Using ORID to Make a Positive Difference During COVID


Sometimes you want to have complex conversations with people you don’t know. Facilitators become masters at this. We help groups have engaging and fascinating discussions even when they don’t know each other and are talking about something that’s controversial. So, we wanted to show you this using the Focused Conversation Method.

We talked with a group of colleagues from several continents about COVID and vaccination and how it’s been affecting them.  We witnessed how many of us are having difficult conversations with our family members, colleagues, friends, and community members about human behaviors around this pandemic. We assumed it might be a continuing topic of interest throughout the world.  It was also reaching new levels of complexity as vaccinations are being made available at different levels of accessibility. We also wanted participants of this conversation  to take away some ideas for positive actions in the future to keep coping with this transition.

In this blog, we have six different short videos showing snippets from our conversations with two different groups of people from China, Taiwan, Singapore, Canada, and USA.

Our intent is to show you how a facilitator interacts with the participants and the specific ways we do this.  We first explain each part in writing, then invite you to look at a video, and see what you can learn from it. If helpful, go back to the tips that we give after you watch the video.

Let’s dive into this important conversation called: Using ORID to make a Positive Difference During COVID

Every Focused Conversation has a minimum of four parts reflecting four levels of thinking that all groups and cultures can use helpfully. It’s been used globally for decades and found to have good results in all cultures. The four levels of thinking are known as objective, reflective, interpretive, and decisional. We generally follow that order although we might go back-and-forth depending on the complexity of the conversation. In addition, there’s a beginning and an ending. In this case, we called the beginning “context”. And for the closing, we called it “appreciations”. This is based on what we are trying to do with this particular discussion.


We knew that some participants might say things about COVID and vaccinations that could be controversial for others.  We wanted to create safety for everyone in the group. Thus, we asked the group to be open minded and not reflect on what any other person said in an aggressive way. We wanted people to know that everyone has different pieces of information and different experiences. This needed to be honoured. The Focused Conversation is always about engendering profound respect and inclusive  participation.

Listen to how we the facilitators set the context in the video below and note how we (hopefully) foster safety for the group.  We also share reasons (rational and experiential aims) for having the conversation, and we let them know the approximate timing for the conversation. By the way, we had hoped to have these conversations in about 40 minutes. Each one actually took 90 minutes. We had to shorten them! They were fascinating conversations revealing so much we didn’t know about Covid and vaccination situations around the world. Although we don’t share anything overly sensitive in our videos, we think you will get a flavor for how we conducted the conversations.

My co-facilitator is my esteemed ToP practitioner, Laura Hsu, from Taiwan but doing much of her work in China. Thanks to Laura for taking on this short project with me and her colleague, Jennifer.

Here were our aims for the conversation:


  • Discern individual and collective challenges in the time of COVID.
  • Identify possible positive differences we can make in the world as we navigate the changes that COVID has brought to us.


  • Broaden viewpoints by connecting with people who have different views about COVID and vaccination.
  • Greater clarity, compassion and understanding of how everyone’s situation is different.

(O)BJECTIVE Thinking Level

For those of you who have taken the ToP training, you will remember that the objective level question is to get out facts and objective level data. It’s a chance for everyone to get on the same page and hear things that they haven’t heard from others. Although some of the data shared might not strictly be considered to be “facts”, it’s based on people’s experiences and their own set of data.


  • The most important thing to do at this level is to allow people to really hear each other.
  • Ensure you hear every voice in the room.
  • Make the questions simple enough that everyone can answer them easily.
  • Typically you ask everyone the first question and then you might ask a few more objective level questions that only 2-4 people answer.
  • We also knew that English was not the primary  language for many of the participants. So we had to make sure the questions were simple enough to be understood by everyone.

Our full set of objective level questions were:

  • What’s going on with COVID and vaccinations in your part of the world? Please share briefly in less than 30 seconds about what is going on with COVID and vaccination as you know it. (Please stay open and curious as you hear different responses.)
  • What else are you hearing in the news or from your family, friends and colleagues or from around the world?
  • (Optional if time permits) Anything else that you have heard/know about COVID around the world?

(R)EFLECTIVE Thinking Level

At the second level of thinking, you’re really inviting people to share how they’re responding to the data they just heard or know. It’s good to make it a safe space for anyone who feels they are ready to share to do so.


  • You do not call on specific people at this level.
  • You might give an example of your own to show what you are looking for in terms of the tone, length and content of the question.
  • Pauses are good here.
  • Looks of empathy and sympathy are helpful.
  • Smiling at your participants and in particular the one who is speaking is also helpful.

We included in this level an invitation for people to draw a picture to show what “scared” looks like to them. This can be an effective way to break the ice and let people know that all ways of feeling an emotion are accepted.

Here is the full set of questions that we used for the Reflective level:

  • What’s surprising about what you have seen or heard related to COVID and vaccinations?
  • What’s interesting and/or hopeful about what’s happening now both in your part of the world and elsewhere in the world?
  • What scares you about this situation? Draw what scared feels like to you.

