Magic Roundtables are a deliberative technique used to encourage equal participation on one or more issues.
Problems and Purpose
Deliberations can often be overtaken by extroverted participants which leaves many opinions and ideas silenced. Magic roundtables allow participants to track how many times they and other members have spoken. As well, each speaking turn is kept to around five minutes which lets other participants know who has spoken the most and who still needs to have their say.
Origins and Development
The Magic Rountable technique was developed by Farah Lenser and Heiner Benking who run 'Open-Forum.de' which is part of the Anna Lindh Foundation - "the largest Network of civil society organisations involved in the promotion of intercultural dialogue across Europe and the Mediterranean."
How it Works
Magic roundtables are a deliberative technique so are rarely employed on their own. Instead, roundtables are often part of a larger method and are used during the deliberation phase to generate and sustain conversation and deliberation. The selection of participants is therefore dependent on the method within which the roundtables are used.
The following has been translated from the original and can be found at http://open-forum.de/magic-roundtable.pdf
"Each person is given an equal number of beads, stones, or any tokens representing equal units of time. The total meeting time is divided into units matching the distributed tokens, thus valuing them. Each member then introduces her/himself, and if so desired, offers a topic for dialogue. Members then give tokens to others whose proposal or offer the group wants to enlarge from the selection offered in order to empower voices and joint interests, enlarge the flow in dialogue. This "voting or encouraging" continues as topics generate more or less "empathy" or concern; and as others join in the conversation can receive tokens as encouragement to continue with their line of thought. This open, transparent format can encourage inhibited people to participate and minimize domination by authoritarian types. In case of unexpected changes in meeting duration, the tokens can be re-/de-valued inflated/deflated to match the remaining available time. This method is one approach being highlighted in this paper: http://www.open-forum.de/time-sharing.html which might provide some general orientation.
In the case of a pre-selection of one hour total time and twelve persons involved in the conversation, five minutes of speaking time are symbolized in the form of time units symbolized by spoons, straws, stones, noodles, nuts or the like to each person.
After a short introductory session in which each person sketches briefly their concerns, these time units can be given away and thus converted into listening time. As a rule, the person with the most time units opens the conversation. She can talk as long as she has time or the others signal her by additional time gifts that she wants to continue listening. Imagine the "time loan" as a redestate of ice, it melts as soon as one speaks, and thus it becomes visible to everyone whether the speaker still has speaking time available.
A moderator takes care of the time and observance of the rules. Visible to all, consumed time units takes on themselves or asks to place them in the middle. Once a person has used up his or her speech time, that is, there are no more time units, the others - if they are interested - can give their own speaking time as a listening time, thus encouraging the person to further develop their theme.
In this way, the conversation remains dynamic and transparent. There are no fixed time limits for speaking as in the usual discussion groups, but listening is recognized as an active part of the conversation and as a special quality. The content corresponds to the interest of the entire group at this time and in this place. In this game, a person can also receive the entire speaking time, if at the moment it becomes the medium or catalyst of the entire group, and if the participants so wish."
Analysis and Lessons Learned
The flexible structure of the roundtables allows participants to be given votes of encouragement to continue speaking on topics that generate more or less empathy or concern. This open, transparent format can encourage inhibited people to participate and minimize domination by authoritarian types. Deliberations using this method can thus draw out opinions or ideas that would have otherwise remained unheard.