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Soft Shoe Shuffle

Posted by Jutta Goldammer from Visionautik Akademie


Group size

8 - 500

Subgroup size

not relevant

More infos to group size

theoretically no maximum, but for topics that need deeper sharing of thoughts and explanations it is good not to be more than 40 persons.

Is participant experience relevant?

It's okay if participants haven't seen the inside of a classroom in years.

Physical trust needed

Mental trust needed



30 minutes - 2 hours

Experience level of the facilitator

routine as participant OR professional facilitator

Number of facilitators


Location requirements

flat ground and a lot of space, either outdoor or in a large room with furniture aside.


Level of activation


Hidden curriculum

-Every voice is worth being heard, everyone has the right to be listened to.
-There are no wrong opinions - each opinion/proposal is right from its unique perspective and helps the group clarify what they want and need.
-Moving the body helps to move the mind.

Woo-Woo Level - How touchy-feely is this method?

From 1.Rationalist-Materialist "No feelings here, folks." to 5.Esoteric-Shamanic Bleeding Heart:

Innovation Phases:

2 Creating an Innovation-Friendly Culture
3 Fostering New Perspectives & Ways of Thinking
4 Idea Generation
5 Grounding the Idea

Method Category:

Appreciative / Community building
Awareness raising
Collective Intelligence
Conflict resolution
Group communication
Idea generator
Problem Solving
Understanding complexity


Soft shoe shuffle is a group conversation in motion. It is an effective and energizing method for -sharing insights or discussing controversial topics in a group, -for group decision making -and to bring a fresh wind into encrusted conversation habits.



Soft shoe shuffle is a practice of Deep Democracy. Deep Democracy is a methodology developed to foster a deeper level of dialogue, inviting a variety of opinions in a safe environment.
What is so useful about soft shoe shuffle?
-Its dynamic setup allows participants to constantly review their opinion and change their position without losing face.
-It breaks encrusted conversation patterns, makes quiet voices audible in the discussion process and activates the whole group, not only those who are currently speaking.
-It gives immediate feedback from the group what they think about an opinion or proposal.
-It taps into collective intelligence and shows the multitude of perspectives about a topic or question.
-It quickly gives a deep insight and a good visual impression about what is alive in a group.

We have seen stuck group decisions with a few filibusters dominating the discussion turn into a lively process with a quick resolution everyone could go with - just by shifting from a plenum discussion to a soft shoe shuffle process.


It is adapted from the process-oriented work of psychologist Arnold Mindell (http://www.aamindell.net) and has been developed further by Myrna Lewis (http://deep-democracy.net)


PREPARATION (excluding materials)

Can be done on the spot, no preparation needed.

1 Clarify the topic

Clarify the topic/question you want to explore or find a solution for. Write it on a flipchart.
It can be helpful to start with an open sentence instead of a question, e.g. "To me the biggest challenge for this community is..." or "Education in a university of the future should..."

2 Getting started

Ask the group to stand up and spread out in the room.
Then explain: We will use the space in the room to make visible the different perspectives of our topic.
Whoever wants to can make a statement. Say it loud and clear so everyone can hear it well. Make it short, not more than one sentence. The rest of the group listens to the statement and moves in relation to the speaker according to how much they agree with the statement. For example, if you agree, stand right next to the person, if you disagree, stand across from the person on the other side
of the room.

3 Work an example

Read out loud your common question or unfinished sentence. Have one of the people in the group offer an observation/statement about the issue that is being discussed.
Have those that feel the same way move close to the speaker; those that feel differently move away (distance depends on
how strongly they feel). Have the group pause and look at where everyone has ended up.
Invite new statements. They can either refine a previous statement or create a unique one. Make the group adjust their place in the room according to the new statement. Give them the official allowance to change their minds again and again and encourage them to keep moving with each new perspective according to what feels right to them.

4 Support the discussion

Get a feel for the process. Sometimes it is just fine to hear the statements and see the group move accordingly. Especially in decision processes this might be enough and the group automatically finds a statement everyone can agree on and a decision is found. In soft shoe shuffles that are more about exploring a topic or sharing insights and opinions you could support the group with a few facilitation interventions. Here are some suggestions:

-Invite further exploration. For example, look at the people who are farthest away. Ask them if they would share why they are standing
where they are. If others find the perspective compelling, they can readjust their location based on this new information. Then, someone else may offer a clarifying statement that deepens the understanding and people may move closer (or further away) from
that person. In this way, the shuffle starts to flow and the perspectives get clearer.

-Inviting quiet people: Don't ask a quiet person directly, but something like "Does any one of those who have been quiet so far want to share?" Look for eye contact with some of the people who haven't said anything so far.

5 Ending

There are 3 good moments for an end:
1. A consensus solution has been found and everyone gathers around one statement everyone agrees with.
2. The energy starts to lag.
3. You feel the important voices have been heard and the topic has been explored well.

In cases of 2 or 3, you can end with a statement that is good for closing. Make sure not to stop in the midst of a very controversial moment.


Depending on the topic you chose, you can:
-write down the found solution/agreed position, read it aloud and celebrate it.
-if it was more of an exploration topic you can let the participants journal their experience.
-you can have someone record all the statements that have been made during the process as a list or a graphic recording in shape of a position map of the topic.



We were a consortium with 7 organisations and about 20 people and were about to publish the book "Hosting Transformation". We had been gathering material, had a budget for printing, were quite far in our ideation process, but realized that we had all different opinions about the purpose of the book. It was an afternoon after two meeting days, a few people were speaking and making suggestions, many were exhausted by the dull conversation and could hardly listen to the contrary positions that seemed irreconcilable. We felt stuck and with each further minute of discussion we lost hope of finding a common agreement about the focus of the book. Then we shifted to the soft shoe shuffle. Suddenly life came back into the group. Standing and moving helped a lot. The statements were short and precise, no longer epic speeches. You couldn't just dream away anymore - it was important to find the proper position in the room. Within minutes the whole group was awake again, engaged into proposing statements. While positioning in the room and having some time to connect with the statement, you could easily perceive what felt right about the statement and what felt wrong and needed adjustment. There was a joy in proposing a statement and seeing the immediate reaction. After about 20 minutes we had a group consensus on the book's purpose, everyone had the feeling of being heard and seen and we were fully energized.

Further typical situations we use soft shoe shuffle for:

- After a research phase in an innovation team (e.g. interviews in small groups): Bringing together individual observations and getting a group feel about the whole situation to fully understand a problem before we go into an ideation process.
- Finding a group consensus about a controversal topic in the group.
- Finding an idea (e.g. a slogan for a campaign. Be careful, it is not suitable for complex ideas.)


If you work with a group where people are reluctant to share their opinions, are shy or fear they could be laughed at, you can have them write their statements on pieces of paper, collect them and randomly distribute them back to the group. Then you can start off the discussion by making participants read out what is on their card. Everyone knows it is not their opinion, that makes the discussion possible while being anonymous. Usually after a while people lose their fear and dare to add new comments beyond the prepared cards.

Trainers for this method can be hired here:

Visionautik Akademie, Plenum, Sendzimir Foundation, Art Monastery www.visionautik.de

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