(I)NTERPRETIVE Thinking Level

At this level, you’re going deeper. You really need to spend extra time here because this is where some of the profound material will surface. People have had a chance to get to know each other and honor each other’s sharing to date and to really reflect deeply on what’s emerging for them. So, they can go deeper, and you need to encourage this. Here are some tips that wewould advise at the interpretive level:


  • Pause a lot.
  • Offer time to write before anyone speaks.
  • Listen without interrupting.
  • Use head nodding
  • Use prompting with “anyone else?”.
  • No one is called on specifically.
  • Look at speaker . At some points, I was taking notes but my co- facilitator, Laura, stayed focused on speaker.

Here is the full set of interpretive level questions we used:

  • (Optional if time permits) What challenges/issues are you and your family facing with the pandemic?
  • What assumptions/values are called into question by the COVID situation?
  • What are you trying or experimenting with around work, life and relationships during these massive changes?
  • (Optional if time permits) What challenges is society facing? (examples from your part of the world)
  • What has your country region done in response to the change?
  • Out of these reactions, what are reinforcing or support beliefs about your country? What are challenging your beliefs?
  • (Optional if time permits)What policies has your own country or region adopted that reinforce or support beliefs about your country?
  • (Optional if time permits)What has your own country/region done that has challenged your beliefs about your country/region?
  • In summary, what new understanding/insight emerged for you from our conversation today?

(D)ECISIONAL Thinking Level

At this level, you were bringing things to close and you want people to think about what comes next. It could be an action; it could be a new way of behaving. In this case, both these types of decisional thinking were offered by the participants. You’ll notice that because we are co-facilitators, Laura and I occasionally answered the question ourselves. We did this deliberately although it’s not typical. We did it because for this very sensitive conversation, we wanted people to sense that we also were part of this pandemic dilemma in the same ways they were. We wanted to put ourselves in the same experience as everyone else.


Note all of these tips apply to all other levels if done carefully.

  • The facilitator can move along the conversation if you’re running out of time, as we were, by saying, “Let’s go to next level”.
  • Again, because we were running out of time, we did something we don’t usually do. We asked two questions simultaneously that were linked. We stated that they could answer either question. Some answered both questions and that was fine too. We could do this because the two questions were so related to each other.
  • We also copied each question into the chat pod so everyone could see it as well as hear it. This is especially important for those who do not have the language being used by the facilitators, as one of their primary languages.
  • Ask, “Who else would like to share?”
  • In this part of the video, you will hear participants using words like “hopeful”, “got inspired by”. These words are not to be interrupted. Even though it sounds like they’ve gone back to the Reflective level, they still talking about actions.
  • Pause and wait for next person to speak. The facilitator does not have to use words at this moment. Pauses are very effective.
  • Thank the person speaking and use their name.

Here’s the full set of decisional level questions we used:

  • What personally do I need to do to start, stop or continue to do as the world changes due to the pandemic?
  • What could we do (together or individually) to make a positive difference as the world navigates these changes?



The key to this section is to watch timing. It may be the most important part of the conversation so you do not want to cut people off. On the other hand, there may not be much left to say, and you can invite brevity.


  • An example of how to start this section might be  “feel free to offer a short  phrase of appreciation to the group for what we experienced together.”
  • Be sure to note that not everyone has to offer an appreciation but it is fine to do so.   In our video, you will hear Laura  concisely but respectfully passing the  next part onto me, her co-facilitator.
  • Again, at this part, it is best not to speak much. Empathize smiling and acknowledging non-verbally with e.g., a 👍 thumbs up, or brief “yes”, “ thank-you”, etc.

Here are the closing questions we used:

  • (Optional if time permits) Who is one person or a group you’d like to have a similar conversation with?
  • What is an appreciation you are leaving with?


For your future reference, we are gifting you the full conversation. You will notice on the right hand side of the attachment that there are options for inserting a few extra activities under the column called “Format”. We only used a few of these in our session, but we recommend these additional activities to keep energy and attention high.

Download Your Copy Here

Thank you to: Elaine, Lyn, Jennifer, Michael, Steve, Rangineh, Robin, Alyson, Heaven, Grace for participating!

We’d love to hear what kinds of conversations you are having within your communities about COVID and vaccinations.  Please let us know.

To reduce the carbon impact of this blog, we encourage you if you go out to YouTube, to use standard definition when viewing videos. Please note for this blog, we are using the lowest definition for our embedded videos so we can to reduce our carbon footprint of our videos, 360p vs. 1080p HD.

Barbara MacKay

Barbara loves “everything facilitation”. She thinks BIG! She loves working with other facilitators around the globe to create transformational results for client groups. She loves teaching others how to do that. She loves presenting at global facilitator conferences. She loves certifying new professional facilitators. If you also love what process facilitation can do for the world, connect with her – virtually or in person. She believes facilitation processes, used well, will provide the roadmap to a more just and sustainable world.


  1. Candice Lam on July 5, 2021 at 11:13 am

    Dear Barbara,
    Thank you so much for organizing this conversation, and more importantly, share the design and tips, and demonstrate how to do it. This provides me with a timely reference for we are in IAFHK going to run a workshop on “migration in Hong Kong” — also a sensitive subject. I am one of the facilitators, and at this point, I am stuck in the questions and process:(
    Once again, my sincere appreciation for your generosity!
    All the best,
    Candice from Hong Kong

Leave a Comment