Applying the dialogue methods in this book

Flexibility

As we pointed out in the section on classification, some of the methods are broadly applicable, while others are more narrowly targeted. We have suggested that the latter methods are used when an in-depth focus on a particular aspect of knowledge—such as interests or world views—is especially apposite. Experienced research integrators can also combine methods in helpful ways. For example, in the process of using a broad method, it could become evident that differing values or some other attribute are blocking the development of shared understanding, so that a method to specifically deal with this could be gainfully combined with the broad method. Thus, methods can be used in conjunction with others, either sequentially or nested. In the case we present on seeking agreement on the core operational strategy of a Cooperative Development Agency in the United States (see under strategic assumption surfacing and testing), it was recognised that reconciling two conflicting sets of assumptions regarding top-down versus bottom-up approaches was essential for moving forward. In this case, strategic assumption surfacing and testing was used to make clear the assumptions of the two main groups of stakeholders. This was nested within a soft systems methodology approach, which aimed to develop more general joint meaning and understanding. Combinations of the general techniques could also be useful. For example, a case study we describe integrating judgments for dealing with Salmonella infection started with the nominal group technique and followed it with a Delphi technique (the example can be found under Delphi technique), drawing on the different strengths of each method for particular aspects of the problem they were addressing.

Such flexibility in application of the techniques is critical for successfully using dialogue methods for research integration. It is the mark of a successful research integrator to be able to do this and such skill is built through training and experience. By endeavouring to provide a more systematic approach to dialogue methods for research integration, we are not seeking to undermine this vital flexibility in application. Instead, we aim to enhance it, by broadening appreciation of the range of available methods, as well as providing numerous examples illustrating how the methods have been applied.

Preparing to use a dialogue method

It is also worth noting that using many of the dialogue methods for research integration involves significant preparatory work. Further, some dialogue methods involve a series of meetings, interspersed with other activities. Some also require substantial action after the event to finish the integrative task. While our focus in the descriptions that follow is on the dialogue event itself, we also flag these other aspects.

Areas not covered in this book

The book does not provide some of the essential ingredients for successfully applying these dialogue methods, such as facilitation and other group management skills. For example, it does not consider important areas such as managing power differences between participants, managing intransigent participants or keeping to time limits. Our primary audience will already have many of these skills. For novices, this compilation is intended to be used in conjunction with training by experienced experts.

Furthermore, the book does not deal with critical areas such as the selection of participants or taking action based on the results of the dialogue; these are covered by other aspects of Integration and Implementation Sciences, particularly ‘framing, scoping and boundary setting’ and ‘providing research support for decision making’ (see Appendix 1).

How to read this book

This book has opened with an introductory and framing discussion and a clarification of what it covers and what is out of its scope. The next two chapters present the 14 dialogue methods, illustrating their role in research integration. The concluding chapters discuss differentiating between the methods—clarifying which methods are particularly useful for which integrative challenges—and the appendices place the dialogue methods into a broader context of Integration and Implementation Sciences.

Our descriptions of each of the dialogue methods are accompanied by one or more examples of their use in research integration. These examples are structured around six questions that we have found to be helpful in thinking systematically about research integration and documenting its application.

  1. What was the integration aiming to achieve and who was intended to benefit?

  2. What was being integrated?

  3. Who did the integration?

  4. How was the integration being undertaken?

  5. What was the context for the integration?

  6. What was the outcome of the integration?

As we demonstrate in the cases that follow, the questions can be used in any order, and can be combined. Further details on the use of this descriptive and analytic framework are provided in Appendix 1 and Bammer (2006a).

In Table 2.1, we provide an overview of how well the examples illustrate each particular method. First, we document the range of topic areas in which we have been able to find examples and where we had to resort to examples in areas outside environmental management, public health, security and technological innovation, or outside research integration. Second, we describe the participant groups each method is primarily useful for—that is, discipline and stakeholder experts, discipline experts only or stakeholders only—and which of these are illustrated by the case studies. Third, we describe whether the research role in the example is clearly integrative.

In Table 2.2, we describe some additional characteristics of each method:

  1. the usual number of participants

  2. the characteristics of the dialogue process

  3. whether the locus of control lies with the participants or the organisers

  4. how highly structured the method is

  5. the extent to which preparatory or integrative work outside the dialogue is required

  6. particular strengths

  7. major limitations.

Table 2.1 How well the examples illustrate each particular method

 

Cases

Participants

Research integrator role clear?

Method

Environment

Public health

Security

Technological innovation

Other

Disciplines and stakeholders

Disciplines only

Stakeholders only

I. Dialogue methods for understanding a problem broadly: integrating judgments

Citizens’ jury

     

Yes

   

Yes, if the organiser

Consensus conference

     

 

Yes

   

Yes, if the organiser

Consensus development panel

 

       

Yes

 

Yes

Delphi technique

 

Yes

   

Yes

Future search conference

 

     

Yes

   

No

Most significant change technique

           

Yes

Yes

Nominal group technique

     

Yes

   

Yes

Open space technology

 

     

Yes

   

Yes

Scenario planning

     

Business

 

Yes?

