Developing Resilience to Extremism with Debate and Dialogue

iDebate trainers with Instute for Global Change's Jo Malone

You might think that dialogue and our own core focus of debate are the same, or at least very similar. But the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change yesterday assured us that while there are some common elements they are not at all the same. The Institute provided a capacity building workshop for iDebate's Debate Coaches and Fellows with training into using dialogue to support young people to be resilient to extremist idealogies. 

So what is dialogue?

It is often misunderstood as numerous other things, including our own debate. It has commonalities in talking about issues, in trying to come to a middle ground. But on the other hand it is conflictual, and you are seeking to persuade an audience which is not necessary in a dialogue. Debaters are not looking for mutual understanding, but to win the debate.

Dialogue is more of an ongoing process than debate. It is about bringing diversity and difference together. This then leads to understanding without necessarily having to persuade.

Some of the skills are the same; critical thinking, analysing, reflecting on what the other has said. And about listening deeply to understand the meaning of the conversation. But again, there are differences; speaking your own opinions is valued, whereas in a debate you are often taking a view you personally don’t agree with.

What did we learn?

In the training we learnt about dialogue. About how to ask good open questions. Good questions are not going to be leading or potentially insulting. The last thing you want in a dialogue is sparking a conflict neither side wants. We had discussions about how to facilitate dialogue. Particularly focused on the benefits, or otherwise, of playing devil’s advocate. If everyone is taking one side do you need to provide the alternate opinion? And is there any way of doing that without appearing conflictual?

iDebate and some of our trainers are now armed with how to facilitate. Dialogue and debate form a potentially powerful synthesis with dialogue a powerful tool to tackle topics that are too sensitive to have a discordant debate on.

We look forward to working further with the Institute for Global change. From September we will be incorporating dialogue into the World Debate Club programme to ensure that our young people have the skills to think critically of the world around them and be more resilient to extremism.