Kenyersel: Method

Thoughts can change the world
KenYerSel Discussion Methodology

Introduction and Objectives

This document outlines a method for having a discussion. The central goals of the method are to change the typical patterns in debate to make discussions more productive, enjoyable, and informative. In particular:
  • Encourage listening and reflection: we avoid "ping-pong" style discussions by structuring the discusion in such a way that people listen and think more. This also avoids personal attacks during discussion and keeps the debate related to the topic being discussed.
  • Involve everyone: in partiuclar we try to avoid discussions being domination by a few individuals and enable everyone to contribute. This gives a much wider and richer input into the discussion.
  • Structured record: the method includes structured recording of the contributions. This allows people to easily verify their contribution and also shows the particpants that they have, together, developed a rich view of the issues on the discussed topic. As well as helping people develop a sense of working together when having a discussion, the resulting map is something that can be refined and presented to other people, or used as the basis for clearly justified decision making, or for writing an informative report.
  • Critical open-minded thinking: the methods rules help people learn to critical thinking skills as well a see that there are many positions that can be argued for. It helps particpants develop an scientific and open minded intelligence.

Applicablility and Basic Requirements

The discusion method is useful when there are many views (possibly with heated opinions) on a topic and lots of debatable questions. The method provides a way to let people share and relate their views in a rational and structured way. It is not a useful method for simply expressing feelings and letting out frustration, or for poetic shared recounting of stories. The contributions have to be clearly related to each other. We found it especially good for discussing policy issues.
  • Typically sessions will be 1 hour and 30 minutes long, with a 15 minute break in the middle.
  • Suitable for dicssions with 3-10 people (excluding the facilitator/recorder).
  • One person is needed to play the role of facilitator. With some experience this person can also record the discussion, but initially we recomend also having another person. Both the facilitator and the recorder will are not considered as particpants - they will not contribute to the discusion by making any points. There role is purely to facilitate and observe the discussion process.
  • A flipchart or black/white-board is useful, although paper can be used. Some post-it notes (and pen) are needed to record the discusion.

Running a KenYerSel Discussion Session


The general area to be discussed has to have been chosen before hand.

Someone who bears in mind the chosen topic chooses, in advance, an appropriate, interesting short and evocative stimulus material (such as a piece of text, a video, song etc). It should not take much more than 5 minutes to present to the the group.

1 - Welcomes and introduction

Welcome everyone as they come in

Participants and facilitator sit in a circle so they can see each other. The recorder can sit in the circle or outside it.

Explain to everyone how the session will be run (summarise relevant parts of the discussion below) Stress that in the discussion no one is required to speak: stress that the rules are designed so that people can participate as much or as little as they like.

It is important to tell people to expect periods of silence, these are normal and provide time to think. They should not feel worried about them or stressed.

It is also useful to tell people to try and make their contributions short and concise. Avoid long rambling points.

Also explain that initially the rules may be enforced in a more relaxed manner as people get the hang of the method, but that the facilitator may ask people to stop sometimes. Then this happens no offense is intended, it is just to help allow everyone to contribute.

2 - Ice-breaker

There is an apprehension that we feel about speaking in a group. We suggest using an 'ice-breaker' to help people get over this. For instance, split people up into twos or threes and get them to tell each other something about their name. This is especially important if the participants do not already know each other. The important thing is to help people get over their initial fear of speaking to the group.

3 - Introducing the stimulus material

The facilitator presents the stimulous material. Before doing this tell people that they should try to come up with questions they are interested in with regard to the stimulous material. This also helps them pay attention to the material. It can be useful here for everyone to have pen and paper. Tell them that they may also be asked be able to provide a short initial response to the question. The response is not supposed to be a comprehensive answer, and does not have to be their belief - it is just some initial position in response the the question they have in mind.

4 - Generating and Choosing questions

After the stimulous material is finished, give a minute to digest it, then ask people to say their questions and brainstorm any new ones that they think of while hearing the others; no one is obliged to speak or to have a question. It also does not matter if people have more or less the same question as another participant. If there are no questions then the stimulous material or subject matter is not of interest to the participants and some other subject they are interested in needs to be identified.

Write up the questions on a flip chart, white board or some other place that can be seen by all. When writing the questions the facilitator should try to help the participants get a concise phrasing of the question.

If there are many questions it can be helpful to group them into similar topics. This can be done simply by people suggesting that two questions be put side-by-side, or it can be done by the facilitator.

The participants can now vote on the topic/question to be considered. If there is enough time, you can usually get through several questions, but if there are a lot of questions and not a lot of time, then you can give each participant 3-votes to assign to the questions and the questions can then be considered in that order. If the questions are grouped, then we typically vote on the groups and the facilitator chooses the question.

5 - Initial Position is made

The first point is made by (one of) the author(s) of the selected question. They make a concise initial response to the question, this is the initial position statement. This should be something that people can disagree with; it should not be phrased as a personal opinion. The discusion method tries to avoid people holding a personal position - instead the goal is to understand all different possible views of a topic. Thus particpants should feel that they can make an initial statement that they personally do not agree with.

The recorder should make a note of the chosen question and the initial position.

