What Are Some Pros and Cons for Using the Roundtable Discussion Format?

The roundtable discussion format promotes equal participation, enables faster decisions through spontaneous conversation, allows for easy facilitator intervention, and is flexible. The cons of this format include capacity constraints, difficulty in managing rigid-agenda discussions, and the potential for the seating arrangement to undermine the basic reason for the format, which is to enable an open, free-flowing discussion.

The roundtable discussion format gives all participants a fair chance to contribute. The format encourages spontaneous conversation due to minimal facilitation. When every participant is allowed a fair chance to contribute, there is a greater chance that the discussion takes into consideration all the important points. Spontaneous conversation encourages participants to resolve issues of disagreement at a convenient time. These benefits increase both the quality of decisions and the speed of the process.

The roundtable discussion format makes it easy for the facilitator to intervene if a disagreement between participants turns hostile. This discussion format is also flexible in that it allows for variation in the number of participants in successive sessions. The format allows for extended discussion among a small group without having to rearrange the setting.

A major drawback of this discussion format is the small number of participants it can reasonably support at a time. The format also makes it difficult to manage rigid-agenda discussions. A rigid-agenda discussion requires frequent interventions by the facilitator, which undermines the basic reason for the format. Additionally, the roundtable discussion format is sensitive to seating arrangements. An arrangement that places the facilitator by herself creates the impression that participants must obtain approval before speaking.