We Are All Catalysts: Part Two – How We Can Amplify and Broaden Dialogue and Deliberation Work

In part one of We Are All Catalysts, the focus was on examples of groups in dialogue in deliberation who showcase how our powerful inner sparks can be used to transform conversations and communities. In part two, we want to follow up and have all of you help guide our continued conversations!

“It was impossible to get a conversation going, everybody was talking too much.” ~ Yogi Berra

We live in a world of noise. Many of us lament at the current environment of ideological polarization that hinders respectful and productive conversation. We have the power to break through this noise and create spaces for listening and thoughtful dialogue. It can seem daunting in the current ways of the world, but the tools are accessible and the need critical.

The space for listening and dialogue was successfully achieved at the biennial NCDD conference in November. Wonderful themes emerged that are well worth continued attention. We must work in the spirit of this year’s conference theme and gain momentum by connecting while home in our respective areas. One way we at NCDD hope to support is through helping to launch monthly phone conversations among a small group of committed members, to continue some of these discussions into the spring. If you would like to lead a group on a particular topic of interest to you, please let us know via the comment tool below or by emailing us!

Some themes to consider from the conference sessions that may inspire ideas for the forthcoming conversation topics include:

  • How can we design our D&D work to be more proactive and recurring? Too often, our programs are reactive and follow a “one and done” model.  The conference session led by Todd Davies and Michael Freedman in November asked us to consider improving our efforts through intentional design in D&D work focusing on long-term community relationships across many constituencies. Through building trust and transparency, the ongoing meetings could take the form of citizen juries, participatory budgeting, town halls among other formats.
  • How might the Bohm Dialogue technique be utilized in different settings? The Bohm technique removes cross talk while adding reflective pauses after each speaker contributes. The approach is meant to encourage collective community processing of local and global crisis that impact many, if not all, humans and the planet. This comes through suspension of judgement, listening at three levels, assumption identification, inquiry and reflection.
  • In what ways may arts (visual, musical, movement) enhance D&D work? Expression can take many forms and can be a great way to make D&D both more inclusive and more engaging. From visual arts to music and movement, varying the tools for expression can help the dialogue branch out into more creative and freeing spaces and spaces that can transcend barriers created by language.
  • What are successful ways to have more ideologically inclusive based participation in dialogues? Continued exploration on how to engage across the entire spectrum of ideological beliefs and political affinities. What forms this takes will vary depending upon local contexts.

The above are just a few suggestions to get everyone thinking. Please feel free to take a look at the Open Space session notes from the conference at this link for further inspiration, and/or comment below with your own ideas for which topics you would like to see a committed group dive into this spring!

The Dangers of “Mega-partisan” Identities in the US

A Summary of the NCDD Listserv Conversation Entitled: Democrats are wrong about Republicans and Republicans are wrong about Democrats

Listserv Contributors: Ken Homer, Tom Altee, Babara (last name masked), Peter Jones, John Backman, Bruce Waltuck, Rosa Zubizarreta, Dennis Boyer, Linda Ellinor, Dana Morris-Jones, Sarah Read, David Fridley, Kim Crowley, Steve Griffith, Chris Santos-Long, Terry Steichen, James Anest, Joan Blades, Kenoli Oleari, David Fridley, Deb Blakeslee, Britt Blaser, Eric Smiley, Howard Ward

In July, NCDD member Ken Homer shared a news article by Perry Bacon Jr. in the “Secret Identity” column from FiveThirtyEight.com which features articles discussing the role of identity in politics and policy.  This article entitled, “Democrats Are Wrong About Republicans. Republicans Are Wrong About Democrats” claims that the political divide between Republicans and Democrats in the United States has grown to “encapsulate all other divides” and is continuing to grow reinforcing negative partisanship and overall misconceptions by both political parties about the other and their membership. This article emphasizes how “the parties in our heads” do not align with reality and that these stereotypes are problematic.

As many fellow NCDD members weighed in, the issue of an increasingly polarized population in the United States was deemed concerning. Questions arose about who fuels the fire of polarization and whether the encouragement is intentional via a divide and conquer strategy of the political parties themselves. Other important actors include traditional media and social media which frame thinking and dialogue regarding politics. Market driven media has led to a system were it is very easy to only consume what we want to, including local and global news. Increasingly, it is becoming easier to remain in political comfort zones or “echo chambers” that reinforce our own beliefs, deface the political “other”, and facilitate less necessity to look at policy outcomes versus political loyalties. As NCDD member Peter Jones wrote, “The news is not an unbiased partner but a corporate instigator in search of clicks and attention.”

