True dialog is the art of thinking together.* It requires the suspension of certainty, acute listening, open sharing and willingness to participate. These principles of dialog are probably unfamiliar to most of us and are challenging to practice. However, the outcomes of dialog exceed the effort.
Therefore, using these principles of dialog as the foundation, an interactive grower meeting could look like this:
- A steering committee would organize and host the meeting. Ideally, the committee would organize itself rather than be appointed.
- The meeting announcement would state:
- A dialog, for example, on HLB and plant responses to micronutrient fertilization is planned.
- The objectives as several specific questions to be answered at the meeting are presented.
- Registration is limited to a certain number of people. Active participants only.
- All registrants are required to agree to a homework assignment by checking a box on the registration form.
- The registration deadline would be 10 days to two weeks in advance of the meeting date.
- Before the meeting, the steering committee would:
- Assemble a list of pertinent, grower-friendly, practical publications.
- Divide the registrants into groups of no more than eight to 10 participants each.
- Assign two publications from the list to the members of each group to read and prepare for discussion at the meeting.
- E-mail everyone, stating their acceptance and instructions regarding their two attached publications.
- At the meeting, the steering committee would:
- Set up the room with one table and chairs for each group.
- Assign one person with either a county or state Extension appointment to facilitate each group.
- Begin the meeting with intra-group discussion of their assigned publications.
- End with a summary of viewpoints of the assigned publications and of participants’ experience, research or other needs related to the theme questions.
- Have each group recorder present a brief overview to the entire audience.
- During the lunch break, examine all the reports and recorded information and create a big-picture summary.
- After lunch, present the big picture as the initial step to having a full audience discussion leading to answers to the questions set forth as the meeting’s objectives. This last step is critical. Registrants should have interacted with and learned from their fellow growers, been stimulated to think broadly and have new ideas.
The beauty of the meeting outlined above is its flexibility while adhering to the principles of dialog. It provides a relaxed, positive environment for free exchange of information, experience and ideas. It focuses on the registrants and their knowledge. It says: “You, our growers, have important questions and information, so let’s explore.”
Who will host the first dialog-based meeting like this?
Bill Castle is a University of Florida emeritus professor.
*Isaacs, William. 1999. Dialogue and the art of thinking together. Doubleday, New York.
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