A forum is not a conversation

This morning I stopped by this online forum about terrorism and democracy, organized by conference that David Weinberger and Joi Ito are attending.
In the forum, a set of people with diverse nationalities (US, Europe, Middle East, Asia), talk to each other at an abstract level about big topics like “terrorism” and “democracy”.
Individuals express their own philosophical background and favorite arguments in their own rhetorical language (socialist, anti-american, liberal, non-violent, pro-violent resistence, etc). There is some interesting comparision between tactics of violence and tacticts of non-violence. Yet, there is no moderation that I can see, and little social pressure to bring people talk to each other rather than past each other.
The people are not part of any organizational structure, and are not trying to create any action. There is no shared objective, so people can talk forever without reaching understanding, agreement or resolution.
It is exciting that the forum attracted such a geographically and philosophically diverse group. But without facilitation and the creation of shared purpose, this exercise in sustained mutual incomprehensive is quite frustrating.
Just like a room and a table don’t create a meeting, a discussion forum does not create deliberative democracy. There may be methods that work to make this type of conversation productive. They weren’t used in that forum.

One thought on “A forum is not a conversation”

  1. From my experience, having a facilitator on an email list helps a lot. That person (or role filled by several people) does a weekly summary. This does a great deal in helping drive the conversation to some conclusion (agreement, resolution, understanding).

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