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Alternately: Do David Bohm style Dialogue

Someone asked a great question here - "What would you do if not so many people showed up for a World Cafe - or they were tired?"

People who do David Bohm-style Dialogue have had very successful experiences with less than ten people. Dialogue group can accommodate up to thirty people, but any more than that gets too big and there ends up being a competition for talking time. So this is one reason why the World Cafe format works better for larger groups. Also people are not intimidated by the public speaking skill challenge that is stimulated by being in a larger group.

Any two people can have a Bohmian-style conversation, because the ability to Dialogue is an attitude about freedom, suspension of the reaction to need to come to a conclusion, acknowledgment of believability and curiosity. Of course, this is much the same features that a great World Cafe would have!

The objective that World Cafe and Bohmian Dialog have in common is to "think together, to go places no member has ever been before by themselves or in the past." Of course, using a argument-based debate style is not particularly constructive for the goal of this experiment.


If you wanted to do a David Bohm-style Dialogue in this situation, the main feature that you would explain to people is freedom. Specifically, freedom to allow the subject of what you're talking about to go anywhere it wants to go. Generally, this means that the subject matter is improvised on the spot - people are not obligated to keep to the subject at hand.

There are a few helpful skills in Dialogue. First, there is no need to "convince," because everyone already has been granted the status of being believed as their own authority.

The second useful skill is the ability to suspend coming to a conclusion or to put off judging outcome.

Third but not required: It is always handy to have someone who is able to generalize. Describing relationships of what subjects emerge as the conversation progresses is handy to hear - as a reviewer does - but without applying taste or judgment to results. This helps to compensate for the "point to point" tendency of jumping from one idiosyncratic association to another that people tend to have and allows for harvesting.

To start a David Bohm-style Dialogue, people would toss out multiple questions or comments about any subject. Perhaps if they have come together already expecting to talk about a particular subject this would be fine to use for a start. Others comment on whatever subject(s) that have been introduced that they would like to continue investigating, or they start their own, possibly unrelated subject. While this is happening, the subject everyone seems to want to talk about "takes off" and it becomes obvious that the conversation is in process.


Anyway - that's enough of an outline for anyone to use Dialogue on the fly next time you might run into that situation of not enough people for a World Cafe. Let me know if you'd like to hear more about Bohmian-style dialogue with specific questions...

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Comment by Franis Engel on June 19, 2010 at 5:43pm
In this style of Dialogue, the main difference is not the driving force of the question - as it is in World Cafe - but in drawing people into a conversation with curiosity to to find out the ideas they might have to offer each other. So it's an ideal means to use to engage them when people are ambivalent, not very involved, or are present because they "must" be there because of an external obligation.

Reoccurring themes seem to haunt the Dialogue process. After people get past quoting authors and doing the name-dropping thing as a way to express their lack of attachment to the ideas they want to talk about and begin to speak of their own motives and experience - it gets really interesting. Themes such as identity, meaning, linguistics, the nature of observation and communication, core motives, assumptions and the personal stories about where these beliefs originated, strategies of dealing with common human questions such as learning and negotiation... there is much to say about any of these topics.

Experienced Dialogue groups eventually get into passionate subjects such as politics, religion, activism, emotions and the personal dynamics of the group itself, and thus of all Dialogue groups in general - a Dialogue about Dialogue. Many interesting friendships end up forming and people do end up accomplishing goals in the world - while leaving the Dialogue to be free as it was designed.

It is always is Interesting how the tacit set-up of a group implies limitations that are not at all evident at first. The illustration that is my icon was drawn during a Bohmian style Dialogue, so that's why I used it. But we never thought of providing crayons for people to draw with during Dialogue. We sat in a big circle rather than at a table. At one point, the Dialogue group grew to thirty people or so each Dialogue event - so it became quite a free-for-all. It seemed to work best with around 15 to 20 people.

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