research & development

Beta-Testing WinC Style


Our research program is held together by the Dialogue Development Task Force (DDTF), a core group of faculty, staff and students who use a Grounded Theory approach to collect data and analyze trends that point to the internal and cultural architecture of dialogue. The DDTF is charged with studying our evolving method as we are applying it in our dialogue initiatives. Their weekly conclusions are immediately translated into working hypotheses which are then turned into revised learning objectives for our coaching and training classes that same week. As our thirty-five advanced student facilitators receive the revised lessons, they are implicitly charged with testing the DDTF’s hypotheses “in the field” during the three dialogues they lead each week. As our observation teams view these dialogues, they make note of trends and feed those data back to the DDTF for further study and development. This dynamic and iterative process builds and spirals throughout each semester, becoming a rich fabric of knowledge developed across time and built upon by each successive team.

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Discovering Sociological Address: It's working!

Two years ago, we began a serious inquiry into the narrative structures that shape contentious conversations. We noticed that these narratives become “scripts” that are often inherited. These scripts directly prevent meaningful examination across borders of the very challenges they are intended to explain. In our effort to deconstruct these scripts and create pathways for more nuanced and thoughtful engagement, we discovered a core ingredient that is proving useful: Every person has a different sociological address (our term), a complex matrix of “positions,” that shapes what they see. We realized that without dialogue participants being able to see and to account directly for these differences in social position (and thus, perspective), discourse remains stuck in dualistic categories, unconstructive “teaming” and an unrecognized but potent version of debate that looks like dialogue. The only way a group can “think together” about a social issue is to actually put aside the topic and to first see one another sociologically.

 After dedicating this year to making “sociological address” the key conceptual priority in our research, we are excited to report that it is also working in practical ways. Not only is recognizing sociological address necessary for a meaningful examination of society, it is actually a catalyst to that examination when used in precise ways by dialogue facilitators. When a dialogue is designed to access this information from the beginning, participants are able to glimpse the way an individual’s point-of-view is the result of where they are positioned. This not only brings all conflicts, divides, and histories to the surface without having to assign a topic, it also begins to illuminate the hidden value that each point-of-view contributes to the whole. This is the crucial piece.

Because every group of people in dialogue is a microcosm of society, when conversation is designed to illuminate that structure from the beginning, a foundation has been laid for constructively “thinking together” rather than for simply reinforcing narratives.