This methodology has been developed by a group of educators, academics and civil society actors. This is an ongoing process that you are warmly invited to take part in!



Guidelines for each stage of the methodology are provided below:

Stage 1. Stimulus and airing : exposure to a stimulus presenting different and ‘logical’ perspectives on the theme. The perspectives should present different angles of the issue and prompt ‘cognitive dissonance’ in the participants, who are encouraged to react to the stimulus by exploring the origins and implications of each perspective and relate them to their own perspectives. Note: the main objective of this step is NOT to check what participants ‘think about’ the theme. Suggested timing and mode: 10 minutes of pair work

Objective : breaking the ice, causing cognitive dissonance, acknowledging complexity and contingency (context dependency)

Presents :

  • More than two perspectives that 'make sense'
  • Conflict/difference of understanding
  • A 'devil's advocate' atmosphere


  • Moving away from romaticisation
  • Moving away from 'the right/wrong' and 'neutral/biased' or 'black/white' perception
  • Keeping it short, accessible and clear!

(lesson learned: if students perceive we have a 'direct action' agenda here the exercise is defeated)

Possible sources:

Quotations (author acknowledged), (retold) perspectives (author not acknowledged), pictures, cartoons, case-studies, poems, song lyrics, film, interview, drama (role play/facilitator in role)

Questions : provocative questions related to the stimulus inviting participants to engage critically with the stimulus (trace origins/assumptions and implications of perspectives)

E.G. (from ‘notions of development’ used in teacher education)

Who is ‘us’ and who is ‘them’ in the perspectives below? How is ‘development’ defined? What are the assumptions informing these perspectives? What are the implications of those assumptions?

“Developing countries are poor because they lack technology and education. Their systems of governance are not as mature as ours. We need to help by giving them technology, proper work habits and good education."

"When we say a country is ‘underdeveloped’ we are implying that it is backward and retarded in some way, that its people have shown little capacity to achieve and evolve. The use of the word ‘developing’ is less insulting, but still misleading. It still implies that poverty was an original historic condition based on the ‘lack’ of attributes of its people (in relation to characteristics ‘we’ have) – a mindset that was dominant in colonial times."

Stage 2. Informed thinking : brainstorm on sources of information about the theme, mainstream and non-mainstream perspectives and access to and of public channels of communication. Suggested timing and mode: 5 minutes of group work with round up by facilitator.

Objectve : to reflect on access of information and the process of public knowledge construction (media literacy).

Possible strategies:

1. The following questions as part of a handout or transperancy :

What informed your current perspective on this topic? What shapes the mainstream perspectives available to the public? Where can you find out about different perspectives? How do you make your decisions about what you think about it?

2, A short text with a summary of mainstream and alternative perspectives to be discussed

Stage 3. Reflexive questions : exposure to questions that refer to the individual. Note: these should not be discussed as a group activity until learners are familiar with the methodology or participants might feel they are too exposed or that they need to compete for legitimacy. Suggested timing and mode: 3 minutes of silent reflection

Objective : to relate the topic to participants’ lives and to give them an opportunity to acknowledge (reflect on) their own assumptions and how those might have been constructed.

Challenges :

The idea is that the perspectives that individuals bring to the space will be challenged and transformed in dialogue. Therefore, if these are expressed at this stage, it might put participants at risk of exposure or contradiction. When groups get used to the methodology and to relating to each other in a different way this stops being an issue.

Types of Questions:

  1. Do you think your country is ‘developed’? What are your parameters for evaluating development? Where do those parameters come from?
  2. What are the parameters for development (or achievement and merit) within your community (please define community in any way you want)?
  3. How does your community see itself in relation to other communities? How do you think other communities see your community and why?
  4. How do you think you contribute (or not) for the development of your country or community? Who has established the criteria of this contribution? Are there any groups that would have more difficulties of meeting these criteria?

From: Notions of Development

  1. How do you define your priorities for consumption?
  2. What most influences your needs and wants?
  3. What do you think your clothes, hair style, shoes, accessories and make-up say about you? How are those interpreted by other people?
  4. Who defines the parameters of what a successful or unsuccessful person should look like in the communities you belong to?

