A forum for debate?

by Peter Buczkowski on April 20th, 2010

I attended a talk yesterday morning that sparked some controversy and debate.  The actual speaker and topic isn’t important, but the speaker spent some of the time during his talk downplaying the premises of other talks during the conference.  While I didn’t agree with his tactics, I started to contemplate if there is a forum that encourages healthy debates among individuals or groups.  We have outlets for networking, specifically the lunches and birds of feather, but people usually have a common ground on the topic. 

What are your thoughts on this?  How can we encourage healthy debate on topics where we don’t agree on a side of the issue?  (Note: I think its healthy for the audience to ask challenging questions of the speaker at hand, but I don’t think the speaker should use the podium to downplay others work by name.)


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  1. Pete, funny you should bring this up. Earlier in the day, INFORM VP of Meetings Robin Lougee suggested that the Practice Meeting advisory council consider amalgamating the two models we use at the meeting: the seminar (one to all) and the panel (few to all). As per Robin, such an participant-driven forum (let’s call it “paninar”) would be like a birds of a feather, but topic-focused rather than social. Everyone would sit around a conference table to discuss the listed topic.

    We’d need a benevolent dictator/facilitator, presumably a subject matter expert. She – I believe Robin graciously volunteered to helm the first official paninar – would have a loose agenda for the discussion and a certain responsibility to ensure a smooth beginning, middle and end. But that would be the extent of the structure. The rest would depend on the participants. (I’d imagine the BD/F would create the agenda – controversial or merely healthy – in cooperation with other SMEs who’d also attend; much like panelists.)

    Is this the kind of thing you had in mind?

  2. Peter Buczkowski permalink

    There’s a few options that I think could work. I like the concept of BOF, except have 2 opposing viewpoints and both sides talk it out with a moderator. Another possibility is a political debate setting where there is a designated person on each side where both the moderator and audience can ask questions. This would work best if the debaters came at it from a humourous angle.

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