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Public conversation and/or individual discussion are informal consultations that allow you to talk to participants in a direct and personal manner. Informal consultation techniques such as these support more formalised consultation techniques by identifying key issues, attitudes, skills and knowledge.The personal level of discussion of these tools is generally not possible under more formalized consultation approaches and a greater appreciation of project issues can emerge as a consequence. Such informal discussions allow a free-ranging discussion around the issues which may reveal issues or attitudes that would not come to light through more structured surveys which may begin with with a pre-conceived notion of who and what is relevant to the issue.
As well, public conversations can be facilitated with a view to reducing polarisation on contentious issues. Such conversations have been categorised: Talking with the enemy (Boston Sunday Globe, January 28, 2001) where this technique was used to encourage both leaders who supported and opposed abortion to begin a dialogue with the intention of preventing further violence after the killing of doctors in the United States (see http://www.publicconversations.org for more examples of work done by the Public Conversations Project).
Environmental issues can also generate fiercely opposed factions which undertake violent or potentially violent actions like driving spikes into trees that are to be cleared. Through engaging the opposing factions in a series of ongoing informal discussions with professional facilitation some understanding of one another's viewpoints can be established, and this can assist a more formal process of consultation by focusing attention on the issues rather than the actions or assumed misdemeanours of the 'other side.'
Public conversations may involve lay and professional speakers.
This page originally copied with permission from the Citizens Science Toolbox