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How-to prepare and run a Discussion

Once the Instruction (or question) is specified, the Discussion workspace is ready for the Facilitator to create the discussion topics as described below. Facilitator's may, however, want to review the settings and refine the instruction before they set up the topics.

    Set up the topics

    It is the Facilitator's privilege to create the topics which are to be discussed. Facilitators can do this when preparing for the meeting or, if topics are the outcomes of an earlier step in the meeting, just in time.

    Topics are created manually, one at a time, with the 'plus' button  of the toolbar. Alternatively, Facilitators can copy  (Ctrl+c) items from, for instance, a Results table, and paste  (Ctrl+v) those items to the Discussion workspace where they become topics.

    There are no limits to what you can discuss. Fundamentally, topics come in two flavors: 

    1. Topics are (more or less) independent questions
      This the case when your instruction need not say more than "Please discuss the following"
    2. Topics are a set of ideas or propositions or facts that have relevance for a given situation or task
      In this case, the instruction will usually hold the question or aspect under which these items shall be discussed, for example, "Why are these facts important?" or "Why can't we agree on the effectiveness of these measures?"

    Set up prompts to encourage participants to cover all important aspects of a given question and topic.

    To avoid redundancy, merge items that would produce very similar arguments (redundancy) and should therefore be discussed as one topic. Merge by dragging and dropping the 'duplicate' on the topic you want to keep. If necessary, edit topics so that they are fit for discussion.

    Discuss (multiple) topics in 5 steps

    Once the instruction and the settings are clear and the topics are set up, a discussion usually unfolds over the following steps:

    1. Open the workspace
    2. Review the instruction and the topics
    3. Discuss
    4. Review contributions
    5. Close the workspace

    Step 1 - Open the workspace

    To start the discussion, Leaders must open the workspace for participants either with the red 'open' switch of the Discussion toolbar (recommended) or on the workspace item. Unless you have other workspaces open in parallel, opening will auto-navigate (pull) participants from the Lobby to the Discussion workspace.

    Step 2 - Review the instruction and the topics

    In this step, which may be very brief, the Leader checks with the group that the instructions and the topics are clear. Leaders will usually tell (or agree with) participants how much time they have to complete the discussion and give them a 'heads up' on the expected outcome and intended follow-up. If you are new to MeetingSphere, you may want to stick to the following pattern:

    1. Outcome: "After 20 minutes, we should have a shared awareness of the perspectives and positions in the room on all topics."
    2. Process: "Please start with the topics that matter most to you or where you know more than others. Then make sure your perspectives and positions are represented in the other topics. If somebody else has already said it, there is no need to repeat it."
    3. Follow-up: "After our discussion, we'll move on to Rating each topic on 3 criteria: "Feasibility", "Effectiveness" and "Urgency".
    4. Clarification: "Now please check the instruction (question) and the topics. Is the wording clear? Are there topics we should combine (merge) so we could discuss them as one topic?"

    The use of the workspace should not need explanation. If you want to show participants around, share your screen.

    Step 3 - Discuss

    Once participants are clear about the task, they will select and ENTER a topic i.e. the discussion panel of that topic.

    In the discussion panel, participants can reply to the Leader's instruction (question) directly or click on an existing comment or prompt to RESPOND to it. Responses are indented to the referenced contribution (or prompt).

    Participants move between topics either by

    • closing the current discussion panel to return to the "topic view" where they select and open another topic
    • browsing through topics by opening the "next" or "previous" topic shown to the left and right of the discussion panel

    Navigation between topics is aided by item counters on the topics. These counters give the total number of contributions and how many of those contributions are unread. For example, 10 / 5 would mean that that topic holds 10 comments 5 of which were made after you last entered that topic.

    Leaders should check from time to time that all topics are being covered. If participants seem to mass in just a few topics, say something like "You all seem to be focused on topics A, B and C which is great. However, we must understand all 12 topics. Please complete your contribution and then pick one of the neglected topics. Being first means that you can set the tone for that discussion!"

