Register for the 2018 Summer Peacebuilding Institute

In case you missed it, the Summer Peacebuilding Institute (SPI) is happening now! This phenomenal program offered by NCDD member org, the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University is an opportunity to learn from leaders in the D&D field about conflict transformation and restorative justice. Courses can be taken to improve your skills or for academic credit (and they now offer an M.A. in Restorative Justice program).  Session 1 has already begun, but the remaining sessions are going until the end of June – so check it out ASAP (or prep for next year!). Below are the list of courses offered for 2018, and you can read more about the courses and SPI here


Summer Peacebuilding Institute 2018

The Summer Peacebuilding Institute (SPI) provides useful and intellectually stimulating opportunities to learn more about yourself, others and the world around you. Courses are designed for people interested in integrating conflict transformation, peacebuilding, restorative justice, and related fields into their own work and personal life.

SPI 2018 Course Offerings
Session I – May 14 – 22, 2018 (7-day, 3-credit)
Session II – May 24 – June 1, 2018 (7-day, 3-credit)
Session III – June 4 – 8, 2018 (5-day, 2-credit)
Session IV – June 11 – 15, 2018 (5-day, 2-credit)
Session V – June 18 -20, 2018 (3-day, non-credit workshops)

Only one course may be taken per session. All courses can be taken for training and skills enhancement or academic credit. Session 1 and 2 courses may be taken for three academic credits. Session 3 and 4 courses may be taken for two academic credits.  Courses with PAX/PTI can be taken for academic credit or training. Courses with PTI can only be taken for training. Contact SPI for more information.

If you have questions about a particular course that are not answered in the information below, please feel free to contact the SPI office at spi[at]emu[dot]edu.

SESSION I: May 14 – 22, 2018
Analysis: Understanding Conflict – PAX/PTI 533, Gloria Rhodes
Explore the nature, dynamics, and complex causes of conflict and violence. Discuss how relationships, motivations, culture, and worldviews increase or decrease violent conflict. Learn ways to understand and change multifaceted systems that perpetuate conflict.

Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience (STAR), Level II – PAX/PTI 640, Katie Mansfield and Lisa Collins
Review and deepen the concepts from STAR Level 1. Work with trainers and other participants to plan your application and contextualization of STAR frameworks, models, concepts, and activities.

Transformative Leadership for Organizational Development – PAX/PTI 684, David Brubaker and Elizabeth Girvan
Focus on the role of leaders in leading organizational and social change and managing structures, personnel, finances, and external networks and partnerships.

Forgiveness & Reconciliation – PAX/PTI 563, Hizkias Assefa
Explore the concepts of forgiveness and reconciliation from multidisciplinary perspectives and understand how they can be used to generate durable solutions and healing at many levels of conflict from the interpersonal to the international.

Modern Slavery and the Prison-Industrial Complex – PAX/PTI 685, Monti Narayan Datta
Critically assess what human rights are, explore how and why it is still possible for human beings to be bought and sold around the world today, and investigate inequality in the American prison system.

SESSION II: May 24 – June 1, 2018
Formation for Peacebuilding Practice – PAX/PTI 532, Gloria Rhodes
Explore various competencies needed by those who feel compelled to work for peace and social justice. Strengthen your abilities to listen and communicate, create and maintain healthy boundaries, recognize and promote diversity, lead from your vision and values, and engage people in dialogue and decision-making.

Restorative Justice: Principles, Theories & Applications– PAX/PTI 571, Carl Stauffer
Deepen your understanding of justice. Explore a justice framework that focuses on healing, accountability, and community, not blame, punishment, and isolation.

Adaptive Action: Nonviolent Resistance in the 21st Century – PAX/PTI 645, Glenda Eoyang, John N. Murray and Mary Nations
Transform oppression into opportunity. Learn to effectively engage in a chaotic and uncertain political and social world. Analyze the dynamics that drive complex change in human systems and find practical ways to respond to forces that oppress.

Sexual Harms: Changing the Narrative – PAX/PTI 692, Carolyn Stauffer
Join the wave of leaders committed to creating environments free from sexual harm. Gain tools to respond to sexual violence and learn about preventative best practices. Design restorative interventions that build safety and resilience.

Circle Processes PAX/PTI 672, Kay Pranis
Gain skills to lead a process that brings together victims, offenders, family, community members, and others to have difficult conversations and respond to acts of violence or crime. Explore the foundational values and key structural elements of the circle process and learn to design and conduct circles.

