Testing out the coloured hats

Beltane intern’s reflections on the “Making conversations count: creating impact through dialogue” course

Over the 26th-27th June 2013 I was challenged to “make conversations count”. The dialogue course was comprised of a mix of individuals from various backgrounds. All of us had the common goal of improving the interactions that we have with others. From the start, we were asked to write down our personal goals for the course. Keeping in mind my involvement with TEDxUniversityofEdinburgh, I expressed my hope to apply what I learn to the role of Event Co-coordinator in order to maximise my contributions to the team and to get the most out of other team members by inspiring interaction and continued, open dialogue.

Recognition of the diversity of my publics was the first stage in achieving this desired outcome. Throughout the course, Wendy and Oliver reminded us to exercise caution with the promises that we make to our publics. These publics are likely dispersed along the spectrum of public engagement, each with distinct needs. Thus we must “think from the other” to successfully deliver these promises in an individualised way that still manages to unite the diversity of publics. Dialogue, or flows of meaning, is intended to break down the power barriers which isolate individual publics. Successful dialogue results in the group or co-production of share meanings.

Relating back to my personal involvement, the course asked me to think about my publics and their goals. First,

Who are TEDxUniversityofEdinburgh’s publics?

Our publics will, at the basic level, consist of:

  • my fellow student organising team members;
  • an advisory committee of primarily university staff members;
  • the University of Edinburgh as a whole including the student body;
  • the wider community;
  • and, ideally people that are not currently engaged.

What, then, is each public looking to gain from their interactions with TEDxUniversityofEdinburgh?

I believe that our publics would commonly be looking for:

  • Inspiration and promotion of the creativity of all involved
  • Personal development
  • Friendship
  • Action-based event opportunities
  • Practical skills for engagement
  • Knowledge transfer

Now that the aims and expectations for dialogue through TEDxUniversityofEdinburgh have been outlined,

How can this be achieved?

First, the course insisted on the creation of ground rules to guide interactions. Ideally, and if it is feasible, these ground rules should be co-produced by your publics. As facilitator, it is fundamental to keep the aims or desired outcomes for this engagement opportunity in mind without pursuing your personal agenda as this may hinder the inclusion of all present and impede impartiality. In the case of TEDx, this involves a clear vision for the roles of all involved as well as the TEDx events as a whole. To ensure an individualised experience, the personal development goals of each involved must be articulated from the beginning in an environment that is welcoming and a safe space for dialogue.

I am especially a fan of one technique discussed in the course which encourages those involved in dialogue to think from different perspectives, thereby opening the possibilities for alternative viewpoints. The coloured hats technique is an exercise in divergent thinking that explores the ins and outs of a topic from six different styles of thinking. Each style of thinking has a different coloured hat and all people present must agree to the order of the thinking hats, or questions, to guide discussion. The different hats (although they can be adapted) are:

  • Information (white): What are the facts?
  • Feeling and emotions (red): Gut reactions or feelings?
  • Critical judgement (black): Flaws or barriers to action present?
  • Positive judgement (yellow): Benefits?
  • Creativity (green): New ideas? Think outside of the box!
  • Thinking (blue): Process for solution or agreement?

During the course, we practiced this technique by exploring the topic of nuclear energy. It was challenging, as I am quite an opinionated person, to welcome discussion on both the pros and cons of this form of power. However, it was highly useful to think from the opposing perspective in order to find common understanding. In the end, the coloured hats method provided a safe space to think creatively about alternative methods which may bridge the gap between supporters and opponents of nuclear power.

What ultimately attracts me to this coloured hats process for opening and maintaining dialogue is its ability to encourage each individual present to consider the variety of opinions and possibilities present around any given topic. When consensus is difficult to reach, it seems even more imperative to break down tendencies to debate and refute.

I’m not sure exactly how this technique will come into practice in my activities to come, but I’m inspired by its ability to promote rational, open-minded and creative thinking. I now feel empowered to facilitate and keep the dialogue going in a variety of settings!

For the course description: http://www.beltanenetwork.org/ai1ec_event/making-conversations-count-creating-impact-through-dialogue/?instance_id=81