It takes a lot of courage to host a conversation with your colleagues or community about a topic that you know is going to be polarizing, and working with the results you get can present an even bigger challenge. While it can be tempting to simply look at the highest rated thoughts in an Exchange and act on them, that approach overlooks much of the nuance involved in addressing complex topics or Exchanges that are extremely polarized with little common ground. It’s important to keep it at the forefront of your mind that these topics likely disproportionately impact members of the group who are in the minority and it’s therefore critical that you account for all the thoughts in the Exchange - including those that received a lower rating.
Consultation, not democratization
ThoughtExchange is not a voting tool. It provides a unique opportunity to dig into the sentiment of the community and understand the “Why?” behind the thoughts. When working on equity/justice issues, the minority thoughts/perspectives will hardly ever get rated highly by the majority. Also, with topics that are highly polarized, you may find the community is split on an issue with no common ground. Ideally, the expectation was set from the beginning, but regardless, it's important to communicate with your participants about how you are considering all thoughts, not just those that rise to the top of the list.
The goal of an Exchange is to support you in better decision making. It won’t be easy and, in some cases, it may not ever feel like there is a clear or “right” answer. That is the challenge of leadership! Remember that no leader is perfect and the best that you can do is listen beyond the loudest and most insistent voices to hear what your entire community has to say.
So, how can you share the results of your Exchange in a way that doesn’t heighten the divide, but still acknowledges the division? Look at the whole conversation.
Tools that can help
The Discover Dashboard includes many tools that can help you find and report on the important ideas that arose during your Exchange.
The Thoughts tool allows you to filter ratings by the survey questions you asked your participants. This allows you to see what was important to different groups within your pool of respondents. You can also use the Cross-Survey Analysis tool to gain a better understanding of the makeup of each survey question group.
Something to think about:
Have you reviewed both the highest and lowest rated thoughts? It’s very possible that thoughts with the lowest overall ratings reflect the things that are most important to minority groups in your community. Reviewing the full conversation may be necessary to ensure certain thoughts/ideas are not further marginalized.
In addition to showing you the ideas at the heart of any divisions within your community, the Differences tool offers a glimpse at the common ground that exists between opposing groups.
Lean into the Differences feature to understand where your participants disagreed, as well as where they aligned. Explore the composition of groups using the survey questions you asked to get a better understanding of what could be fueling the divide.
Use the Theme tool to highlight the reason behind different perspectives. If you are concerned about leader bias, think about theming as a group or with stakeholders external from the design and communications roles, or work with a team to decide on a theming strategy/framework.
Lean into automated tools, such as Auto-Themer or Multi-Exchange Themer to pull out themes and sort thoughts automatically.
Consider strategic theming rather than theming topics (remove “what came up” and focus themes instead on actions you can take). Avoid sentiment theming for polarized exchanges as this can lead to further polarization.
When communicating back to your participants, acknowledge that any act of theming has inherent bias.
Heatmaps lets you break down the ratings that your Themes received by each of the survey question groups in your Exchange. This provides an even greater level of detail in understanding the ideas that are polarizing and to which groups.
Use the Reports tool to share what you saw and continue the conversation by providing participants with a summary of the information gathered through the Exchange and a suggestion of what you might do next.
Consider who you need to share the results with. Do you have a strategy to close the loop and identify the next steps in your equity work? Who needs visibility into the results?
Have you considered your next equity exchange topic? Are there specific groups you need to connect with around this topic? In reviewing your exchange results, is there a topic that arose that warrants digging deeper?
Closing the loop
Thank people for their participation. Acknowledge the complexity or divisiveness of the topic and acknowledge the thoughtful and respectful nature of the conversation. Offer Support resources to any participants who may feelupset or triggered by the content of the Exchange. Share Educational resources (when you see knowledge gaps in the thoughts); utilize commenting on Thoughts and Themes to address those topics directly. Finally, as the conversation is never really ‘closed’, let people know what the next steps are to continue the conversation through follow-up Exchanges or actions you plan to take.