Biblical Foundations of Justice and Peacemaking – BVG 541, Andrew Suderman
More than a study of a few select texts that deal with peacemaking, this course will explore and examine the various dimensions of peace in the Bible, with special attention to how the Bible as a whole, functions as a foundation for peacemaking. This course is being offered through Eastern Mennonite Seminary. To register as a non-seminary student use this part-time application.

SESSION III: June 4-8, 2018
Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience (STAR), Level 1 –PAX 540/PTI 041, Donna Minter and Ram Bhagat
Explore processes and tools for addressing trauma, breaking cycles of violence, and building resilience. Increase awareness of the impact of trauma on the body, mind, beliefs, and behavior of individuals, communities, and societies.

Truth-telling, Racial Healing and Restorative Justice – PAX/PTI 671, Fania Davis, Jodie Geddes and Lenore Bajare-Dukes
Explore linkages between truth, justice, and healing at personal and collective levels in the wake of violence. Discuss informal and formal approaches to truth-telling, restorative justice and reconciliation from around the world. Consider future applications of truth-telling amidst ongoing police violence against communities of color in the US.

Christian Spirituality for Social Action – PAX/PTI 688, Jennifer Lee and Johonna Turner
Explore Christian spiritual formation practices to nurture and sustain a life of community leadership, engaged ministry, and social activism. Expand awareness of spiritual disciplines as well as biblical and theological resources to support a faith-rooted approach to social action.

SESSION IV: June 11-15, 2018
The Transformative Power of Identity and Dignity – PAX/PTI 551, Barry Hart
Understand the positive and negative roles and transformative power of identity and dignity within complex conflicts, violence, and trauma.

Building Resilience in Body, Mind, and Spirit – PAX/PTI 612, Katie Mansfield and Katia Ornelas
Taking the body-mind connection seriously, peacebuilders, caregivers and change makers need full-bodied, creative engagement in activities for self-care and well-being. Explore strategies, tools, and exercises for individual participants and communities/organizations to cultivate safety, healthy uses of power, and a deeper sense of connection. Discuss cultural contexts, taboos, stereotypes, and biases that keep us from integrating creative, embodied practice into work for social change and peace.

Peace Education – PAX/PTI 546, Ed Brantmeier
Discuss the education that is needed for the elimination of direct and indirect forms of violence. Explore strategies to reduce violence such as bullying, implicit bias, ethnocentrism, physical fights, or institutional discrimination in schools, the workplace, and the community.

Designing Facilitated Processes that Work – PAX/PTI 689, Catherine Barnes
Do you ever think you need to go beyond basic meeting facilitation to design processes that will help groups address challenging situations, deal with differences and envision a better future? This class is intended for people with some experience of facilitation who want to take their skills to the next level through using context analysis, process design principles, and more conducive process methods.

Story-gathering: Participatory theatre for facilitation and empowerment – PAX/PTI 691, Heidi Winters Vogel and Roger Foster
Develop fluency in participatory theatre techniques for use in mediation, intervention and group facilitation to promote participant-generated change.

SESSION V: June 18-20, 2018
Restorative Justice in Higher Education – PTI 080 E, Jon Swartz and Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz
How is the restorative justice approach being used in the context of education settings for accountability, repair, and healing?

Resisting the White Savior Complex in Social Justice Organizing – PTI 081 E, Amanda Gross and Cole Parke
What do well-intentioned white people need to understand about the harm, violence, and insidiousness of racism? Exploration of a theological basis for anti-racism work.

Crime Victims, Survivors, and Restorative Justice – PTI 082 E, Matthew Hartman
Explore the intersection between trauma, recovery, victim assistance, and restorative justice. Develop programming strategies that orient toward the needs of crime victims and survivors.

Developing Integrated Conflict Management Systems – PTI 083 E, Brian Bloch
Learn to create a system and culture that collaborative addresses conflict and the practical steps an organization can use to put this system in place.

Performance Arts: Developing Sustainable Resources for Community Learning & Action – PTI 084 E, Heidi Winters Vogel and Roger Foster
Learn to assess and evaluate performance-based community engagement programs to strengthen them and make them more attractive to funders.

Singing to the Lions: Helping Children Respond Effectively to Violence and Abuse – PTI 085 E, Lucy Steinitz and Naoko Kamiok
Training of trainers to learn the use of games, drama, dance, and art to help trauma-affected children and young adults overcome fear and violence in their lives.

You can find more information on these courses and the Summer Peacebuilding Institute at www.emu.edu/cjp/spi/.

