S. Gubbay Helfer

Concordia University (CANADA)
Harvard Emeritus professor Herbert Kelman's interactive problem-solving workshops bring high-level politicians and influential citizens from Israel and Palestine to Boston to work together behind closed doors. The success of these exercises in creating human connection and empathy in the highly fraught context of what Kelman calls "existential conflict" has prompted the co-authors to bring to bear their own expertise, in the areas of oral history and art education respectively, in order to create a new workshop based on Kelman's precedent.

Kelman’s interactive problem-solving workshops create conditions in which people who see each other as enemies, and who normally do not even meet in person, can hear each other and collaborate. Deep listening is a critical part of these workshops and is structured into them. This is done in part through the expression by each “side” of its core fears and desires. It becomes the responsibility of the “other side” to write down what it has heard and to check the accuracy of its version until they have “got it right”. An additional factor in ensuring the sense of safety necessary for people to open themselves to the enemy is the guarantee of confidentiality offered by Kelman and his collaborators. The Harvard team also maintains strict discipline in their impartiality. They are there to make sure that confidentiality and the other rules are respected. The prestige of Harvard is another factor that instills confidence in workshop participants.

The following principles underlying Kelman’s workshops have been retained for the videography-based implementation described in this presentation.
1) Deep listening. This is implemented by participants’ creation of digital stories about the other.
2) Third party impartiality and sense of safety.

This is provided by the world-renowned, award-winning Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling (COHDS) at Concordia University. Further, our project adopts the COHDS principles and practices of shared authority, activist oral history and using the power of the personal story to connect.

The workshop is designed to take place over a period of several months and multiple sessions. It includes the following elements:
1) We introduce the project of doing a life-path interview followed by questions about core fears and desires.
2) We show a five-minute digital story created from the five hours of life story interview the authors carried out with Herbert Kelman. This will introduce the notion that who we are is shaped by where we have come from, our life path.
3) We teach basic videography skills.
4) Video interviews are carried out in pairs by workshop participants.
5) Participants create digital stories.
6) Participants together, i.e. both “sides”, create an online web exhibit showcasing the digital stories they have created about each other.

The web exhibit poses the central interactive problem solving question: how to address together each other’s insecurities and hopes for the future.

This presentation identifies possible workshop contexts, including university classrooms and Maisons de la culture or other community centres. It also evaluates possible themes including federalist vs. separatist Quebeckers and Baby Boomers vs. Gen X/Gen Y. Finally, the presentation includes protocols for testing and evaluating the workshop.