Seeking Divergent Thinking
Submitted by Shannon Wheatley Hartman
This activity describes how to systematically examine a topic from a multi-dimensional approach. It encourages divergent thinking by asking participants to generate different questions and viewpoints about a single area of concern, deepening appreciation for complexity.
Practice examining an issue from multiple perspectives and dimensions.
Practice crafting discussion questions that examine different dimensions of a topic.
Set Up: Prepare for the Activity
Select a broad issue that is important or pressing for the group (i.e. Housing, Food Security, Climate Change, AI, etc.).
Share the Surrounding the Topic Diagram on the board, screen, or as a handout. Place the topic at the center.
Share the Crafting Discussion Questions Worksheet.
Begin by introducing the learning goals of this activity.
Step One: Generate Possible Dimensions (5 min)
As a full group, invite participants to generate a list of dimensions that affect or are affected by this topic. Dimensions tend to be broad categories like governance, technology, religion/spirituality, culture, law/ethics, politics, psychology, arts, media, economics, environment, etc.
Sample dimensions are included in the Surrounding the Topic Diagram. Use or replace these. As a group, populate all external circles of the diagram with different but relevant dimensions.
Step Two: Craft Discussion Questions (10 min)
In pairs, ask participants to craft open ended questions for each dimension. Explain that the questions are to be designed for a discussion group. Instruct them to record these questions in the Crafting Discussion Questions Worksheet.
The questions should be open-ended (avoiding yes/no answers).
Participants should try to briefly explain the rationale for this question.
Once teams have multiple questions, ask them to consider the strategic ordering of questions and record their thoughts in the first column.
Step Three: Discuss Questions in Small Groups (25 min)
Return to the full group or create small discussion groups (6-8 ppl), and begin discussing the topic.
Ask for a volunteer to share their first question. Discuss the question.
As the discussion unfolds, invite another participant to share a question that explores a new dimension.
The discussion group may only have enough time to discuss 2-3 questions. Instruct them that it is better to focus on a couple of dimensions of the topic and not try to discuss all dimensions or questions.
Remind them that crafting discussion questions help them to mentally prepare for the discussion, even if they don’t get a chance to share their questions.
Step Four: Debrief as a Full Group (10 min)
Would anyone like to share a favorite discussion question that they weren’t able to introduce during the discussion?
What does the exercise of “surrounding the topic” do? How did new or less expected dimensions open up the discussion?
How did you experience crafting questions? How did this help you prepare for our discussion?
How do you think the discussion would have gone today if we did not surround the topic or prepare multiple discussion questions in advance?
This activity can be completed by any discussion group.
This activity can be easily modified for asynchronous learning. See Sample Asynchronous Certificate Program Design to illustrate sample sequencing.
This activity is suitable for professional or more formal learning environments.
This activity can be used to support facilitation skills. See Sample Facilitation Certificate Program Design to illustrate sample sequencing.
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September 7, 2023 at 4:37:29 AM
September 7, 2023 at 4:09:16 AM
Shannon Wheatley Hartman
December 7, 2022 at 6:54:13 PM
I the process in this activity ("surround the topic") a lot. It is particularly useful as facilitation preparation. It also helps with generative thinking.
November 29, 2022 at 6:15:22 AM
Activity 3.5 uses visual aids and worksheets to explore a topic in detail from multiple angles. Pretending you are an alien to look at an issue from new perspectives is fun!