Announcing NCDD’s May Tech Tuesday featuring Mismatch!

NCDD is happy to announce our May Tech Tuesday featuring Mismatch. This FREE event will take place Tuesday, May 22nd from 3:00-4:00pm Eastern/Noon-1:00pm Pacific. Don’t miss out – register today to secure your spot!

Mismatch.org connects classrooms across the country via video conferencing and allows students to hear from someone different from themselves. It works like a dating service: teachers fill out some information about their school and area, and they are sent their perfect Mismatch. Students then use a conversation guide to talk one-on-one with students in another classroom. Through these conversations, students learn about how to talk civilly with someone who is different than them as well as important digital literacy skills. Recently, Mismatch was opened up to anyone who wanted to participate during the National Week of Conversation and offered conversations on a variety of different topics.

On this webinar, we will be joined by John Gable and Jaymee Copenhaver from Allsides, who have developed the Mismatch platform. They will introduce us to Mismatch and walk us through how it works, and how it has been used in schools and beyond.

About our presenters:

John Gable is CEO and co-founder of AllSides.com and AllSidesForSchools.org. John has 25 years of technology experience where he was the product manager, team or division lead for a number of iconic products including Netscape Navigator, Microsoft Office, and Checkpoint ZoneAlarm. He co-founded Kavi Corp (web-based collaboration, later sold to High Logic) and previously was a professional political campaigner and executive director in the 1980s working for Bush ’41, Mitch McConnell and the Republican National Committee.

Jaymee Copenhaver is the Partner Director and a writer for AllSides.com. She recently completed a year-long Media and Journalism fellowship with the Charles Koch Institute in Arlington, VA and is a December 2016 graduate of the University of Virginia where she studied Government and American Politics.

This will be a great chance to learn more about this . Don’t miss out – register today!

Tech Tuesdays are a series of learning events from NCDD focused on technology for engagement. These 1-hour events are designed to help dialogue and deliberation practitioners get a better sense of the online engagement landscape and how they can take advantage of the myriad opportunities available to them. You do not have to be a member of NCDD to participate in our Tech Tuesday learning events.

Stories from Ben Franklin Circles in North Carolina

As you may remember, NCDD teamed up with member org, Ben Franklin Circles and we announced last month that we were going to be sharing stories from Circles. In the article, Tiyo Hallock shares his experience running Circles in North Carolina, and particularly how the value of Silence has played into his life and work.  You can read the post below and find the original post on BFC’s site here.


Circle Spotlight: Ty from Asheville, NC

Name: Tiyo Hallock
Hometown: Asheville, NC
Sponsoring Organization: Creative Facilitators
Date Launched: October 2017

What attracted you to Ben Franklin Circles?
I’ve done a lot of work with various facilitation methods. I was attracted to how the structure allows the participants to explore principles first and foremost, and then sets the groundwork for action in the community. I’ve been a part of many groups. I know you need to work on the underlying platform of trust and then everything else falls into place. Ben Franklin Circles gives you the tools and the people supporting it are awesome.

How did you recruit members for your Circle? Any lessons learned?
I started to put together some flyers and get the word out there. Then I realized that people I already knew would really appreciate this. I basically reverted my strategy to posting on my Facebook page and doing some one-on-one asks. Every single person I showed the video to and talked about the event with came. I’ve tried to invite someone to every meeting to keep it fresh and to try and keep the numbers up, as some folks have not been able to make every meeting. We have a shorter meeting than most because I am catering to busy folks and I feel like a smaller group size is actually much better for a shorter event. Long story short, we probably don’t need to invite anyone else now that our group is perfect.

How has hosting a Ben Franklin Circle impacted you?
I’ve hosted a lot of these things, but I had a profound experience with the principle of Silence. I was really able to bring my full self. I am an introvert and I felt that, when people had permission to be silent and the silence that we practiced was welcomed with open arms, we had more trust and flow in our group.

Which virtue means the most to you personally and why?
I don’t want to answer! Each one has been meaningful—and I am only on number three! However, I was profoundly moved by Silence and the community ideas that came out of that session, so there you go.

What is the last commitment you made to yourself? How’s it going?
I’m committed to having Silence as a principle, as an exercise when I work with other groups where we are growing trust. I’ve also committed to growing Ben Franklin Circles. I’m spreading the word to try to get other folks to start Circles.

You can find the original version of this post on Ben Franklin Circles’ site at https://benfranklincircles.org/circle-spotlight/circle-spotlight-ty-from-asheville-nc.

