Lately I have been thinking about dissent. I learned about dissent as a concept from my work with A Small Group, a civic engagement group, in Cincinnati, Ohio. The group practices a six conversation model. The first is an invitation, the second is the possibility conversation, the third is the ownership conversation, and the fourth is dissent. ASG says "If we cannot say "no" then our "yes" has no meaning" (A Small Group Website). Dissent is seen as a way to clarify roles, build the possibilities and has the potential to lead to commitment and ownership. I have been thinking about dissent because I recently said "no" to something most people would probably say "yes" to. I have often found myself in situations where the group is saying yes and I am saying "wait a minute." Often I have provided a viewpoint that has not been examined. Other times, I have expressed dissent for personal reasons after much reflection. It is not easy to voice dissent - though at ASG I have found it easier because it is accepted. As action researchers, how do we experience dissent? What happens when participants express dissent, either with ideas or with taking part in components or the whole of the research? Do we welcome it and see it as part of the democratic process or do we express (again) why this research is important. I know it is hard as a researcher to accept non-participation from participants. Maybe we can think of a way to lead participants that do dissent through a reflection that provides them an opportunity to express why they are dissenting - in a way that still allows for the dissent.
Productive dissent is not outright/closed down negativity. And if it is, can we also welcome that? Dissent can lead to clarification of ideas, for group and individuals. It can lead to amazing possibilities and creation/change that is beyond what we can imagine. After dissent, I can tell you what I can do and what I do commit to (the fifth conversation). The sixth conversation is the gifts conversation - what others have given you through the process and dialogue. Can we open ourselves up to see dissent as a gift instead of a problem?
A Small Group, Cincinnati, Ohio http://www.asmallgroup.net/pages/content/aboutasg.html