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Web Lab's Small Group Dialogues


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For More Information: Web Lab, www.weblab.org/sgd

Purpose: 
To create an online “space” that fosters positive, transformative “dialogues across differences” on public, social, political, organizational development, and personal issues. Participants expressing divergent and sometimes conflicting perspectives work toward finding common ground and possible solutions. 

Outcomes: 
  • Engages participants 
  • Fosters collaboration and builds trust 
  • Improves intergroup understanding 
  • Informs decision makers 
  • Transforms conflicts 

When to Use: 
  • To enable a culture focused on information and constructive debate, allowing people with widely varied perspectives to learn from one another, and setting the stage for better decision making 
  • When disagreements are highly contentious 

When Not to Use: 
Where participants are compelled to join in or do not have a personal stake in the outcomes 

Number of Participants: 
  • 200–10,000s 
  • Simultaneous small groups of 40–100 people 

Types of Participants:
 
Internal or external stakeholders, same function, multifunction, and public stakeholders 

Typical Duration: 

  • Preparation: 1–3 months 
  • Online Dialogue: 2–4 weeks 
  • Follow-up: 2 weeks–1 month 

Brief Example:
 
Fly into the Future Dialogues (FITF) was a two-week online dialogue addressing the San Diego region’s long-term air transportation needs. FITF was organized with Viewpoint Learning, founded by public opinion researcher Daniel Yankelovich to foster “learning through dialogue. ”Participants’ ideas, suggestions, and questions were reflected in subsequent official planning. See http://future.signonsandiego.com. 

Historical Context: 

Created in 1998 by Marc Weiss, Barry Joseph, and Brian Clark. Eric Trist: Social Technical Systems. Kurt Lewin: Experiential learning and action research. David Bohm: Theory of Dialogue. W.Barnett Pearce and Vernon Cronen: Coordinated Management of Meaning.