Helpful Tips 2016


Debate Methods

Suggestions for forstering debate


These short games, sometimes called ‘ice breakers’ or energizers can be used to introduce participants to each other, but also if you see that at some point participants are losing attention.

1.     The Little known fact
Ask participants to share their name, department or role in MSF, length of time in the mission, and one little known fact about themselves.

2.     Interviews
Ask participants to get into groups of two. Each person then interviews his or her partner for a set of time. At the end of the time, each person introduces their partner to the larger group. Sample questions could include: Name, background, role with MSF, what they would like to discuss or learn about at the FAD, etc.

3.     Ball of yarn/string
You will need a ball of yarn. Keeping one end, the first person introduces him- or her-self and their role in MSF. Once this person has made their introduction, he/she keeps their end of the string in their hands and passes the ball of yarn on to another person in the group for them to introduce themselves. The process continues until everyone is introduced. To emphasize the interdependencies among the team, the facilitator then pulls on the starting thread and everyone's hand should move.

4.     Ball
The group arranges in a circle and each person throws the ball across the circle, first announcing his or her own name (and any other fact you like), and then throwing the ball to another person.

5.     Speed Dating
When a signal is given, begin interviewing someone sitting next to you. You each have a total of 1-2 minutes to ask each other any question you want, so as to know the other better. After this time, there is another signal, and you must move and interview someone else for another 1-2 minutes. Repeat this activity until each person has interviewed a majority of the other people in the room.

6.     List things in common
After dividing the meeting into smaller groups, ask each group to come up with 2 things they have in common and share with the group.

7.     Superlative Game
To prepare: Write down a list of categories. Categories can include things like: height, number of years with MSF, number of FADs attended, number of MSF team members, number of siblings… Divide the group into smaller teams of 5-8 people. Call out a category and ask the teams to arrange themselves as quickly as possible in order according to the category. For example, if the category is height, the team should arrange themselves from shortest to tallest. Once a team thinks that they are arranged correctly, they raise their hands to show they are finished. The game continues until all categories have been read. Variation: Participants are not allowed to speak to each other. They can only communicate using their hands and feet.

Debate Methods:

Important note: the instructions are given as an indication. Group and sub-group sizes, as well as methods may of course be adapted to the situation.


Description : Participants are asked to exchange their points of view on an issue. They are usually divided into two large groups: those in favor and those against an idea. Sometimes these groups are formed according to each person's own opinions, but sometimes, in contrast, a group is asked to find arguments in favor of an idea, regardless of individual members' views. The opposing group is instructed to find arguments against the same idea. The entire exercise may be supervised by a neutral jury which will decide which group it feels has defended its point of view most effectively.

Technique: The room will be arranged so that the two "clans" can face each other. Documents will be provided in advance. They may be consulted by participants to increase their knowledge of an issue, or to find arguments. A moderator ensures that the opinion of each person is respected, and that all participants have the opportunity to speak.


Duration: depends of the number of groups and questions.

Group size: from 15 to 150 persons

Why Philips 6/6?: Donald J. Philips from the University of Michigan invented this method in 1948. Groups of 3 to 6 persons are discussing questions within 6 minutes.


  • Consultation of an important group, to define a representative position.
  • Speak about different aspects of an issue in a limited amount of time.
  • Introduce a natural and spontaneous reflexion in a group.
  • Force the uncertainty of individuals and the group inertia.
  • Facilitate communication and expression of every single person in a big group, by sharing in small sub-groups.

Description of the method:

  • Prepare precise questions (being very clear is very important. If necessary, reformulate the question), possibly about a case study, a problem or a discussion theme.
  • Introduce the topic and explain the method to the participants
  • Ask the participants to split into groups of 6 persons. Each group chooses a reporter and a moderator (explain the role of a reporter and a moderator if needed).
  • Role of the reporter: to communicate to the whole group the result of the discussion of his sub-group (2-3 min) and to write down the result of his/her group discussion if a written report of the discussion is needed.
  • Role of the moderator: to manage the group work, ensure that everybody can express her/himself, check the timing of discussion and keep the discussion focused on the topic. - Start the exercise by asking the first question.
  • After 6 min, each reporter gives the report of his group. The leader takes notes on a flip-chart, to build his synthesis on the participants’ restitution. Or, the groups give a report of their reflection after having treated all the questions, the leader can do his synthesis after each question or at the end of the exercise.
  • Ask the second question … You can organize as many steps (questions) as you want.
  • Short general synthesis by the leader.


The 6/6 combination can be changed in PM combination (P persons, M minutes). It has been proved that the 6/6 combination gives an optimum production but:

  • Certain questions or public may need a longer reflexion time.
  • The number of persons by sub-group can be adapted according to the number of participants. However, a small group (2 to 4 persons) has not a lot interactions (and shorter discussions are only interesting for specific very focused questions) and a big group (> 8 persons) tend to split in small sub-groups.


