Serial Testimony

Serial Testimony

Sep 15, 2021

Serial testimony was developed by Peggy McIntosh as a counterpoint to meetings where "the talkers talk, the listeners listen, and a general feeling of malaise prevails".

This group activity is very simple in concept: the facilitator poses a question, and each participant speaks in turn for a set amount of time, between one and three minutes. Other group members are not allowed to respond. There is no interruption and after a serial testimony there is no debate.

The aim is to listen, to hear and be heard, to compare, contrast, and deepen one's own understanding of oneself and others.

As simple as this technique is, to many participants it will feel unnatural, especially in settings where they are accustomed to discussion. The facilitator must carefully prepare the group in advance. Ask the participants to honour the following ground rules:

  •  Listen to each other with respect, without interrupting to comment or ask questions
  • Speak about your own thoughts, reactions, feelings and experiences, not those of others.
  • During your turn, do not comment on what others have said before you.

You might tell the group that they will probably have strong reactions to the process; ask them to hold onto and reflect on their thoughts and feelings. Assure them that there will be ample opportunity to continue the dialogue in other settings.

Move systematically round the group rather than asking for volunteers to speak. You might want to use a talking stick to reinforce the ground rules.

If someone speaks out of turn, the facilitator should gently but firmly restate the ground rules; otherwise, the facilitator, too, should refrain from comment.

Closing serial testimony may be done in several ways:

  •  A minute or more of silence
  •  A minute or more for participants to write their reactions
  • A few minutes of debriefing about the experience or open discussion in response to an overall question about the workshop.

When I first used serial testimony, at a ICF conference in America, we repeated the exercise with a series of questions from the facilitator who could thus control the development of our thinking – but not the content.