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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.

average rating is 5 out of 5, based on 1 votes, rating(s)
Ferris wheel with rainbow colored seats

Learning Goals

  • 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?





Critical Collaboration

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average rating is 5 out of 5

February 14, 2024 at 1:03:34 AM

average rating is 5 out of 5

February 14, 2024 at 1:02:20 AM

average rating is 5 out of 5

February 11, 2024 at 3:55:15 AM

average rating is 5 out of 5

January 4, 2024 at 7:22:22 PM

average rating is 5 out of 5

December 12, 2023 at 11:56:40 PM

average rating is 5 out of 5

Lori Britt

October 3, 2023 at 5:00:05 PM

Have done this in the past, but today a group really blew me away. I did this as a Fishbowl with 7 students taking roles. Prior to the converstaion they could seek input from a few other students about what which decision they think the person in their role would support and why. I also asked them to come up with some things that were concerns for them. This 10 minute of prep time helped my role play participants really embody and feel confident in their roles. Great discussion about what deliberation looks like in practice and about how power can impact conversations and how a facilitator can try and minimize these power imbalances. I used the scenario above and assigned these roles (I was not sure my students woul be able to consider roles that would offer different perspectives): • Facilitator (non-voting) • Mayor • High school teacher • 17-year-old high school student • Transportation planner for the region • Local business owner • Economic development office for the region (your community and the surrounding communities served by the train) • 50-year-old who lost his job last year and who has been on unemployment

average rating is 4 out of 5


September 20, 2023 at 5:18:02 AM


average rating is 5 out of 5


September 20, 2023 at 5:17:25 AM

very good

average rating is 4 out of 5

September 16, 2023 at 2:25:09 PM

average rating is 5 out of 5

September 11, 2023 at 9:02:29 AM

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