By Dan O’Reilly-Rowe, 2009.

The Human Barometer provides a structured way for helping groups explore various opinions that members of the group have on a given topic. By responding to a statement of opinion on a spectrum of agreement, participants are encouraged to justify their position on the topic at hand, to listen to each other’s reasoning, and possibly to modify their own position in light of the arguments they hear from other participants. This can be a highly productive activity, but must be facilitated with care as it is designed to bring differences in the group to the surface. In this way it can have the opposite effect of a team-building activity, and should be framed by discussions of respect for the opinions of other group members. The content of the statements can be tailored to address any topic that the group is exploring.

Goals

  • Participants formulate reasoned opinions by developing arguments to support a position
  • Various perspectives on a topic are explored

Participants

  • Limited only by the size of the room and the time available for discussion

Materials

  • Paper
  • Markers

Activity

  • Begin with a discussion about the importance of listening to each other’s opinions respectfully. Prepare the group for the possibility that this conversation could get heated as people are going to be asked to defend their opinions in response to a number of statements. It is imperative that participants observe the “One Mic” rule: only one person speaks at a time. Add whatever ground rules you feel are appropriate to ensure a respectful, yet passionate conversation is possible.
  • Remove all chairs and obstacles from a wide area in the centre of the room.
  • Put a sign at one end of an imaginary line across the room that says AGREE. At the other end of the imaginary line, put a sign that says DISAGREE. Note that these poles represent absolute agreement and disagreement, and that there is a whole spectrum of possibilities in between representing degrees of agreement or disagreement.

  • The facilitator will read a statement. This statement should also be written on a large piece of paper in a place where all participants can see it.
  • Participants place their bodies on the spectrum, standing in the place that they think best represents their degree of agreement with the statement.
  • Once all participants have all found their place on the line, the facilitator will call on participants, one at a time, to explain why they are standing where they are.
  • Other participants can indicate that they want to respond to what is being said by raising their hand.
  • Participants are free (and in fact, encouraged) to change their position on the line if they hear something that they think makes sense from another participant. Throughout the discussion participants should be actively listening and re-evaluating where they stand based on what they are hearing from the others.
  • Resist the temptation to get into discussion of the statement beyond ensuring basic comprehension of the terms being used. Some of the most productive discussion on the line comes out of comparing various readings of the statement.
  • Good statements are almost always a statement of opinion, not of fact. For example: “Winter is better than Summer” will produce a more interesting conversation than “Summer is hotter than Winter”.
  • The facilitator should consider themselves “outside of the line” and facilitate conversation among those people “on the line”.
  • It can be useful to begin with a silly statement to “calibrate” the line. “Dogs are better than cats” works well.
  • Note that Barometers are great for bringing up differences in a group, but notoriously not good for resolving them. It can be useful to keep a “Parking Lot” list of issues to return to later.

Storytelling Prompts | Finding Topics to Explore

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