Many of us who design and host (facilitate) community gatherings, whatever the focus, are always thinking about new approaches. We borrow and improvise models and experiment when and however we can, always in search of a better model. One of the givens in this space is that people come to the table in very different kinds of consciousness. I believe we do best when we start with where people are. This is vital when we want the conversations to start and stay authentic.
So here's the idea I'm currently cooking on.
Everyone is invited to join any of four conversations: the Discovery conversation, the Discussion conversation, the Divergence conversation and the Doing Conversation. They can shift to another conversation any time they want. They can stay as long or as little as they want. They can arrive and leave whenever they want. They can invite others into a conversation when they know or suspect they might have unique value to add.
People come to the Discovery conversation to learn and share learning. Questions are raised and answered or researched. The intention is to increase the amount and quality of facts people have on the focus of the gathering.
People come to the Discussion conversation to share and argue opinions related to the focus. Facts are optional. The intention is to win friends and influence enemies.
People come to the Divergence conversation to talk about why something else is more urgent or important than the given topic featured in the original invitation for the gathering.
People come to the Doing conversation to make commitments to individual and shared actions that would help make possible what they consider success and progress relative to the focus.
It's a very simple model. People can engage in any or many of the four conversations, move between them and cross-pollinate ideas among them. Everything gets recorded so new people joining a group can engage most relevantly and productively. Everyone gets a copy of the whole process afterwards.
The process has two promises: 1) People will be able to talk about whatever they want to talk about with others who come to the table with common conversational intentions and 2) People who want to do things can do this with others and without distractions.
I'm calling this a Piazza.* Also see the following post: More On The Piazza
*A piazza is commonly found at the meeting of two or more streets. Most Italian cities have several piazzas with streets radiating from the center. Shops and other small businesses are found on piazzas as it is an ideal place to set up a business. Many metro stations and bus stops are found on piazzas as they are key point in a city. Wikipedia