As described in our motivations and workshop review, when we starting planning the Albuquerque event we did not know how things would go. Thanks to the people that attended it was an amazing few days. So much so, that we plan to certainly do the same thing again.
In addition, though, we’d also like to encourage others to do the same thing!
The motivation of a discussion event like this is to encourage us to consider how we can do more good for society than harm. This seems obvious, but it often hard to focus enough energy on even understanding the nature of important problems in our busy lives.
Especially in the United States, the mainstream media does very little to enable genuine public discourse. News coverage is politically polarized, dominated by stories which cause outrage in one group or another or on focus whether a political statement or another will help/harm an election outcome. There is little substantive debate on the social impact, merits or morality of policies being considered or enacted.
The hope is that smaller groups of people might be able to have some of these discussions instead and share the results. Potentially discovering genuine solutions to some of the hard problems.
When we organized the first event, we used the following principles. Hopefully, they will be useful for others:
- Focus first on understanding the problems people care about and understanding their opinions: there is no need to come to a consensus on every point (or maybe even any point!).
- Treat all attendees equally and with respect: respect their opinions, respect their right to speak, respect their prerogative to disagree.
- Try to check political, religious or other biases at the door where possible: focus on the problems at hand and how they affect people.
- Encourage speakers to talk about the challenges they see AND potential solutions.
- Any solution, no matter how “crazy” is fair game to talk about: even if it turns out to be non-viable, perhaps it is the spark someone else needs to make progress.
- Leave the initial topic list open-ended: don’t assume that the same issues are shared by everyone.
- Request that all attendees stay for the whole duration of the event – rather than dropping in and out (often disruptive).
Event Structure and Discussion
See the Albuquerque event write up for suggestions on structure and discourse.
Tips for successful events
- Keep the number of attendees manageable: a group of more than 2 or 3 is useful since it brings dynamism and surprising ideas. Much beyond 12-15, however, means people have little time to speak/reaction and people may feel intimidated to speak.
- Select attendees carefully: focus on those who are interested in the topics at hand but also are able to respectfully engage in conversation. Try to have a least a subset of the attendees that know each other in some capacity.
- Aim for a calm, safe space for discussions: this doesn’t need to be a resort or hotel, but it should be a space where there are no interruptions for long periods of time.
- Our first event was 2.5days. This is a long time, but it was extremely valuable to be able to focus on ONE THING for such a long period of time. Many of the issues are deep and require reflection. The length of the event would depend on the number of speakers/attendees. We found a need for 45-1.15h+ per speaker including discussion and some of the themes recurred more than ones. More than 2.5 days would likely have been too much, however – our capacity to engage would not likely have lasted much longer.
We’d love inputs and thoughts from other events to help build this list into a better resource for organizers.