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Duke Forum for Scholars and Publics

Our Model

We at FSP make a commitment to our audiences, which is that they can come into our space with no prior knowledge of a particular topic and that they will be welcomed into the discussion and leave having learned something. This, we have found, helps audience members who are already familiar with a topic as well, and it helps panelists find ways to articulate their knowledge and perspectives in the clearest possible way. It also facilitates trans-disciplinary conversations within Duke, inviting faculty and students to cross boundaries and attend events focused on questions and fields beyond their specializations.

For Organizers

Read best practices for selecting topics and panelists and managing the process.

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For Moderators

Learn how best to prepare, guide the discussion, and manage speaking time.

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For Presenters

Learn what our audiences expect and view samples of successful programs.

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Because of our commitment to our audiences, traditional forms of academic presentation generally do not work with FSP programming. We host and organize events in a variety of formats, from the more conventional panel discussion to the public forum, the live reading or performance, the hands-on workshop or demonstration, or the pop-up exhibit. Since the majority of our events still tend to place panelists selected for their expertise or experience in dialogue, we've highlighted the key differences in how we encourage you to approach, organize, and lead panel conversations at FSP.


Guidelines for FSP Conversations


For Organizers

Q: What topics make for a good non-specialist event?

A: Anything! Any topic can be engaging. The communities that gather for our programs are energetic, creative, and curious. The format of the discussion and the preparedness of the presenters will be the most important determinants of a community’s level of engagement with a program.

When tackling potentially controversial topics, especially for programs responding quickly to broader debates, we have found that the key is to start with well-posed, focused, and concrete questions that center the knowledge of the panelists you have chosen. This provides a foundation for broader discussions to emerge. When the conversation between panelists takes the right tone of respect and exchange, this provides a model for a similar conversation when it is opened up to the audience.


Q: What are the key ingredients of a successful program?

A: Here are the qualities we think go into creating a program that’s fulfilling for all involved:

Intentionality. Know why you’re creating a program and communicate those goals in your planning and advertising. This will help ensure that everyone involved has realistic expectations of the experience.

Flexibility. Unexpected opportunities emerge. Unanticipated hurdles arise. Remain attentive to the goals you set for your program, read the room, and respond thoughtfully to unforeseen circumstances.

Generosity. A lot of work goes into even the simplest programs, and everyone in attendance puts forth some effort to be there. Respect that time and effort. Listen and respond to what you hear. Show appreciation for the gift of attention others are giving to your event by staying on schedule, staying on topic, and being alert to the needs of participants.


Q: I’m organizing an event. How do I choose a guest panelist?

A: We aim for our programs to feel like conversations. If you’ve seen or heard your proposed guest talk with ease (and without a lot of jargon) about their work, then they’ll likely be a good fit for an FSP event. If you ask them and they’re not sure, you can send them to our website for examples of events we’re sponsoring and you can direct them to our YouTube page to see videos of some past discussions in our space. This will help them evaluate if an FSP discussion is something they really want to do. If they seem reluctant, maybe it would be better to invite them to give a department seminar instead.

If you’re inviting multiple presenters, it often works well to bring in people with different backgrounds and styles – a journalist, a scholar, a musician, an activist – because the process of them finding a common space for discussion is particularly engaging. When inviting multiple panelists, though, it is very important to provide them all with a clear explanation of what you hope to accomplish in the conversation and what you are hoping each of them will speak to. That way, each person has a sense of where the conversation is going and an understanding of where gaps in their own knowledge might be filled by others.


Q: What are the guidelines for using the FSP space?

A: Our space is for programs that fit with the FSP mission only. Scheduling is done directly through FSP staff, who can be reached at


For Moderators

Q: What is the role of a moderator in FSP discussions?

A: We strongly recommend that you include a moderator as part of your program. (An event organizer can also fill the role of moderator.) The moderator will set the tone for the program. They don’t need a deep knowledge of the subject, but they do need to know how to ask questions that will draw out the panelists’ expertise and how to maintain a respectful atmosphere among audience members and panelists. The most effective moderators collaborate with the event organizer to outline a plan for the program and communicate that plan to the presenters in advance. Moderators also communicate with the audience, establish the room rules, and manage conversation flow.


For Presenters

Q: I’ve been invited to present at FSP. How should I prepare?

A: It’s important to remember that you’re preparing for a conversation with community members who may have no background knowledge about your topic. Don’t prepare a formal paper that you plan to read. Instead, plan to speak about your work in an organized, but informal, way. We usually advise organizers to allow approximately 30 minutes for formal discussion (ideally structured as an Q&A with a moderator or a conversation with multiple panelists) before opening up for questions from the room.

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