(Progressive elaboration method)

Duration: 1 hour, depending on the group size

Group size: from 8 to 40 persons


  • The advantage of this method is that it allows participants to speak firstly as individuals on a given subject. It is also a highly dynamic method, since the size of the groups changes over the course of the debate.
  • Progressive exploration of a topic.
  • Help exchange of ideas and experience.

Description of the technique:

  • Introduce the topic and explain the technique.
  • Ask participants to work individually on the topic and to write down their reflection - (5-10mn).
  • The participants gather by 2 or 3, to exchange their ideas, put in common and summarize their production, argue and ask questions they have - (15-20mn)
  • Two or tree small groups get together in bigger groups of 4 to 6 persons to continue the reflexion. The groups identify a reporter and a moderator - (20-30mn). In this way, as the groups grow in size, the debate is enriched.
  • The snow ball can grow to up to 6 or 8 persons.
  • The reporters make a restitution of the work of their sub-group in plenary session.
  • The leader makes a final synthesis.


Duration: 1h30


  • To bring to light the existing knowledge and representations of the participants about a topic.
  • To overcome obstacles related to shyness (especially at the beginning of a session) by favoring progressive communication in sub-groups and allow each person to express him/herself.

Description of the technique:

The leader proposes a topic of reflection in the form of a question. The question should be broad enough to generate the maximum production of ideas. Participants are divided in sub-groups of 5 to 8 persons around a flipchart. There should be one flipchart per group. During the 2 first steps, participants are not allowed to speak.

Step 1 - 10 minutes

Participants go to the board one after the other but without order (when they wish) to write one word or a few words expressing their idea. Participants can only write 1 word or sentence at a time but there is no limit in the number of words/sentence they can write, meaning in the number of time they go to the flipchart.

Step 2 - 10 minutes

With the same system and still without speaking, participants put a cross in front of the words, which seem more important to them. Participants can only put 1 cross at a time, put can go to the flipchart as much as they want to put crosses. A same word can receive an unlimited number of crosses.

Step 3 - 10 minutes

Participants have now the right to speak: They comment their choices, explain the meaning of words...

Step 4 - 5 minutes

Participants go around to look at the other groups’ productions but cannot speak with the other groups. They can add words/ideas into their own presentation thanks to the ideas they picked up in other groups.

Step 5 - 10 minutes

Participants come back in their group and prepare their synthesis. They identify one reporter in each group to present their production.

Step 6 - 5 to 10 minutes

Each reporter presents its synthesis.

Step 7 - 5 minutes

The facilitator presents a global synthesis. This can be followed by a plenary discussion.


Duration: between 20 minutes and one hour

Group size: from 6 to 12 persons, above, split into sub-groups (what means there are more than one facilitator).


  • Stimulate, develop creativity, enrich a reflection, find solutions to a problem, feed a collective choice.
  • Collect the maximum of spontaneous ideas from the participants on a given theme
  • Produce the maximum of ideas in a relatively short time
  • Classify spontaneous ideas in a logical manner


  • The leader introduces the subject to be discussed by asking a clear and precise question. (S)he makes sure the question is well understood.
  • Leader asks the participants to give all the ideas coming to their mind, if possible under the format of key words or short sentences. All the ideas are welcome can be voiced or written on a board. The leader explains that there won’t be any judgement, criticism or censorship. (S)he ensures that all participants are able to speak and ask them to speak one at a time.
  • The leader writes down ideas as they come. If possible, work with 2 leaders, as the rhythm should be fast and dynamic (one to write down, the other to conduct the discussion).
  • Generally after 20 minutes the productivity of the group decreases. 3-4 minutes before the end, the leader indicates the remaining time (what can provoke new ideas)
  • Participants and leader identify categories of ideas and classify them by theme, nature, objects. The best ideas can be elected, ideas can be enriched by others. Words/sentences that need further explanations are discussed (always ensure that each word has the same meaning for everyone).
  • The leader summarizes and gives key the messages of the group, a list of possible solutions or a final ideas.



  • Discuss several topics/questions in a relatively limited amount of time
  • Facilitate communication, the expression of everyone in small groups
  • Stimulate confrontation, and sharing of ideas

Description of the technique:

  • Constitute as many groups as the number of questions you have selected to debate. In this example, you’ll have 3 groups. Each group works on each question.
  • Ask volunteers to be ambassadors. You’ll need as many ambassador as questions to debate.
  • In this example, with 3 questions, you’ll have 3 groups and 3 ambassadors.
  • Each ambassador works during all the session with the same question. (S)he goes to each group with his/her question. When (s)he arrives in a new group, (s)he should not mention what previous groups have already told her/him.

