Our second class discussion on developing a policy on guns in our hypothetical school district was a “world cafe” style facilitated meeting. The facilitators laid the groundwork for productive dialogue from their initial invitation:
Please join your local School Board and fellow community members for a facilitated group discussion of the conceal and carry referendum that is currently before the Board. “We would like to hear the thoughts and comments of all interested community members, both those who are parents and those without children.”
Note how even this short paragraph both emphasizes that participants are coming together as a “community”, and sets an expectation for open, inclusive dialogue. Following this paragraph were four bullets, “What”, “When”, “Where” and “Bring”. This last bullet simply read “Bring: Your thoughtful comments and a willingness to hear others’ points of view!”
As participants came into the meeting they were greeted, handed an agenda, and invited to sit at one of two tables. One of the facilitators then welcomed everyone, gave a brief overview of the process and goal for the evening (to learn more and share thoughts), and invited questions. This brief intro, which took less than 10 minutes also covered the “next step” in the overall process – – the more deliberative discussion scheduled for the following week. This (i) let the world cafe participants know that their input would be meaningful as it would be used to shape the options for discussion at this subsequent meeting, (ii) confirmed the current session’s focus on joint learning and thinking, and (iii) provided the facilitators with a reference point that they could use to redirect participants away from premature deliberation as they explored the questions for that evening. More than once, when participants began advocating for a particular action, the facilitators simply said “today we’re here to listen,” and refocused on the broader topic.
The overall agenda was timed and covered three topics with breaks and opportunities for additional interaction in between. The three topics, chosen after analysis of the previous week’s questions were “cost”, “safety” and “ideal policy”. These were translated on the agenda into the following questions:
- What economic cost concerns do you have about creating a new conceal-and-carry policy? What do you think the costs will be? etc.
- What does safety mean to you? What about safety in a school setting? What does safety mean to the community? etc.
- What would an ideal conceal-and-carry policy look like to you?
During the first segment of dialogue (5:10 – 5:35 pm), one small group discussed costs, and the other safety. The groups then switched tables and topics during the second segment (5:40 to 6:05 pm). (Facilitators stayed at their table.) At the end of each segment the participants starred the 2 -3 comments/concerns that they thought most important. In between segments participants had a short break as they changed tables. They were also invited to write down additional comments or questions during the break. During the third segment (6:10 to 6:35 pm), both groups were invited to write down their “ideal policy” on note-cards or post-its before the discussion started, and then to share that with the group. As the discussion concluded each was again asked to star the 2 – 3 comments/concerns that they thought most important. After another short break, which also allowed the facilitators to coordinate, key comments (those most starred) were summarized, everyone was thanked for their hard work, and all were invited to come back and discuss options at the next scheduled session.
During the discussions the participants identified a wide range of costs which included administrative costs, training costs, tax impacts, economic development and lost opportunity costs, as well as the “cost of life”. They also expressed a wide range of views on safety and generated many questions relating to both safety and costs. Several of those questions related to what conditions would be put in place with respect to screening, training, licensing, and re-certification if anyone other than law enforcement officials were allowed to carry guns in schools. Overall, as the facilitator summarized, all were concerned about safety, and the group as a whole wanted a better understanding of both potential funding sources and the costs associated with planning, implementing, and administering any change, before a new policy was adopted. As will be discussed further in the next post, these questions, and the ways in which they inter-related, laid the foundation for productive deliberations in the following week.