IF’s three principal operations areas are: sanctuary projects, small group public discussions, and education. Here are some of the important differences between these main activity areas—differences which, as I’ll try to explain in my next entry, help account for many of the profound interactivities between them. None of these differences is absolute; in most cases it’s better to think of them as intersecting, overlapping, or as points along a spectrum.
Although all of IF’s activities are in some way directed toward its mission of expanding and promoting public discussion, each activity serves that mission in a different way. The primary goal of sanctuary projects is to generate Reports for later use in small group public discussions (though they are themselves discussion-based). The primary goals of public discussion series are to encourage exploration and the habits of mind and civic orientation that go with it. Finally, in our educational efforts, the emphasis on skill development comes to the fore, including the skill of facilitating exploratory discussions.
Most of the rest of the differences I’ll describe follow from the difference in the intent of sanctuary, public, and classroom discussions.
All of IF’s activities involve democratic citizens. Classroom activities focus on citizens learning how to better explore public policy. Sanctuary discussions involve citizens deemed particularly good at exploring policy. And public discussions lie somewhere in between, involving as they do lay citizens who take up the materials developed by those who have worked in sanctuary projects.
The actual discussion process used in IF’s various forums is essentially the same, involving a non-linear exploration of an “area of concern” or topic, possible responses to it, and the consequences of the responses. However, because sanctuary discussions are designed to develop possibilities from scratch, while public discussions pick up where the sanctuary discussions leave off, sanctuary projects tend to run anywhere from about four to six times longer than IF’s public discussion series.