Participants' experience of dialogic workshops

Mayday R. Levine (2006)

We live in a world where community members daily encounter each other with a wide range of value systems, beliefs, and attitudes about differences between themselves and others. At times these differences can lead to tension and violence. Many institutions have begun to use dialogic workshops and encounters in an attempt to alleviate these tensions. This dissertation explores the connection between dialogue and individual change. The focus of this study is to explore the connection between participation in a dialogic workshop and some rise in subjective experience of higher tolerance for difference. The study begins with a review of literature that deals with dialogue, emotional intelligence, and the issue of blame versus responsibility. A working theory for dialogue is outlined, including factors that are necessary for exchanges to be considered dialogic, based on the work of Cissna and Anderson. This research is qualitative and involved a focus group interview as well as 11 individual interviews with community mental health providers who had participated in a workshop run by a local community group. Data provided by interviews suggest that group trust is necessary in order for individuals to feel safe while they are being open and honest about potentially socially unacceptable views on racism. All but one respondent indicated a sense of safety within the dialogue group, feeling that it was safe to explore socially unacceptable beliefs within a group setting. Most respondents indicated a subjective rise in tolerance after engaging in dialogue. Workshop participants were able to provide details about workshop leaders, structures, and process that facilitated the dialogue and consequent change. Most respondents attributed progress and change to the group experience, rather than placing responsibility for change on their own individual processes. Participation in the workshop increased members' subjective sense of hope and optimism, and most indicated an interest in continuing this work in their personal and professional lives at all levels: individual, interpersonal, and within their communities. I provide a discussion of both the strengths and weaknesses of this study, implications for future research, and how these findings can be used to improve dialogic workshops in general.