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The Art of Focused Conversation: 100 Ways to Access Group Wisdom in the Workplace (ICA series) Paperback – April 1, 2000
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This book is absolutely fabulous...I love this book. -- Margaret Runchey, Editor, IAF Facilitator's News, Palm Springs, Florida
About the Author
Produced by the Institute for Cultural Affairs (ICA) in Canada, the book was edited by R Brian Stanfield, its Director of Publications. A non-profit with a presence in 48 countries, the ICA has worked for 45 years in organisational development, adult and child education, community development, and methods of social change.
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In the book, they say, "For whole systems to operate effectively, information must flow in every direction, up, down, sideways, and diagonally." They go on to describe leaders as askers of questions and state that "the participatory principle requires the art of asking questions."
Canada's Institute of Cultural Affairs developed the focused conversation method as part of its Technology of Participation, which leads people through certain phases of reflection, enabling them to process their experiences as a group. A leader/facilitator asks a series of questions to elicit responses that take a group from the "surface of a topic to a topic to its depth implications for their life and work."
The focused conversation uses questions at four levels:
1. The Objective Level- questions about facts and external reality. 2. The Reflective Level - questions to call forth immediate personal reaction to the data, an internal response, sometimes emotions or feelings, hidden images and associations with the facts, when we encounter an external reality (data/objective) we experience an internal response. 3. The Interpretive Level - questions to draw out meaning, values, significance, and implications. 4. The Decisional Level - questions to elicit resolution, bring the conversation to close, and enable the group to resolve about the future.
The first third portion of the book provides an understanding of the concept of focused conversation and is followed by 100 meeting topics with specific examples of questions at the four levels that would be appropriate.
The book has helped me to re-think the types and the order of questions that I address to a group.
Part 1 covers theory and practise and Part 2: 100 Examples covering conversations for :Evaluating and reviewing, Preparation and Planning, Coaching and Mentoring, Interpreting information, Decision-making, Managing and Supervising as well as Personal and celebrative. Each example, outlines the process, provides the focus questions, and includes Hints, Other applications, and points to remember for each example. I have used this method and it works. I would recommend attending an ICA course in participatory methods to practise the technique in a "safe" environment before doing this on your own, especially if you are new to facilitation.
The strength of this method is a structured approach that doesn't skip over feelings/emotions in the room. Once these are dealt with, I have found the rest runs smoothly. Some practical considerations; It takes longer to do than a 'normal' meeting so plan ahead, try to get everyone there who has a stake in the conversation or will be asked to implement its outcomes, and make it clear to the group what will happen with the information once they leave the room so that expectations are realistic.
This book explains how the process was originated and how to design focused conversations providing 100 examples from different type of meetings and situations.
However, as the book title says this is an Art and like reading from a 'book of recipes' you need to be able to improvise and adapt to the 'taste' of your own circumstances.