Protocols are vehicles for building the skills — and culture — necessary for collective work. Use the lists provided here to access high quality protocols and tools to help you facilitate structured conversations using them.
Protocols can be powerful tools. A dialogue protocol consists of agreed upon guidelines for a conversation, and it is the existence of this structure that makes it safe for participants to explore critically important issues in an equitable and supportive context. Protocols are designed for groups to experience the value of multiple perspectives and visualize new possibilities for the resolution of critical issues. By having a common language, participants can more easily find common ground.
There are many protocols available to use and/or adapt to provide foundational guidelines for a dialogue. The National School Reform Initiative (SRI) has been at the forefront of developing protocols for conversations in schools and communities. Resources from SRI include a Protocol Families document to help you find the right protocol; the Guide to Protocols that Support Dialogue which gives a brief overview of many of their protocols and their uses; and activities to support building the conditions for dialogue like this Pair Communication Active-Listening Exercise. For easy reference, we have provided links to our favorite protocols below:
- Affinity Groups
- Appreciative Inquiry
- Chalk Talk
- Compass Points
- Gap Analysis
- Wagon Wheels
- Why Activity
Facilitating a dialogue using a protocol can be tricky work. SRI has also developed a wealth of documents to support the use of protocols, such as this glossary of terms and techniques often used in protocols. Probing questions are a critical technique used in many protocols. Probing questions are intentionally designed to help the presenter see an issue from a completely different perspective. They often provide great insight into new possibilities for moving forward. SRI’s Pocket Guide to Probing Questions can help you craft good questions. With good facilitation, participants can build on each other’s best thinking to come to a new co-constructed understanding of the issue at hand.