Tapping in D&D Work with Engaged Journalism

While this piece on the growing movement of engaged journalism was written last fall, we find its lesson to still be of great importance. NCDD sponsoring org, the Jefferson Center wrote on the increasing emergence of engaged journalism, a facet of journalism that seeks to elevate the needs of the community, not just push out click-bait style media. Something that has become quite apparent lately, is the seeming disconnect between the work of the D&D field and the public’s awareness this work is going on – a phenomenon that can significantly be decreased with stronger relationships with community-centered journalism and better exposure of the many efforts going on in the field.

Public News Service gave excellent coverage of last week’s National Week of Conversation that we encourage you to check out:

There is a lot of still-untapped potential between the D&D community and our media makers. The NCDD network has been deepening our relationship with journalists over the last several years, exploring how the D&D community can create stronger partnerships with journalists; and it is our hope to continue to nurture this bond. For additional exploration on how to improve this opportunity, check out our Journalism-D&D Confab call, our podcast with Journalism That Matters, and the recorded media panel from the last NCDD conference in 2016 (click here for the recording). Below is the article from the Jefferson Center and you can also find the original here.


Exploring Engagement & Participation in Journalism

Journalism has had a rough couple of months (or years, if you’re watching closely). News agencies are discredited, criticized, and attacked daily. Partisan news outlets seem to spring up every week, making it difficult to find neutral information.These trends compound another major problem in the journalism world: with the growth of social media, ad-blockers, and the domination of Facebook and Google (and soon, Amazon) in the digital advertising market, traditional models of ad-supported journalism are collapsing. Many citizens also don’t see the news, on a local or national scale, as representing their needs and interests. This is not just a crisis for journalism, it’s a crisis for our democracy.

Like us, many organizations are rolling up their sleeves to embrace the challenge, supporting engaged journalism approaches. Engaged journalism seeks to inform and empower communities, with news organizations prioritizing community needs above those of advertisers. Engaged journalists use the knowledge and talents of their community to cover critical stories and challenges. Instead of driving profit through clickbait news, engaged and participatory journalism focuses on (re)building relationships between journalists and the communities they serve.

What are others doing?

Around the globe, a few large newsrooms, startups, and nonprofits are experimenting with new business models, leading community engagement efforts, working to restore local trust in news, and building a sustainable subscriber base of community members.

To target media “deserts” in rural and urban regions of Ohio, where traditional media outlets don’t exist, Journalism That Matters is exploring deliberative ways to design local news media and information communication systems. Similarly, the News Voices initiative from Free Press uses community organizing and public engagement events as a way for journalists to carve out a new niche in their communities by supporting citizens. Hearken offers newsrooms a model called “public-powered journalism” to meaningfully engage the public throughout the development of stories.

If you’re interested in diving into engaged journalism yourself, visit Gather, a platform to support community-minded journalists and other engagement professionals. The site officially launches October 2nd, 2017, but for now you can explore their mission, request to join, and follow the latest engagement strategy stories on their Medium page. Gather is a product of the Elevate Engagement workshop, which explored how engaged journalism can help communities thrive. After the workshop, our director Kyle Bozentko worked with engagement strategist Joy Mayer and journalist and author March Twisdale to draft the Elevate Engagement Manifesto,which establishes guidelines and goals for this emerging community of journalists, media researchers and educators, and engagement practitioners.

Research, support, and will to try audience-driven and collaborative journalism is just starting to take off, but there are a few barriers in the way. Many small and medium-sized news outlets might hesitate to embrace engaged journalism because of a lack of organizational capacity, uncertainty about the impact of new techniques, or a fear of losing their long-held identity. However, the growth and determination of the programs and organizations above (and these are just a few examples) could help provide the capacity and resources to make long-lasting changes in local journalism.

The Role of the Jefferson Center

We’re excited to announce the launch of Your Voice Ohio and Media Seeds, two collaborative programs that will test, evaluate, and refine sustainable methods for engaging and serving communities through better, more participatory journalism. We’ll explore the complementary roles of public deliberation and discussion, community organizing, digital engagement, media collaboration, and other journalistic approaches in helping communities, and journalism, thrive. Dozens of print, radio, and television newsrooms have already signed onto Your Voice Ohio to create a statewide news collaborative. The collaborative will share experiences and align reporting resources to better serve more Ohio communities.

Media Seeds, through a partnership with Journalism That Matters, will support media innovations in communities lacking daily local news. The project will support community residents and stakeholders using JTM’s “Create or Die” model, which includes community dialogue, innovation gatherings, and community communication pilot projects.

