Hosting Innovation – A Foundation for Facilitators

Visual Learning Methods – A Workshop by Patricia Kambitsch

Visual learning from patkambitsch

Four Engagement Streams

The National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD) identifies four main streams of engagement, based on the primary purpose community leaders, public officials and others have for using these processes to engage citizens.

  1. Exploration
  2. Conflict Transformation
  3. Decision-Making
  4. Collaborative Action

The Engagement Streams handbook is provided free on their website.


If you are interested in helping people explore an issue or problem or helping them get to know each other better, “exploration” methods like Conversation Cafe, World Cafe, Open Space Technology, and Bohmian Dialogue are a good option.  These methods emphasize open-ended dialogue, and work best when a group or community seems stuck or muddled and needs to reflect on their circumstance in depth and gain collective insight.  These methods encourage new insights and connections to emerge by creating a space for people to share their thoughts, feelings and perspectives.

Open Space and World Cafe are often used at conferences, where the organizer wants to get people talking to each other and exploring issues and questions attendees care about – and a specific type of outcome (like a decision or the formation of action committees) is not the goal.  New ideas and action groups can emerge, but the whole group is not moved in that direction.  Often, “exploration” methods can help determine what type of in-depth engagement is needed to help a group progress further on an issue.

Conflict Transformation

Methods like Sustained Dialogue, Public Conversations Project dialogues, Compassionate Listening, and Victim-Offender Mediation are a good choice when you want to address a specific conflict or improve relations between groups that are at odds with each other.  These methods tend to be used when relationships among participants are poor or not yet established, but when developing these relationships is important.  Generally, the issue or conflict at hand can only be resolved when people change their behavior or attitude, expand their perspective on the situation, or take time to reflect on their emotions and how they came to form their opinions about another group.

Decision Making

If public engagement is needed on an issue to strengthen policy decisions and public knowledge, processes that emphasize deliberation are a good option.  Methods like National Issues Forums, Deliberative Polling, 21st Century Town Meetings, Charrettes, and Consensus Conferences are some well-known examples. These methods are recommended when the issue at hand is going to be decided on by a single entity, such as a government agency or committee, that is genuinely interested in learning about their constituents’ informed opinions and shared values. Key features of decision making methods include unbiased “naming” of the issue and balanced framing of options, creating space for participants to weigh all options and consider different positions, and identifying the public’s core values around an issue.

Collaborative Action

If your goal is to empower participants to identify solutions to complex public problems and take responsibility for implementing those solutions, “collaborative action” methods may be the best fit.  Methods like Study Circles, Future Search, and Appreciative Inquiry are designed to engage people in dialogue and deliberation in order to generate ideas for community action, and then help them develop and implement action plans collaboratively.  These methods are best when the issue or dispute requires intervention across numerous public and private entities, and anytime community action is important.

Formulating Questions in Inquiry

1. Juanita Brown, Vogt, and Isaacs: The Art of Powerful Questions (PDF)

2. Peter Block on New Leadership (Leading the Way & the 6 Questions – PDF)