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Real Case Dialogue

Principal Associate: Stan van Hooft

Download a schedule for 2001 and an invitation to participate.

There is a growing tendency in Europe, and especially in the Netherlands, for commercial and professional organisations to make use of philosophers for creating certain organisational possibilities or solving certain organisational problems. The method used is that of Real Case Dialogue.

Real Case Dialogue is a cooperative investigation into the assumptions and goals which underlie professional actions and judgements.

Real Case Dialogue is a small group activity which begins with the specific and concrete experiences of the participants and uncovers the implicit bases of the judgements and decisions that were made in those situations. From this it moves to a formulation of principles, ideals, and policies which can guide responsible and profitable decision making.

Based on the ideas of German philosopher Leonard Nelson (1882-1927) and his pupil Gustav Heckmann (1898-1996), and developed by the Philosophical-Political Academy in Germany, the Society for the Furtherance of Critical Philosophy in the UK and by Jos Kessels with the Dutch Association for Philosophical Practice, under the name "Socratic Dialogue", Real Case Dialogue is a powerful method for creative and reflexive thinking in organisations of many kinds.

A Real Case Dialogue is a collective attempt to find the answer to a fundamental question. The question is the centre of the dialogue. Rather than being drawn from philosophical theory, it is applied to a concrete experience of one or more of the participants that is accessible to all other participants. Systematic reflection upon this experience is the basis for discovering shared values and judgements.

The dialogue aims at consensus. It is not a simple or easy task to achieve consensus. Effort, discipline and perseverance are required. Everyone’s thoughts need to be clarified in such a manner that participants understand each other fully. The discourse moves slowly and systematically, so that all participants gain insight into the substance of the dialogue. Participants can also engage in meta-dialogue, which is about the process and strategies of the dialogue. The benefits of a dialogue derive as much form its processes as from its content.

Each Real Case Dialogue focuses on one topic. Examples of suitable topics include:

  • What balance should we achieve between different kinds of values, eg. individual versus collective interests, the long versus the short term?
  • What does professionalism require?
  • What is it to be a 'good corporate citizen'?
  • Are there any fundamental worker or management rights?
  • What degree of flexibility can we require from our workers?
  • How truthful should we be in advertising?
  • Can we, as an organisation, take a position in social-political debates?
  • When is corporate expansion desirable?
  • How can we align individual goals with the goals of the organisation?
  • What do we understand by ‘creativity’?
  • What (in a caring profession) is 'caring'?

The dialogue process begins with a preliminary meeting with the consultant in order to define a question relevant to your organisation’s concerns. In some contexts a topic may be set ahead of time by the consultants.

A useful dialogue can be conducted in one day, over several evenings (with dinner), or during a residential weekend retreat. Dialogue groups should normally be no larger than ten and no smaller than six.

The Real Case Dialogue method can be used for a wide range of goals, including:

Development of Visions and Goals

An organisation facing change or reviewing its positioning in its field of activity can make use of Real Case Dialogue with small groups of executives or other personnel.

Policy Development

A central requirement in policy development is the ability to articulate the values and goals that members of executive teams and professional organisations hold implicitly. Real Case Dialogue is a uniquely powerful preliminary to policy discussions.

Conflict Resolution

Very often when conflict becomes intractable or policy discussions reach an impasse, it will be because of the hidden assumptions of the executive or management group. Real Case Dialogue has proven its worth in breaking through such logjams.

Organisational Cultural Change

In the context of amalgamations, takeovers, or downsizing, the internal culture of an organisation often needs development or adaptation. We can provide structured discussion facilitation to this end.

Team Building

Sustained discussion about values, the aims of an organisation, or even a broad philosophical topic, can aid in team building and the development of shared outlooks and collegiality.

Ethical Roundtables

There is increasing pressure on organisations in today’s environment to take account of ethical standards and demands. The dialogical methods we use have proven worth in ensuring that ethical values can be recognised and internalised in organisations.

Ethics and Integrity Training

Using a variation on Real Case Dialogue developed with the Amsterdam Police Service, we can increase your staff’s awareness of the ethical requirements of your workplace.


Another variation on the dialogue method uses hypothetical situations in order to allow management groups to articulate and develop its collegial values, ethical standards of practice, and skills in resolving ethical dilemmas.

Pre-Conference Workshops

Prior to the meeting of your professional organisation, delegates might want to spend a day or two in intense discussion of their professional experiences with their impact on commitment and motivation.

Training in Dialogue Facilitation

Staff development officers and human resources managers will appreciate the training in discussion facilitation and effective meeting participation which experience and training in Real Case Dialogue can provide.

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Last updated:01 Mar 2001