We share our wonderings together in our NCDD community via the discussion listservs.  Multiple contributors chimed in with stimulating perspectives and ideas. Here are some examples:

  1. John Backman asks, “Based only on my own observations over the years, I wonder if another divide—one we rarely hear discussed—is even more fundamental and defining: between urban and rural?”
  2. Rosa Zubizarreta brings up ideas for new voting options including “ranked choice voting” to help our society step away from mega-partisan tendencies. Looking for alternatives that eliminate the frequent bi-partisan voting complaint of needing to pick “the lesser of two evils.”
  3. Linda Ellinor notes the worthwhile exercise of intentional system designs that could facilitate large scale conversations that focus on inclusivity with the objective of better governance. Reiterating that we must remain diligent, persistent, and intentional, because “it always leads to better futures when we tap our collective intelligence…” David Fridley agreed and would like to work with others to begin designing and working on a collaborative project.
  4. Kenoli Oleari emphasizes the need for “standing assemblies” around the world–bringing diverse communities together physically to combat isolations which leads to polarization. As Kenoli states, “It may take a community to raise a child; it also takes a community to raise adults.”
  5. A discussion about how the “elites” and “masses” dialogue (or lack thereof) and the importance of how these dialogues can be improved as varying contexts delineate who belongs to the “elite” versus the “masses.” In other words, in some contexts an individual or group may be an elite, and in a different realm, they may be part of the masses. One way mentioned that the two interact are via media reporting and the groups reacting. (Kenolli Oleari, David Fridley, Chris Santos-Long, Howard Ward)
  6. Britt Blaser brings up the idea for having crowdsourced policy-making in the United States context.

The phenomenon of mega-partisan politics can spur a desire to look externally to blame, however we must also critically look at our own ways of learning and aligning our values to political allegiances. Many in NCDD brought up ideas for critical reflection and moving discussion towards doable positive action including ways to think about structural improvements to existing democratic systems, fostering more participation at the local level, and ways to create dialogues that are politically inclusive to determine mutual goals across political divides.

Want to follow the full thread of this conversation? Check out the NCDD Discussion List archives!

We want to keep the dialogue going!

What are your thoughts to the questions below? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

What are the consequences of political choices being closely (and falsely) tied to many other identities including one’s religion, race, zip code, sexual orientation, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, education level, etc.?

What does it mean for someone to vote based on political party versus personal values?

What are mega-partisanship and negative partisanship? What are the implications to society of each of these phenomenon?

With a society that is primarily bipartisan, what are the most effective ways to exercise voice among those who do not identify with either the Democratic or Republican party?

How can we as a nation move towards a less polarized environment? Can data help?

How do individuals and communities define reason? Values? Information? Facts?

How can we work to challenge our own “blind spots” when it comes to political stereotypes and speculation?

What can be done to cross the divide? What could be done to eliminate it? What can the role be for those of us doing dialogue and deliberation work?

What could accountability look like for news/media/government?

How can the disconnect between what the American people want and policy initiatives be reconciled?

Read On – Additional Resources on the Topic:

Haidt, J. (2012). The righteous mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion. Vintage.

Haidt, J., & Graham, J. (2007). When morality opposes justice: Conservatives have moral intuitions that liberals may not recognize. Social Justice Research, 20(1), 98-116.

Javidiani, M. (2018) Beyond Facts: Increasing Trust In Journalism Through Community Engagement & Transparency. [MRP] Retrieved by: http://openresearch.ocadu.ca/id/eprint/2294/

Lessig, L. (August 10, 2017) TedTalk: How the net destroyed democracy. Retrieved by: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rHTBQCpNm5o

McLuhan, M., & Fiore, Q. (1967). The medium is the message. New York, 123, 126-128.

Mounk, Y. (July 2, 2018). The Rise of McPolitics: Democrats and Republicans belong to increasingly homogeneous parties. Can we survive the loss of local politics? New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/07/02/the-rise-of-mcpolitics

Wheatley, M. J. (2012). So far from home: Lost and found in our brave new world. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

We Are All Catalysts: Part One – How We Can Amplify and Broaden Dialogue and Deliberation Work

“After all, the ordinary hero hiding in each of us is often the most powerful catalyst for change.” ~ Tate Taylor

We all have a spark within and we choose every day how we will or will not use our spark. In our NCDD community, we spark conversations–dialogues that change hearts and minds and steadily change the world. Our sparks can be small or big, but we must work intentionally to ensure that the sparks catch fire. What do I mean by this? I mean that it is up to us, as those working firsthand in the creations of spaces for dialogue and deliberation, that we do not work in isolation. Like the catalysts in science, we must interact with others to create the chemistry worth having in our world.

The upcoming 2018 NCDD conference in Denver seeks to “catalyze the catalysts” by asking how we can work together to broaden the use and amplify the impacts of dialogue and deliberation efforts locally and globally. We live in an interconnected world, but it is very easy in our everyday lives to cling to the familiar and agreeable. This includes the media we consume, company we keep, and in our own work. It is up to us to share our work in ways that amplify the benefits and accessibility of both dialogue and deliberation. This means we need to intentionally step up our efforts and in doing so, step out of our comfort zones to facilitate the connections we need most–such as those across ideological divides poisoning our discourse. As Jonathan Haidt shares in his book The Righteous Mind, “When I was a teenager I wished for world peace, but now I yearn for a world in which competing ideologies are kept in balance.”