From: Consumerism and anti-consumerism


Stage 4. Group Dialogue Questions : exposure to questions that promote ‘critical literacy’ or formulation of questions (in an open enquiry). Suggested timing and mode: 30 minutes for discussion in small groups + 10 minutes in the whole group for a round of burning statements and questions

Objective : to develop critical literacy and self-reflexivity through dialogue and exposure to different perspectives (please refer to section 3 – Critical Literacy) and to prompt participants to re-constrcut their understanding of the topic

Challenges :

  1. to formulate questions that are meaningful and accessible to participants (that present illustrations and contradictions in a way that relates to their own perspectives)
  2. to avoid questions that do not promote critical engagement (e.g. What do you think of homelessness?)or that only prompt emotional responses (e.g. How did you feel when you heard about the terrorist bombings in London ?)
  3. to avoid leading questions that point to only one right answer without addressing the complexity of the issue (e.g. is violence the best solution to problems?)
  4. to avoid to demand participants to make choices (e.g. what are you prepared to change in your life now?)

Types of questions

  1. prompting definitions (how do you define development?)
  2. addressing the construction of meaning (how was your understanding constructed?)
  3. prompting participants to think about mainstream and alternative perspectives
  4. addressing complexity (different perspectives and implications)
  5. addressing origins and implications (critical literacy)
  6. addressing contradictions
  7. addressing power relations

The following dimensions can support the formulation of questions:


Where has the information come from to form your perspective on this issue? What are other perspectives on these issues, mainstream and ‘silenced’ or alternative? How can you find out more? What validates a perspective? Who decides?


Who are the main actors affecting this issue and what are their interests, for example, social groups, companies, countries, governments, political parties, institutions, faith communities, NGOs, etc?

Assumptions and beliefs

How would you describe the assumptions or core principles behind mainstream views? What assumptions or beliefs are behind your own views? Do these differ?


What was the situation 5, 10, 50 or 100 years ago and what are the predictions for the future (5, 10, 50 or 100 years ahead)? This period of time represents the life span of humanity today ie there are people alive today over 100 years old and people born today may live for 100 years.

Drivers, interactions and implications

What are the main forces creating or preventing change, such as demography, environmental, natural resources, market forces, regulations, elections, lobby groups, media, beliefs, military etc. What are the connections between these? How does the local relate to the global and the global relate to the local?

Contradictions and complexity

Are the perspectives you have identified contradictory? Is there something true in various perspectives that is in conflict with each other? Can both be true – at the same time different? Are there any ‘easy answers’ or ‘quick fixes’ to these issues? What has already been tried and what were the potentials and limitations?

The following questions are illustrations of the ‘critical literacy’ type:

Where is this (or are we) coming from?

What are the assumptions of reality and knowledge behind what is being said?

Does this way of seeing establish that there is only one or more interpretations of reality? Who defines what the ‘best’ interpretation of reality is? (Does any particular point of view imply it is the only way to see things? Does the mainstream view give the impression there is no other way of seeing things?)

Does this reality establish a dualist (us versus them) or a non-dualist (us all) cosmology? What are the implications of that?

Who decides what can be known (or not known) in this way of seeing? Who can produce knowledge? Who decides what is real and ideal?

What are the contradictions of this perspective?

Where is this (or are we) leading to? (what are the implications of this perspective?)

Who decides, in whose name and for whose benefit…

In terms of ethics/culture: which groups/individuals are affected? Which become more valued in society? Which become less valued as a result?

In terms of access to resources: which groups/individuals are affected? Which gain access to resources? Which lose access as a result?

In terms of political participation: which groups/individuals are affected? Which voices are valued /whose influence is increased? Which are silenced/have their influence decreased?

In terms of economic advantages: which groups/individuals are affected? Which groups/individuals profit/increase or gain revenue/employment? Which lose revenue or employment as a result?

