Truth in Society

February 21, 1995

Prompt #59

Coming to closure . . .

During the next hour or so we're going to try to help everyone come to the most reasonable decision possible about foci to investigate. We want to make our own agenda here perfectly clear: we are interested in deciding on a limited number (preferably three, but more if there are really strong arguments for more) of foci which will allow us all to learn -- about research, about communicating results, about the particular issue, and about how it happens that groups of people come to agree and disagree on fundamental beliefs. For us, as we've said often enough before, the question of what's "interesting" is of distinctly secondary importance: anything is interesting if you get yourself and some other people engaged with it (anyone who's read the online bulletin board discussion of the Green Room Gallery knows this from experience). We're aware that "interestingness" is also an important factor in making this decision; we just expect that it may be a matter of importance to emphasize some other considerations as well.

Further, we want to make sure that everyone who wants one has a voice in this decision. You need to expect that your own particular interest might not make the cut, but you should not have to feel that it was because your voice was silenced. Our main aim in conducting the discussion will be to try to give opportunity for everyone who wants one to have a chance to convince the rest of us.

We'll begin by using the reporting sheets as a device to see where we are. We'll set up eleven tables, one for each proposed focus, and ask three or four people to staff each table, and next take ten minutes to compile the results of the ratings, then we'll assemble those as a report.

Then we'll discuss the situation and try to decide on the best topics in a fairly expeditious way. Having arrived at a list of topics, we'll then try to get people assigned to their first or second choice of topics in such a way that groups are of comparable sizes.

It's important at this point to reiterate that we expect focus groups to function in a different way than they did last term. This time the primary locus of activity will be smaller working groups, with some coordination at the focus group level. As far as possible, this will occur by means of written texts; you can expect lots of occasions for written progress reports and feedback on them.

Further, we're expecting that the process will result in some kind of more-or-less self-contained product from each working group. The final publication of each focus group will take the form of a collection of the working group contributions, rather than a single coherent document. But it will also entail putting together a reflection that brings together the ideas of all the members of the focus group concerning what the individual studies taken together can tell us about people's beliefs and how they come to them.

Getting going . . .

The next thing to do is to begin thinking about a particular aspect of the focus you're working on, so that at 8:30 Thursday you'll have a written proposal to be presented to a meeting of the rest of the focus group on Thursday. This can be done individually or in a group of two or three.

We'll work out a schedule of focus group meetings once we know how many there are, and we'll announce that at a meeting at 8:30 Thursday morning.

Your proposal should describe or outline exactly what aspect or aspects of the topic you'd be prepared to investigate. It should explain how your particular angle might contribute to our overall understanding of the topic, and should provide some preliminary indications of the available resources that are most likely to be useful, what you still need to find, and what strategies you might pursue. The purpose of Thursday's focus group meetings will be to negotiate potential duplications, coordinate strategies, and schedule a first progress report.

Possible occasions . . .

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