Project 540

to the City

MSNBC Dialogues

Reality Check

SGD History

The Evaluation
report: Transforming Dialogue (pdf1)
excerpt: RC report (pdf2)
selected responses: RC report (pdf3)

exec summary: RC report
SGD Press Release
Top Ten Lessons

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Web Lab's Small Group Dialogue Technique

The Top Ten

(The figure and quotes below come from the Reality Check Evaluation)

What distinguishes this technique from other online dialogues and community building tools?

10. Its effect on communication skills

While clearly not universal, an impressive number of members reported improving their communications skills -- both on- and off-line -- as a result of their participation.

"As a shy woman, who hardly ever speaks in public, I have found this forum liberating and empowering. In fact, my colleagues at work have noted that I've become a tad more assertive and outspoken."
-- from the Reality Check dialogues

"I think I'm a better listener now."
-- from the Reality Check survey

"I was forced to rethink how I felt about things."
-- from the Reality Check survey

9. The level of civility

This process encourages the best in participants and discourages the worst. As a result, members treat each other with more respect than is typically seen online, even when they vehemently disagree with someone.

30% of the posts studied contained positive comments towards another member, while only 10% contained negative comments.

"It enabled me to have very frank discussions about controversial issues with people who have very different views from my own. In face-to-face conversation with such people, I usually censor myself in the name of 'tact.'"
-- from the Reality Check survey

"It may sound funny, but I found it a safe place to 'argue'."
-- from the Reality Check survey

8. The level of intimacy

After a surprisingly short period of time, people feel safe with one another.

"I liked having REAL contact with people who cared about issues... that is a rare occurrence."
-- from the Reality Check survey

"Several of the members of my group revealed personal experiences bearing upon the topic being discussed, moving me with their honesty."
-- from the Reality Check survey

7. People learn from each other, even when they disagree

This process has never been about changing people's minds, but about helping people to understand themselves and those with whom they disagree.

Even after going through a discussion of a topic as contentious as the impeachment, 40% of the respondents reported that most or all of the members respected what they thought. And almost half of the respondents felt that most or all of the members seemed interested in understanding those with whom they disagreed.

"I feel that I've been able to appreciate others' opinions better after participating in Reality Check."
-- from the Reality Check survey

"I got into a heavy discussion with a gun nut and actually got to appreciate his point of view, and he mine, though he's still a nut..."
-- from the Reality Check survey

6. Members develop a sense of ownership

Members develop a sense of ownership over their dialogues due, in part, to the absence of any outside facilitators, leaving them free to explore whatever issues interest them, shape the dialogues to meet their own needs, and, when conflicts arise, actually resolve them on their own.

50% reported reading in an average week more than 3/4 of the messages in their group and 70% reported reading more than half.

"My view of the Internet was drastically changed as I felt I was a 'participant' rather than a 'user'. I was contributing in my own small way."
-- from the Reality Check survey

"One of the things I liked was the fact that the group transcended the subject matter. We were supposed to talk about impeachment, but dozens of other topics sprouted up spontaneously."
-- from the Reality Check survey

5. The level of "mature" behavior

The dialogues are notable not only for their absence of irresponsible behaviors, like drive-by postings, but also for the presence of responsible behaviors, like members thoughtfully holding each other to higher standards of behavior and even, at times, apologizing for hurting people.

"Taiwo, it is clear that you are a very powerful and effective writer as well as communicator, it's just that your writing in my opinion intimidates others so that shouldn't surprise you why people might be reluctant to respond. I'm making this evaluation not to put you down but hopefully to help you better communicate."
-- from the P.O.V. Salon dialogue

4. The strength of the relationships

While many online dialogues can leave people feeling alone at their computer, our process is structured to nurture relationships amongst the members within a communal context. Members tend to form strong bonds with each other, and this bond in part drives their activity in the dialogues.

Building relationships was a component in half of the posts, and contributors frequently discussed group processes and self-reflective topics.

"I love the interaction I had with my group members. I think that was the best part no matter what we were discussing."
-- from the Reality Check survey

"I ended up wanting to meet some of the people that were in the group; it would have been great going to the corner for a cup of coffee and continuing the conversation there!"
-- from the Reality Check survey

3. The commitment members make to their group

While most online dialogues expect short attention spans and a minimal level of commitment from users, the Web Lab dialogues ask people to make several kinds of commitments. Not everyone is willing to do that, but the substantial proportion of participants who do are rewarded with meaningful, intimate experiences.

80% of active members reported being influenced to read messages due to a responsibility to the group, and an equal number reported the same regarding posting.

2. The "sticky"-ness of the process

Participants stay on the site for a remarkable period of time.

60% of the respondents spent at least an hour a week reading and 1/2 reported spending at least 2 hours a week. This figure does not include the time spent posting messages or reading other material on the site.

1. The quality of the dialogues

In the absence of drive-by postings and flame wars, meaningful and engaging dialogue tends to flourish.

Nearly half of registrants reported that the quality of their discussions was much higher than in other online forums in which they had participated.

"I was constantly surprised at the quality of the discussions we had during our time together. Very rarely, if ever did it get boring."
-- from the Reality Check survey

"It was nice to be part of a discussion group that did not degenerate into name-calling or flaming."
-- from the Reality Check survey

"I was very pleased that people really worked to understand the other members' viewpoints, not just point out how they were wrong."
-- from the Reality Check survey

"I am a net-o-holic, but this was the first time that I saw a site that actually contained postings at level above trash talk."
-- from the Reality Check survey

"It was the ONLY time on-line that I felt that I participated in a meaningful discussion."
-- from the Reality Check survey

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