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Seeking Divergent Thinking and Perspectives

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Surrounding the Topic

Dear collaborative discussion friends,

This week we are highlighting an activity that helps participants consider an issue from multiple dimensions. Participants work together to “surround the topic” and expand how they understand the topic. This activity helps to seek out divergent thinking and expose the complexity of an issue.

This activity is contributed by Shannon Wheatley Hartman, Vice President of the Interactivity Foundation, and is one of the many activities in the Critical Collaboration Module.

If you missed the previous newsletter, Taking the Perspective of Another, you can access it and our other weekly newsletters by subscribing below.


This week’s activity:

Activity 3.5 – Seeking Divergent Thinking and Perspectives

Viewing an issue from multiple dimensions to expand the conversation

This activity helps participants visualize and dive deeper into the multiple dimensions of a particular topic. Participants work together to intentionally generate less obvious dimensions of the issue—seeking out diverse and divergent perspectives. After conceptually “surrounding the topic,” participants are then invited to dive deeper by crafting open-ended questions for each dimension. This second step will help bring depth to the already expanded conversation.

Tip: This is a great activity for facilitation preparation. Invite student facilitators or participants to use this activity in preparation for an upcoming discussion.

Activity 3.5 – Seeking Divergent Thinking and Perspectives

Select a Topic

Begin this activity by selecting a complex topic that is important to your discussion group, something they are passionate about. As preparation for this activity, consider Activity 5.1 Identifying Your Civic Passion.

Break into Small Groups and Surround the Topic

Invite participants to break into small groups (4-8 ppl). Ask them to work together using this Surround the Topic diagram (also shown below). Have them write the selected topic in the center (for example, climate change, as shown in the diagram). Then, ask them to fill in the different areas that are affected by or affect this issue in the circles surrounding the main topic. Encourage them to think of dimensions beyond those already shown on the diagram.


Surround the Topic Diagram

Craft Open-ended Questions

Next, have participants use this Crafting Questions worksheet to generate open-ended questions for each dimension. Explain to participants that these are questions they might ask the larger group to expand the conversation around this issue. Remind them that they will not have time to discuss all of these questions and that this activity is designed to help them unearth as many facets as possible of a particular issue.

Review and Discuss

Invite participants to now review the list of questions they crafted and discuss what is missing. Are there any overlooked dimensions or those that seem unlikely that are connected to this issue? Encourage them to think beyond the usual. If helpful, they could imagine they are an alien visiting planet Earth and encountering this issue for the first time. What layers and facets might someone see if they are looking at it with new eyes?

In addition to these discussion questions, the full description of Activity 3.5 Seeking Divergent Thinking and Perspectives includes reflection questions, a practice journal prompt, and additional resources to help participants dive deeper.

Dive Deeper by Pairing Activities Together

This activity is useful not only for participants in a discussion, but also for facilitators. It can be used as a framework to develop discussion questions to explore a topic from multiple angles. This activity can also be paired with Activity 3.8 Mapping Complexity to further help organize thoughts and ideas about a complex topic by using the dimensions generated in this activity as a starting point. Another activity that pairs well with this one is Activity 5.2 Developing an Awareness of Stakeholders. The multiple dimensions from this activity can be used to guide a facilitator or group’s thinking and expand the list of stakeholders generated in connection to an issue.

If you try out this activity, please share with us what you think:

Rate Activity 3.5

We hope this toolkit activity helps participants stretch their thinking to explore multiple dimensions of a topic and gain a deeper appreciation for the complexity and nuance that can be uncovered by diving deeper into a particular issue.

Upcoming Events

  • The Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University is hosting Frontiers of Democracy 2023: Religious Pluralism and Robust Democracy in Multiracial Societies, from July 13 (5 – 7 PM) to July 15 (noon) at the Joyce Cummings Center (177 College Ave, Medford, MA). The cost is $240 for a standard ticket. Discounts are available for students and community partners. Learn more here. Registration ends on July 9, 2023. All are welcome! Register and purchase tickets here.
  • We are now accepting applications for our Pilot Coach Training for Undergraduate Students which will take place this fall. Space will be limited. The application deadline is August 13, 2023. All undergraduate students who are interested can apply here or you can share this link with students who might be interested.

Looking forward to collaborating,

Ritu Thomas & the Collaborative Discussion Team