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23 March 2009

Interesting debate format.

Georgie from recently posted an e-mail to britishdebate about a couple of new formats of debating they were trialling. I don't know how the event turned out but I think the format sounds interesting especially if you are looking for a way to involve a large number of people in a debate. It could be of use if you are looking for a format to have a class discussion on a topic.

Here are some details from the e-mail

Debate Mate is helping the New Economics Foundation to try out a new idea called a ‘Policy Slam’ as part of the Ministry of Justice’s wonderfully entitled Democratic Innovation Fund. We want to try and harness people's competitiveness, to get them to engage in a dialogue and search for common ground.

We want up to 20 of you guys to spend the afternoon of Tuesday March 17th testing out two new debating formats whilst discussing detention without trial. This is a fantastic opportunity to meet and get to know a fantastic think tank. NEF do some really interesting stuff and if you are thinking about a possible career in this sector then do come along. We’ll also pay you £25 for your time. To register please e-mail (georgie[at] and include a brief sentence about where you stand on the issue (i.e. in favour, in favour with certain limitations, generally opposed, absolutely and always opposed etc.).

The Format:

1. Fishbowl
This involves two concentric circles of chairs - the inner circle with 6-8 chairs and the outer with approximately 10. To start with, the inner circle has a facilitator, some participants who support particular positions on the topic in question and some vacant seats. Everyone else sits as an audience in the outer circle. The facilitator introduces the topic and a discussion begins. After a while, anyone from the audience can come up, take one of the spare seats and join in the discussion. As more of the outer circle move in those who have been the longest in the inner circle are asked to move out. The format combines the coherence of small group discussion with wider inclusiveness.

2. Consensus voting
This involves a discussion followed by all participants ranking the various positions in preference order. The higher the preference, the greater the number of points ie. if there are 6 participants the voter gives his 1st preference 6 points, 2nd preference gets 5 points, and so on. The winner is the option with the most points and the higher the number of points the winner gets, the greater the degree of consensus. The aim of this type of debating is that even if you strongly disagree with someone else's views, you have an incentive to have a proper dialogue with them so that they rate your opinion higher in the list of preferences.

An event would involve two consensus votes, one part-way through a debate and the other at the end. You win if your proposal either comes top in the final vote, or improves the most between the two votes.

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