The foundation of democractic governance is built on the premise that the public has means to deliberate and make decisions together. We find meaning in connecting with each other and we form bonds with our communities through dialogue and shared experience. But what does it take for people to genuinely connect in an age of political, social, racial, and digital divides? What are the communication practices and systems that can hold the space for constructive conversations across divides?
This course focuses on the art and science of designing and facilitating constructive communication spaces that can help communities navigate diversity, in whatever format it may show up, and experiment with the interplay between human and system dynamics. The course invites us to imagine what constructive communication practices and systems could look like; to experiment with designing their components, their features and purpose; and to understand the role that technology can play in supporting these systems. Conversations spark and thrive when real thought goes into them; when they are mindfully scaffolded in ways that are often invisible to the people who join them; and when there are consequences for our (communicative) actions, both risks and rewards. Through the study of constructive communication practices through the ages and across cultures and social media platforms, we will be challenged to design sustainable communications spaces that build on the best of the analog and the digital world. We will explore the art of designing and facilitating constructive communication experiences by building on three intertwined parts:
Define and explore constructive communication
This part will focus on shifting our collective attention to diverse communication contexts. We will study the primary elements that define a communication context by reviewing historic and current “pinnacle” spaces/experiences and practices where constructive communication flourishes. By studying these case studies, we will be able to pull out examples of design principles that can be applied to our context today.
Techniques and practices of facilitated conversations
In this part, we will take a deep dive into exploring diverse theoretical approaches, techniques and practices of facilitation as well as experiment with and experience diverse formats of facilitation (in-person, remote, visual). In this part, we will apply the knowledge acquired from Part 1 to review and evaluate experiences of our contemporary public sphere with an emphasis on social media platforms.
Design and evaluate constructive communication spaces
In the last part, we will explore how to design and facilitate large-scale listening experiences; how to bring in technology dimensions of digital interaction design and analytics (e.g., conversation quality metrics) in order to imagine new possibilities in tech-assisted communication and work on projects inspired by those imaginings.
Each week, we will be summoned to collectively tackle a question/topic that will guide our readings, our meetings and our practice. Students will be invited to join hands-on projects and real-life case studies to learn and experience the design and facilitation of constructive communication systems.