Sometimes the most difficult topics to talk about are the ones that are most important to understand. As a leader, when you are faced with a topic that is high-stakes and/or potentially polarizing for your community, a more considered approach to moderation is required.
This article will discuss things to keep in mind when running Exchanges on difficult or highly polarized topics. Before reading further, make sure you’ve reviewed our Help Article on Moderation Philosophy and Best Practices.
Is an Exchange the appropriate tool to gather feedback?
An Exchange, by its very nature, requires courageous leadership. Unlike a traditional survey, participants are able to transparently express their thoughts and feelings in their own words and react to the unedited perspectives of others. In a polarized exchange, some of those ideas may be harmful or triggering for other members of the community. Because of this, it might be tempting to shy away from running an Exchange and instead create a closed-ended survey where you have more control over the information your participants see and share. Doing this, however, prevents participants from seeing how other members of the community are feeling and gaining empathy and understanding into other perspectives - even those they don’t agree with. Furthermore, an Exchange allows leaders and participants alike to see gaps or truths they may not have been aware of with respect to the challenges and opportunities before them.
The strength of an Exchange over a survey is that it gives much of the control over the conversation to the participants themselves. They can express ideas in ways that are not possible when filling in bubbles on highly-vetted response lists. In rating the thoughts that other participants provide, people also learn more about perspectives that differ from their own.
The question, therefore, is not “Is an Exchange appropriate?” it is “How can we have an open, transparent conversation with the goal of minimizing harm while participants share thoughts and consider the thoughts of others?”
Some things to think about:
- Is this topic new to your community, or one that people are familiar with?
- Is your community used to participating with ThoughtExchange or is this process new to them?
- Are there tensions between groups within your community that are likely to be expressed?
- What sentiments are you seeing expressed on social media within your community?
The answers to these questions will help you choose a method of moderation that is right for you, your community, and the topic.
Leaning into transparency
Embracing transparency is absolutely essential when hosting Exchanges about polarized issues. Removing thoughts simply because they are uncomfortable will erode participant trust and make certain groups feel like they are being censored.
The goal of an Exchange is always to hear from people with diverse opinions and sometimes the thoughts you will see shared will be difficult to read, but as long as they are not overtly rude or hurtful, they should remain a part of the conversation.
Before you remove a thought, ask yourself:
- Does this thought use inappropriate language?
- Does this thought directly attack a person or group of people?
- Do I simply disagree with this thought?
- Do I want to remove this thought because it raises further questions that are also difficult?
- Is this thought misinformed/not true?
If you answer “yes” to the first two questions, the thought should be removed. If you answer “yes” to the last three questions, the thought should remain in the Exchange (and possibly be followed up on in a subsequent Exchange). Remember, how the community rates these kinds of thoughts gives you important information about the kinds of education you can provide in your follow-up or through leader comments in the exchange.
Communication is Key
Let the community know how you will be moderating the Exchange from the outset. Be explicit about the criteria you will use to remove thoughts, and let them know that it is possible that not every thought will remain in the Exchange. Generally speaking, most people will understand your decisions and accept them if you lay out fair guidelines that you can refer back to when asked.
The Introduction text and video for your Exchange present an excellent opportunity to communicate what you expect from your participants and what they can expect from you as a leader.
Some things to consider including in your introduction:
- Let your participants know that they can report thoughts for your review if they see anything in the Exchange that they consider rude or hurtful themselves, and remind them to assign low ratings to thoughts in the exchange that they don’t agree with!
- Share what it is you are trying to achieve by running the Exchange.
- Remind participants that, while the Exchange is their opportunity to weigh in on the topic, it is not a tool to vote on the final decision. The leaders of the Exchange will consider the feedback and use it when choosing a course of action.
- When the exchange is about topics related to mental health, anti-racism, diversity, equity, inclusion you may want to include a content warning so participants can choose if they want to participate as well as resources so they know where to find support should they need it.
In extreme cases, like when a community has a history of polarizing conversations about a particular topic, the best approach is simply to be prepared. Staying on top of the new thoughts that come in while the Exchange is live ensures that inappropriate thoughts are removed in a timely manner and that appropriate ideas are reviewed quickly so they have an opportunity to be rated.
If you think that moderating thoughts is more than a one-person job, give other members of your team Manage access to the Discover Dashboard for the Exchange so they can help out. When working as a team it is important to get everyone on the same page about the criteria you will use to moderate thoughts. Keep things as objective as possible and communicate frequently about the decisions you are making - and be open to changing your mind.
As always, feel free to reach out to your Customer Success Manager if you want to talk through the particulars of your community’s circumstance. We are here to help!