Sunday, March 16, 2014

How I Moderate Discussions about Controversial Topics in Large Groups

I run a meetup group called Controversial Topic Discussion Club in Atlanta. Complete strangers from college age to retired come together regularly to discuss topics like gun control, abortion, drug legalization, charter schools, religion, and many more. The group size ranges from 8 to 40. Having run over 50 events over 5 years, and watching several others help moderate events, I wanted to share my learnings about moderating discussions to keep them respectful, fair and moving.

Before getting into the details, I want to clarify that the goal of our discussions may be different than the goal of moderating a business meeting, where you might be trying to reach a decision. Our group is more focused on learning rather than reaching any consensus, or changing anyone's mind. We're also more interested in just having a good time rather than detailing out the next health care bill, so I would rather let an interesting conversation meander rather than keep it laser focused.


Before each meeting, I prepare a list of sub-topics, questions or interesting facts that I can use to re-start conversations. For example, on our Obamacare event, here are some of my sub-topics and questions: