Civic Activism - Debate Tools

Civic Activism - Debate Tools

03 September 2015

The Civic Activism awards have been made and the eight groups will be using a variety of civic activism tools. We'll be looking at these in a series of blogs, next up it is Debate Tools.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the debate category of the civic activism toolkit is the most densely packed, with 14 different systems for encouraging, recording and moving forward the public debate. (A full list can be found here.)

Many of the tools use traditional methods of engagement, lea and even games, and leverage them using 21st century technology for greater reach and engagement with a wide variety of groups.

For example, the 21st century town meetings tool combines the old with the new, talking with technology, bringing together large groups of people to discuss policy issues. Designed and trademarked in the USA, the process has been used by the UK Department of Health in the major Your Health, Your Care, Your Say initiative in 2005-2006.

Participatory card games enable small groups of citizens to learn about and debate complex issues in usually in science, politics or ethics. Using the familiar tool of story cards, participants familiarize themselves with the issue, analyse and discuss and finally vote on and rate specific policy positions.

One example of the this mix of complex topic with simple tool is the 2013 UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council use of the card games tool as part of a public dialogue in bioenergy, specifically biofuels.

Forum Theatre is debate tool that the civic activism toolkit is reviving from history, having been developed in the 1970’s, often called the Theatre of the Oppressed.

It focuses inward, encouraging participants to use theatre to overcome their “internal oppressions”, and it often used with groups of excluded populations. During Forum Theatre, the audience is shown a short play in which the central character experiences some form of obstacle, often something that audience members will have themselves experienced.

Anyone – in the cast or audience – can interject, suggesting alternative actions for the protagonist, for example. The UK group Cardboard Citizens has been using Forum Theatre for the last 24 years.

Other pro-debate tools are more fully based in present-day technology. Argument mapping, for example, is an online, visual representation of deliberation on a particular issue, allowing members of the public to interact, debate, and find common ground.

Though based in a traditional pro and con list, argument mapping requires a custom-made online platform that enables participants to see what others have submitted and submit their own thoughts, opinions and decisions.

Another technologically advanced tool is the deliberative mapping – a software based tool that helps a mixed group of members of the public and specialists weigh up evidence in order to reach a joint decision on a complex issue.  The software helps to create maps showing different options perform based on different perspectives and the underlying reasoning.

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