Let's become the best in constructive dialogue!

Yle (Finnish Broadcasting Company) is starting a five-year campaign that aims to improve Finnish discussion culture (or public discourse). According to a survey, over 60 % of Finns feel that the current public discourse has declined. There have also been signs of increasing political polarization. According to Yle’s CEO Merja Ylä-Anttila:

Hateful speech, negative tone and intentional misunderstanding are things that have come up everywhere. They are largely concerning and people have had enough.

The campaign aims to encourage people to have discussions where the others are respected and differing opinions are appreciated. In addition to Yle’s own TV and radio channels and web content, the campaign is supposed to be present largely in our society and many Finnish public institutions and organizations have joined in.

In addition to Yle, the campaign is headed by The Timeout Foundation that is “aimed at moving the discussion culture in Finland in a more constructive direction, reducing the entrenchment of society and increasing people’s participation in society together with other parties interested in dialogue”. Their Timeout dialogue method has been adopted by several cities, organizations, NGO’s, enterprises, schools etc.

Their Timeout dialogue method is described as follows on their website:

Timeout is a dialogue method for people from different backgrounds. It is as its best with a group of six to twenty five. Timeout is always a facilitated discussion. The facilitator will take care of the constructiveness of the discussion. Great support for the facilitator and the participants are the Ground rules for a constructive dialogue, made by Timeout. You can use Timeout-dialogue whenever a deeper understanding of the topic or an equal encounter is required – for instance, as a part of preparations, decision-making or bringing different people together.

Timeout offers an opportunity to pause and consider things in peace. The tools help you invite the ones who do not usually take part in conversations. With the tools you can practice how to facilitate a dialogue with small steps. As your experience grows, you can become a dialogue expert! You do not have to understand everything at once. Get the hang of a few guiding measures first, and expand your knowledge one dialogue at a time. There is no reason to have cold feet, as anybody can learn.

The decline of public discourse and political polarization have been the two societal problems that have interested me for a long time because they can in a long run lead into worse societal well-being. Social media is one factor that has had an influence on those problems as nuances of face-to-face conversations don’t translate very well into mainly text-based messaging and discussions can turn into shouting-matches. And social media platforms are of course built with attention economy in mind where proper discussion isn’t rewarded.

In Finland these problems are not as prevalent as in USA which is known to be a deeply divided state. Would this kind of campaign and the Timeout dialogue method work in USA? Can this make social media discussions better?

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