These projects are funded by a $250,000 grant from the Democracy Fund and a $75,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, with additional support from individual donors. These projects build on the work of Your Vote Ohio during the 2016 election, focused on supporting journalists to produce political coverage tailored to the diverse needs of communities across Ohio. Your Voice Ohio and Media Seeds are also a way to move forward the principles, goals, and values our organization committed to in the Elevate Engagement Manifesto. Joy Mayer was also a recipient of a Knight Foundation Grant under the “Trust, Media and Democracy” initiative.

Our main goals:

  • Through experimentation and shared learning, increase the capacity of newsrooms around Ohio to practice engaged journalism.
  • Partners will create new examples and local case studies of engaged journalism, with more detailed information about implementing engaged journalism practices.
  • Provide better comparative data about the value of engaged journalism approaches, as multiple communities systematically experiment with similar efforts.

You can download our official press release, visit the official Your Voice Ohio website, and follow the program on Facebook and Twitter for updates.

You can find the original version of this article on the Jefferson Center’s site at www.jefferson-center.org/exploring-engagement-participation-in-journalism/.

**The Jefferson Center recently did a follow up piece on this effort which you can find at www.jefferson-center.org/conversation-to-build-collaboration/.

Inaugural Hidden Common Ground Report Released

NCDD member org, Public Agenda, in collaboration with fellow NCDDer the Kettering Foundation have recently released the inaugural report of their Hidden Common Ground Initiative. This is an effort which seeks to dive deeper into issues that have been polarizing, in order to illuminate where there is common ground; with the hopes of better uniting the public around concrete, actionable solutions. This first round of research explores incarceration, and the following report that is slated to be released in May will revolve around healthcare. You can read the press release from Public Agenda below and find more information on the Hidden Common Ground Initiative here.


New Research Initiative Fights Narrative of Absolute Division of Americans on Critical Issues

Inaugural project of the Hidden Common Ground Initiative elevates areas of agreement on incarceration and criminal justice reform in America

The state of America’s national politics has led many to believe the country is irreparably polarized and gridlocked. Recently, a storyline has taken hold that portrays this dysfunction as a reflection of our profound divisions as a people. However, a new research initiative launched by Public Agenda, in collaboration with the Kettering Foundation, shows that Americans can find common ground on many of the problems our nation faces.

It has taken decades for our national politics to become as polarized as it is today, leading to stagnation on critical issues like gun control, immigration and health care. While it is important to acknowledge the differences and disagreements that do exist, our divisions are hardly the whole story. The Hidden Common Ground Initiative aspires to tell the story of where the public agrees on concrete, actionable solutions and make those areas of agreement more salient and potent in our public life.

“We believe that dispelling the myth that we are hopelessly divided can not only help fuel progress on a host of issues, but also help us better navigate our real, enduring divisions.” said Will Friedman, President of Public Agenda. “We are grateful to have the Kettering Foundation as a collaborator on this initiative that has the potential to fight the often-inflated narrative of an America that is so divided, progress is impossible.”

The Hidden Common Ground Initiative will explore a variety of issues facing our nation and will include the release of a series of reports on our research findings. The first report, “Where Americans See Eye to Eye on Incarceration,” focuses on hidden or otherwise underappreciated common ground in the realm of incarceration and criminal justice reform.

In cross-partisan focus groups held around the country, reinforced by a review of existing survey research, we learned that:

    • The focus group participants felt incarceration serves important functions, such as keeping dangerous people off the streets, but agreed that the criminal justice system can be unfair and make mistakes.
    • Participants were strongly focused on preventing people from becoming criminals in the first place.

For drug crimes, and possibly some other nonviolent offenses, alternatives to incarceration made good sense to most people in the focus groups. But they were unwilling to accept alternative sentencing for violent crimes.

  • Eliminating mandatory minimum sentences was a confusing, unresolved issue for participants.

Focus group findings are summarized in the new report, “Where Americans See Eye to Eye on Incarceration.” Three focus groups were conducted in September 2017 across the United States in urban Hamilton County, Ohio; rural Franklin County, Missouri; and suburban Suffolk County, New York.

The next report from the Hidden Common Ground Initiative, scheduled to be released in May, will explore how people talk across party lines about the problems facing our health care system and what people agree should be done to make progress.

You can read more about the Hidden Common Ground Initiative on Public Agenda’s site at www.publicagenda.org/pages/hidden-common-ground-where-americans-see-eye-to-eye-on-incarceration.