    Moreover, from indicate from time to time how much time is left before you must move on.

    Step 4 - Review contributions

    Given that the discussion is covered in the automatic Meeting report, you can skip this step (or keep it very brief) if there is no follow-up activity that builds on the discussion.

    If you follow up on the discussion in the meeting, for instance, because you held the discussion in preparation of a vote, you want to reserve some time in which participants can review contributions and take in all the arguments that have been made or questions asked.

    For such a perusal by participants, say something like "In about 3 minutes, we'll move on to Rating the topics on "X", "Y" and "Z". Please spend the remaining time to go through the different topics and make sure to take note of all the arguments (contributions) you have not read so far. For this, I'll disable the input. Please send any remaining contributions now." When the contributions are in, disable input  with the switch in the status bar.

    Alternatively, you may want to share your screen and walk participants through the topics, highlighting whatever is of interest, for instance, strong arguments for or against or contributions that show the spread of opinion.

    Step 5 - Close the workspace

    Close the Discussion workspace with the green toolbar switch. By default, this will auto-navigate participants to the Lobby.

    If you want to continue your work in another workspace, you may consider the following: Leave participants in the Discussion workspace while you copy  topics (or contributions) from that workspace to, for instance, a Rating sheet. When done, open the Rating sheet for participants. Since participants are in another workspace (Discussion), you will be asked whether you want to close that other workspace and auto-navigate (pull) participants directly to the newly opened workspace (Rating).

    Try this out and develop your style.

    Golden rules

    While there are very many very specific use scenarios for the Discussion workspace, there are some general rules to consider:

    Merge related topics. It is tedious to repeat arguments you've already made - only under a different headline! If, for instance, you have copied your topics from a Results table and rate items were already checked for duplicates in a preceding Brainstorm, this does not mean you should not look again after pasting those items as topics into Discussion. This is because at different steps in the process, merging serves different purposes. For example: It often makes sense to keep roughly similar ideas (solutions, problems, causes, facts) apart for the purpose of rating. If those differences are not that important, those items will end up with similar scores pretty much next to each other in the Results table. So when you copy the 'top X' items from a Results table to a Discussion, you are quite likely to find roughly similar items among your discussion topics. Merge them to reduce redundant arguments. Edit the remaining discussion topic to make this transparent at first glance, if necessary.

    Provide anonymity. Anonymity settings are more important in Discussion than almost anywhere else. Anonymity will ensure that contributions are not only made without fear of ridicule or retribution but also understood and responded to with a minimum of prejudice. If you need to know, where arguments are coming from, go for tagging by 'team' while maintaining personal anonymity. Tagging 'by team' usually has little (negative) effect on disclosure but may be enough to trigger prejudice and tribalism: After all, any red-blooded marketing (sales) person will know what to expect of an argument made by a sales (marketing) person! Or, if it is from 'our' side or a 'friendly' side, should one really show up that argument to be illogical or wrong on the facts? And so on.

    Go for a named discussion only if that extra information ("Who said this?") outweighs the drawbacks of non-disclosure (contributions not made or facts misrepresented) and personal prejudice (things misunderstood or ignored or supported regardless of merit).

    Protect anonymity (discourage 'outing'). When reviewing the discussion, some participants may identify themselves as the contributor of a comment. Discourage such "outing" as this undermines anonymity and puts (subtle) pressure on other participants to do the same. When it happens, say something like, "Thank you. But for the sake of anonymity and a smooth process, let's keep our authorship private. Even if a contribution is yours, discuss it as if it were somebody else's."

    Do not prejudice the outcome. If you are shooting for a fresh view, for what people really think or for creative, out-of-the-box thinking, do not tell people (in an introductory presentation) what that view should be, what you expect them to be thinking and what you would consider out-of-the-box. Give them an open question and a blank page. Then hold your breath and shut up. If you have ideas and arguments of your own, and you think they're good, contribute to the discussion and let them fly on merit as anybody else does.