IAF Methods

Ritual Dissent / Assent

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This is a workshop method designed to test and enhance proposals, stories, ideas or whatever by subjecting them to ritualised dissent (challenge) or assent (positive alternatives). In all cases it is a forced listening technique, not a dialogue or discourse. It can be used on its own, or linked to a broad range of other methods.


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    Setting: The technique is normally used in a workshop with a minimum of three groups with at least three participants in each. Ideally the number of participants should be higher, but no higher than a dozen, and the larger the number of groups; the more iterations and variety.

    Each group should be seated at a round table (or a circle of chairs), and the tables should be distributed in the work area to allow plenty of space between them. If the tables are very close then there will be too much noise which will restrict the ability of the spokesperson to listen the dissent/assent. The tables should be set up so it is easy (and very, very self evident) to give an instruction to move to the next table in a clockwise or anti-clockwise fashion. The technique has been used successfully with groups in separate rooms opening off a central space, although this makes the facilitator's job more difficult.

    Each table or meeting room should be provided with a clipboard and pen for the spokesperson. This is not vital, but spokespeople frequently forget to take pen and paper, and the clipboard smooths the process somewhat.

    Time needed: 2 hours


    1. First each group works to create a proposal or an idea. Each group is asked to select a spokesperson after they have been working for some time. The requirement is for the spokesperson to have a resilient and robust personality and not bear a grudge. A time deadline is set for them to be ready to present (minimum 5 minutes). Three minutes before the deadline, you stop the work and explain exactly what is going to happen to the spokesperson.
    2. Advise the spokesperson that they will have three minutes to present their idea. Resist any temptation to make the process a surprise at this stage, to do so is a serious breech of ethics. At the end of the deadline ask the spokesperson from each group to stand up, but not to move.
    3. Now tell the spokespeople to move to the next table in a clockwise direction and take the vacant seat, but to wait for your instruction before saying or doing anything.
    4. Announce the instructions as follows: The spokesperson will present their idea for 3 minutes facing the group. At 3 minutes a time check will be announced by the facilitator. If the group are happy to listen for more time they may do so, but from this point on the spokesperson can be asked to stop and to turn around to have their back to the group, finished or not. During the presentation time, the spokesperson presents to the silent group (the group may not comment or interact with the spokesperson in any way).
    5. When the spokesperson is facing away from them, the group attack the ideas with full and complete vigor (dissent) or else come up with a better idea (assent). The idea here is not to be fair, reasonable or supportive, but to attack, or else to provide a better alternative (often more painful than being attacked). The spokesperson uses the clipboard to take notes on what they hear.
    6. Once the dissent or assent is complete, the spokesperson must not talk with the group but leave to a central area, away from the groups that are working, until all the spokespeople are complete. This is important and a recent addition to the method. When spokespeople talk with the group they start to explain or compromise their learning.
    7. Once all the spokespeople are in the central area or if enough time has elapsed, then you send the spokespeople back to their groups to talk about what they have learnt. They then get ready for the next iteration. The cycle can be repeated many times to increase learning, enable multiple perspectives to be taken into account and refine the final outcomes.


    Source: www.cognitive-edge.com

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    • This process would only work with participants who have thick skins, as an essential part of the process is vigourous attack of a presentation. If the group likes oppositional techniques, this could expand the input.

      about 3 years ago