NWOC Partner Shares Piece on Hearing Every Voice

The National Week of Conversation is wrapping up tomorrow, April 28th, and many across the nation have participated in this collective movement to bring Americans together to talk and heal divisions. Which is why we wanted to lift up this piece that fellow NWOC partner AllSides recently shared on their Perspectives blog on Hearing Every Voice written by Tom McSteen of Sacred Discourse. The article talks about the experience of connecting through conversation in a way that honors every voice present and the importance of utilizing structures like those of Living Room Conversations, also a partner of NWOC and an NCDD member. Read the post below and find the original on AllSides site here.


Hearing Every Voice

How do you feel when your voice is heard? How do you feel when it is not?

We all want our voice to be heard. We all want to feel self-expressed. We all want to leave a gathering where we had something to say, having said what we wanted to say. If that does not happen, feelings of frustration, disagreement, and aloneness can creep in. These feelings, particularly when experienced over time, can lead to states of separation and division.

Unsurprisingly, I have experienced many conversations and public events where I felt my voice was not heard, from extended family gatherings at holidays to governmental forums on whether to build pipelines. Leaving these situations with the experience of not being heard left me feeling isolated.

Hearing every voice can be literal, as in taking the time at a particular gathering to give everyone a chance to speak. It can also be figurative, when people feel in some collective way that their views or experiences have been dismissed. This figurative example is often seen in national elections, when groups of people feel glossed over and unheard. Yet, this state is more likely to develop over time when there are not tangible forums for people to fully eexpressthemselves.

We have choices, both in the literal and figurative sense. We can act so as to not hear or marginalize certain voices, to selectively hear only what we want to hear. When we do so, however, we add, often unintentionally, to the current division in our politics, our public discourse.

Or, on the other hand, when we intentionally make an attempt to hear every voice, in any setting on any topic, literally or figuratively, we create the possibility of conversation or discourse that is more inclusive and connective.

When people do not feel heard, they are more likely to be dismissive of others’ voices. And, when people feel heard, they are more likely to allow others to be heard, in turn.

It may not always be easy or simple to create the space for every voice to be heard. But it’s possible. Setting rules of engagement and establishing a safe and clear container in a structured environment are two key ways to allow for every voice to be heard.

The new and rising organization, Living Room Conversations, provides a safe place to hear every voice. Having been a part of multiple conversations using this methodology, I know firsthand that people with very different points of view can come together and have a civil conversation. And, most importantly, they can walk away with a new understanding of the “other.”

A key differentiator, perhaps, is a well-stated intention to hear every voice no matter the setting. Whether in families or at the office, imagine what is possible when there is a concerted effort to hear all voices. Business journals, as an example, laud corporations that invest the time and effort into really providing time and space to listen to each and every employee. Could not the same be true for public discourse? Particularly for local issues, town halls can be a forum where there is a clear intention to give time and space to hear every voice on a given topic.

The experience of being heard can go a long way toward acceptance of a decision that goes against what I want to happen. When I feel that I have had the opportunity to express myself fully, and I feel the self-respect that comes from being able to do so, I can much more easily accept whatever the decision may be, even if I disagree with the outcome.

Might this simply be a return to respectful dialogue? In early April, the organization A Peace of Mind set up a studio at a leadership conference focused on cultivating civil discourse. They asked participants, “How have you cultivated civil discourse in the past year?” The responses were wide-ranging, and they provide numerous examples of what people can do to promote this practice.

One participant said: “I try to really learn about the speaker’s perspective and not just wait for them to pause so I can jump in and talk.” What a difference this could make toward returning to an experience of civil discourse that is respectful and constructive and that does not separate and divide.

As we move forward to the 2018 national elections, and then on to the 2020 presidential elections, what are ways that we each can be sure that those voices, particularly of people with whom we disagree, are heard? What community forums might we create to give people an opportunity to fully express their beliefs and concerns?

In addition to creating the forums, it helps to prepare people for these conversations. That is what we do at Sacred Discourse, following a relational framework that supports a shared intention to leave the others in a conversation feeling more whole, inspired, and connected after the conversation. Our framework begins with a commitment to hear all the voices, because without including everyone, we cannot move forward together.

You can find the original version of this article on AllSide Perspectives blog at www.allsides.com/blog/hearing-every-voice.

