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A Fractal View of Exploratory Discussion

A fractal is a unique kind of fraction—one that reproduces the form or shape of the thing it’s a part of.  Since the concept was first described, fractals have been found in lots of places, some of them quite unexpected.  Here’s another one: exploratory democratic discussion.

One of the most widely appreciated rules of public discussion is the one that says “Everyone should get in on the conversation.”  Getting everyone involved is democratic; it also tends to enrich the discussion.  That goes double for exploratory discussions, in which the goal to cover a lot of ground.  Hearing from more voices increases the likelihood that the discussion will range widely, that exploration will actually find something.  So good facilitators know that a big part of their job is to mute the loud mouths and make sure quieter participants are heard from.

I believe that the same logic applies at one remove to choices about whom to include in civic or public discussion in the first place.  As facilitators, equality and exploration both direct us to level the playing field between individuals.  The same commitment to quality and exploration should likewise lead us as discussion organizers to seek to broaden participation in the civic conversation.