At least four interactive aspects are critical to useful public discussion of IF’s Citizens Discussion Reports.
1. Facilitation is critical in public discussions of IF Citizens Staff Work Reports. There is nothing “magical” about IF facilitators. They are, however, trained and experienced in the IF Discussion Process, which is both highly interactive and centrally concerned with exploration and development.
2. Small groups are likewise crucial. Truly interactive discussion cannot take place once a group grows beyond a certain number of participants. (In our experience the optimal number ranges from five to seven, though may go as high as a dozen.) Additionally, while small groups operating in public cannot fully replicate a sanctuary setting, they can encourage creative and collaborative thinking by minimizing some participants’ feelings that they must “play to a crowd.”
3. IF public discussions feature interactive discussion. One measure of the usefulness of public discussion of IF’s Citizens Discussion Reports is the extent to which citizens engage in truly interactive discussion. Small groups and IF facilitators cannot guarantee active, open, and collaborative discussion—but they can do much to foster and encourage it. Emphasis on exploration and development also tends to promote interactivity in discussion.
4. IF public discussions involve exploratory and developmental discussion. In some cases exploration and development can be thwarted by a lack of focus, in others by advocacy or a felt need to come to a practical decision. Here, too, starting with small groups and having an IF facilitator present help prevent these problems and ensure that discussion remains exploratory and developmental. And just as an emphasis on exploration and development tends to promote interactivity, discussion marked by real interactivity will tend to be more exploratory and developmental.
As IF’s experience with small group public discussion of its Citizens Staff Work Reports continues to accumulate, this list will almost certainly be further developed and elaborated: the items already on it will be further refined and developed; perhaps other items not already on it will be added.
* For an earlier, expanded, version of this essay, see essay IF-2 at: https://www.interactivityfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/Public-Discussion-paper.pdf