Apr 20 2020

Chat for reflection and inquiry

Published by at 6:55 pm under Uncategorized

The coronavirus is offering more opportunities to facilitate online meetings and therefore reflect on how I use chat to bring people together and help them connect more deeply.

I have a little chat structure that I’m using again and again, with variations. It involves a series of chat prompts, where everyone is instructed to reflect on a question, write a response, NOT hit enter till everyone else is done, and then hit enter simultaneously. I give people a moment of silence to scan what the group has written. Then I ask one person to pick out a few of the posts and read them out loud. Sometimes a discussion ensues.

Before a meeting I prepare a set of questions in a text editor that I can quickly copy paste into the chat. Having the questions written down like that provides a fence between sections of the chat and helps people see the question that they are responding to. I find it’s best to start with a simple and straightforward question first and gradually move on to more consequential ones that set the stage for the work the group may be engaged in.

Easy warm up question: location, weather, etc.

More substantive question: like "How are you feeling right now?"

More challening question: like What is the big issue we are tackling?

Of course having the enhanced chat transcript to share afterwards is a bridge to future interactions and collaborations. I use tic marks (single quotes) so that the Google Spreadsheet that I use to set up the HTML table won’t throw an error because an initial equal sign usually indicates the start a formula. Multi-line chat entries always need a bit of extra attention to get them in the right column.

All of this effort and protocol is because I think that:

  • This way of using chat allows a group to “see itself” all at once, and the conversation can address individual (or diverging) views and widely held ones at once.
  • Chat records people’s “verbatim” thinking – in their own words, with the terms they use to think.
  • Chat is scannable – much faster than having people fumble to find the mute/unmute button.
  • I think the people are able to get the gist from written statements in other languages better than they can listening to another language.
  • And, finally, you can use a Wordle afterwards! (Like the following one that represents the words on a wikipedia page about Chat.)

Of course I usually can’t help myself, so I often take public notes right in the chat during a conversation — with appropriate fences between sections so that the structure of the conversation is visible.

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