6 - The discussion

Now the heart of the discussion method starts. The rules are:

  • Participants indicate (for example, by raising their hand) to the facilitator that they want to speak.
  • The facilitator indicates to a chosen participant who has indicated they want to speak, that they may do so. The facilitator will not necessarily choose people in the order in which they indicate. This is a leveller in the discussion, and helps both slow the discussion down as well as enable everyone to feel like they can contribute. The role of the facilitator is to make everyone feel they can contribute, and to distribute who can speak next. This helps avoid 'ping-pong' arguments back and forth between only a few of the participants.
  • Whenever anyone speaks, they should use one of the following argument moves by making their statement in the form:
    • Support: "An argument supporting the point [paraphrase the point they are supporting] is [describe the supporting argument]"
    • Disagree: "An argument against the point [paraphrase the point they are supporting] is [describe the argument against the point]"
    • Question: "I have a question about [express which point you want more information about], can someone clarify [briefly ask the question]"
    • Clarify: "I would like to clarify [express which point you want to give more information about], in particular [clarify the issue]"
  • The facilitator judges when it is time to move onto another questions, but should make sure that the participants are happy to do so. The facilitator should not be too quick to move on just because there is a moment of silence: Ken Yersel group discussions tend to be slower and more thoughtful.

If this is one of the first times the particpants have used the method, the facilitator should write up the different possible argument moves somewhere the participants can see it. For example, give everyone a printout with the the argument moves.

During this process the recorder writes on a post-it note or pad of paper, a number for each point and indicates the other points that the new point supports, disagrees with, questions or clarifies. A notation we found useful is: "-> 3" for supports point 3, "-/->" for disagrees with point 3, "?3" for questions point 3, and "C3" for clarifies point 3.

7 - Close of session: Summary and review

Once time is running out or all the points have been discussed to the satisfaction of the participants, the facilitator asks the group to spend 10 minutes or so reflecting on what they have achieved over the past 90 minutes. In this period, no rules are utilised and group members are encouraged to reflect on the content of what was said and the procedures used in the discussion. It is at this point the group can give feedback as to how the method is helping/hindering them. We sometimes gave out paper for people to write down their thoughts and feedback.

8 - Creating the map

The facilitator, recorder and interested members of the group, then go away and write up the discussion map in as clear and friendly form as possible. Each entry, or "node" in the map should have a colourful expressive title, and a more detailed summary of the point made, and a not-too codified way of saying with which other points it connects up to.

Notes for the Facilitator:

Paraphrasing another persons point ensures that you have thought about what they said and tried to understand it. Using the exact wording above is not crucial, but for recording it is important that it can be understood which point they are they are referring to.

The facilitator should be aware that this form of discussion is hard at the beggining and should be prepared to break the rules if and when needed. Their purpose is to make the discussion useful for the participants.

The facilitator should make sure the rules are obeyed but should be both sensitive to the group and allow the rules to be broken at the start, but give reminders of the rules. The facilitator can gentlely ask participants to rephrase their statement according to the rules if necessary.

It is important that the facilitator is not the person being addresses by the participants. If the speaking participant looks at the facilitator, a good trick to help them make eye contact with other participants rather than the facilitator, is for the facilitator to look the speaker in the eye, and then look at other participants, thus "leading" the speakers eyes to other participants.

If the facilitator judges that a question has been exhausted then he or she can choose a new one. Authority for this rests with the facilitator, but it is best genuinely to carry the group along with you in making this choice.

Members of the group may want to introduce a new topic for discussion. At present we don't have a worked out method of dealing with this. One possibility is that everyone could be a given a "Discussion Bomb" - but they should only have a limited number, we suggest only one per person. This allows them to make a new point at any stage. Then the rest of the group can then play by the standard rule and choose to respond or ignore the new point.

It is useful for the facilitator to be aware of how the recorder is managing, and in particular to make sure that they have enough time to write down the points. It can be useful to leave a little time after a point has been made before going onto the next person person with their hand up. This both helps people have time to consider the discussion and point they want to maek as well as give the recorder time to finish wirting up the last point.

Some common difficulties are:

  • People break the rules: when this happens the facilitator should stop the discusion after they have stopped speaking, and ask them to go back and try to use one of the discusion rules. They will be able to comment on the method later, but it is important that everyone plays by the rules. This is hard at the start, but after a while gets much easier, and is to everyones benefit. If people know this they are more patient.
  • People make long confusing rambling statements: the facilitator can remind people that they can use the question move to ask for a point to be expressed more concisely and clearly. It is really the role of the participants to do this, but the facilitator can remind them that they have the ability to do so. The particpants, by asking for clarification and giving them are primarily responsible for helping each other make clear comprehensible points. The participants should know they they are also responsible for trying to make the method work. It cannot work if all the participants are trying to undermine the method.
  • The recorder cannot keep up: the recorder may need to indicate to the facilitator to leave bigger gaps between people's contributions, or to remind people to try and make them concise statements.
  • Many points at once: the facilitator can remind the participants that they if they have two different things to say, they should say only one at a time, indicating a second time that they have something else to say after the first point is finished. This is important in order to give everyone time to understand what was said and possibly to give input before the same participant gives their second point. If the participant(s) have trouble remembering their thoughts they can use a pen and paper to write them down.

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