How to Facilitate Magnet Statements

“Set up the space for easy movement. Prime the group with a topic or concept, and ask for one participant to make a related statement they believe. Other participants respond by moving closer or farther based on their agreement or disagreement. Ask for another statement, then repeat.”

That’s the short explanation on the back of Magnet Statements, one of the cards in our Facilitator Cards Preview Pack and the forthcoming foundational deck.

For those of you who have never participated in a Magnet Statements process, that explanation might leave a bit to be desired. Allow me to help!

Following is an excerpt from the forthcoming Facilitator Cards Facilitation Guide, which includes a full walkthrough of how to facilitate the Magnet Statements activity, followed by explanation of why we categorize it how we did (as Full Group configuration, and for facilitating Emotion). Then I’ll give you some ideas for different ways you can use Magnet Statements, highlight its unique strengths, and give you some suggestions for other Facilitator Cards this process plays nicely with.

Facilitating Magnet Statements

The ideal space is a wide-open area where participants can easily move past one another, be at varying distances, and reposition themselves without navigating around obstacles. If you need to move chairs, tables, or other furniture in the room, be sure to do this before giving instructions or you will likely have to repeat yourself.

Set up by introducing the topic. You want a topic that is broad enough to allow for a lot of differences of interpretation and opinion, but narrow enough that it will spark strong reactions in your participants.

After you’ve introduced the topic, give the instructions for the process:

“We are going to be inviting you to make ‘magnet’ statements, one at a time, in response to this topic. After someone makes a statement that is true for them, we ask that you position yourself within the space as a response to how much you find yourself aligning with the statement. If you absolutely agree, move right next to them. The more you disagree, the further you should move away. We’ll then ask someone who isn’t in agreement to revise the statement such that it’s true for them. We’ll repeat this process several times, responding with our movement to different statements from new voices.”

Be sure to specify the ways you’ll be inviting people to make statements. For example, you might say:

  • “I’ll pick people to respond.”
  • “Raise your hand if you want to make a statement.”
  • “We’ll invite anyone who feels compelled to make a statement after everyone has had a chance to move and settle.”

And know that you can change up how you allow participants to respond throughout the process (e.g., “From now on, I’ll call on people to make statements.")

In general, it’s good to hear from people who are on their own in the room, because their response will often shake up the arrangement of the room.

Between each magnet statement, invite the participants to observe where they are and where the group is as a whole before the next person makes a statement.

Let the Magnet Statements run for as long as you like. Two good “we should wrap this up” signals are the group running out of statements to make (i.e., you see everyone looking to everyone else to say something), or you feel the energy waning (i.e., in between statements, people are shuffling, grumbling, or stop moving far apart in general).

Why Full Group? Why Emotion?

This tool provides a means for everyone in the group to participate and express their thoughts and opinions without actually needing to verbally respond.

The bigger the group the better, because you’ll have a wider range of statements shared, showcasing the variety of perspectives in the group through movement.

At times, there will be several islands of belief, which can suddenly transform into one unified continent. This allows the entire group to get a sense of where the rest of the group is quickly on a wide range of ideas.

Magnet Statements for Small Groups

For small groups, designate an area within your larger space for each group (e.g., divide the room into quadrants for four groups).

Change the goals slightly: challenge participants within each small group to make statements in response to the prompt that results in everyone in their group standing near them.

As long as there’s disagreement (distance between participants), they need to keep revising the statement until everyone can agree (or they give up, or run out of time).

Once every small group is in agreement (or they run out of time), have them share the statement with the full group, and invite the other groups’ participants to respond with movement. Did you find a statement everyone in the room agrees with?

You can repeat this several times, giving the groups short time limits (e.g., 3 minutes) for each prompt.

Magnet Statements for Ideation, Clarification, or Execution

To use Magnet Statements as an ideation tool, identify a topic for the group to start to make suggestions about. The first person starts by making a suggestion. Participants then spread out according to how far away their idea was from that first suggestion. If they had the exact same idea they should stand right next to the person, a slightly different idea they’d move a small distance away, and a completely different or opposing idea a large distance away. Have participants of varying distances share their ideas.

For clarification, instead of having participants make one statement after another provide time for participants to share their reasoning. Once participants move after a statement is made, provide an opportunity for a few participants to share why they moved where they did. After a few shares have been made. Invite another statement and repeat the process.

For execution, have participants make statements about what they want moving forward. Having participants respond to these statements by moving closer or further can operate as a barometer to get a sense of how much support a particular future step might receive.

Magnet Statements is Great For…

Quickly surfacing where the entire group stands in relation to a particular opinion (literally and metaphorically!). Conversations can quickly introduce dozens of different opinions, and it’s difficult to know how much everyone agrees or disagrees with anything being said. But magnet statements force the group to weigh in on everything being said, giving you a good snapshot of everyone’s opinions.

Getting to know a group and having the group get to know each other. Additionally, because the participants are the ones making the statements, you can gain insight into the group both from the statements they make and their responses.

Non-verbal communication and mixing up the energy of the space. If you’ve been talking a lot, or sitting still, Magnet Statements is a great way to change the pace of your facilitation. Non-verbal communication is a fun break from talking, and physically moving around can awaken a dormant participant.

Challenging participants to make declarative statements. Often conversations stall out because people won’t state what they think or believe. This set up helps overcome that inertia by making bold declarations the only option for verbal participation.

Don’t Use Magnet Statements if…

If you want to have control over what the group is responding to. This tool works best when you give control of the statements made over to the group. If there are particular statements you want them to respond to, or you need to control the content in general, Spectrum Statements or Fill in the Gap are better fits.

The space doesn’t work. If there simply isn’t space to move, don’t try to force it. Participants will not only be irritated by having to navigate furniture, but this annoyance can lead them to move less which will diminish the usefulness of the tool. Use Finger Voting (1 = completely disagree, 5 = completely agree) in response to participant-generated statements instead.

How do You Use Magnet Statements?

I hope the above explanation gives you enough fodder to get going. And I’d love to hear about some of the ways you use Magnet Statements in your facilitation!

Personally, as someone who mostly does social justice facilitation (gender & sexuality education), Magnet Statements is a process I go to a lot in the beginning of working with a new group, to get a sense for what’s on everyone’s mind, and where they stand (literally!) in relation to the hot button issues.

What have you seen work? What pitfalls have you encountered trying to facilitate Magnet Statements?

Email me and Meg at [email protected] with the subject “Magnet Statements” to let us know!

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