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Social Barometer Activity -- march 2011

Social Barometer Activity -- march 2011

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Published by Mitch Chanin

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Published by: Mitch Chanin on Mar 03, 2011
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Social Barometer 
The Social Barometer exercise involves posing questions and asking participants to respondby moving to a particular point along an imaginary line that represents a spectrum
of potentialanswers. It can serve as an opening activity at the beginning of a one-time dialogue session.You may also find it useful at many other times in a longer dialogue program. The exercisecan be conducted very quickly or expanded to become a much more substantive activity.
5 minutes to an hour -- The length of the exercise depends on the size of the group,the number of questions you pose, and whether or not you include supplementary activities.
Group Size:
The exercise works well with small or large groups, as long as the room is largeenough for participants to move around easily.
Supplies Needed:
None, although you may find a rope, string, or colored paper helpful.
You can use the social barometer exercise at the beginning of a session to arrange alarge group of participants into subgroups that include people with varied perspectives.
You can also use the exercise to determine which issues or questions are mostcontroversial or most interesting among the participants. The exercise can be used atthe beginning of a session to select questions to explore that day or at the end of asession to help you choose a direction for the next meeting.
The exercise sparks participants' thinking about the issues at hand and curiosity aboutone another. A 5-minute social barometer exercise will enable each participant to learnabout the diversity of views in the room and to see how his or her perspectivecompares to others. In other contexts, the activity can provide a structure for in-depthreflection and interaction, rather than simply serving as prelude to conversation.
If participants have been reluctant to explore differences, this exercise can help themto bring their differences to the surface and to begin discussing them. The exercise canalso enable participants to learn quickly about aspects of each others' backgrounds or about feelings, ideas, or assumptions that they might otherwise find difficult to discuss.
Because the exercise involves physical movement, it can energize the participants andhelp to relieve tension. This may be helpful at the beginning of a session or in themiddle of a long program.
Like other activities that involve physical movement, this exercise may enableparticipants to process and integrate their ideas and feelings more deeply thanactivities that involve only speaking and listening.
A modified version of the activity can be used to quickly gauge participants’ energylevel, evaluate an activity, or find out how ready participants feel for a new activity. Seethe section of this document labeled “Variations for Other Purposes.”
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Basic Instructions (for Core Activity)
1. Set up the space so that participants can comfortably spread out along a line thatstretches from one side of the room to another. It can be helpful to have an actual lineor a rope along the floor, but you can also ask them to imagine that there is a linerunning from one end to the other.2. Ask participants to stand, and explain that you will invite them to respond to somequestions by placing themselves at a particular point along the line. Each point alongthe line will represent a different answer to the question. Encourage the participants togo through the exercise silently, without speaking about their responses to thequestions. Acknowledge that it can feel challenging to do this silently and reassurethem that they will have a chance to talk soon. In some cases, you may want to invitethe participants to speak about their views, experiences, or feelings at particular moments during the exercise.3. Read your questions aloud, along with the participants' choices. At one end of the linewill be people who fully agree with one response to the question, and at the other willbe people who fully agree with the opposite response. Participants can also placethemselves between the two points, depending on how close they feel to eachresponse, or how mixed or ambivalent they feel:
If you agree with X, stand over there by the window, and if you agree with Y, stand onthe opposite side of the room over there. If you're somewhere in between, if you feel pulled to both sides of the room, or if you switch back and forth, you can place yourself anywhere along the line you would like.” 
4. It is often helpful to begin with a warm-up question or two. Some examples:
Are you a morning person or a night person? 
Do you prefer summer or winter? 
Do you prefer latkes or hamentashen? 
5. Then ask one or more serious questions. The specific questions you choose--alongwith the number of questions and the sequence--will depend on your goals for theexercise. Here is an example of a series of two questions that we have posed when weneeded to arrange participants into break-out groups:a.
Do you feel very hopeful about achieving peace, or do you feel hopeless? 
Do you often find yourself defending the Israeli government's policies and actions, criticizing the Israeli government, or both? 
The first question is less polarizing than the second; therefore, participants have anopportunity to learn something significant about each others' feelings before engagingwith differences that may feel more challenging.
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6. Rather than posing “either/or” questions, you may instead want to pose somestatements and ask participants to indicate how much they agree or disagree withthem:
“If you completely agree with this statement, stand over there by the door. If you completely disagree, then stand on the other side of the room by the bookshelf. Or if you are somewhere in between, place yourself at whatever point along the line feelsright to you.” 
You can mix and match “either/or” questions and “agree/disagree” statements asneeded. At the end of this document, you will find a list of 99 additional statements thatyou can draw on. You may also create questions or statements of your own.7. After you pose each question and each participant has found a place to stand, invitethe participants to look around the room and notice where they are standing in relationto others. If you wish to encourage deeper reflection and have sufficient time, you canencourage participants to consider some follow-up questions as they look around:What do they find most surprising or interesting about their own responses to thequestion? What do they find most surprising or interesting about other people'sresponses? You may invite participants to reflect silently or to share their responses.(See the 3rd optional activity listed in the “Variations” section below.)
Additional Instructions:
You may also want to assure the participants that you are not asking them to describetheir feelings or define their views in a precise or conclusive way. You are simplyasking them to give other participants a sense of how they are feeling and thinking atthis moment. If you asked the same questions on another day, each person mightrespond differently. No one will be held to the views that they express here.
If participants ask for clarification about the meaning of a question, you can rephrase itor explain the purpose behind the question. Participants may also express that it ishard to choose a response and ask for your guidance. In those cases, we generallyencourage them to interpret the question for themselves and to respond in any waythat makes sense to them.
Some facilitators find it helpful to set up brightly colored signs at either of the room,which display the two choices that participants are directly to consider, or that say“agree” and “disagree.” These signs can liven up the room and make the activity morevisually engaging.
Other facilitators have asked participants to hold up a rope that stretches across theroom after they find their places. When participants hold up a rope together, the activitymay be more physically engaging, and the participants may gain a stronger feeling of cooperation. 
Depending on your purposes for using this exercise, you may want to add one of the following components to your plan, or use one of the following variations.
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