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Reflective Panel

NCDD has run “Reflective Panels” at most of our national conferences. The Reflective Panel is the closest we come to a “keynote speech” at NCDD conferences, enabling conference participants to hear from figureheads in our field without enduring long speeches with no dialogic quality to them. Unlike traditional “talking head” panel presentations, conversation in this space flows among the panelists without long monologues.  The format is designed to build collective intelligence while honoring and modeling the spirit and power of dialogue.

The reflective panel at our 2004 conference in Denver was our way of enabling conference participants to hear from some of the most prominent leaders in the field while still retaining high levels of participation and a dialogic quality.  This unique plenary session was one of the most well-received features of the conference, using the “inquiry circle” method to keep a conversation flowing among panelists.  Participants called it “inspirational and informative” in their evaluations.  To one person, the circular process used in the reflective panel was “new to me and a complete revelation.”  Another commented that it was a “great way of facilitating a panel experience in plenary that avoided long monologues and was more interactive.” The five panelists we featured at the 2004 conference were Jim Fishkin, Glenna Gerard, Martha McCoy, Hal Saunders, and Bill Ury.

We used the Reflective Panel process again at the 2006 NCDD conference in San Francisco, in hopes of enabling five leaders in the dialogue and deliberation community to inspire everyone in the room to recommit to their own role as leaders in this emerging field of practice.  Panelists included Juanita Brown, Chris Gates, Leanne Nurse, and John Gastil.

In 2008, we ended our second day together with our signature “Reflective Panel” featuring four prominent leaders in our field: David Campt, Bill Isaacs, Carolyn Lukensmeyer and Najeeba Syeed-Miller. Panelists discussed with each other what they felt were the major challenges facing the D&D community. After a couple of rounds of the inquiry circle on stage, conference attendees discussed at their tables what they heard and what questions they wanted to submit to one of the panelists. In the final segment of the session, panelists responded to some of these questions, touched on emergent themes and insights, and shared closing thoughts.

More Info about the Speakers Session / Reflective Panel

from the final report for the 2004 NCDD conference

Participants began the second day of the gathering with a unique plenary session that combined an expert panel with thoughtful dialogue—both among the panelists and among all attendees. The “Reflective Panel” was designed by Leilani Rashida Henry, our 2004 Design Team facilitator, and the idea has since been borrowed by the organizers of the 2005 Canadian Conference on Dialogue & Deliberation and other events. Leilani also moderated the panel.

This plenary session was designed to enable us to tap into and expand upon both expert and community knowledge to address one of the most important issues facing our field. In this interactive session, five prominent and respected leaders in the dialogue and deliberation community led conference participants in a conversation addressing the vital question “How can we have a greater collective impact on the challenging issues of our time?”

Our intentions for the Reflective Panel, in addition to giving conference participants the rare opportunity to hear from these key leaders in the dialogue and deliberation community, were to:

  • Increase our collective understanding of the field as a whole by examining how key proponents of diverse streams of D&D practice think about the impact their work is making
  • Provide a space for all of us to reflect on the greater purpose of our own work
  • Encourage members of the D&D community to begin thinking about their work—and the work we need to do together—in new ways
  • Enable these five leaders to inspire everyone in the room to recommit to their own role as leaders in an emerging field of practice

Each of our five speakers have done groundbreaking work in their own “stream of D&D practice” (collaborative action, deliberative democracy, organization development, conflict resolution and peace building). We began the session by asking these five leaders to briefly describe and share insights about the impact of their work. After these comments, the panelists used an Inquiry Circle model which required each of them to close their remarks with a question for the next panelist to address during their remarks.

After the round of introductions, Glenna Gerard spoke about a major challenge of our time being simply to be with each other in ways that are respectful, in ways that inspire us, and in ways that honor, rather than in ways that divide us and separate us. She explained that although we all are talking about the same thing, we have different stories that describe our creator, or our leaders. We then mistake our stories for what we are attempting to describe, and we fight over those stories. To Glenna, one of our greatest challenges is to learn how to honor our own stories and others’ stories; to learn how to listen to a story that’s really different from our own, and to honor it.

Glenna expressed her belief that those of us involved in dialogue and deliberation are “responding to something that is emerging in the world; to a need that is present in the world for us to find different ways to be together. Whether that be to become wiser about our democracy, and how we make decisions, or whether it be to discover new ways to relate across spiritual paths; to acknowledge the fact that we are becoming global. We don’t have the luxury of living in separate compartments in the world anymore.”

Martha McCoy observed that the panelists seem to be expressing a common theme of creating conditions in which we can be together for some vision of what it means to be human and what it means to share a voice together; what it means to collectively respect and have impact in a way that promotes our health and well-being individually and collectively.

In response to Martha’s question, “How will we know we’re making progress?,” Jim Fishkin listed some things we would need to accomplish and measure if we were to have a more meaningful form of democracy:

  • inclusiveness (representing everybody; not leaving voices out)
  • a well-informed public (people would shed the mis- and dis-information they are given)
  • people learning to listen to opposing points of view instead of only to those they agree with
  • creating a social context where people can come to some understanding of what’s motivating people who are very different from themselves

Jim admitted that none of our efforts in the dialogue & deliberation community are perfect. He asked Glenna Gerard, “So, what are the precise institutional mechanisms that will serve a genuine, informative public input/public dialogue?”

Although Glenna did not have the answer to this question at the ready, she felt that we have the collective capacity to discover the answer as a field of practice. “I do believe,” Glenna stated, “that we are beginning to know more and more about what are the kinds of processes and conditions that can create environments where we collectively can unlock the wisdom to discover what those institutions are.”

