ANU Home | Search ANU | ANU Directories
The Australian National University
Human Ecology Forum
Printer Friendly Version of this Document

Taking a Forum

This webpage is provided in support of those of you who may present or lead a Forum. It is a guide only and absolutely none of the following constitutes anything that you need to do. The Forum has a somewhat anarchic character (in the sense of having no obvious rules) and it is fine and we encourage such (relative) freedom. This said, it has been indicated in the past that some people prefer to have an idea of how best to make use of the Forum space and in that spirit the following is supplied.

It can be helpful when preparing to lead a Forum to consider:

  • What you want from the session. For example:
    • Generate discussion on the structure/presentation of a PowerPoint or talk you are giving elsewhere.
    • Generate discussion on the coherency/quality/workability of an idea, theory, method(ology), practice, argument, etc.
    • Generate open, free-ranging discussion around a topic or idea you are interested in.
    • Present your work/research to encourage Forum members to provide networking information, like other people to follow up, other similar lines of fertile work/research, useful references, etc.
    • A mix of any of the above.
  • How you would like the people at the Forum to engage:
    • Present without comment/discussion from the floor then move to a questions/answer format for later.
    • Present without comment/discussion from the floor then open the floor to discussion.
    • Ask for or seek to generate ongoing comment/discussion.
    • Let the people at the Forum do as they want.
    • Mixing any of the above into different segments and/or anything else you can think of (if you want to check, see one of the conveners).
  • What your boundaries are in regards discussion and feedback:
    • The Forum can be a robust space and open discussion on cherished and hard worked for ideas can be challenging (to all). It is not always easy for the chairperson or people in the Forum space generally to know how others are feeling. Consequently, it can be good to have in mind that you can speak up and say when a line of discussion is a line too far or if the discussion is getting too complex, intellectually confusing or is simply not useful.
    • By its very nature, the Forum is often intellectually demanding and draws upon a wide variety of skills and knowledges. It is not uncommon in larger Forum sessions to have academics from a variety of disciplines, students as well, employees of government departments, semi-government organisations, non-government and grassroots organisations, consultants, individuals from civil society generally and occasionally decision makers from the corridors of power. With such a mix, finding a common language can be a serious challenge. It is suggested that it is a good idea to be upfront and ask for clarification when language/ideas/theories/histories are not clear.
  • If you want an active chairperson/convener or to take stronger control of the Forum yourself. Each Forum has a convener for that day who is effectively the chairperson. They may or may not, depending on how they feel the Forum is going and dependent on their personality, actively chair the session. The default position is no chairing beyond starting and finishing the Forum and essentially letting you and the Forum as a whole 'be' the discussion. You can just go with this or indicate if you'd like the convener to actively chair the session.
  • The technological support you'll need. The Forum room comes with a Windows (XP) laptop with Microsoft Office, internet connectivity and a LCD theatre projector. There are also whiteboards. For such things as an overhead projector or specific software (eg., Google Earth) you will need to check with the convener first.
  • If your doing a presentation, the time you think you'll take to do it. If you think you'll only take an hour for instance please feel free to talk to the convener about how to use the rest of the time available. This is probably not a major concern, as Forum's past have often shown a remarkable capacity to use the full two hours from the back of very little indeed (one classic two hour Forum session did not get much past the first 3 slides of a considerably longer PowerPoint presentation).
  • If you want to enlist others. Please feel free to engage with others in leading a Forum (eg., to lead with you or to be in the Forum group generally for instance).

When crafting a notification for the Forum website, e-mail list and Fenner School weekly newsletter, consider:

  • Who your audience might be.
  • How to make clear what you might be seeking from the Forum (eg., feedback on a PhD preliminary presentation).
  • How to communicate concisely the main aim of your presentation or leading of a session.

Disregarding some other context outside of the Forum influencing who might turn up (eg., a clashing event likely to pull in people who might otherwise come to that Forum), there is a tendency for possible Forum participants to 'vote with their feet'. Some very strong Forums have had only a handful of people turn up, but it turns out just right for the person leading the Forum (classic examples of this are individual PhD methodology discussions where specific and dense methodological material is closely investigated). Other Forums have attracted large numbers that have then generated a very different but no less powerful conversational experience (such as broad scale discussion, generated from PhD results, on the challenges of managing the environment). Sometimes we have had a miss or discussion has to be worked at more than is perhaps easy. Tapping into this rather difficult to pick flow is improved, we believe, by considering some of the points above when writing the notification for the e-mail list, the website and the Fenner School weekly newsletter.

Hopefully, the above gives enough material in support of your leading a Forum. If not, please feel free to follow up on one of the convener who will happily help in any way they can to make the process as interesting and enjoyable as possible.

rock, sea and trees by Alan Fox

Photography courtesy of Alan Fox