The Arc of Dialogue – Sites of Conscience

A Strategy for Scaffolding Audience-Centered Questions

The Arc of Dialogue is a useful and effective question scaffolding strategy for interpretive programs and media products.

The arc of dialogue is a strategically designed suite of questions to guide participants into a purposeful, meaningful, audience-centered conversation about a challenging or controversial topic. The interpreter scaffolds or tiers the questions to create a safe and encouraging environment for dialogue and participation.

A full arc of dialogue — covering all four phases — is the overarching strategy for a facilitated dialogue program. However, parts of an arc of dialogue can be woven effectively into all kinds of traditional programs and media. This strategy of scaffolding dialogic questions to invite and encourage audience participation and contribution is one methodology. Another effective methodology is the MuseumHack Traffic Light Model.

Phases of questions in the Arc of Dialogue Model

Phase 1: Build Community

Non-threatening questions encourage all participants to join the dialogue; invite participants to share information about themselves and to start to learn about the others in the group; “me-easy” questions become a springboard to harder questions.

Phase 2: Sharing Personal Experience

More challenging “me” questions invite participants to think about and share their own experiences related to the topic, and begin to make personal connections to the topic. The facilitator helps participants recognize how their experiences are alike and different and why.

Phase 3: Explore Beyond Ourselves

“We” questions help participants explore the topic beyond their personal experience with it; encourage inquiry and exploration in an effort to learn with and from one another; probe the underlying social conditions that inform our diversity of perspectives.

Phase 4: Synthesis, Impact and Closure

Synthesis questions help participants make meaning and draw insights from the diversity and common threads of the dialogue; participants are invited to reflect on what they may have learned about themselves, one another and the topic and are encouraged to share the personal impact.

Note: The Arc of Dialogue Model is adapted from International Coalition Sites of Conscience and The Tenement Museum materials.


Here is an example of a program arc on Endangered Species, demonstrating how to use all or part of an arc to scaffold an audience-centered experience.

Additional Reading

Looking For More on Audience Centered Experiences?

Audience Centered Experience Button - Two Pictogram Visitors talking to a pictogram rangerYou can find much more self-guided learning and all of the materials for making yourself an ACE in the Audience Centered Experience Interpretation workbook.

Interpretive Leadership button - a pictogram ranger leading a group of other rangers higherYou can find links to seasonal lesson plans which support this emerging skill set in the Audience Centered Experience Trainers’ Guide.

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