Turning to Hal Saunders, she asked “I’m curious about what, in our experience, are we learning about how to create the conditions required to open up and inspire us collectively?”

Hal pointed out that if we think we know where we’re going, we are just going to close doors. If anyone had him and his colleagues where they would be five years from now, he would have guessed wrong and would eventually have been out of a job because of it. Having faith in the open-ended political process is vital.

Hal then asked Bill Ury, “Is there a way of thinking systematically about how to connect steps, because I think the strategy is not to know where you’re going but to make sure the pieces are connected?”

Bill emphasized the importance of examining our own past to recognize the long-range direction society is heading in. He challenged the field to come up with open-ended processes and technologies that actually enable community to be born on this planet, among the different tribes of the earth, that will be strong enough to hold the rapidly-spreading knowledge of how to put an end to this whole experiment. Bill implored participants to re-think the boundaries of our field and put a “G” in the name of the conference so it’s the Global Conference on Dialogue & Deliberation. “We’re pioneers here; were in the infancy of this, and we need to really extend our boundaries out to encompass the earth itself.”

Bill left us with two final, poignant questions: How can we develop/grow the kind of collective wisdom that has to be higher than any kind of individual wisdom that any of us can muster? And how can we develop processes that crystallize the collective wisdom that’s going to be essential if this little experiment on this little forgotten planet in the middle of the universe is going to be sustainable?

Following this thought-provoking discussion, conference participants engaged in dialogue in small groups about what they had just heard. The session concluded with a large-group process that enabled us to hear what people felt were the most important insights about how we can impact the challenging issues of our time, and left many participants inspired to find ways to increase the impact of their own work.

The reflective panel, which was our attempt to enable conference participants to hear from some of the most prominent leaders in the field while still retaining high levels of participation and dialogic quality, was one of the most well-received features of the conference. Participants called it “inspirational and informative” in their evaluations. To one person, the circular process used in the reflective panel was “new to me and a complete revelation.” Another commented that it was a “great way of facilitating a panel experience in plenary that avoided long monologues and was more interactive.”

More text from Lisa Heft and Leilani Henry

What follows is an excerpt from a handout shared by expert facilitator Lisa Heft at the 2006 NCDD conference called “Shared Thoughts Don’t Always Need Responses – But They Do Deserve Witness: Using Witness Circles to Invite a Different Kind of Dialogue and Sharing.” In the handout, Lisa summarizes the description of inquiry circles (i.e. NCDD’s Reflective Panel) from Leilani Henry’s article, “Dialogue Inquiry Panel”, which mentions her innovation to the method of an inquiry circle process originating from the education and counseling fields in the U.S. in the 1960’s and 70’s as well as from the work of Glenna Gerard of the Dialogue Group, designer of an inquiry circle process introduced in the 1980’s. Leilani created the model during the summer of 2004 for the Colorado Peace and Social Justice retreat, and Lisa witnessed the reflective panel Leilani ran at the 2004 NCDD conference.

“Instead of a presentation by a ‘panel of experts’ or thought leaders, this method has been used to share diverse ideas as a way to weave together thought and experience. Leilani writes of using an Inquiry Circle “…to share individual perspectives…in the form of an open ended question[s]. Different perspectives, personalities, assumptions and positions quickly surface during the inquiry. What is extremely useful is that the panel ends up reflecting deeply instead of debating with each other or advocating a certain point. The questions each of them asks, as they listen to the other leaders, provide new and rich material that the rest of the community can then turn to for smaller conversations.

Rehearsal of this Dialogue Inquiry Panel is critical to the process… in order to [help the panelists] become familiar with this type of communication and presentation. The rehearsal gives panel members the confidence that their viewpoints can come out, even if they are not making points directly, as they would if they were presenting or having a debate.”

She continues: “When used for a question-based panel, “…each panel member does a five minute presentation on their work, with no Q & A. The facilitator begins the Inquiry Circle with the first open ended question, for example: ‘What is next for the Dialogue and Deliberation field to have a greater collective impact on the work of our time?’ Opened ended questions begin with phrases such as: I wonder what would be possible if….or how can we…..or what would happen if….? The person next to him/her responds very briefly to the question with what came to their mind as they heard the question.  It may not be the answer or even a direct link to the question, it is simply a response to what came up for them as they listened to the question.

For example: If the question is ‘I wonder what makes the sky blue?’ The correct answer would speak to the interplay of molecules, sunlight, moisture etc. Basically, one would give the scientific answer. However, rather than searching for the correct answer, a response would be ‘That reminds me of what keeps me living in Colorado, where the sun shines over 300 days per year. It is very inspiring to live here. I wonder what keeps people inspired when they experience rain most of the time, such as the pacific northwest coast?’ The next person responds to the question, allowing themselves time to breathe in the question, pondering what comes up for them as they reflect on that question. Each person follows in that format, until the last person responds and then ends on an open ended question.

The advantage of responding vs. answering opens up the possibilities for learning to emerge, to use the part of the brain that ponders rather than finds the correct answer. It also allows the circle to hear new thinking and experience. It is important to note that as you ask the question, you are building collective intelligence for the whole group or community to ponder, rather than trying to “stump” the person next to you with a cool or difficult question. The question is really asked to the circle, and the person next to you is simply a channel for that particular question.”

Community Inquiry: “After the panel, the rest of the community begins in circles or tables of up to 10, the first person starts with an open ended question. It makes it simple to go around clockwise, until the last person responds and ends with an open ended question.”

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