Balance of engagement versus safety for social/political topics


(PopoBawa) #1

I am doing some research towards creating a forum which I hope to function as a sort of salon for discussing culture - art, science, politics, etc. My experience has been that it is easy to get people to superficially comment upon events such as “Saw X happening on the news, and that’s good/bad”, but rather more difficult to encourage deeper engagement of why things happen, or what we could do instead.

Some feedback that I got recently from one community, as well as a recent post from (somebody here) brought up the factor of safety in online discussions. That sometimes people can be terse and judgemental because they feel that deeper discussion is not safe for them. I have been doing some searches on the discourse forum here and finding a few topics about debate and dialectic, but not so much about people’s perceptions of safety. As I understand most communities’ rules and moderation already offer protections against harassment and insults. In your experience, what other kinds of safety are people looking for? Does this tend to be more a matter of their own degree of confidence, or specific concerns about somebody doing something to them that isn’t already covered in usual rules?

The basic kind of interactive ethic I am aiming for is to be issue-confrontational, but not personally-confrontational, where people join with the proviso to civilly “agree to disagree.” And rather than debates, adopting more of a maker-project approach for brainstorming a toolbox of diverse solutions to social problems. A divergent approach leading to a catalogue rather than arguing to converge upon a consensus. This is an approach I have tried but had difficulty engaging people in when the moderation style tended to encourage converging upon one popular solution, with tribal ingroup/outgroup dynamics taking effect.

What kind of safety are people looking for? And how can we facilitate that while encouraging deep topical engagement?