 

Yes

Soft systems methodology

   

   

Yes

   

Yes

II. Dialogue methods for understanding particular aspects of a problem: integrating visions, world views, interests and values

Appreciative inquiry

 

   

Organisational development

Yes

   

No

Strategic assumption surfacing and testing

       

Business and not research integration

Yes

   

Yes, if facilitator

Principled negotiation

 

√ (social work example)

     

Yes

   

No

Ethical matrix

     

 

Yes

   

Yes, if organiser/facilitator

Table 2.2 Additional characteristics of each method

Method

Usual number of participants

Characteristics of dialogue process

Locus of control (participants or organisers)

Degree of structure in the method

Requirement for additional preparatory or integrative work outside the dialogue

Particular strengths

Major limitations

I. Dialogue methods for understanding a problem broadly: integrating judgments

Citizens’ jury

18–24 citizens, a microcosm of the public

Meet for 4–5 days, hear from expert witnesses, deliberate and present recommendations on final day

Participants

Highly structured

Significant preparation

Efficient

Develops informed inputs to decision making

Only the views of citizens are elicited, not other stakeholders

Consensus conference

12–25 citizens, a representative sample of the public

Need for a preparatory weekend then 2–4 days

Participants

Highly structured

Significant preparation

Efficient

Develops informed inputs to decision making

Only the views of citizens are elicited, not other stakeholders

Consensus development panel

About 15 panellists plus an open number of conference participants

Panel receives inputs from expert speakers over 1½ days, develops a draft consensus statement, discusses it with conference participants and releases it to the public

Organisers

Highly structured

Significant preparation

Comments on draft consensus statement invited after the dialogue

Independent panellists synthesising a body of research evidence and producing their consensus position on it

Applicable only where a substantial body of scientific evidence has been published on a topic, and where the level of controversy is not so great as to preclude its synthesis and the panel producing a consensus statement

Delphi technique

Varies from just a few to hundreds

Operates by mail, email or Internet. Participants respond to organisers’ questions; responses are shared; usually three rounds

Organisers

Highly structured

Significant preparation

Taps knowledge and judgments of experts while avoiding the dominance by particular individuals that can occur in face-to-face dialogue

Resource intensive

Organisers require significant management and integrative skills

Table 2.2 (continued)

Future search conference

Varies from about 60 to hundreds

Round-table plenary and small group discussions leading to the development of agreed visions and action plans

Organisers re process, participants re contents

Highly structured

Limited preparation but strategies needed for follow-up—that is, implementation of action plans

Can integrate disciplines and stakeholders

Focuses on post-conference action

Participants might not be able to find consensus re the nature of the problem and/or actions needed

Commitment to follow-up action could be strong at the conference but dissipate soon afterwards

Most significant change technique

Scores to hundreds

Change stories gathered in group discussion or in writing and reviewed at various levels in a hierarchical organisation

Organisers

Highly structured

Significant preparation, implementation management and follow-up

Informs senior managers

Gives voice to the less powerful stakeholders

Focuses on program outcomes and their drivers

Other techniques—dialogic and other—needed to gain a full understanding of the situation, outcomes, attribution and future action needed

Nominal group technique

Small groups of up to about 12

Face-to-face small group dialogue to generate, record, discuss and vote on ideas in such a manner as to minimise power differentials between participants

Organisers

Highly structured

Little required

Avoids the dominance by particular individuals that can occur in face-to-face dialogue

Requires a degree of shared understanding of the problem and willingness to listen and compromise

Open space technology

Any number, from a small group to thousands

Participants work together in small groups with like-minded people on topics they have identified as priorities

Participants

Fairly unstructured

Little required

Diversity among the participants

Encourages creativity and lateral thinking

Can produce action plans for implementation after the OST event

Requires clarity about the issue being addressed and willingness to listen and compromise

The unstructured nature of the OST events is problematic to some potential participants

Table 2.2 (continued)

Method

Usual number of participants

Characteristics of dialogue process

Locus of control (participants or organisers)

Degree of structure in the method

Requirement for additional preparatory or integrative work outside the dialogue

Particular strengths

Major limitations

Scenario planning

Variable, but not so many as to impede small group processes

Expert facilitators guide small group discussions, which produce the scenarios

Organisers

Highly structured

Detailed documentation of the scenarios is often undertaken outside of the dialogue

People with expert knowledge about a field address uncertainty

Selection of participants tends to shape the outcomes of the process

Challenges exist in linking the scenarios developed to decision making and action planning

Soft systems methodology

Variable, but not so many as to impede small group processes

Participants engage in debate to understand others’ world views and perceptions of a problem in its context, and then develop action plans to address it

Organisers

Can be highly structured (Mode 1) or more free-flowing and adaptive to circumstances (Mode 2)