The leader explains their role to the ambassadors:

  • They have a moderator’s role : ensure everyone can speak, ensure the discussion stays focussed on the topic
  • (S)he takes notes, makes a synthesis of information collected in each group without omitting any idea
  • (S)he presents the global production of the groups in plenary session on her/his question.
  • The leader controls the timing. The time left to the groups to work on each question should be decreased from 20 minutes for the first question (time to start reflecting upon the question, time for the ambassador to be at ease) to 10 minutes for the last one (to avoid fatigue of ambassadors and boredom of the groups).
  • Ambassadors prepare their synthesis. During this time, other participants have an extra break. If the persons are not familiar with synthesis, the leaders should give them a hand.
  • Presentation by each ambassador
  • Global synthesis by the leader



  • Can be a useful method for an evaluation session of a training/meeting
  • To explore different aspects of a topic in a limited time period
  • Highlight, on a specific topic, the pre-existing knowledge of the participants
  • Highlight the production capacity of a group (reflection, building upon the ideas of others)
  • Facilitate critical analysis within group work
  • Facilitate individual participation from members of a large group
  • Facilitate the summary of the ideas of a larger group

Group size: From 9 to 20 persons

Description of the technique

Preparation: The trainer defines the questions to be asked: each question must be derived from the same topic, but it must be possible to answer each question independently of the others. The questions should be quite specific so they can be answered in a short period of time. Ideal = 3 questions.

Place three flipcharts in one room (if there is not enough space in one room, place them in three different areas or rooms). Create 3 sub-groups (A, B and C) each with a maximum of 6-7 participants and a minimum of 3-4 participants. Each group is assigned one colored marker (three color in total) which they will use to answer each of the three questions.

Stage 1 (Duration = 6 minutes)

Each sub-group receives one question (eg.: “What are the positive points of this meeting).

They write (with their own colored marker) their ideas/answers on a flipchart with key words, in point form or in short sentences.

Stage 2 (Duration = 10 minutes)

The three groups move to the next Flipchart (keeping their own colored marker) were they find the next question (eg. “What are the negative points of this meeting”). The group reads the next question and the answers written by the previous group on this question and give their opinion (+ = agree, 0 = not agree, ? = don’t understand). Then the group adds new ideas not proposed by the previous group.

Stage 3 (Duration = 10 minutes)

The sub-groups change again, read the responses of the two preceding groups on the third question (eg.: “What are the key messages of this meeting?”), place a question mark beside any unclear answers, + if they are agree, 0 if they are not agree. Then, they add any information they feel is missing and again (if necessary) .

Stage 4 (Duration = 10 minutes)

The groups come back to their first flip-chart. The whole group prepare a synthesis of all the ideas (common ideas, differences and questions). For this rotation, the group must appoint a reporter.

Stage 5 (Duration = 10 minutes)

The reporter of each sub-group will present the final analysis.

Stage 6 (Duration = 10 minutes)

The discussion takes place between the participants first (justification, questions on remarks written on the flipchart,…).

If necessary, the facilitator fills in any gaps in the answers and provides a summary of the exercise.

Duration: 1h

Explanation of the method and creation of the groups: 5 minutes

Group work for 1st question: 6 minutes

Group work for the 2nd and 3rd questions: 2 x 10minutes = 20 minutes

Preparation of the synthesis: 10 minutes

Presentation of group work: 3x3 minutes = 10 minutes

Summary by the facilitator: 10 minutes


3 flip charts. Markers in three different colors

Role of the facilitator

Explain the teaching method. Prepare the material and divide the sub-groups. Watch the time and rotate the groups. Ensure that each group member has the chance to participate. Present the final summary

Suggestions for fostering debate

Creative approaches of fostering debate can be used, depending of the topic.  Here are some examples:

  • Start the meeting with an ice breaking exercise.  Pick the method you like best.
  • Use videos from NESTOR to illustrate issues (available in all mission).
  • Use different discussion methods (for instance, the Ambassadors method, the snowball technique, the comparative debate.
  • The Training Unit in Brussels is always ready to support you with more explanations, come with suggestions of debating methods, or to help you chose the method most appropriate for the topic you want to discuss.  They can be reached by or
  • Use role playing or other games to break the ice and to get to know your colleagues’ projects.  More information can be found on the web.
  • The MSF Great Projects Game - Mini AGM - Objective: The staff of the different projects are not necessarily aware of the aims, beneficiaries, activities, difficulties or questions raised in other projects in the mission. The purpose of this game is to enable exchange and discussion between all to happen in a highly informal way.

If your mission has developed an original approach, let us know about it!  Other missions will be glad to use it!

By: Rebecca Cederholm