I attended a deliberation on Mental Health at PSU this week. I guess I’ll just start from the beginning.
The group was set up so that everyone was in a circle, which was actually pretty conducive to discussion since everyone could see each other at the same time. The atmosphere was pretty low key, and everyone appeared relaxed.
The introduction seemed pretty sparse to me, and only lasted about a minute. The team also never cited any sources, even though it sounded as if they were referring to other people’s research. When it was time for personal stakes, the group actually had everyone, including those attending the event, go around and introduce themselves. While this was useful in the fact it got everyone talking right off the bat, it was time that could have been used for the introduction, which I still feel should have been more substantive.
The approach teams addressed three methods of improving mental health at Penn State: Intervention (actually inserting oneself into the situation and forcing someone to get help), Right to Privacy (the opposite of intervention, where you respect the boundaries of a person going through a tough time), and Resources and Funding (in which the amount of resources going toward Penn State’s mental health program was assessed). Some things the approach teams did well was that they encouraged discussion, rather than debate. Moderators were very eager to hear from everyone, and nobody was ever pushing for a solution. They also kept time well and asked questions which prompted critical thinking and conversation.
The main issue I had with the approach teams is that, again, they never cited a single source, despite the fact that they were obviously using the work of others to supplement their knowledge base. I thought this was somewhat unethical, considering the moderators are supposed to be the authority figures in these deliberations which are open to the public, and by not citing sources, they were essentially allowing people to assume the credit to all the research they used was theirs. Another thing I couldn’t really condone was how only one person on each approach team ever talked and the other person just took notes. Notes, I might add, which were never used until the conclusion of the debate. Wouldn’t it have made more sense for the conclusion team to take notes, while the people on the approach team worked together to present the things they’d all researched? Finally, I noticed that the moderators would often jump into discussions, inserting their own opinions. One in particular actually began passing off his assumptions as fact, which I feel may have swayed the group’s opinion unnecessarily. The moderators’ only job is to moderate the discussion and provide facts–anything else could add bias to the deliberation.
The conclusion team was generally pretty solid: they recapped everything using the notes the approach teams had taken. However, they never asked questions or touched back on any unsettled topics that came up during the deliberation, despite the fact that they had had more than enough time to do so (the deliberation ending about 30min early). I feel like it would have given more closure to the discussion if they had taken the time to at least ask the audience for any final thoughts.