|The following is an overview of a generic small group dialogue.
This format is based on a group of 8 to 15 participants, guided by an impartial
leader using discussion materials or questions. As a rule, adults meet for two
hours at a time; young people for an hour to an hour and a half.
Introductions, roles, and intentions of the dialogue. The session begins
with group members briefly introducing themselves after the dialogue leader has
welcomed everyone. The dialogue leader explains his or her role as
"neutral," one of guiding the discussion without adding personal
opinions. It is important to include an overview of the dialogue effort, the
number of meetings planned, the organizers, the goals of the program, and any
other relevant information.
2. Ground rules. Central to the opening dialogue is establishing
ground rules for the group's behavior and discussion. Start with a basic list
and add any others the group wants to include. Post the ground rules where
everyone can see them, and remember that you can add more to the list as
needed. The group should be sure to discuss how to handle conflict and
disagreement, as well as the need for confidentiality.
3. Discussion. Begin by asking participants what attracted them to
this dialogue, perhaps asking, "Why are you concerned about issues of
race?" or "How have your experiences or concerns influenced your
opinions about race?" The heart of the discussion follows. Members can
answer a series of questions, use prepared discussion materials with various
viewpoints, read newspaper articles or editorials, look at television clips, or
review information on the state of race relations in their community. Whatever
method is selected, it is important to structure the discussion so that it goes
somewhere, is grounded in concrete examples, and offers participants a chance
to take action on the issues. Dialogue participants may get frustrated if they
feel the conversation is too abstract, too vague, or "going around in
circles."The dialogue leader will keep track of how the discussion is
going. Is it time for a clarifying question or a summary of key points? Are all
members fully engaged, or are some people dominating? Is the discussion
wandering and calling for a change in direction? The participants can summarize
the most important results of their discussion and consider what action they
might take individually or together.
4. Evaluation and conclusion. In the final minutes, participants can
offer their thoughts on the experience. If meeting again, this is the time to
look ahead to the next meeting. If this is the last dialogue, the participants
and ask for any final thoughts for staying involved in the effort. Participant
evaluations of the dialogue can be expressed verbally and/or in writing. It may
also be helpful for dialogues to be loosely recorded, if possible. Such
documentation could help to measure the success of the dialogue and identify
any needed improvements.