In Focused Conversations a group, which could be a class, a grass roots
activist organization, or a business, addresses some challenging or difficult
situation by proceeding through a series of questions arranged in four
In a Focused Conversation the facilitator leads as neutrally as possible.
Participants who jump quickly to a decision or interpretation are encouraged to
spend more time on the earlier stages, to be careful to separate facts from
feelings, and to recognize at each step the differing assessments other
participants have. Answers should be telegraphic, to allow for as wide a pool
of contributions as possible. The result is not necessarily a consensus, but
because the group shares a common pool of experiences of the situation, the
result is larger than what any one person had beforehand, and there is a firmer
basis for extensions of the group's work, either as a group or, in the case of
a class, by group members in other settings.
- Objective (getting the facts)
- Reflective (eliciting feelings and associations)
- Interpretive (consider the meaning and significance)
- Decisional (formulating a decision, an action, or a shared picture)
For 100s of examples of Focused Conversation, see Stanfield, B. (Ed.) (1997).
The Art of Focused Conversation and Nelson, J. (2001). The Art of
Focused Conversation for Schools, both published by Canadian Institute of
Cultural Affairs in Toronto and available via www.icacan.ca.
I see the four stages of a Focused Conversation as corresponding to the four
points or stages on Kolb's cycle of learning, in which learners move from
experiences to concepts which open them up to new experiences:
Translated to Group Learning the four stages become 1. Sharing of (concrete)
experiences; 2. Public Reflection; 3. Sharing of Meaning; 4. Coordinated
- Concrete Experience (CE) = Objective
- Reflective Observation (RO) = Reflective
- Abstract Conceptualization (AC) = Interpretive
- Active Experimentation (AE) = Decisional.