Step 4. Civic Matrix Exchange

How to Structure a Round Table Discussion


Exchange of matrices

Two minute written reaction

One minute deep breathing attitude check (see Step 5)
Around table with equal time for each speaker (Use an old fashioned egg timer, watch, or cell phone)

One member creates master matrix on white board or black board
One minute written summaries

Around table again

Review of master matrix

Approval of master matrix (each side approves own side)

If there is one thing I learned as a student and a teacher, it is that the quality of a discussion is a function of three variables:
  1. The amount of written work each participant has done beforehand (reading without writing is like eating without digesting),
  2. The ability of the teacher to manage the discussion process such that each student gets roughly equal time to express her views and be challenged,
  3. The systematic summary of the collective wisdom of the class so that what is learned can serve as a foundation for future learning.

The construction and exchange of matrices before formal discussion begins prevents the degeneration of conversation into a “mutual rant” where the path of the conversation resembles a random walk with each party looking for the weakest point in the argument of the other. Discussion wanders jaggedly away from what matters most, maximizing ill will and frustration. The sands shift constantly: “that’s not what I said,” “that’s not what I meant at all.”

To get beyond the echo chamber, build up as diverse a possible a group of friends committed to becoming more disciplined citizens.

These friends must be willing to meet regularly and do written homework before each session.

Without a master matrix to build on, future conversations will be re-enactments of the prior one. Constant wheel reinvention is not a recipe for progress.