Thematic Dialogue Tables

Thematic dialogue tables involve small-group discussions around complex issues, and they are designed to make deliberation more manageable for participants.

Problems and Purpose

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. 

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'.

Origins and Development

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How it Works

Participant selection 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. 

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.

Analysis and Lessons Learned

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See Also

Airport: Let's Talk About It (Aeroporto Parliamone), Tuscany, Italy 


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External Links

Thematic Dialogue on Incubators and Accelerators:

Doing a Thematic Analysis: A Practical, Step-by-Step Guide for Learning and Teaching Scholars