Historical Reminiscents Podcast EP 44: Safe and Brave Spaces

Rock climbing wall, "Episode 22: Safe and Brave spaces"

Welcome back to season two of the Historical Reminiscents podcast.  In this episode, I talk about safe spaces, braver spaces, and building welcoming physical and digital spaces for dialogue. I also introduce the new Rapid Reads segment to the podcast.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the terms brave space and safe space. Leave a comment or send me a message on Twitter.

Mentioned in this episode:
-Brian Arao and Kristi Clemens, “From Safe Spaces to Brave Spaces: A New Way to Frame Dialogue Around Diversity and Social Justice.” (PDF)
-Alison Cook-Sather, “Creating Brave Spaces within and through Student-Faculty Pedagogical Partnerships” (PDF)

Rapid Reads:
Lady Science, Libraries and Tech Series

Download or listen now.

Facilitation and Building Public History Discussion Spaces

A circle of coffee cups on a wood table.

Facilitating meaningful discussion can be hard.  Many of us have facilitation success and horror stories from the seminar room, a larger classroom setting, or a community outreach program.  Engaged conversations can be a powerful way to learn and provide a sense of shared learning, build on collective intelligence, and allow for diverse viewpoints.

The Art of Hosting argues that facilitating conversation is an art and that it takes practice and work to become skillful at helping folks work together.  I also love their philosophy that a host is someone who “ignites and holds the space for conversation.” This idea situates hosts as part of a group and not a leader of conversation and discusses facilitation as form of participatory leadership.

This facilitation philosophy also appeals to me because it draws on the important idea of building physical and intellectual space for discussion.  Making sure physical and intellectual spaces are welcoming and as barrier free as possible can be crucial in establishing room for open dialogue.  In just simple things like making sure an appropriate amount of time is set aside for discussion – don’t rush participants or the group as a whole.  Discussing challenging, divisive, personal, or emotional topics often require more time.

Recently, in a presentation Jessica Knapp of Canada’s History Society remarked that public history is all about relationships. I couldn’t agree more. At their core many public history projects are about building and maintaining relationships with others. Long term community discussion and fostering long term community conversations is all about relationships.  It means meeting people where they are at, building space to share stories where folks are respected and heard, and making room for communities to co-create and learn together.  It also means understanding that people come to discussion spaces on uneven ground, that power imbalances all real, and that reflecting on what brought us to a space can help us move forward.

Some of my favourite community based experiences recently have included participating in Thinking Rock making sessions, where community members are engaged in hands-on making projects. The facilitation style of the folks at Thinking Rock is something I greatly admire.  Similarly,  in the past few years I’ve had the chance to work with 4Rs Youth Movement and their framework for cross-cultural dialogue and building spaces for critical conversations is fantastic. The work of 4Rs emphasizes that dialogue takes “time, space, and care” and that “the activities or facilitation methods themselves are not impact without intentions, approach, and goals carefully thought through.” (p. 14) What you are attempting to accomplish through facilitation and discussion matters.  Why are you having these community conversations? Are they merely a check box form of consultation?   Or are you actively listening and letting community responses guide your work?

Creating space for discussion takes time and effort. Participating in community discussions and working in existing collaborative spaces is a great way to start to learn about what facilitation styles appeal to you and an easy way to start thinking more critically about dialogue spaces.  What are your go to facilitation strategies?

Additional reading:

Photo credit: Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

4Rs Framework: Seeding Reconciliation On Uneven Ground

Table of Contents from Seeding Reconciliation on Uneven Ground
Table of Contents from Seeding Reconciliation on Uneven Ground, publication by 4Rs Youth Movement.

The 4Rs Youth Movement is a youth-led organization dedicated to facilitating conversations and changing relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth. 4Rs is committed to the values of respect, reciprocity, reconciliation and relevance and brings those values into all of the dialogues and programming it runs. I’ve had the opportunity to work with 4Rs on a couple of events in recent years and to participate in some of their facilitated programming. They are a fantastic group of change makers and a source of inspiration for anyone involved in cross-cultural or reconciliation work.

4Rs recently released their dialogue framework, Seeding Reconciliation On Uneven Ground: The 4Rs Approach to to Cross-Cultural Dialogue. This is a must read for anyone engaged in facilitation, cross-cultural dialogues, or youth engagement.  Seriously, go read it.  The framework shares what 4Rs has learned through their youth-led community drive dialogues and cross-cultural conversations.  It provides examples of how 4Rs has fostered safe spaces to encourage cross-cultural conversations with an emphasis on mix-methods and experience based learning processes.

The section of Seeding Reconciliation which reflects on the term reconciliation is particularly powerful and relevant for anyone who has been part of an organization which is interested in engaging in conversations of reconciliation, Indigenization, or decolonization.  The framework highlights different perspectives on reconciliation that have been shared by Indigenous activists, scholars, and thinkers.  These perspectives highlight the ongoing relationship building inherent in reconciliation work and the need to understand that reconciliation is about way more than just residential schools.

The actual step-by-step guide for cross-cultural dialogue is represented using through the use of a garden analogy, connecting conversations back to land.  The guide is broken into five steps:

  1. Getting There: Pathways to new relationships
  2. Preparing The Ground: Restoring balance to the landscape of reconciliation
  3. Planting The Seeds: Growing leadership, relationships and truth
  4. Connecting Our Roots: Going deeper into dialogue
  5. Harvesting: Taking it home

Each step focuses on youth led conversations and the fact that building strong relationships takes time and effort.  Creating safe spaces and facilitating conversations requires a lot of groundwork to be laid before important dialogues can take place.  As Seeding Reconciliation notes “We are not thinking about an end product that can be easily packaged or replicated; our Framework is not an assembly line…This Framework emphasizes that cross-cultural dialogue cannot be rushed” (p. 34).  Approaches to reconciliation and cross-cultural conversations are not a one size fits all situation. This is a deeply thoughtful and inspiring document that I would encourage people to engage with, especially those in the heritage field who are beginning to have conversations about reconciliation.  The frame uses easy to understand language but has the potential to provoke challenging questions ideas about reconciliation that are applicable in many contexts across Canada.