Monday, September 29, 2014

How To Have A Successful Ethics Discussion

Here is an outline for the facilitator to create one (of many, I'm sure) successful ways to have an ethics discussion with a group of kinky people. This may also be applicable to other types of discussions with other types of people. This has worked for me really well.

Now, you may not recognize this as an ethics discussion due to a severe lack of shouting and name calling and "you're wrong!" but you might find this works better.

Before the discussion, you, the facilitator, should come up with a list of ethics question that have interested and puzzled you in this topic. The questions should pertain to truly gray areas where you can see multiple points of view on each side, and potentially could be solved by an previously un-invented point of view, system, idea, or clever hybrid.

  1. Facilitator, introduce the discussion, yourself, and your preferred gender pronouns.
    "Hello, welcome to the ethics discussion. My name is Allie and I use she/her pronouns."
  2. Establish the following hand-signals for the discussion. Have participants practice with you. This actually makes it more likely that participants will use the signals. Do this in good humor so that the participants understand that you know they might feel silly to practice. (But it's not silly. It works. So do it.)
  3. Raised Hand
    • Raised hand
      • Explain that this symbol indicates that a participant would like to be called on. Inform participants that those who are being respectful will be called on.
      •  Also explain that, in an effort to make participation as even as possible, you will be looking for people who haven't spoken or haven't spoken as much and will be specifically soliciting as many new participants as possible, as well as looking for differing viewpoints. 
      • Tell participants that you will call on a small list "you, then you, then you," and then they may speak in that order. 
      • Request that participants keep their hands down while others are talking to demonstrate that they are listening instead of thinking about what they will say next.

        Volume to 11

    • Louder
      • Ask participants to make the louder symbol, by pointing up repeatedly if they would like the speaker to be louder.
      • Inform the group with as much humor as possible that they should then speak at VOLUME 11 for the rest of the discussion instead of fading back to their typical volume. I do this in a comically loud opera/theater voice.
    • I Agree
      • Ask participants to make jazz hands or sparkle fingers or sign-language applause to indicate that they agree or that what someone is saying resonates with them.

        Point of Process

    • Point of Process
      • Ask participants to keep each other on topic with the "point of process" triangle. Point of process indicates that the group should consider moving back to the topic or shifting language.
  4. Introduce other "space norms" and discussion guidelines:
  5. Wrap it Up
    • Ask participants to speak only when called on.
    • Ask participants to limit their comments to under a minute. If they run long, you will give them your own "wrap it up" hand signal, and if they don't wrap it up, tell them you will interrupt them like an Academy Award winner. 
    • Ask for I statements about their experiences and ask participants to share anecdotes and let the anecdotes speak for themselves for audience interpretation.  Explain that this creates an understanding of the context of opinions better than stating the opinions themselves. Ask participants to please respect other's anecdotes by only discussing them in this space.
    • Ask participants to make their goal to understand where someone else's viewpoint is coming from rather than trying to change their mind or prove them wrong. To do this, have them ask probing, respectful questions.  
    • Ask participants to stay on topic and to keep each other in check with point of process.
  6. Ask participants (if fewer than 30--which would be the approaching the largest size for this format anyway) to quickly say their name and their preferred pronouns. You can explain that a preferred gender pronoun is the little word that other people use for you in the third person. For example, I am Allie and I use she and her pronouns. You can tell participants that they may ask for a reminder of someone's pronouns at any time, and this is a polite and good thing to do and is different than asking what someone's gender is, because that could be a longer conversation and not necessarily their business.

    As they go around, pay attention to the pronouns, and though this style of discussion doesn't involve quite as much "she said, he said," if someone is mis-pronouned in discussion, quickly, clearly, and politely correct the speaker with the correct pronoun and make sure the conversation moves on quickly.
  7. Inform the group that you have a list of interesting discussion questions, but that you'd rather hear their ideas. Ask for them to come up with "areas where they, them selves, have faced a confusing ethical dilemma and were not sure how to proceed."
    This creates discussion topics that the audience will be thoughtful about. They will be primed to learn and ask questions and brainstorm instead of primed to spout their pre-existing, controversial opinions and convince the room they're right. It creates a group sense of humility and acknowledges that nobody in the room could possibly know and understand all of the ethics. It calls upon their experiences, which are fact, rather than their opinions, which are subjective, often half-baked, and often hard to change once stated. It avoids a lot of jumping to conclusions and the resulting defensiveness. 
  8. As you call on people and facilitate the brainstorm, abbreviate the questions and issues to simple topic titles and write them up on a large, visible notepad or whiteboard. During lulls of the brainstorm, occasionally supplement with your own list items to keep the brainstorm flowing. Do not allow discussion to happen during this period. 
  9. Milk the brainstorm until you have 10-15 list items or more than you could possibly discuss in a session twice as long as yours. If someone suggests you move on prematurely, say you're sure they have a few more. As new topics surface in the actual discussion, write them up.
  10. Ask for a topic nomination, preferably from someone who has not spoken. Re-contextualize the question, and then begin discussing that topic. 
  11. Through discussion, if it feels natural, gently transition to another adjacent or intersectional topic, and star the topics that you've discussed or are discussing in the notes on the board. This helps participants feel like they are making progress and helps them make the connections between topics.
  12. If no natural topic shift seems to be occurring, solicit another topic nomination during a lull in conversation. 
  13. Throughout discussion, if someone has their hands raised while someone else is speaking, make eye contact with them and kindly gesture for them to put their hand down. Use your "wrap it up" hand signal, especially on people who you've called on a lot. Keep an informal tally of how much each person has spoken in your head and try to call on those who have spoken less or have not spoken in a while before those who have. Go out of your way to make sure women and racial minorities and gender minorities and sexuality minorities have strong representation of voice. 
  14. Keep your own voice to a minimum. Make your job to facilitate and move the conversation along. Your contributions should be followup questions to deepen the conversation and clarifications when a participant is unclear or uses unspecific language. Ask for examples and anecdotes. If you want to make a point in the discussion beyond facilitation, call on yourself in the call-order and hold yourself to higher, stricter standards than everyone else. You are not teaching ethics; you are facilitating a discussion. 
  15. Watch for time, and call on the last two or so comments about five minutes before the session ends. 
  16. Close the discussion by noting how many cool topics you've gone through, how much you, personally, have learned from the participants. Thank them for their anecdotes. Leave them with a final ethics question to ponder as the walk out the door (maybe one you've refrained from putting on the board in the first place). Thank them for being respectful and tell them to have an awesome day. 

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