We see incredible work by D&D innovators every day that are answering this call to bring together our communities in innovative ways that heal and strengthen our relationships. Here are just a few examples (among many) from some of our conference presenters…

Libraries Transforming Communities is a joint effort by the American Libraries Association and NCDD. The initiative is founded on the strengths of the library as a trusted public community space and a place ideal for D&D work and is intended for use by libraries around the world to facilitate healing and idea generation via D&D.

The Center for Public Deliberation at Colorado State University has the mission of enhancing the local civic culture through increased participation and know-how of how deliberation works. Through elevating conversation via civics education, the center celebrates how crowds conversing (rather than arguing) can create better ideas for the whole community. They also recently won a Civvys Award for Local Winner!

The David Mathews Center for Civic Life based in Alabama believes in public forums and have locals define the issues and come together to solve them. The center provides education, services in moderation, and setting up community engagement events.

Make America Dinner Again empowers everyone to act locally with dinners of 8 and 2 moderators that discuss tough issues with an emphasis on respectful conversation and delicious food.

We hope these examples evoke excitement for the D&D community (and for the upcoming conference)! In true NCDD form, we want to engage this community of innovators in discussing how we build capacity for D&D in more communities and design action steps to make this happen moving forward. How have you succeeded in building capacity for engagement in the communities you serve? What do you think the next innovations might look like for dialogue, deliberation, and engagement? What do we need to discuss and think about together as a field, in order to succeed in broadening the use of D&D?

We hope readers will share below their own stories of successes, ideas for new innovations, and even the challenges that we need to tackle collectively in order to achieve this goal of bringing dialogue, deliberation, and public engagement to more communities. Share your thoughts below and engage with others’ responses. NCDD’s staff will be sharing your input at the conference to help us jumpstart further conversations and collaborations we hope will help us all take our work to the next level. You can still join us at #NCDD2018 – get your tickets today!

Stay tuned for the follow-up post, “We Are All Catalysts: Part 2”, where we will shift from examples to best practices to help everyone begin or continue to strengthen and amplify their dialogue and deliberation initiatives!

Oh the Places You’ll Go & People You’ll Meet at NCDD2018!

A Quick Guide to Networking at the NCDD Conference that will set you on a course for successful partnerships.

What happens when you bring together a few hundred innovators in dialogue and deliberation and give them dedicated spaces to spark conversations and partnerships? MAGIC.

Every two years, NCDD does just that. This November, our three-day conference will convene at the Sheraton Denver Downtown and include 400+ attendees from around the globe. Fellow humans passionate about public engagement ready to connect and create friendships and partnerships that will last years into the future.

NCDD’s planning team has been hard at work to ensure an environment that facilitates idea generation and times and places to find your D&D tribe.

Here’s what you need to know:

Start early! Be sure to download and use the interactive conference guide brought to us by Konveio. This will allow you to browse the events, learn more about the networking opportunities, and many of the great attendees presenting and speaking at the conference.  To learn more about how to use the guide attend the Tech Tuesday on October 23rd!

Want to get a jump start on meeting fellow NCDD attendees and don’t want to wait until Friday morning? Then make sure you check out the six pre-conference sessions being offered on Thursday, November 1st! We have limited space for available for each of the sessions, so register ASAP to reserve your seat.

Dinner Time!  Saturday night is “on your own” but what we really mean is “with new NCDD friends”. First, meet up at the hotel bar (Mix16 Lounge) and then pick a place to wander to and get into the full conference spirit by connecting over food and drink at any one of Denver’s delicious eateries.

Use the On-Site Networking Board! Those returning will fondly remember our extra-large NCDD bulletin board made to suit all of your conference networking needs. We’ll have those great networking cards that will help you post your interests and propose opportunities to connect with others.

Do not miss the plenaries! Our opening plenary will feature “lightning talks” by civic innovators to spark inspiration and will include a networking activity to assist every attendee with identifying goals for the conference and beyond. On Saturday and Sunday, we will be focusing the plenaries almost exclusively on connecting, by using Open Space and Pro Action Cafe, respectively, for folks to propose the topics and ideas they most want to connect with others about!

Places for YOU! For when you want to meet outside of our scheduled sessions, there are four rooms and a foyer available on a first-come basis. Just look for Plaza Court rooms #2, #3, #4 and #5 for more privacy and swing around to the Plaza Exhibit Foyer for more casual seating space for discussions.

We also thought it might be helpful to create a space to connect before the conference. Please use the comment section below to start finding who you want to connect with in Denver this November! Propose a meet-up over lunch, dinner, or in between, and start finding folks to join you! We’ll keep sharing and pointing people to this post up until the conference kick-off.

We hope you are as revved up as we are about NCDD 2018!