Stage 5.4.5  Group Discussions

Group discussion meetings of various sizes can be used to mobilize popular support but, like the demonstration, they can also mobilize resistance if not adequately handled. Group discussion serves many of the same functions as person-to-person contact, but you can reach more people and you can use the group to promote individual acceptance. Groups have these special advantages if they are well handled:

  1. They increase the feeling of safety and the willingness to take risks.
  2. They move individual users toward a commitment to try the innovation.
  3. They legitimize feelings of doubt about the innovation and about one's own ability to try it out. Once these feelings are thus legitimized, they can be spoken of and spoken to. Out in the open they can be discussed frankly and considered in a rational light. Some of these feelings probably do have a rational basis; many others probably do not. Those that do have a rational basis must be answered by the change agent and/or the promoters of the innovation. Those that do not will probably dissipate if they are handled in an open and honest way.
  4. They give the client system an opportunity to move toward a consensus on the innovation. Individuals who favor it will begin to find others who favor it.
  5. They give potential adopters the feeling that they are actually participating in a decision with the freedom to say "yes" or "no."

If possible, a group discussion should be an enjoyable experience which is rewarding in itself. People who come to a meeting are usually extending themselves, making a real effort to get involved; their effort should be rewarded. Time should be deliberately set aside for informal socializing between potential users, change agents, and representatives of the innovation, especially between people who don't know each other. Good change agents are skilled at orchestrating such meetings, balancing formal and informal presentations, en­couraging questions, etc.