Giving Teens a Voice

The Process

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The Process

This section is organized as follows:

2.0 The Process
2.1 The Participants
2.2 Selection of Students
2.3 Some Background about EMS
2.4 The EMS Process for the Teen Think Tank
2.5 Brainstorming Topics for the Teen Think Tank
2.6 The Project Sessions
2.7 A Note on Presentation of Material in this Report

The Process

 The Teen Think Tank process used an electronic meeting system (EMS) to engage a number of selected teenagers in an electronic brainstorming session to seek innovative ways to cope with violence in schools. This section of the report describes the participants, the EMS process, and the way EMS was used in the two think-tank sessions.

2.1 The Participants

Chris T. Age 17 Male Senior
Matt T. Age 14 Male Freshman
Daniel P. Age 17 Male Senior
Adam S. Age 15 Male Sophomore
Justin S. Age 15 Male Sophomore
Danny G. Age 17 Male Senior
Mark S. Age 15 Male Sophomore
Erin R. Age 15 Female Sophomore
Julie T. Age 15 Female Sophomore
Sunday V. Age 16 Female Junior
Catherine P. Age 17 Female Senior
Crystal V. Age 16 Female Junior
Adam S. Age 17 Male Senior
Erika R. Age 17 Female Senior
Alan J. Age 17 Male Senior
André T. Age 17 Male Senior
Rod P. Adult Male Computer Consultant
Martin S.  Adult Male Radiologist
Bob R. . Adult Male Teacher
Douglas R. Adult Male Neuropsychologist
Brice M.. Adult Male EMS Facilitator

2.2 Selection of Students

 Letters were sent to 42 students inviting them to take part in the project. It was represented as a pilot project to let students be heard on the subject of school violence. There were spaces for 20 participants and the decision was made to have 16 students and 4 adults. After all, someone had to drive and chaperone. The spaces were filled on a first-come basis. The reader should be aware, however, that these were exceptional students. All of them have been selected to participate in a special honors program based on their intelligence, academic achievement, and leadership ability. It would be most interesting to repeat the Teen Think Tank process again with students representing a cross-section of demographics.

2.3 Some Background about EMS

 An Electronic Meeting System (EMS) is a powerful productivity tool that helps teams work together better and faster, to reach consensus, prioritize ideas and resolve conflict. It harnesses the power of computers to produce high quality collaborative results with less effort. This "electronic think-tank" approach provides a quantum leap in productivity and effectiveness of meetings and other teamwork activities. The underlying technology, GroupSystems for Windows, is a commercial client-server productivity tool produced by Ventana Corporation.

 The EMS software is a set of programs or tools that runs on networked computers. Using PCs, participants engage in structured electronic dialogues with each other under the direction of a skilled EMS facilitator. Participants contribute ideas simultaneously and anonymously, without fear of criticism; and everyone has an opportunity to "have his say". Ideas are evaluated by the group based on the merits of the ideas and not the personality or the "clout" of the persons. In a nutshell, EMS serves to generate, organize, prioritize and document ideas quickly and with little effort. Notes and flipcharts are no longer needed since EMS provides a printed report or an electronic copy of all comments immediately at the end of the meeting. The system also includes an array of facilitation tools to give direction to the process and to keep the group on track and on schedule.

 In summary, there are several reasons why EMS has proved to be effective:

 Parallel or simultaneous input - With EMS, all the participants are encouraged to speak at the same time, electronically, by keying their comments into computer key-boards in parallel. Each participant has a separate com-puter that is connected to all the other computers. This technique is sometimes referred to as "electronic brainstorming"; and participants (and observers) have expressed amazement at the quantity and quality of material that a small group of people may generate in a very short time.

 Anonymity - With EMS, all electronic input is anonymous. This has the effect of "leveling the playing field". People in EMS meetings are no longer afraid to speak up since no one knows the source of any comment. Each idea or thought is judged on its own merit, rather than being based on the personality or the forcefulness of the person who said it.

 Triggering - In an electronic meeting, the collective thoughts and ideas of the group are displayed on each person's computer and on a large, public screen. Thus, each participant may review the ideas and comments that have been contributed by the other participants at any time. Since each participant may see everyone else's work (without knowing their identities, of course), many new ideas and thoughts are triggered. Because they are free to be totally candid, people are willing to share budding or embryonic ideas that would never surface in most meetings.

 Structure and focus - Unlike chat rooms, electronic bulletin boards, or threaded discussion groups, EMS imposes a measure of structure and focus for the meeting. Using the EMS facilitation tools, the facilitator can keep the group on track and on schedule.

 Automatic "minutes of the meeting" - No longer is it necessary to transcribe illegible notes or dozens of flip-charts after the meeting. With EMS, all information (every word, idea, or thought) is captured electronically into the system instantly as it is entered. There are functions for classifying, categorizing, voting and prioritizing of action items. All this material may be produced as hard copy print-outs or it may be transferred to another computer tool such as a word processor or a spreadsheet program.

2.4 The EMS Process for the Teen Think Tank

 The process the students followed consisted of using of the following EMS tools under the guidance and direction of an expert EMS facilitator, using a carefully planned agenda.

 Brainstorming - The students were challenged to brainstorm about a number of topics such as: "Today, we have people who have a tendency to hurt other people. Please list ways to cope with such individuals." A typical brainstorming session ran 8 to 10 minutes during which 75 to 100 ideas were generated. Many of the ideas were unique and some were similar to ideas submitted by other students. A number of different questions relating to school violence were brainstormed during the Teen Think Tank sessions. The specific topics that were brainstormed appear in Section 2.5. Each question produced a large number of interesting responses, all of which were processed as shown below.

