Current debating styles are adversarial where two teams, usually an affirmative side and an opposition side, debate a resolution to win the judges and audience favor. These Western forms of debate promote win-loss outcomes.
In Indigenous societies, on the other hand, decision making is more consensus-based, where collective ownership of ideas is honored.
How then can we have a debate style that incorporates Indigenous consensus decision-making principles to reach a collective decision devoid of a win-loss outcome?
My project at the Saskatchewan Elocution and Debate Association (SEDA) was to develop a consensus-style debate to train and equip learners with a new skill and knowledge on how to resolve complex real-life problems—a debate style that honors diverse views, opinions, and perspectives, and is capable of promoting Indigenous engagement. As well, it will enhance the spirit of collective deliberation and shared decision making, a process that builds relationships with Indigenous peoples.
The need for this new debate model was raised by an Indigenous person at the 2019 national seminar of the Canadian Student Debating Federation. The Indigenous student pointed out that the ‘adversarial tone’ of traditional debates is “not in the spirit of discussion that an Indigenous person can identify with,” said SEDA Executive Director Melissa Ong.
“While consensus debate was seriously discussed by SEDA initially as a means to reach out to Indigenous youth, there is now wider interest and application as we have seen many educators and young people considering other ways of engaging and collaborating as well,” she said.
The Study Method
Although consensus decision making isn’t new, having a debate that uses consensual deliberation is new.
My background in Indigenous studies and my current research pursuing a doctoral program in Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of Saskatchewan motivated me to work on this project.
I combined knowledge of Indigenous worldviews, current adversarial debating styles, and consensus decision-making processes to develop a new debating model—the consensus-style debate.
I scoped the literature for papers, and participated in a debate tournament as a shadow judge. Through these strategies, I gained experience and knowledge, extracted relevant information from the literature, and synthesized that into a coherent whole to develop the consensus debate model.
The new debate model will be implemented through a pilot project in the summer of 2020.
The outcome of the work-study partnership has “provided SEDA with this critical help that moved this initiative past the planning/discussion stage and ready for implementation and field trial,” said Ong.
Development of the consensus debate model has been positive both for Indigenous partners and the broader community of SEDA stakeholders, she said.
The document I prepared provides a more extensive comparative analysis of consensus debate with other debate models, and will enable SEDA “to highlight the distinctiveness of consensus debate and provide clarity to our community on consensus debating,” Ong said.
Through this project, I gained knowledge in collaboration, project management, time scheduling, and working with a non-profit organization outside the academy. This was a practical application of interdisciplinarity. Although challenging, the outcome was exciting, and the knowledge gained will complement my research potential and future career.
Disclaimer: Any omissions in fact or interpretation remain the sole responsibility of University of Saskatchewan. The findings do not necessarily reflect the views of Research Impact Canada, its funder The Conference Board of Canada, or its partner the Future Skills Centre.