What it’s for
- Enabling ordinary people to get to grips with complex political problems
- Encouraging grown-up conversations between voters and their representatives
- Arriving at solutions to tricky planning problems
- Helping users and providers to work together to improve public services like health and education.
Why it’s different
Too much political debate obscures rather than clarifies the issues. Too often it’s about smearing your opponents and polarizing the issues, pretending that there’s just one over-simple solution. Nearly always, the talking is monopolized by politicians and experts.
TALKSHOP is different. Trained facilitators ensure that everyone gets to take part and nobody gets shouted down. It’s designed to promote respect and consensus, to encourage people to listen as well as talk. Above all it’s safe and fun.
TALKSHOP works best when there are between 20 and 30 people and at least one facilitator. It typically takes two to three hours. The facilitator starts by getting everybody to introduce themselves, gets their agreement to some ground rules, and sets out the timetable for the event.
Every event starts with an issue brief which gives an impartial description of the situation together with a number of options for solving it. Sometime these are circulated in advance. Otherwise, time is allowed for reading it at the start.
People split up into small groups, and each group is allocated an option. (People can also propose new options if they wish.) Each group appoints a discussion leader, a scribe and a timekeeper. The group then spends time discussing and understanding its option.
Once this is done, each group in turn presents their option to the whole event. Everyone then spends time with people from other groups, so that everyone understands all the options. The groups then reform. They then refine and improve their option, and maybe even combine it with others. Again, everybody gets together and each of the refined options are presented.
At two points through the event, towards the start and towards the end, people are invited to state their preference for each option using preference voting. Voting provides a quick way for people to express what they think, and preference voting provides more information than voting where people simply vote for their favourite.
To end with, the facilitator shares the result of the second preference vote and initiates a discussion on how much agreement there is and where it lies. This helps raise awareness of how speaking your views, and listening to others tell theirs, both increases one’s own understanding of an issue, and sometimes brings about a change of view too.
We provide voting slips and a spreadsheet for counting the votes.
We encourage event sponsors to provide their own facilitators, which we will then train. Alternatively, we run training courses for facilitators. We believe that the skills of facilitation are crucial in building the new participative democracy we all seek; and we want as many people as possible to use these skills in all parts of their lives. It also helps us to grow faster.
For each event we prepare a 2-5 page document describing the issue, and a range of options for addressing it. As we grow we are collecting a set of briefs that can be re-used. You can review and download our current selection on our resources page.
We always review, and if necessary, rewrite the brief for each new event. We strive to make these briefs impartially present a range of options from across the political spectrum. We intend to put in place an external panel who will regularly review our work and assure this. We are always keen for you to challenge us on this.