 Categorization - The responses from each brainstorming session were transferred to the EMS categorizer tool. The students would "drag" the ideas into "buckets", each of which represented a logical grouping of ideas. Sometimes they used "destructive" categorization where the idea disappeared from the original list when the first student dragged it into a category. Other times, they used "non-destructive" grouping where the original idea remained in the list so it might be categorized in more than one area.

 Ranking - After the ideas or comments were grouped by category, they were then ranked or prioritized by the students. This was done by several methods but almost always by a two-step approach. First, the students would rank the importance of each idea on a 5-point scale from "very important" to "very unimportant". During the first cut, they would eliminate all but those ideas judged by the group to be "important" or "very important". Then, each student would choose his or her five favorite ideas from among those remaining. All voting was done using the EMS computer tools and was completely anonymous. This procedure allowed the students to participate and to "buy-in" to the collaborative process of selecting only the very best ideas from a large list for each category. In each exercise, they reached consensus quickly with little debate and almost no argument whatsoever.

 Expansion and Elaboration - After the process of elimination described above, the students devoted their thinking to expanding or elaborating about each of the top-ranked ideas in each category. This was a free-form exercise. The students could comment on any or all the selected topics. They could make as many comments as they chose about any topic. They were encouraged to stay on topic. In all cases, the students were encouraged to focus on the content of the idea(s) and not on spelling, capitalization or grammar.

 Completion - The expanded topics were saved in a word processor and the students volunteered to write essays on one or more sections. The selected topics were emailed to the students and they responded via email with their completed essays. While most of the material in this report was generated during the EMS sessions, the essays were prepared offline by individual volunteers. The resulting student essays appear in Section 4.

 Conclusions - The students' best ideas and their recommendations for students, parents, teachers, law enforcement, etc., are presented in Section 3 - The Students' Best Ideas and Recommendations. A summary of conclusions and observations by the adult participants appears in Section 1 - Summary and Observations.

2.5 Brainstorming Topics for the Teen Think Tank

 During the brainstorming portions of the two think tank sessions, the students brainstormed about a number of different topics listed below in five broad categories. The ideas generated during each of the brainstorming exercises were prioritized by the group and only the best ones were used to produce the material presented in Sections 3 and 4. Also, the students' testimonials about the Think Tank EMS process appear in Section 5.

 2.5.1 Brainstorming - Future Vision - Assume Year 2020 without violence 2.5.2.a Things that must have eliminated violence in 2020 2.5.2.b Reactions to less violence 2.5.2.c Things that may prevent violence 2.5.2.d Things that an individual might be concerned about in 2020 2.5.2.e Concerns of government and society 2.5.2 Brainstorming - Actions needed to prevent school violence. 2.5.3 Brainstorming - Coping with Violent Behavior 2.5.3.a Causes of violent behavior among teenagers 2.5.3.b Ways to protect yourself against violent behavior 2.5.3.c Ways to avoid or prevent violence 2.5.3.d Recommendations for students 2.5.3.e Recommendations for teachers and school officials 2.5.3.f Recommendations for parents 2.5.3.g Recommendations for law enforcement officers 2.5.4 Brainstorm the question: "Is Violence Inevitable?" 2.5.4.a Violence is inevitable. 2.5.4.b Violence is not inevitable. 2.5.5 Lateral Thinking about Coping with Violence

2.6 The Project Sessions

 The first session was Saturday, July 11, 1998. The students and parents generally felt that this 5-hour session was very productive but inconclusive. They wanted to finish what they had started. On Friday, July 17, 1998, most of the group returned to the EMS facility. In a marathon session lasting from noon to 10:30 p.m., with only one break for dinner, the students did all the categorization, ranking, selection, and elaboration for the topics in Section 3 of this report.

 Any adult reading this report should be aware of the incredible ability of these students to stay on task. Granted, the EMS tools provide for short periods of intense activity for up to 10 minutes followed by times of less strenuous work. However, nothing can take away the image of the students working intently, laying back and having fun while the next session was being set up and then getting immediately back on task. Not a single complaint was heard during the entirety of both sessions, or following either session.

2.7 A Note on Presentation of Material in this Report

 Most of the material in this report was generated directly from the EMS system and then transferred electronically into Microsoft Word. Some portions have been edited and spell-checker; and others have not. All the results from the brainstorming exercises were prioritized by the group and only their best ideas were used to produce the material presented in Sections 3 and 4. Also, the students' candid testimonials about the Think Tank and the EMS process appear in Section 5.

 Time did not permit some of the printed material to be generated during the actual EMS session. The alternative was to ask the students to write essays based on their collaborative efforts during the two sessions. The students used the material presented in Section 3 as the basis for their essays. The resulting essays are presented in Section 4 without editing. The complete and unedited EMS brainstorming results appear in the appendix (Section 6). This may be of interest just in case the reader is mildly curious about some of the 800+ ideas that did not "make the cut" during the prioritization process.

 Time did not permit the students to draw final conclusions and recommendations from all their work. The adults who participated in the think-tank process have made a number of observations and recommendations based on the material produced by the students. Observations and commentary by the adult participants are contained in Section 1 of this report.

 Throughout this report Italics represent material that was generated during the EMS sessions and presented here without editing. The students were instructed to pay no attention to spelling and grammar and to focus, instead, on content. This they did. You will also see that, on occasion, the students argued with each other about a point. This was acceptable because they were cloaked with anonymity and the interchanges did not adversely affect the sessions.

Copyright 1999-2000, Teen Think Tanks of America, Inc.  All rights reserved.