Dialogue Module

2.1 What is Dialogue?

One of the best ways to involve the public with research is through Dialogue. Dialogue (with a capital D) is an engagement technique that involves two-way communication but also focuses on how that communication is happening. In definition it is:


A deeply collaborative form of communication in which participants feel safe to speak freely about their perspectives and experiences, and are open to hearing and understanding the perspectives and experiences of others present, even if they disagree or come from very different backgrounds.


One of the easiest ways to understand what Dialogue is, is to contrast it to debate. Debate is a confrontational process, where each side seeks to dominate the other, until one is deemed ‘right’. There is little opportunity to explore other possibilities and usually, academic expertise is prized above other sources of information such as first-hand experience or trade-knowledge.

Dialogue is the opposite of this. Its aim is to explore issues fully, valuing all sources of information. In doing this the true complexity of the topic can be understood and common ground can be identified. To achieve good dialogue, participants must be honest and open and therefore a non-judgemental, respectful environment is required. This can also help humanise opposing groups and provides a foundation for new relationships.

Note: Dialogue does not necessarily aim to reach a decision on a chosen topic but it can be the first step to reaching it. Through dialogue, the topic is explored and all the issues are raised. This information is then considered and an outcome is negotiated through ‘deliberation’.


Debate Dialogue Deliberation
Seeks to promote opinions and gain majority support Seeks to build understanding and relationships Seeks to solve shared problems
Participants argue, express, persuade, compete Participants listen, exchange, reach across, reflect Participants weigh options and negotiate choices
Outcome: win/lose                               Outcome: no decision                   Outcome: win/win