What is Conversations that Matter?
Are you concerned at the damage we’re doing to our environment, the rise of social and economic inequality, the failure of traditional forms of politics, or simply the world we are leaving to our children? Are you looking for the opportunity to share with others your concerns, your ideas, and at the same time to hear what others are thinking about issues that matter to you? Are you keen to explore imaginative ways of moving forward?
Conversations that Matter is our most ambitious initiative to date. Essentially, they are conversations in small groups (of 6 to 12) where you can engage in depth on the big issues that matter to you. Different groups, different formats, different topics to suit your needs and interests.
Conversation groups will meet every few weeks to discuss a topic or issue in some depth. Over time conversation groups will have the opportunity to exchange their ideas, findings and proposals online or face to face, both within and between countries.
Different groups have different capacities, needs, and preferences. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Conversation at the Crossroads assists each group to choose the content and format that best suits its members. However, all groups must ensure that over time their discussions are in line with C@C’s approach to conversation. In Conversation at the Crossroads, we
- look at the causes behind particular problems, crises and challenges, not just the symptoms
- make connections between different issues – we try and see the big picture, that is, how the piece fits into the jig-saw puzzle – this means placing the particular issue we’re looking at within the wider social, political, economic and cultural landscape.
- understand that problems are often simultaneously local, national and global in scope. Therefore, the solutions need to be as well
- look closely at the roadblocks to change, and explore strategies to overcome them.
- review mindsets and institutions to see if they are fit for purpose and, if they are not, explore what changes may be needed
- actively foster conversations that bring together people of diverse cultural backgrounds and different age groups
- strive for animated conversations that show respect for others and nurture friendships, trust and a sense of community.
Some groups will be larger than others. It is advisable that each group should have a minimum pool of 8 people to draw on, in order for each discussion to be assured of at least 6 in attendance. In the interests of an interactive conversation, attendance should not normally exceed 15. Larger groups should be split into two groups.
Some groups will be made up largely of people who know each other well (e.g. friends or colleagues). Others will have people who hardly know each other, while others still will be a mix of both types.
Frequency of meetings
As a rule discussion groups should meet every four to six weeks, preferably on dates that are set in advance. However, they could decide to meet a little more or a little less often. It would be unwise to meet more often than once every 3 weeks (many participants will find it hard to maintain such a pace) or less often than once every six weeks (the group will risk losing momentum).
At its very first meeting, the group, assuming they are keen to proceed, will need to decide on a program covering at least the first three meetings. This should be regarded as the minimum trial period to which group members should commit. The key questions to address are:
- Will group discussions centre on a topic or series of topics (if so, which), or alternatively on a book, chapter/s of a book or other readings, or podcast/s (if so, which)?
- Will the group choose one of the four proposed topics? If so, which one? If not, what other theme or topic is preferred?
- How often and when will the group meet?
- Who will introduce the discussion at each of the meetings? It is recommended that each discussion begin with a 10-minute introduction by a group member, or two 5-minute introductions by two group members.
- Where does the group wish to meet (see below)?
Who will facilitate each of the discussions? If possible, the same person should facilitate the first two discussions – where possible, someone with experience in or flare for facilitation.
Ideally, groups should meet in a pleasant, comfortable setting that makes for an enjoyable conversation. Where possible, seating should be in a circle to allow for eye contact. A home is often the best location, making it easier for the discussion to be followed by drinks and nibbles and further informal chit chat. This gives the event a sense of occasion and helps create a convivial atmosphere. If a home is not available, other venues worth considering are cafes, restaurants, libraries, local council rooms, but only if a private room is available for the purpose.
Conversation at the Crossroads (C@C) has asked Joseph Camilleri to act as Coordinator of this activity and oversee its initial development. He together with other members of the Coordinating Group will provide discussion groups every possible assistance, especially in their formative stages. This will include advice, contacts and resources, including suggestions regarding questions worth addressing. Periodic workshops will be run with the aim of enhancing conversational and other skills.
Each discussion group must have its own coordinator who will have the following responsibilities:
- Bring these guidelines to the attention of the group and especially to those members who will act as facilitators. It is important that the guidelines are well understood by group members and followed as far as practicable
- Following the group’s initial meeting, the coordinator will report to the C@C Coordinator with an outline of key decisions made, and any queries or needs of the group
- Act as the key point of contact between the group and the C@C Coordinating Group
C@C has prepared four (4) discussion modules, each designed to provide a guide to conversation around a particular topic or text over the course of at least three sessions. Each of the four modules has a different focus. They also provide a template for groups that prefer to focus their discussion on a different theme or topic.
Module 1: Indigenous Australia – How do we respond to the injustice that began with colonisation and is ongoing today?
Focuses explicitly on Australia, and raises large issues to do with race (affects all facets of contemporary life in Australia), the continuing influence of Australia’s colonial past, Australia’s identity as a nation, our relationship to land and environment, the prospects for reconciliation and constitutional change.
Module 2: America’s Decline and China’s Rise – What does it mean for Australia?
Focuses on how Australia can handle a major shift in the world that has far-reaching economic, political and security consequences – all vital to Australia’s future
Module 3: Rising Global Economic Inequality: How bad is it? Why has it come about? What can be done about it?
Focuses on the writings of Thomas Piketty, in particular his latest book Capital and Ideology. Given that it is such a large piece of work, conversation can focus on one or two selected chapters and/or one or more podcasts, recorded lectures or interviews.
Module 4: Big Tech Surveillance and Control – Is it a threat to democracy?
Focuses on the impact that social media now has on different facets of modern life, including education and conversation; the power that big tech companies have amassed within the space of 20 years, its corrupting influence on the democratic process; and the options available to citizens, governments and the international community.
Discussion groups can adopt one or more of these modules as the subject of their discussions. But this is not a requirement. The purpose of the modules is to provide a template on how to structure discussion and the kinds of materials that might be helpful for this purpose. All discussion groups, whether they adopt one of these modules or choose a subject of their own, are asked to look closely at these modules and the method they use to stimulate and enrich the conversation.