Creating a Welcoming Environment with Conservatives

As people convene this week for the National Week of Conversation, we wanted to share this piece from NCDD member org, The Village Square – Tallahassee on how to build authentic relationships and civic events with conservatives. In order to truly engage the public, it’s vital to have an actual diverse group. Often times, particularly in the D&D field, the same “usual suspects” of left-leaning folks are gathered and Conservative-identifying are left out. The Village Square talks about the important lessons they have learned on how to create a more welcoming environment and create a space where Conservatives are more inclined to come to the table. We encourage you to read the article below and find it in full on The Village Square – Tallahassee’s site here.


Welcoming Conservatives

As a critical mass of appropriate hand wringing continues as to how to address the deep and increasingly consequential partisan divisions roiling the western world, there is a surprisingly well-developed empirically supported body of knowledge that guides solutions that seem far simpler than the enormity of the problem would suggest.

To grow empathy toward those with different worldviews, moral psychologists tell us, we need to have positive interactions with “the other” (which is referred to as “contact hypothesis”) and emphasize shared “superordinate” goals. Our decade of pushing the civility rock up this steep hill supports their science – it’s almost a secret decoder ring because it shifts entrenched negative attitudes reliably and quickly. Strangely enough, softening hatred turns out to have been the easy part of this big job. The hard part is getting people who disagree on politics to occupy the same space so that the magic can work.

For those of us inspired to the work of building bridges, this first step of getting people with diverse views in a room together has proven a frequently experienced circular challenge – we don’t like each other because we don’t spend time together and we don’t spend time together because we don’t like each other.

This challenge appears to be particularly thorny when it comes to drawing conservatives into civic engagement as it’s most typically practiced. After a decade of experience with the Village Square – an organization dedicated to creating relationships across the partisan divide – we’ve developed some thinking around both causes of the problem and solutions that work. We host about 30 events a year that depend on drawing a voluntary diverse audience – because no one has to attend our events, we’ve been forced to do both sleuthing and soul searching.

As brilliant new ideas are popping up around the country to address the challenge of poisonous tribal partisanship, we think there is significant risk that too many of these good ideas will fail to achieve their goals simply because they fail to draw conservatives into their orbit. Even brilliantly conceived and potentially highly impactful initiatives may make things arguably worse, after all if conservatives don’t show up, aren’t we accidentally cementing structural divisions by hanging even more often with fellow liberals? And might we risk driving the contempt even deeper, when liberals who show up and want to fix “the relationship” are effectively “stood up?” Note: we’re addressing our remarks to liberals struggling to draw conservatives into dialogue. Further posts will address other aspects of this challenge!

Here’s what we learned

Start with a bipartisan relationship. Whatever you’re undertaking, your team has to include a minimum of two people with an authentic ongoing relationship who disagree on politics. If your first try at this fails, try again. If you don’t have a relationship like this, build one. There is no group of politically likeminded people, no matter how well meaning, who will ultimately succeed in an endeavor lacking some honest feedback from the other side. Conservatives will probably be less intrigued by your idea (for reasons we touch on, below) so you might have to be creative in how you meet this requirement as you begin. But do meet it. You might also have to live with the idea that they’re less “in love” with your idea or project than you are at first. That’s all worth moving past because a truth-telling conservative partner will tell you important things that you will never imagine otherwise.

Build an expanding bipartisan network incrementally. Depending on the durability you’re trying to achieve or the scale of your endeavor, consider growing an intermediate-sized ideologically and demographically diverse group that essentially creates the social “glue” that will ensure you draw from different tribes when you either go big or go long with the public. For us it was a bipartisan board of about 15 (the liberal partner in the original pair identified conservative friends and vice versa), then that group expanded to 75 “founders” before we did our first press release. To the extent you can, keep tapping pre-existing friendships to form the strongest base going forward. Early on, there was much vouching we had to do for each other with potential panelists, elected officials and members of the public. They were suspicious.

Keep a conservative bench. You’re more likely to lose conservatives along the way (again, for reasons that make perfect sense and have nothing to do with their moral compass, see below). Don’t get irritated – just get replacements. Do take the time to get feedback from conservatives you’ve lost – you might even learn something! Wash, rinse, repeat. Forever.

Consider partnering with an ideologically diverse church congregation or a politically diverse group of churches. Churches are institutions that have more street cred for conservatives than the average town hall does. Additionally, church partners naturally help you speak to hearts, not heads (below).

If you’re liberal, don’t use your mother tongue. Direct appeals to “unity” can have an unintended effect in this dysfunctional highly siloed political environment – where individual words even have tremendous partisan valence. Efforts to unite across division – often led by citizens who lean liberal (for reasons that have nothing to do with the worth of conservatives) – unintentionally and understandably frame their efforts using language that draws in like-minded liberal audience. In this way their framing unintentionally conveys to conservatives that the project is a liberal one, predisposing a failure to engage conservatives adequately.

