Engagement and consultation processes do not end with a report
and an evaluation. Sometimes those are just the beginning of another
stage - when you have to implement the conclusions regardless
of how unpopular or divisive they are.
Facilitating groups of all sizes
Dialogue by Design's expertise is rooted in 15 years' experience
of facilitating face-to-face events. These have ranged from small,
intense meetings where we have mediated between individuals or
organisations to large workshops involving 100+ participants.
The smaller meetings have been in legal or political contexts
where confidentiality has been vital and our role as third parties
has been to help the participants break a deadlock or negotiate
a solution to a particular problem. Doing this requires both training
in mediation and conflict resolution techniques and experience
of analysing and understanding how people behave in polarised
Our experience of large workshops is equally extensive and much
more public. Since the early 1990s we have been designing events
that enable large numbers of participants to work collaboratively
on complex issues. Many of these have addressed the major environmental
debates of the past decade: what to do with decommissioned industrial
structures such as the Brent Spar, Shell's oil storage platform,
for example, or how to reconcile the competing interests of people
and business in the transport of used nuclear fuel through North
London or in the development of a gas pipeline through the virgin
rainforests of Camisea in Peru.
Not all of our work is so exotic: we have also run our share
of public meetings to talk about issues such as the Newbury by-pass,
parking problems in Bath, the third runway at Heathrow Airport,
waste and recycling, leukaemia clusters and many others.
Our methods rest on three pillars: clarity of process and dialogue;
structuring of information; and ability to interact positively
with participants, however angry or confused they may be.
Underlying all these is our insistence on the importance of designing
from three points of view: that of the sponsor of the event who
needs a successful meeting and the achievement of specific goals;
of the participants, who need to feel valued and well-informed;
and of our needs as guides and third parties with an overview
of what works.
Our workshop methods rest on detailed design. We work out whether
it is best to tackle an issue in plenary or small groups, taking
into account everything from the nature of the subject to the
character of the participants to the time of day. We then work
out the right stimulus - a presentation, a carefully phrased question,
or sometimes a creative task - and how long it will take, and
how to report the results back to other participants.
Design is based largely on our own experience, but we are also
fortunate to work constantly with equally experienced colleagues,
and also to deliver many training courses that help us to absorb
and learn from the experience of others.