle map

Arctic Circle map: credit E&O Montessori

This opening does several things.

  • It states what the topic is, in clear, plain language.  We are immediately focussed on the point of the dialogue.
  • It states what the topic is not, which can be equally necessary.  It rules out all sorts of confusion and obfuscation.
  • It addresses the need for everyone to stay on topic.  This is one of the main roles of a facilitator: to help a group stay on track and to have difficult conversations, productively. As one of my colleagues said once, “you must not collaborate with the group in avoiding the real issue/s”.

At a couple of different places in the post, Tamino states the topic again:

Let’s be crystal-clear what the issue is here. The issue is temperature in the Arctic, not some sector of the Arctic, not some season in the Arctic, and the real issue (the point of dispute) is: since 2000.


Just to refresh Judith’s memory, The issue is the Arctic, what’s in dispute is “since 2000.” It’s not about “the Atlantic sector” and it’s not about the 1990s.

In a facilitation context, this is equivalent to walking over to where you have written up the topic, and saying: “how does your statement help us all understand more about this topic?”.

Finally, Tamino closes with:

Let’s recap. The issue is Arctic temperature since 2000. Judith Curry cited numerous references containing time series plots of Arctic temperatures, claiming that “Some of the plots show the recent temperatures to be comparable to the earlier temperatures; others show current temperatures to be much warmer.” When we look for ourselves, we discover that each and every one either has little or no data after 2000, or covers some sub-region of the Arctic/particular season rather than “the Arctic,” or flat-out contradicts the claim that “Arctic surface temperature anomalies in the 1930’s were as large as the recent temperature anomalies.”

The number of papers she cites which show “recent temperatures to be comparable to the earlier temperatures” equals zero.

The number of times she refers to analyzing actual data about the issue for herself, equals zero.

This closing statement starts at the beginning with the topic and summarises the key points in relation to that topic.  Moreover, it enables a clear transition to the next stage – which in this case are comments.  Interestingly, the vast majority of the comments also stay on topic.

I count this (at least in part!) as a victory for the strength and clarity of the topic definition and maintenance.

Go well!



Sound bites, spin, elections & outcomes

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

In case you hadn’t already noticed, we’ve been having an election here in Australia.  Most of the “dialogue” consisted of attack ads, rather than well argued policies and initiatives.  Hence the phrase: “race to the bottom”.

So what’s the alternative?

Let’s take some examples from the online side of things.  I want to look at some articles that people write, the responses to them and the pattern they make.

Antony Green is a well-respected election analyst.  His articles are well grounded in evidence, with a minimum of speculation.  He wrote a piece on ‘constitutional realities’ here, and another on the usefulness (or otherwise) of the two-party preferred vote, here. (more…)

Dead Horse Strategies

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014

“When you discover you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.”

This fairly well known piece of humour, contrasts “Dakota tribal wisdom” with what supposedly happens in the corporate/government/non-profit world.  Instead, one or more of the following strategies (I’ve only listed a sub-set) are tried:

  • Appoint a committee to study the horse.
  • Blame the rider and hire outside contractors to ride the dead horse.
  • Buy a stronger whip.
  • Declare that since the horse is dead, we must now ride smarter, not harder.
  • Harness several dead horses together for increased speed.
  • Kill all the other horses, so this one will look the same.
  • Promote the horse to a supervisory position.
  • Shorten the track.
  • Threaten the horse with termination.

‡ Apologies to the original creator of this cartoon – I can’t find you credited anywhere.

So what is it with this flogging a dead horse?  Why do we do this?  What factors lead us to persist with an idea, a decision, a strategy beyond its use-by date? Two that occur to me are:

  • Unwilling or unable to let go of what you’ve invested so far.  This means you can’t step back and evaluate the situation objectively.
  • Peer pressure.  Other people seem to want to keep going.  Either actively in what they say or do, or passively by being noncommittal.

So, what’s your experience of riding dead horses?

Go well!