Chat rooms as metaphors for round table conversations

May 31, 2007

Round table conversations have interested me a lot in the past months or years. Conversations where we try to give everybody a voice, learn from each other, and the smallest are recognized to have something to contribute to the conversation. I’ve used it at camps, and have seen it being used in various forms. The last one was the Open Space Technology model at the camp for theological students.

The way in which it was explained, the model for a African village was used. In this model a lot of things happen around the center of the village, but it is in the marketplace where people dance, where they have meetings, where they discuss stuff. So we sat in the round, and at a point the “marketplace” was opened, and we could start giving up topics for discussion, which was discussed the next day.

I would like to propose a different model for a similar conversation, which might have more connection to the post-modern western youth, but which also might teach us a lot. What if we were to see Open Space or Round Table conversations as a chat room, of even a chat server? In this server:

  • anyone can open a new room
  • anyone can join a room
  • move between rooms as they like
  • they can, however, only attend one room at a time

These chat rooms will have some rules, but the rules can be bended, or even changed, from room to room. Some of the possible rules might be:

  • that we don’t talk in ways that are degrading or insulting to others in the room
  • there might be a rule that in this room you must stick to the topic

One thing which was mentioned in our recent conversation with the guy at MXit, was that sometimes chat rooms need moderators. A moderator are there to help defend the users of the chat room from abuse by another user. They can do this by making sure that the rules of this chat room are applied, whatever it might be, but they can also have another function, which you might not find on a general chat server, but which I believe can be helpful in this round table conversations. The moderator might be someone knowledgeable in what is going on in other chat rooms. It might be chat rooms on the same server, or on another server, and the moderator can then have the role to link this chat room to info from another chat room.

So, how can this model be applied?

When getting together with a group of people, at the moment I’m especially thinking of younger people, we can create a server space. In this space any user can create a chat room, and give the chat room a topic. The different chat rooms can each get a spot, and maybe a moderator. When it is time to start, anyone can choose which chat room to attend, and while the process is going on anyone can move between chat rooms as they like. The moderator may be someone knowledgeable on the topic, in what I have in mind, maybe someone with a deeper theological background. It is not the task of the moderator to enforce his/her ideas on the group, rather to make sure that the conversation are held in a positive manner, sticking to the rules chosen, and that one user not abuse the others, this can be by taking over the conversation, and not giving opportunity to others, or in many other ways. But sometimes the moderator can bring this chat room into connection with ideas the do not know, ideas maybe found in another room, for example in a class at university, in a book not read by the group, or gained from conversations which they have not yet attended.

Any ideas? Some ideas on how this model can be understood? Ideas for round table or Open Space conversations?


One Response to “Chat rooms as metaphors for round table conversations”

  1. Steve Says:

    Go to

    and set up a mailing list.

    The advantage of mailing lists, and actually most forms of electronic communication, is that you don’t all have to be there at the same time. So you are not bound by time or geography. You don’t have to get up at 3 am to chat with someone from another time zone. You can do it when it suits you.

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