Put simply, a structured conversation is a powerful communication tool that fosters understanding and provides direction. It can take many forms, from an interactive facilitated workshop, to a lengthy and complex report.
But how will you know one when you see one? Well, regardless of the shape it takes, there are four defining characteristics of a structured conversation.
1. It has a clear goal or purpose
A structured conversation will have a clear agenda from the very beginning, and stay on track. This might be to define problems or benefits, map key issues or analyse options. It may be to persuade decision-makers, engage stakeholders or attract funders. The point is, it is a targeted and purposeful undertaking.
2. It is meaningful and leads to action
Structured conversations are not talk-fests. They are not a compliance exercise. They need commitment and intention, and to have the genuine potential for action and change.
“What is a structured conversation? Put simply, it is a powerful communication tool that fosters understanding and provides direction.”
3. The right people are involved
Strong analysis and good decisions become powerless without commitment from the right stakeholders. This means that everyone who is…
- crucial to delivering change
- potentially impacted by the result
- has expert knowledge
- has the agency and authority to make decisions
… needs to have a seat or a representative at the table. If the right people aren’t engaged at an early point, then the project, policy or investment will be at a disadvantage from the very beginning.
4. It is expressed in a language that we all understand
Plain English is key! Jargon is arrogant, off-putting and builds walls. This applies to workshops and interviews, as much as written reports and summaries. Language has the power to pull us in and bring us together, or to divide and isolate. Use an engaging, authentic facilitator and bring this voice through to all deliverables.
A structured conversation is a powerful tool. Shifting the emphasis from the deliverables – such writing a report, a policy, or a business case – to the conversation it takes to get there, is transformative.
Better Business Case (BBC) guidance is very clear that a business case should be a thinking rather than writing exercise. Which is true, and extremely important.
I like to take this logic a step further – from thinking, to talking. Writing good reports might require thinking. But solving problems requires communication – targeted, purposeful, genuine communication.