Bohm's Dialogue and Hargrove's Collaborative Conversations
As I understand it, Senge's ideas of dialogue come from the original explorations made by the scientist and philosopher, David Bohm.
Bohm Dialogue has been widely used in the field of organizational development, and has evolved beyond what David Bohm intended: rarely is the minimum group size as large as what Bohm originally recommended, and there are often other numerous subtle differences.
Bohm Dialogue (often referred to simply as Dialogue by its proponents) is conducted in groups of 10 to 40 people, who sit in a single circle, for a few hours during regular meetings or for a few days in a workshop environment. Participants "suspend" their thoughts, motives, impulses and judgements – exploring and attempting to "think together" collectively.
According to Bohm, Dialogue should not be confused with discussion, lecture, discourse or debate, which, says Bohm, all suggest working towards a goal rather than simply exploring. Meeting without an objective or agenda is done to create a "free space" for something new to happen.
Specifically, any method of conversation that claims to be based on the "four principles of dialogue as established by David Bohm" can be considered to be a form of Bohm Dialogue.
Those 4 principles of "Bohm Dialogue" are:
- Suspend decisions. The group agrees that no group-level decisions will be made in the conversation. "...In the dialogue group we are not going to decide what to do about anything. This is crucial. Otherwise we are not free. We must have an empty space where we are not obliged to anything, nor to come to any conclusions, nor to say anything or not say anything. It's open and free"
- Suspend judgement. Each individual agrees to suspend judgement in the conversation. (Specifically, if the individual hears an idea he doesn't like, he does not attack that idea.) "...people in any group will bring to it assumptions, and as the group continues meeting, those assumptions will come up. What is called for is to suspend those assumptions, so that you neither carry them out nor suppress them. You don't believe them, nor do you disbelieve them; you don't judge them as good or bad.
- Transparency. As these individuals "suspend judgement" they also simultaneously are as honest and transparent as possible. (Specifically, if the individual has a "good idea" that he might otherwise hold back from the group because it is too controversial, he will share that idea in this conversation.)
- Build on the ideas of others. Individuals in the conversation try to build on other individuals' ideas in the conversation. (The group often comes up with ideas that are far beyond what any of the individuals thought possible before the conversation began.)
Usually, the goal of the various incarnations of "Bohm Dialogue" is to get the whole group to have a better understanding of itself. In other words, Bohm Dialogue is used to inform all of the participants about the current state of the group they are in.
The 4 principles (of Bohm Dialogue) stated above are a simple guide to start with in a forum setting - and maybe STW could be visualized as a kind of Open Learning Organization - so much of what Senge says with reference to organizations and dialogue would be relevant here as well.
I was reading up on Senge's 'Learning Organization' and how it might apply dialogue.
Senge notes that "reflection and inquiry skills provide a foundation for dialogue" and that "dialogue that is grounded in reflection and inquiry skills is likely to be more reliable and less dependent on particulars of circumstance, such as the chemistry among team members"
The other variant [collaborative conversations] on dialogue I found useful is this one Robert Hargrove - it is also more solution-oriented than Bohm's use of dialogue.
In order to accomplish collaborative conversations, Hargrove spells out five phases (as opposed to stages, as he talked about earlier) in a collaborative conversation.
- Clarify the purpose of the conversation.
- Gather divergent views and perspectives.
- Build shared understanding of divergent views and perspectives.
- Create "new" options by connecting different views.
- Generate a conversation for action.
Hargrove discusses four levels of collaborative conversations - which might also be a good way to classify STW discussions.
I. Conversations in which the group clarifies its purpose.
In reality, the only time people will collaborate is when they have a clear and inspiring purpose in which they have a lot at stake. Therefore, the first level of collaborative effort for a group is to have a free and informed discussion about its vision, purpose, and goals. Then, the group must create a mission statement. This should be done even in the case of a group assigned to a project by top management.
II. Conversations in which the group builds a community of commitment.
On one level, creating a community of commitment involves speaking to the personal visions and purposes that live in people's minds and hearts. On another level, it involves encouraging people to step back from the front lines and engage in a different kind of conversation.
The conversations that build community are those where people speak with authenticity and vulnerability about themselves, about one another, and about the problems they are faced with."
Building community becomes the cornerstone for productive conversations on issues and problems and makes possible decision, plans, and strategies that everyone can stand behind.
III. Conversations in which the group learns to think and interact better together.
People normally operate from a "cook alone" or "potluck" model of conversation: "You bring your ideas and opinions to the table and I'll bring mine." ... People do not disclose the reasoning processes or data that led to their views....
In the "cook together" model of conversation, people bring their different views and backgrounds along with all the ingredients of their thinking and enter into a shared creative process. Instead of serving up finished products, people take their raw ideas, cook them together with other's thoughts, question the reasoning process, and perhaps come to a new idea or insight.
IV. Conversations in which powerful commitments are made.
It's important to help them make a distinction between a promise and an "I'll try," between a request and a complaint, and between an offer to do something and an opinion on how things should be done.
This would form a kind of 'conversation framework' so that the flow of dialogue in each of the 4 levels would call for different support and intervention techniques.
- Adapted by T.A. Balasubramanian from a Systems Thinking World Discussion on Dialogue.
- Discussion, Debate & Dialouge a Comparison Table
- Bohm Dialogue
- Dialogue Digest
- National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation Resource Center
- Dialogue Maps in Insight Maker
- Moving from Monologue to Dialogue to Collaboration: The Three Layers of Public Diplomacy by Geoffrey Cowan and Amelia Arsenault
- Selected Websites on Dialogue
Systems Thinking World Discussions
Systems Thinking World Q&A * Gene Bellinger