How can we avoid the discussion being hijacked?

There are three good strategies for keeping the discussion constructive:

1. Have a clear focus for the project: define the scope very clearly, including what’s ‘up for grabs’ and what has already been decided. Consider setting a time limit to focus contributions.

2. Set some clear rules: use a moderation policy or house rules to set the tone of the discussion and be firm but human about enforcing them

3. Manage the community: there’s a vital role for someone or a small team to actively cultivate the discussion, welcoming new contributors and acknowledging positive contributions, stimulating new discussions and dealing with instances of abuse or bad behaviour.

Ultimately, people generally behave well when they feel they’re being treated as grown ups and asked for specific views on specific topics. Similarly, if the organisation can’t stomach some constructively critical or hostile comment as part of the project, then it’s worth rethinking whether these channels are right in the first place.

If things do drift off, the strategies above – applied in a timely way – should help to bring things back. Ultimately, people who feel strongly about an issue may well still want to lodge a protest, so perhaps acknowledge this and suggest more suitable channels they can use if it becomes a significant problem.

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