An Extreme Dialogue in Oslo

Musing on some of the very many events that I have moderated at, one especially springs to mind – the ‘Extreme Dialogue on Climate Extremes’, held at the University of Oslo a couple of summers ago. So I was delighted when a short video of that memorable day popped into my mailbox this week. Here it is, please take a look –

We didn’t have a particularly starry cast of CEOs or government ministers or even royalty (as at my last moderating job in Norway, for ONS 2014.) So what was it that made this event, the aptly named, ‘Extreme Dialogue’ so memorable?

Well for one, it was the ‘extreme informality’ of what was essentially an extremely serious discussion at a high level university conference. The first thing you’ll notice, when you look at the video, is how colourful the stage is, not at all like an academic conference. We took a drab university lecture theatre and draped it with exotic Indian saris, Persian rugs, and authentic Oslo wild flowers from the nearby fields. The idea was, or at least the hope was,  that the ‘homey’ set would put the participants at their ease…and it worked.  Just take a look at the way everyone ended up sitting on the floor by the end of the discussion!

Then it was a truly international, and multi-disciplinary discussion which went far beyond academia. The testimony was riveting. Here are the participants: Environmentalist, poet and architect Nnimmo Bassey from Nigeria; Social scientist Susanne Moser from Stanford University; Madeleen Helmer from the Netherlands Red Cross; Haavard Stensvand, Head of Emergency Planning for a Norwegian County, from Pakistan’s University of Lahore, Mehjabeen Abidi-Habib, whose research evaluates community-based approaches to disaster risk reduction; business supremo Idar Kreuze, MD of Finance Norway; plus Psychologist Cathrine Mostue; and  finally Norway’s then deputy foreign minister, the extremely youthful Arvinn Gadgil (who also ended up sitting on the floor!)

I’ll leave you with one last thought, did you notice the music on the video? The instrument it was played on is ‘The Hang’ (a kind of lyrical drum) and the performer, a hugely talented young musician called Ravid Goldschmidt, who was himself an integral part of the ‘Extreme Dialogue’. When the mood became heavy, Ravid lightened it; when we were brain-storming, he provided musical inspiration; when we needed a call for action; his ‘Hang’ was the urgent voice that brought the Dialogue to a close. Now when did you last go to a heavyweight discussion like that? Or for that matter, to an ‘Extreme Dialogue?’

For a sneek peek at Ravid’s music-making, visit:



5 responses to “An Extreme Dialogue in Oslo”

  1. Mehjabeen Abidi Habib says:

    Nisha, what a wonderful description of the Oslo event. Indeed it went beyond ‘drab academia’ and became human and real through a more natural use of the stage and a ‘real’ chance for the experts to let their hearts speak. You were an expert at bringing out our best! Thank you.

  2. A truly enjoyable read/watch, amazing how something seemingly unrelated can have such a massive effect!
    Good to see a panel of people developing ideas, rather than the normal hot-headedness and friction we see too much of. It just isn’t productive.

  3. Idar Kreutzer says:

    We need to develop spaces where ideas can meet, and grow into platforms for action. Nisha, you were instrumental in doing that in Oslo. Thank you for sharing the experience!

  4. Amber Beard says:

    What an inspired way to hold a discussion and to make it interesting even to those of us watching who are not academics or experts! The ‘sitting on the floor’ element made it far more accessible and the music definitely added another layer to what might have been a dry subject.

  5. Linda Sygna says:

    We knew from the very start of planning the extreme dialogue that we needed a facilitator with certain skills and qualities to make it a true dialog. Nisha has it all and she is willing to experiment with quite unconventional dialogue formats. The dialogue was long and deep. For three hours, including a 30-minute break, the dialogue turned into a deep conversation about climate change and required responses. Such an event requires very thoughtful preparation and Nisha was such an important partner in shaping the ideas. The full clip of the dialogue shows what an excellent job Nisha did in pulling it all together:

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