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Introduction to Collaborative Discussion

There’s an old saying about the value of collaboration, “if you want to go fast, go alone—but if you want to go far, go together.” But what if you don’t know how to work well together? How can we get better at collaboration?

Working as a group can help us tap into the wisdom of crowds, making us smarter and stronger together. But group discussions can also go wrong, leading to groupthink that shuts down important ideas. Groups can turn into unthinking mobs. So how can we boost our ability to work together, for productive collaboration?

One important way is by working on our collaborative discussion skills. In this online course, we’ll introduce the Interactivity Foundation’s Collaborative Discussion Toolkit, an organized collection of discussion activities designed to do just that. In five sessions, we’ll explore:

  • What productive collaborative discussions look like
  • Skills to enhance creativity in collaborative discussions
  • Skills to enhance critical thinking in collaborative discussions
  • Skills for culturally responsive collaborative discussions
  • Skills for civic collaboration—where the ideas shaped through discussion can turn to community action.

All five sessions will use small-group participatory discussion to try out selected group exercises from the Toolkit. Additionally, we’ll use small-group discussions to debrief, discuss, and explore the underlying skills and how they might be applied in different settings. Links to the full Collaborative Discussion Toolkit will be provided for all participants for their use and reference. This course is open to:

  • Registered residents of Leisure World in Silver Springs, Maryland. Registration is via Leisure World’s Center for Lifelong Learning under the “Courses” menu and the title “Social Collaborative Discussion.”
  • Several other interested and invited participants (there are a few slots available for non-residents of Leisure World).

To find out more, please contact IF Fellows Jeff Prudhomme or Pete Shively. For additional information about the content to be discussed and explored in each session, click on the separate tabs below.


Zoom Link for All Sessions    Link to Collaborative Discussion Toolkit

Session 1:  Introduction to “Collaborative Discussion”—the what, why, and general how—and to the Collaborative Discussion Toolkit (Module 1).  Collaborative Discussion is the ability to work with others in productive and creative ways to address both large and small problems and to harness the potential of collective wisdom. It is essential in building relationships, encouraging sustained engagement, and improving possibilities. This introductory module builds the foundation for learning and practicing skills and engagement techniques that can improve the creativity and productivity of people working together in social life, the workplace, and in public life.

Toolkit Activities (practice & reflection):

1.1  What is Collaborative Learning, and What Makes it Effective?

1.3  Anticipating Conflict & Forming Group Guidelines

Recommended Resources – to read/view/listen before or after the first session:

Session Notes, Links & Other: 

View Attributes of Positive Collaboration Opens a new window to view post-it notes of “Positive” attributes

View Attributes of Negative Collaboration Opens a new window to view post-it notes of “Negative” attributes

View PDF of Zoom Chat Box Opens a PDF with working links

Inventory of Collaborative Discussion Skills Opens an “Inventory” document to review prior to the 2nd session

Suggested Discussion Agreements (draft)

In our discussions, we agree to…

  • Be equal participants where no one dominates and everyone is respected, respectful, and actively engaged.  
  • Show our interest and curiosity by listening and building on each other’s ideas. 
  • Bring a positive attitude and find the positive.
  • Treat our discussions as collaborative and developmental learning experiences, not as arguments to win or certain lessons to be learned. 

Session 2:  Creative Collaboration (Module 2).  Creative Collaboration is the ability for a group to work together in ways that encourage seeing new possibilities. Our thinking can often be limited by unconscious constraints and conditioned patterns of thinking. Having habits and tools to unleash creativity can help groups create imaginative potential and harness productive energy in groups.

Toolkit Activities (practice & reflection):

2.6  Building on the ideas of others, aka “Yes, and…” 

2.7  Expanding Thinking With Metaphors

2.8  Encouraging Bold Imagination, aka, “The History of the Future.”

Additional Recommended Resources:

Session 3:  Critical Collaboration (Module 3).  Critical Collaboration requires that participants take time to reflect on how their habits of thinking, emotionally responding, and general communication have been conditioned and may even impede working with others effectively. Over time we have learned how to think and communicate about certain issues which may act as blinders and prevent us from seeing issues more fully. The activities in this module can help groups pause and critically question their way of engaging certain topics in order to improve collaboration.

Possible Toolkit Activities (for practice & reflection):

3.4  Developing Comfort With Ambiguity (Moral Dilemmas)

3.5  Seeking Divergent Thinking & Perspectives

Possible additional activity:  3.6 Anticipating Implications and (Un)Intended Consequences

Additional Recommended ResourceThe Problem with Binary Thinking, by David Stein, Dec. 2018

Session 4:  Culturally Responsive Collaboration (Module 4).  Culturally Responsive collaboration is about a commitment to learning from and relating respectfully to others who are both similar and different from oneself. This commitment to working across a variety of differences that participants may bring to a collaborative discussion can help groups make these differences resources for the group.

Toolkit Activities (for practice & reflection). In our group discussions, we will work on a few selected elements of these activities. For example, some elements of Toolkit Activity 4.2, Listening to Understand, will be emphasized throughout this session and incorporated into the following two group discussion activities.

Additional Resources (for review & reflection outside of class sessions):

Session notes:  Active Listening:  Specific Discussion Tips & Phrasings

Session 5:  Civic Collaboration (Module 5).  Civic Collaboration is when people join together to address public issues that impact their communities. Frequently, we expect people to engage in projects about community issues, but we do not always prepare them with the skills and habits needed to address the complexity and nuance of such work. This module will help participants understand how they can work with communities to create collaborative and sustainable change by weaving the social fabric and connections that exist in communities.

Focus for Session 5 and Related Toolkit Activities.  The primary focus of the small-group discussions for this 5th and final session will be on the civic issues/ideas identified by participants. Toolkit activities will not be the primary focus, but depending on the discussion, certain Toolkit activities may be discussed, including–

Additional Resources (for review and reflection outside of course sessions):

Summary Notes from Session # 5

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