Overcoming Literacy Challenges in Deliberative Dialogue

Sue Cass, PublicEngagement

Regardless of the type of consultation or engagement process that you are designing, it’s paramount that people come prepared with enough basic knowledge so that they are empowered to engage. Often, prior to a session, participants are given a handbook that they may take home and read through to become more familiar with the issue and the various approaches.

While there is typically some degree of preparation or preliminary reading involved, often, personal experience is enough. However, if the information is overly complex, difficult to comprehend or there are literacy challenges, alternative solutions are available for ensuring everyone has the same opportunity to understand the issue and participate effectively.

Web Based Sessions or Teleconferencing

One very effective way to overcome literacy challenges in preparation for dialogue is to employ web based information sessions. Prior to a dialogue session, relevant information can be placed on a website to help interested participants map their way through challenging data. A convenient way to share information and help challenged individuals understand key facts, web based solutions give participants the opportunity to sit in front of a computer, ask questions and learn about the issues from the comforts of home.

Teleconferencing is another approach that has been used in the past quite successfully to overcome literacy issues. Representatives of First Nations Bank used teleconferencing to help educate workers prior to conducting a public session. Phone conversations were easy to orchestrate and turned out to be an efficient way for people to gain a better understanding on the issues and relevant facts surrounding the problem. In this case, because there were people available who understood difficult concepts surrounding a few different issues, sharing information orally was a practical solution.

Ensuring a Level Playing Field

The most important thing to remember about any engagement process, and particularly those where literacy may be a concern, is that people must understand the issue and while there’s often work completed beforehand to promote understanding, the work continues once in the room. Only when everyone has a clear idea of the problem, is it possible to ensure a fair and level playing field. Nevertheless, one of the challenges in facilitating good dialogue is avoiding a situation where experts have more weight or their opinions have more value than others in the room.

There are solutions for overcoming literacy challenges leading to successful dialogue sessions. Web based information and teleconferencing are effective and efficient ways to promote understanding and ensure a level playing field necessary for success.

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