Thematic Dialogue Tables

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Thematic Dialogue Tables are used for small-group deliberation around complex or multidimensional topics. The process includes dividing or grouping 'themes' or 'areas' of a subject into manageable discussion points. 

Problems and Purpose

Small-group deliberation using thematic dialogue tables is useful in several situations:

  • When there are a large number of participants making individual contribution difficult if not impossible 
  • When the subject of a participatory process is highly complex or interdependent (such as environmental or health issues)

In these cases, thematic dialogue tables allow a large group to be broken into small discussion tables each facilitated by one or more moderators. Deliberation will then proceed according to pre-determined themes or areas of contention with the option to discuss them as a whole at the end. For example, issues of health care delivery are often complex and interdependent. In these cases, table discussions may be around themes such as 'Funding', 'Areas of Operation', and 'Services Offered'.



Participant Selection

Participant seletion varies with the overarching deliberation or participatory method being used. For example, thematic dialogue tables may be used during participatory planning initiatives or consultations which may be open to all. 

Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction

Thematic dialogue tables can be incorporated into larger, 'overarching' participatory processes such as Citizens' Juries or Participatory Planning Initiatives. Tables often come into use after participants have been briefed on the subject material or have had a Q&A session with elected officials or experts. 

An example of this method's use was during a participatory planning initiative in Tuscany over the redevelopment of an airport. After hearing from experts, participants were divided into groups to discuss the project and its impact according to five themes:

  1. Project features
  2. Air quality and noise impacts
  3. Landscape and water network vulnerability
  4. Project costs and economic impact
  5. Regulatory and procedural implementation aspects

Each table was assigned a facilitator who was responsible for systematically recording the proceedings of each round of deliberation. Afterwards, each group presented their conclusions to the rest of the participants (over 300) and all reports were made publicly available on a website for further feedback and comment.

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects


Analysis and Lessons Learned


Secondary Sources


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