Engaging with diverse perspectives
Dear collaborative discussion friends,
This week we are highlighting an activity that helps participants move beyond binaries and understand the full spectrum of views on a topic. It helps them explore how the complexity of different perspectives can influence their own opinion. This activity also encourages participants to understand viewpoints that are very different from their own.
This activity is contributed by Janice McMillan, Associate Professor based in the Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. It is one of the many activities in the Culturally Responsive Collaboration Module.
If you missed the previous newsletter, Listening to Understand, you can access it and our other weekly newsletters by subscribing below.
This week’s activity:
Visualizing perspectives on a continuum and practicing perspective taking
This activity engages participants through movement and visualization. It helps them gain a deeper understanding of the variety of views on an issue. It nudges participants to practice flexible thinking by giving them the chance to listen to different opinions and reevaluate their initial position based on this new information. They are also encouraged to take on a different perspective and understand that position by crafting an argument in support of it.
Prepare for the Activity
This activity is intended to be done in person. It can also, however, be modified for an online space.
In-Person Continuum Map
If doing this activity in person, move any chairs or furniture to clear a large area in the middle of the room. To make it easier for participants to move around and visualize, use masking tape and paper signs to mark a letter for each position and lanes on the floor for each place in the continuum as explained below. Refer to this Continuum Map.
On one end of the room/space, draw a large “A” on a piece of paper and tape it onto the floor to represent position A and, on the other end, draw a large “B” on a piece of paper and tape it onto the floor to represent position B.
Take 6 sheets of paper, and write “Strongly Agree with A”, “Agree with A”, “Somewhat Agree with A”, “Strongly Agree with B”, “Agree with B”, and “Somewhat Agree with B” on each sheet respectively.
Tape these sheets of paper down in between the position A and position B signs, so in the end, the sheets mark lanes in the following order: Strongly Agree with A, Agree with A, Somewhat Agree with A, Somewhat Agree with B, Agree with B, Strongly Agree with B.
Use long pieces of masking tape to create a lane for each position.
Online Continuum Map
If doing this online, sign into a Google account and make a copy of this Jamboard Continuum Map. Make sure all participants can sign into a Google account and have editing access to the copy of the Jamboard that you created. When you start the activity, you can have participants create or edit a sticky note and type their name on it. Participants can then move their sticky note to each column to indicate their position on the issue.
Select a Topic and Craft Position Statements
Select a topic that is important to your discussion group, something they are passionate about or where they see the need for change. As preparation for this activity, consider Activity 5.1 Identifying Your Civic Passion.
Craft statements indicating two very different views on a topic. Create one or two statements about more fun topics, for example:
- Would you A) rather eat a burger OR B) eat a veggie wrap for lunch?
Then, move onto statements that relate to the selected topic of discussion for your group. Here are two examples of a pair of statements related to more serious issues:
- A) Development is about the alleviation of poverty OR B) Development is about the increasing of people’s capabilities
- A) Freedom means having choices OR B) Freedom means being left alone to do as you like
Create approximately 2 fun statements and 5 serious ones to be used throughout the activity.
Create Debriefing Questions
Create debriefing questions related to the selected issue to use at the end of the activity. For example, for the topic of development, some debriefing questions might be:
- Is it easy to say what development is and what it isn’t? Why?
- When thinking about what should be prioritized in terms of development, what factors influenced your decisions in the last two rounds of the activity?
- Do you think big development organizations or states consider the same factors? What other factors might they take into consideration?
Lightning Round of Reacting to Statements
Begin this activity by reading statements one at a time. Start with 2 fun statements and move on to 3 statements related to your chosen issue.
After each statement is read, invite participants to reflect on their opinion and to indicate their position on the continuum by physically moving or, if doing this online, moving the sticky note with their name on it to the correct lane that matches their position (Strongly Agree with A, Agree with A, Somewhat Agree with A, Somewhat Agree with B, Agree with B, Strongly Agree with B).
Encourage participants to try not to pick a position directly on the middle line i.e. have no view or claim they are neutral on the topic.
Remind participants that they will not be explaining their rationale yet and to remember their positions for the next round in the activity.
Choose and Discuss Positions on the Selected Issue
Read a statement related to the topic of discussion for your group. Invite participants to think about and indicate their position on the continuum as before.
For example, if the topic is development, the statement would be as follows:
- If you were the head of the United Nations, would you A) prioritize projects focused on the provision of medicines, OR B) prioritize the education of young girls and boys?
Once participants have selected their positions, have them discuss with those standing on the same side their reasons for choosing this position on the issue. The reasons might be different for each person.
Share and Discuss Positions with the Full Group
Have participants from each side share the rationale behind their positions with the full group. After this initial round of sharing, invite participants to respond to the views and rationale shared, engaging in a discussion as a full group.
Reevaluate and Change Positions
After they listen to their fellow participants, if they are persuaded by an argument from the other side, they can change their positions. If they do, invite them to briefly explain in a sentence or two what convinced them to change their opinion.
Practice Perspective Taking
Read another statement related to the selected issue. For example:
- If you were a starving and politically oppressed citizen, would you rather A) be given food daily or B) the right to vote?
Once again, have participants reflect on and choose their positions on the continuum.
This time, introduce a twist! Invite participants to discuss with their new group and come up with an argument for the opposite position, exploring:
- What are folks on the other end of the spectrum thinking?
- What argument would they put forth to explain why they are on that end of the spectrum?
Encourage participants to craft the strongest argument possible for the opposite position.
Share Perspective Taking Arguments with the Full Group
Invite participants to share the rationale they developed for the opposing viewpoint with the full group. After this initial round of sharing, invite participants to respond to the views and rationale shared, engaging in a discussion as a full group.
Reevaluate, Change Positions & Discuss to Reach a Decision
Once again, as they listen to their fellow participants, if they are persuaded by an argument from the other side, invite them to change their positions. Encourage them to continue discussing until they come to a conclusion, as a group and/or individually, about their position on this issue. Participants can offer examples and ask questions to gain clarity.
As a full group, debrief by discussing the questions you developed regarding the selected issue.
The full description of Activity 4.3 Understanding Perspectives on a Continuum includes reflection questions, a practice journal prompt, and additional resources to help participants dive deeper.
If you try out this activity, please share with us what you think:
We hope this toolkit activity helps participants stretch their thinking to consider and engage with the full spectrum of views on a particular topic and gain a deeper understanding of perspectives different from their own.
- The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley is offering the Bridging Differences in Higher Education Learning Fellowship. This is a great opportunity for any leader in higher education — faculty, administrators, staff, or students — who wants to foster more constructive dialogue and understanding on US college campuses. Recipients will be be part of a 8-month facilitated virtual learning community from September 2023 to April 2024. The application deadline is today, May 22, 2023. Learn more and apply today!
- The School of Public Affairs at American University is hosting an online conversation about dialogue and pedagogy, “Can We Talk? Defining, Practicing, and Protecting Dialogue in Higher Education” on June 13th and 14th from 1pm – 5pm (EDT). Over the two days, this event will have four 90-minute sessions, each beginning with a short keynote followed by an interactive facilitated discussion. All are welcome! Register here.
- We are also accepting nominations for our Pilot Coach Training for Undergraduate Students which will take place this fall. Space will be limited. You can learn more or nominate a student by emailing Shannon at [email protected]
Looking forward to collaborating,
Ritu Thomas & the Collaborative Discussion Team