This workshop explored examples of difficult situations based on participants’ real-life experiences, focusing on occasions when they felt they had reached the limits of dialogue. It used some of the methods of Forum Theatre (particularly ‘Theatre of the Oppressed’) based on the work of Brazilian director, Augusto Boal (1931-2009). This is used internationally to explore obstacles, dilemmas and oppressions within many communities/groupings, enabling participants to reflect on the role of the body and emotions, as well as reason, in ethically challenging encounters. Boal’s conception of the ‘Theatre of the Oppressed’ explicitly challenges the divisions between active and passive states or subjects. It is particularly applicable where the relationship between inner impulses and thoughts and external actions raises the need for clear, empathic and ethical exchange, communication and decision-making. It facilitates exploration of difficulties, obstacles and ranges of solutions, and can be used in educational contexts and in public and political arenas to raise awareness and make demands for social change. It is also great fun!
Workshop participants engaged in initial exercises involving moving around the room and communicating, before dividing into two groups, with each group choosing a challenging scenario based on one person’s experience. Each group rehearsed and acted out their scenarios, with members of the other group engaging as ‘spectactors’ – re-running the scenarios to try out different approaches to engaging in more productive dialogues. Participants were generally positive about this approach for exploring situations in which a powerful individual, group or organisation misunderstands, ignores, or disrespects someone’s views or needs, making it difficult to reach a desired outcome.
At the 8th International Conference and Colloquium in Springe, Germany, in August 2019 nine students from a range of different countries including the UK, Spain, Finland, Taiwan, Italy and Turkey were awarded their certificates of training in Socratic Dialogue Facilitation.
This third training programme by the Society for Furtherance of Critical Philosophy had commenced in 2018 with training consultants, Dr Dieter Krohn and Dr Julie-Marie ffrench Devitt working with the students who came from various backgrounds in philosophy, social care and education.
The training programme began with a residential Colloquium at St Catherine´s College in Cambridge. Following that, five training sessions were held throughout the year in central London. The training programme gave the students the opportunity to learn about the Socratic method and develop their communication and critical thinking skills and emotional intelligence. During the training sessions each student was given the opportunity to facilitate a short SD under guided supervision with space for reflection and contemplation.During their training the group were also encouraged to attend structured SD meetings in Münster and at Springe where they also had the opportunity to contribute to the Programme at the 8th International Conference.
My aim for the Springe workshop was to introduce participants to the form of group learning I have been formulating since 2009, the Action Learning approach adopted with the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Fellows at the Cambridge Collaboration for Leadership and Applied Health Care Research.
The workshop was attended by an enthusiastic group of 20 participants. To ensure active participation I first outlined the approach then led a smaller group through the process, with the rest of the group observing. I presented a range of scenarios for the group, dilemmas that were not very complex, but with enough issues for members to work with.
One example was: “An owner of a small shop was busy talking to another customer. The shop owner paid little attention to you at the time of your purchase. You are given too much change, what do you do?”
I then split the participants into smaller groups to work together as a ‘set’ to experiment with the approach themselves.
Overall, the participants found the approach easy to use, adaptable to their own skills and it led to some solutions in a short space of time.
After a number of conversations with workshop participants I was able to devise a refined model I have named the ‘Modified Approach Action Dialogue’. The attached diagram provides a short summary.
My Action Learning facilitation began when using the approach in leadership development courses and for University of Cambridge Fellows undertaking clinical research . Over the years it has become a blend of Action Learning and Socratic Dialogue, in which I have participated with SFCP facilitators for a number of years, valuing the approach of building from participants’ experiences to develop new insights and explore complex ideas. I qualified in Coaching 6 years ago.
All these approaches have aspects that are unique but also shared. This led me to develop the blended approach that can lead, for those who participate, to important insights about themselves and their work.
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