The ritual dissent method shows great promise

This is a part of some reflections from running a session on
course analysis and design for new academics at CQUniversity last week. This one focuses on the benefits of using the ritual dissent workshop method from Cognitive Edge.


I had a group of 40 or so new academic staff for 6 straight hours. My time started a day and a half into a four day session (just after lunch) and they had a day and a half after my session. Some of these staff were not happy being there and didn’t really see the value of the whole orientation. As an example here’s part of a comment from one of the participants on the blog I used for my sessions.

I keep getting dragged away to pointless and worthless workshops etc.

These are not circumstances created to maximise the possibility of engagement, learning and long term change. So, rather than attempt to get stuck into long detailed explanations of low level tasks I wanted to concentrate on giving them a broad idea and exposing them to different methods, concepts and approaches.

Ritual dissent

In 2008 I had the opportunity to attend a Cognitive Edge workshop run by Dave Snowden. I’ve referenced his ideas in this blog and my publications. I recommend his work.

As part of that workshop we went through a session ritual dissent. We also worked through a number of the other open source methods developed by Cognitive Edge.

Ritual dissent stuck in my mind because it was obviously a fantastic method for harnessing the diverse perspectives of a group to improve some artifact that didn’t suffer some of the cloyingly over-positive group think of some other methods I’ve seen and experienced.

Given that group work is a “good thing” for learning and teaching there is interest in how to do this. Of course, most people who have tried group work have had problems – getting people to interact always raises some issues. Ritual dissent, appeared to me, to provide a simple and effective way that avoided or minimised many of those problems.


It wasn’t a perfect implementation. Time was running. Ritual dissent was the last thing we did. It was at the end of a session on planning, i.e. how to actually go about course design. This was the session I’d worked least on and it showed.

The set up for ritual dissent was for the staff to go into groups and develop a plan to modify a course to maximise one of the 7 principles for good practice in education. I further modified this a little into the session to respond to some changes in our local institutional context.


Based on a complete absence of evaluation beyond responses from the participants the results were positive. It was an enjoyable process, lots of laughter and a lot of agreement that it was a very useful way for improving artifacts and proposals.

I followed almost all of the specific steps outlined in the method and I believe they are all necessary. Creating the sense of separation between the proposers, through various means, was an important part of the success. As was explaining how it linked to something realistic int he local context.

I can see a lot of value in this method. I just wish I had the time and opportunity in coming months to explore that value (and the other Cognitive Edge methods) further.

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