Little required

Valuable in developing action plans to deal with complex social situations where the nature of the problem, its origins and what to do about it are unclear

The surfacing of participants’ world views, and discussing their implications for understanding and addressing an issue, is challenging to some participants

The method is not widely known and relatively few examples of its application and outcomes are documented

Table 2.2 (continued)

Method

Usual number of participants

Characteristics of dialogue process

Locus of control (participants or organisers)

Degree of structure in the method

Requirement for additional preparatory or integrative work outside the dialogue

Particular strengths

Major limitations

II. Dialogue methods for understanding particular aspects of a problem: integrating visions, world views, interests and values

Appreciative inquiry

Varies from a small number to scores

Typically involves a work team engaged in small group dialogue to develop shared visions

Organisers

Structured

Preparation required to orient participants to the AI perspective

Can be a valuable organisational development tool that focuses on the future of the organisation

Participants need to be oriented towards ignoring current problems with the organisation’s operations and, instead, focus on its future

Strategic assumption surfacing and testing

Varies from a small number to scores

A number of small groups with common assumptions, and dialectic debate plenary sessions

Organisers

Structured

Significant preparation

As a planning tool, it can reveal the diverse assumptions held by participants and find accommodations between them

Participants must be willing to expose, through dialogue, their underlying assumptions and have them challenged through dialectic debate

Principled negotiation

Generally small numbers (often two people) but can be two or more negotiating teams of any functional size

Willingness, on the part of all participants, to understand the interests that the others bring to the negotiating table, and to find a position acceptable to all

Participants

Moderately structured

Little preparation

Can eliminate conflict between the participants, leading to a mutually acceptable resolution

Participants sometimes find it difficult, or they are unwilling, to separate the people from the problem and to focus on participants’ interests, not positions

Ethical matrix

Small groups

Round-table discussion to identify and reach consensus on the ethical implications of the issue being addressed and the relative importance of those implications

Participants

Highly structured

Can involve little or a lot of preparation, depending on the approach taken

Reveals the values that participants hold or ascribe to stakeholders not present, and weighs their relative importance using a structured framework

Participants must be willing and able to discuss value issues, and to empathise with stakeholders not at the table, identifying and analysing the values and ethical issues that underlie the topic

Key source documents for each method are provided as part of its description to assist readers wishing to further investigate particular methods, including developing skills in applying them. Literature citations provided within each section are detailed in the list of references that concludes this book.

Further comment on the examples presented in this book to illustrate different dialogue methods is also warranted, especially as the examples are intended to help readers think about how the methods can be applied. We present the best examples we could find and, while we could not search all the literature, we did attempt to cover a broad swathe of research publications (see Appendix 3). For some methods—for example, the Delphi technique—we were spoilt for choice. We found examples in each of our four areas of application and for various ways of combining discipline and stakeholder inputs, so that we could illustrate a range of ways of applying the method in research integration. More commonly, however, there are gaps in our illustrations. We usually could not find an example in each of the areas of environment, public health, security and technological innovation. More importantly, the examples of research integration that are demonstrated are often limited and, for some methods such as principled negotiation, non-existent.

We also note that most of the examples we have found concentrate on stakeholder input. Examples where different disciplinary or expert perspectives were brought together were less comon, and illustrations combining disciplinary and stakeholder inputs were rare. That is not to say that the participants in dialogue for research integration always have to conform to a particular stereotype. On the contrary, the point we are making here is that the illustrations we are able to provide cover only a limited array of possibilities in terms of bringing various perspectives together.

In our search for examples, wherever possible, we chose those where researchers were prominent: in organising the dialogue, as facilitators, as participants, as ‘expert witnesses’ and/or in documenting the dialogue. Because the role of researchers as integrators is not, however, yet well defined or established—for example, through a crosscutting discipline of Integration and Implementation Sciences—the tasks of the researchers in our examples are not always integrative or even clearly described.

Overall, we focus on description of dialogue methods, rather than analysis or evaluation. This reflects the fact that little analysis or evaluation of individual methods has been undertaken and published with respect to dialogue, let alone comparative analyses. Towards the end of this book, however, after we have presented each method, we take a first analytical step. We use a hypothetical problem based on concerns about amphetamine use in young people to illustrate an aspect of the problem each dialogue method is ideally suited to address. For the dialogue methods aimed at providing a broad understanding of a problem, we then tabulate which other methods can be used to address that aspect of the problem. Our aim is to help readers begin to differentiate between dialogue methods, allowing them to choose those most appropriate for a specific research integration task.

As we have outlined in the introduction, we see this book as charting new territory in linking dialogue methods to research integration. While this book is as comprehensive as we can make it based on published material, gaps and limitations remain, as we outline above. We believe, however, that we have demonstrated ‘proof of concept’, and that further attention to this area is likely to be worthwhile and productive. Considerable scope exists for further development of dialogue methods for research integration and for researchers as Integration and Implementation Sciences specialists. Our aim here is to lay the foundations for that development.