A Sample Small Group Dialogue
This guide is adapted from the US Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service Community Dialogue Guide. Read the full guide, including how to start a conversation, the difference between a dialogue and debate and role of the moderator, online here.
The following is an overview of a generic small group dialogue.
This format is based on a group of 8 to 15 participants, guided by an impartial leader using discussion materials or questions. As a rule, adults meet for two hours at a time; young people for an hour to an hour and a half.
1. Introductions, roles, and intentions of the dialogue. The session begins with group members briefly introducing themselves after the dialogue leader has welcomed everyone. The dialogue leader explains his or her role as “neutral,” one of guiding the discussion without adding personal opinions. It is important to include an overview of the dialogue effort, the number of meetings planned, the organizers, the goals of the program, and any other relevant information.
2. Ground rules. Central to the opening dialogue is establishing ground rules for the group’s behavior and discussion. Start with a basic list and add any others the group wants to include. Post the ground rules where everyone can see them, and remember that you can add more to the list as needed. The group should be sure to discuss how to handle conflict and disagreement, as well as the need for confidentiality.
3. Discussion. Begin by asking participants what attracted them to this dialogue, perhaps asking, “Why are you concerned about issues of race?” or “How have your experiences or concerns influenced your opinions about race?” The heart of the discussion follows. Members can answer a series of questions, use prepared discussion materials with various viewpoints, read newspaper articles or editorials, look at television clips, or review information on the state of race relations in their community. Whatever method is selected, it is important to structure the discussion so that it goes somewhere, is grounded in concrete examples, and offers participants a chance to take action on the issues. Dialogue participants may get frustrated if they feel the conversation is too abstract, too vague, or “going around in circles.”
The dialogue leader will keep track of how the discussion is going. Is it time for a clarifying question or a summary of key points? Are all members fully engaged, or are some people dominating? Is the discussion wandering and calling for a change in direction? The participants can summarize the most important results of their discussion and consider what action they might take individually or together.
4. Evaluation and conclusion. In the final minutes, participants can offer their thoughts on the experience. If meeting again, this is the time to look ahead to the next meeting. If this is the last dialogue, thank the participants and ask for any final thoughts for staying involved in the effort. Participant evaluations of the dialogue can be expressed verbally and/or in writing. It may also be helpful for dialogues to be loosely recorded, if possible. Such documentation could help to measure the success of the dialogue and identify any needed improvements.