Working with groups


P4C acts as an excellent model for working with children and young people on a regular basis . It develops the background skills of thinking and working with other people which arguably hold the key to most important human endeavours. It also raises awareness and awakens people to the range of beliefs, assumptions and ideas that underpin human motivations and actions.

The same can be said for working with adults, but the P4C model is not the only approach to working in groups. Whilst acknowledging the importance of continuous work on the fundamentals of group and individual thinking and interacting, it must also be the case that groups work towards useful outcomes if creativity is to be more than a diversion. Paraphrasing the Dewey quote, it is important to refine and use tools to deal with the problems of everyday life.

Keith Sawyer in his book ‘Group Genius: The creative power of collaboration.’ Argues persuasively that almost all advances in thinking and doing can be traced back to interactions and collaborations between people. It is worth considering different types of work with problems and then briefly describing some of the collaborative activities which are successful. Sawyer talks about ‘problem-finding’ and ‘problem-solving’. We could add to this a third. ‘problem-exploring’. The P4C approach is particularly good for problem-finding and problem-exploring and these are often precursors to problem-solving. Part of the task of a facilitator must be to sense when different working models can best be employed. I describe some of the complementary activities to P4C below:

P4C practice using stimuli to problematize ‘everyday’ activities and point to interesting areas to explore. This often involves promoting cognitive dissonance, a feeling that presently held explanations are contradictory and in need of revision. This leads naturally to question creation and enquiry.

P4C practice including concept stretching and exploring exercises within communities of enquiry which leads to greater clarity of thinking and better communication.
Other related approaches include Open Space Technology, Scenario Thinking and World Café. Various shorter activities also encourage problem-exploring, for example, Think-pair-share and Place mats. (Open space technology, Scenario Thinking and world café are explained further below)

Problem -solving
Enquiry-based learning and project-based learning as developed by the Innovation Unit focus on group problem-solving. Other programmes such as Cognitive Acceleration through science and maths education (CASE and CAME) and the Thinking Through series of publications from Newcastle University are also examples of curriculum delivery through problem-solving. Frank Coffield and Bill Williamson present a strong argument for reformation of school in their pamphlet ‘From Exam factories to Communities of Discovery: The Democratic Route.’ This publication maintains that education in the twenty first century should prepare people to work collaboratively on real problems and foster genuinely democratic values.

Problem solving is also important for community groups. A dramatic approach to community democracy utilises Dynamic Facilitation, a technique which has proved to be particularly useful in solving difficult problems. (DF is described further in another section)