IAF Methods Database Newsletter

Welcome to the September IAF-Methods Database Newsletter!

This month is a triple number!

I’m sorry to report that our software took a holiday in July and August, sending out the newsletter to only some of you subscribers with a perverse sense of humor, and slyly withholding it from others. Peter and I send our profuse apologies, and so I’ve created here a triple number, to include what you may have missed. You have here the methods from July and August, and the newest one for September. You then also have the results of our polls. There is further a new poll on the website that you may find interesting. And best news – we’ve managed to correct the software in the meantime, so it’s back from its holiday, ready to serve.

The IAF Methods Database is looking for Associate Editors!

Help needed ranges from proofreading to adding new methods, assessing existing methods and working with online researchers. If you think you would like to contribute some time to the IAFMD, let us know and we can work together to create your role. You’ll learn a lot, meet nice people and have something special to add to your CV.


This month’s method is from Cognitive Edge in the UK (www.cognitive-edge.com). It is a ritualized way of providing either alternative positive suggestions (assent) or else attacking the weaknesses (dissent) in the idea. Used in the midst of a process of idea development, this technique provides the group a way of refining their thinking to take their idea a step further.

Method of the Month

Ritual Dissent/Assent

To test and enhance proposals, stories, ideas or whatever by subjecting them to ritualized dissent (challenge) or assent (positive alternatives). It is a forced listening technique, not a dialogue or discourse.

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 smoothes the process somewhat.


1. 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 onwards 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 silence (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.

Last Month's Poll

Last month’s Poll raised the question, What types of group activities do you most frequently facilitate?

I’m really pleased to see that there is such a diversity of facilitation perspective in those of you who follow the IAFMD! The responses were:

Decision making / planning events30%
Team building and communication improvement15%
Knowledge or best practice sharing20%
Learning processes35%

Are there things you would like to know about the field of facilitation as practiced by your colleagues? Here is a way to find out – let us know your suggestion for a poll!


The August method is a way of conducting a decision-making process by systematically adding members (and thus perspectives) to the group (or subgroups to the whole body) to build a rich dialogue. I hope it’s helpful (and fun) for your participants!

Method of the Month

Stepladder Technique


Facilitation and structuring of decision making in groups in order to improve their effectiveness and the quality of the decision.


The facilitator should be familiar with the method and the problem that the group needs to solve. Advance knowledge about the group can also be helpful. The group should have an ideal size of four people. If it exceeds this number, it can be divided up into several teams of four who are concerned with different parts of the problem.


The process consists of three steps:
Step 1 Divide the team of four into a core team of two people who start discussing the problem at hand. After 10-15 minutes (depending on the complexity of the problem) the group continues with:

Step 2 The third team member joins the core team by presenting his/her ideas regarding the problem. The core team listens and after the presentation, the three participants discuss the problem among themselves. The same procedure is carried out in:

Step 3 when the fourth team member joins. He/she joins in, presents his/her perspective on the problem and the group discusses. Now when all members have joined in, the whole team discusses the problem in order to reach a solution together.

The benefits of this technique are that each member is given enough time to think about the problem and the opportunity to speak his/her mind. By hearing everyone’s point and giving it attention in the discussion, the group has the opportunity to arrive at a shared conclusion.

Last Month's Poll
During this past month, I have taken a bit of a holiday and you may have noted that June's survey did not change in July. You can find a new poll if you go to the website today! I hope you like it!


Sometimes you have a group that simply needs to talk with one another, or folks do not function well with too much structure. For such a situation, David Bohm’s book, On Dialogue, provides an approach to having an extended conversation. Bohm deeply believed in the worth of dialogue in and of itself, which for some groups can be a healthy challenge. So this September method is not really a method as such, but an overview of Bohm’s principles. Hopefully these provide you with an alternative approach for your practice. Should you find this useful, then you might also like to refer to: http://www.david-bohm.net/dialogue/

Method of the Month

Bohm Dialogue


To enable a group to develop a better understanding of itself.

The principles of "Bohm Dialogue" are:

1. The group agrees that no group-level decisions will be made in the conversation. "...In the dialogue group we are not going to decide what to do about anything. This is crucial. Otherwise we are not free. We must have an empty space where we are not obliged to anything, nor to come to any conclusions, nor to say anything or not say anything. It's open and free" (Bohm, "On Dialogue", p.18-19.)"

2. Each individual agrees to suspend judgement in the conversation. (Specifically, if the individual hears an idea he doesn't like, he does not attack that idea.) "...people in any group will bring to it assumptions, and as the group continues meeting, those assumptions will come up. What is called for is to suspend those assumptions, so that you neither carry them out nor suppress them. You don't believe them, nor do you disbelieve them; you don't judge them as good or bad...(Bohm, "On Dialogue", p. 22.)"

3. As these individuals "suspend judgement" they also simultaneously are as honest and transparent as possible. (Specifically, if the individual has a "good idea" that he might otherwise hold back from the group because it is too controversial, he will share that idea in this conversation.)

4. Individuals in the conversation try to build on other individuals' ideas in the conversation. (The group often comes up with ideas that are far beyond what any of the individuals thought possible before the conversation began.)

Last Month's Poll

Last month’s Poll raised the question, How old are the majority of your workshop participants?

As regards participant ages, it appears there is good spread, and no particular focus either on the newcomers in the workplace nor on the senior levels. The responses were:

My participants are primarily between 20 and 35 years of age.0%

My participants are primarily between 35 and 50 years of age.67%

My participants are primarily over 50 years of age.0%

My participant ages vary widely from group to group -- anywhere from 20 through 8033%

Do let us know your suggestions for a poll!