In terms of social mobility: which groups/individuals are affected? Which gain access to social mobility? Which lose access?

In terms of basic and non-basic ‘rights’: which groups/individuals are affected? Which have their rights enhanced? Which lose their rights?

In terms of violence (or military power): which groups are affected? Which become more vulnerable? Which become more powerful?

In terms of environmental sustainability: how is the environment affected? What are the gains and losses of this situation? In terms of human conditions of survival? In terms of the conditions for survival for other life forms?

What are the local implications of this perspective?

How is the local scenario articulated with the global?

What are the future implications of these scenarios if these assumptions are reproduced?

What are the implications for human relations?

What are the implications for the achievement of justice?

What are the implications for the achievement of peace?

E.G. (from ‘notions of development’ used in teacher education)

  • What are the mainstream definitions of development/underdevelopment? What are the assumptions about the causes of development and underdevelopment according to those definitions? What are the implications of these assumptions?
  • Should all countries be aiming for one (universal) ideal of development? Who should define this ideal? What would be the implications of going in this direction?
  • What do people in societies that are considered to be part of the 'First world' have in common with those of the ' Third World '? Do you know the origins of these terms?
  • What are the connections of the mainstream understandings of development to the processes of colonisation?
  • What are the consequences of economic growth defined as accumulation of wealth? What are the consequences of undergrowth?
  • How do people/companies/governments generate wealth? Is it only a result of hard work and sacrifice? Does it involve the enforced disempowerment of other competitors or workers? Is the accumulation game fair? Who defines the rules? What are the implications of this game?
  • How does the development of one country/community affect the development or underdevelopment of other communities?
  • How do the labels developed/underdeveloped affect social relations?


5. Responsible Choices : This is problem solving task which gives participants an opportunity to apply the skills and knowledge gained in the enquiry process to a real-life or simulated situation of decision making. Suggested timing and mode: 20 minutes – group work

Objective: to apply the skills and knowledge gained in the enquiry to a real-life or simulated situation of decision making, complexity and uncertainty and to develop a notion of responsible agency (as accountable reasoning)

The rationale of this stage is to demonstrate how dialogue and a process of questioning can fundamentally change decisions and courses of action. The facilitator can ask participants whether their decisions would have been different if they had they not participated in the collective learning process.

E.G. (from ‘notions of development’ used in teacher education)

You are working with a group of young people who want to make a difference in the world. They believe that underprivileged people are poor because they lack education, so the group has identified a slum in Ethiopia and are fundraising for a trip to enable them to spend some time in the country educating the people in that community. You have a 2-hour workshop to help them reflect about their assumptions, aims and objectives. You do not want them to lose their motivation to act and think independently, but you want them to act in an informed, responsible and ethical way. What would your workshop outline look like?

E.G. (from ‘notions of development’ used in secondary schools in the UK )

You have received £2000 from the Youth Agency to develop a project with pupils from a school in Venezuela . The school has got far less resources than yours and the pupils you are working with are the same age as your group. You want this partnership to give a sense of worth to both sides and create genuine dialogue and long-lasting friendships. What are your options for good use of this funding? What are the advantages, risks and limitations of each of these options? What will you do with the funding?


6. Debriefing : Participants are invited to reflect on their participation and learning (what they have learned about the topic, themselves, about others, about the space itself, and about the learning process). This is also a ‘closing the open space’ ritual. Suggested timing and mode: 10 minutes – whole group (facilitator invites individuals to say a word, a sentence, nothing at all or anything they want about their learning process and the quality and safety of the space)

Objective : to give participants the opportunity to reflect on their own learning outcomes and the quality and safety of the space

The facilitator can ask each participant to say a word, a sentence or anything they feel like about their learning process. Having the questions below on the handout or a transperancy may help:

Think about your learning process today. What have you learned about yourself? What have you learned about others? What have you learned about knowledge and about learning? Do you feel you and other participants could express themselves in an open and safe space? What could be done to improve the learning process of the group and the relationships within the space?



Teachers in Parana/Brazil - 2005