Making sense of a discussion can be hard, especially where many different views have been shared. In any meeting plenary or group discussion we need to be able to sort and synthesise meaning out of all of the contribution. It’s useful to make sense of discussions before moving to any decision making. How to do that?
It’s helpful to think about contribution in terms of three dynamics:
- Weight – sometimes a contribution is based on deep experience or nails something completely. These contributions are recognised as meaningful and worthwhile and should be included in any synthesis
- Frequency or echos – sometimes the same experience or idea comes up again and again in different ways. This frequency is a good indicator and should be clearly summarised and included in any synthesis
- Volume – sometimes a contribution gets an immediate response from the whole group because it’s funny, shared widely, or provocative. Volume helps indicate an idea that should be included in the synthesis. Look out for hand signals, body language and spoken queues that show agreement
Synthesising is bringing together the most salient points that resonate with everyone. There are two types of synthesis and it helps to know what you are looking for:
- Baking a cake – we take all the contributions and we add them together and we come up with something new together. If we are planning an event we summarise and synthesise the different ideas and try and make them work together.
- Composing music – music is made up of many different components that work in harmony together. Synthesis helps to better understand their relationship with each other. If we are discussing housing, it helps to understand its relationship with health, gender relations and access to work. A synthesis helps us understand collectively the experience of poverty and inequality.
- It helps to have dedicated people in charge of listening for and consolidating areas of synthesis to report back and help everybody understand where our common values, experience and work ahead lies. Let them report back periodically or at the end. Be sure to indicate if what they say resonates with you.
- Always try to arrive at a synthesis when everybody is together as it helps to inform decisions and actions. Sometimes it takes someone to look over the minutes and think deeply about the different comments and it can be suitable to send out a summary after the meeting.