Focused Conversation

In Focused Conversations a group, which could be a class, a grass roots activist organization, or a business, addresses some challenging or difficult situation by proceeding through a series of questions arranged in four stages:
  1. Objective (getting the facts)
  2. Reflective (eliciting feelings and associations)
  3. Interpretive (consider the meaning and significance)
  4. Decisional (formulating a decision, an action, or a shared picture)
In a Focused Conversation the facilitator leads as neutrally as possible. Participants who jump quickly to a decision or interpretation are encouraged to spend more time on the earlier stages, to be careful to separate facts from feelings, and to recognize at each step the differing assessments other participants have. Answers should be telegraphic, to allow for as wide a pool of contributions as possible. The result is not necessarily a consensus, but because the group shares a common pool of experiences of the situation, the result is larger than what any one person had beforehand, and there is a firmer basis for extensions of the group's work, either as a group or, in the case of a class, by group members in other settings.

For 100s of examples of Focused Conversation, see Stanfield, B. (Ed.) (1997). The Art of Focused Conversation and Nelson, J. (2001). The Art of Focused Conversation for Schools, both published by Canadian Institute of Cultural Affairs in Toronto and available via

I see the four stages of a Focused Conversation as corresponding to the four points or stages on Kolb's cycle of learning, in which learners move from experiences to concepts which open them up to new experiences:
  1. Concrete Experience (CE) = Objective
  2. Reflective Observation (RO) = Reflective
  3. Abstract Conceptualization (AC) = Interpretive
  4. Active Experimentation (AE) = Decisional.
Translated to Group Learning the four stages become 1. Sharing of (concrete) experiences; 2. Public Reflection; 3. Sharing of Meaning; 4. Coordinated Action.

Updated: 6-17-02