Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from BMC Medical Research Methodology and BioMed Central.

Open Access Correspondence

Brokered dialogue: A new research method for controversial health and social issues

Janet A Parsons13* and James V Lavery24

  • * Corresponding author: Janet A Parsons

  • † Equal contributors

Author Affiliations

1 Applied Health Research Centre, Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto, Canada

2 Centre for Research on Inner City Health and Centre for Global Health Research, Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto, Canada

3 Department of Physical Therapy, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada

4 Dalla Lana School of Public Health and Joint Centre for Bioethics, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Medical Research Methodology 2012, 12:92  doi:10.1186/1471-2288-12-92

Published: 2 July 2012


Dialogue is a foundational feature of social life and an important way in which we come to understand one another. In situations of controversy dialogue is often absent because of a range of social barriers. We have developed a new film-based qualitative research method for studying controversial issues in healthcare and social policy. We call this method Brokered Dialogue. Theoretically informed by the traditions in narrative inquiry and visual anthropology, the method is premised on the idea that dialogue possesses features making it unique as a generator of new knowledge and opportunities for social intervention. Film is not only an extraordinarily rich data source, but an excellent medium for knowledge transfer and dissemination.

The paper introduces the Brokered Dialogue method. We outline its critical steps, including the procedures for sampling, data collection and data analysis of both textual and visual data. Participants in a Brokered Dialogue engage in filmed interviews that capture their perspectives on a given topic; they then share their perspectives with, and pose questions of, one another through the medium of film. Using a participatory editing process, only footage that participants feel comfortable showing to others is incorporated. This technique offers participants a ‘safe’ space for respectful interaction. The editing process itself is analytic, and the final assembly of footage approximates a dialogue on the topic at hand. A link to a film produced from a project piloting the method is provided to demonstrate its real world application.

Brokered Dialogue is a method for promoting respectful interactions among those with seemingly divergent views on a controversial topic and for discovering critical points of divergence that may represent pathways for improvement. While the end product is a ‘film’, the goal is to have these films used as catalysts for ongoing respectful dialogue and problem-solving concerning the topic at hand informing relevant practice and policy change. In this paper, we consider Brokered Dialogue’s potential future uses and impacts, and how these might be evaluated.