Learned a great opening activity in the Labor Education study group I participate in at Meiji University's Labor Media and Education Center. Needs a good title -- "Still Life with Union Movement"?
The activity is similar to Statues (where participants use other participants to create a statue representing an idea or situation).
Facilitator piles up three or four chairs in the middle of the room, some on top of others, in a jumble.
She asks participants to think of this pile of chairs as "The Union Movement."
She then asks participants to place themselves in relation to the pile of chairs, reflecting their sense of how they are related to the Union Movement. For example, someone with little connection might place herself far away from the pile of chairs, maybe even facing away. Someone who is trying to change the Union Movement might take a position close to the pile, trying to lift a fallen chair, or pull two tangled chairs apart...
Once all the participants have placed themselves, the facilitator asks everyone to take their pose and freeze -- creating a kind of snapshot (would be great to video/photo this) of the whole group's relation to the Union Movement.
Participants return to their seats, in a circle with the jumble in the middle and take turns introducing themselves by talking about where they were and how their position reflects their actual relation to the Union Movement. The facilitator can either use a simple go 'round, or help the discussion unfold by asking for people who had similar positions to speak and then go to people with very different positions, etc.
The activity does a great job of introducing people in terms that are relevant and interesting, as well as generating issues and ideas worthy of more discussion/exploration. The challenge is how best to follow up -- it might be interesting to go from here to an "open space" format, having people identify issues they want to discuss and form groups to hold those discussions.
[need to remember the name of the great educator who I learned this from...]