Here’s a list of some hot potato words you might want to avoid in your official communications (or at the very least balance them with some words that speak to conservatives). It isn’t that conservatives don’t care about some of these things, it’s just that in this polarized environment they’ve become toxic markers of partisanship and should be used only with caution by bridge builders who truly want to build the gosh darn bridge: sustainability, race, unity, cooperation, community, social justice, awareness, women’s health, tolerance, climate change, privilege, resources, diversity, dialogue, inclusive, identity, kindness. (We’re sorry, we know this is hard news because we’ve been there too. When our civic space is detoxified, we can use them again.) We make a practice of checking the titles of our programs with both liberal and conservative friends.

Speak to hearts, not heads. Corollary: focus on relationships, not facts. A unique quality of Western liberalism is that we perceive ourselves as operating inside a framework of rationalism where we look at the facts, weigh them and choose the course of action that is objectively supported. But if we truly value facts, we’ll realize that rationalism isn’t – well – rational. For human beings making our way through copious and ambiguous information, science tells us that our intuitions comes first, and strategic reasoning follows. We essentially – as a species – believe what we want to believe (liberals too).

Forums with a heavy focus on debate and fact checking put the cart squarely before the horse in terms of what has to happen first to create change. The primary focus on bridge building efforts has to be on creating conditions that make people from feuding tribes want to like each other. Once those positive relationships exists, we want to hear others out, which changes everything. Interestingly, many conservatives follow their intuition first as their factory default setting, so in a highly divided political world, they immediately sense your liberalism when your coordinates aim squarely and repeatedly at objective fact. We know, waiting is hard to do. But the cart will come along if you get the moving parts in the right order. (We have a priest friend who likes to challenge our audiences to list the guiding principles of their lives using only facts. Can’t do it can you? Big ideas incorporate wisdom and wisdom is different than fact.)

Understand liberal and conservative “moral channels.” Liberals and conservatives are not receiving information about our current civic crisis on the same channels and it’s a fundamentally big problem. According to Jonathan Haidt and colleagues’ body of work advanced as Moral Foundations Theory(entertaining 18 minute primer here), liberals understand moral good to be constrained primarily to whether it is caring or harmful and whether it is fair. While conservatives also believe that care and fairness are moral goods, they believe those goods must be balanced with other moral goods (loyalty, authority, liberty and sanctity – referred to as the “binding” moral foundations).

In this polarized political environment, The Village Square has considerable direct experiential evidence that anything that sounds like attention to care and fairness actually drives conservatives away, as they intuitively understand “this is not my tribe.” Making matters worse, liberals perceive that in many cases conservative moral values are, in fact, amoral, responding to this perception with even more care and fairness (the concept of “virtue signaling” is useful in understanding this tendency). This caring on steroids often has the unintentional effect of creating a backlash with conservatives rather than building the bridge liberals truly do seek. To conservatives this kind of an over focusing on “care” and “fair” feels immature (lacking in broad situational awareness and some critical qualities a healthy society must have to function, like authority) as well as too often weaponized by “social justice warriors.” The more conservatives hear “care more,” the more they actually seem to do the opposite; the “meaner” liberals think conservatives are, the stronger liberals catapult the “care” into the next round of hostilities. This is the cycle of equal and opposite reactions where the worst in our politics now resides.

Believe in your soul that without deeply engaged conservatives, your effort will lack critical insights required to solve problems – insights liberals are likely blind to (even dangers liberals may be blind to). We often encounter liberal-leaning friends and colleagues doing civic work with incredibly sincere intention, but with a little digging it’s clear that their central animating belief is that if one can create respectful conversation and do good fact checking, ultimately those intransigent conservatives will come around to a more liberal view of reality. In our era of jaw-dropping distortion of factual reality, we understand the impulse to see the problem this way (truth told, this describes many of us). But as valid as this aspect of the challenge is, you’ll have much more success if you begin with another deep truth we’ve discovered along the way: conservatives can often see dangers, risks and challenges that liberals can’t. All humans have significant blind spots in our ability to perceive reality and likeminded groups of people are even more prone to blindness (a moral tribe actually is glued together aroundthose blind spots).

We like John Stuart Mill on this: “… the besetting danger is not so much of embracing falsehood for truth, as of mistaking part of the truth for the whole. It might be plausibly maintained that in almost every one of the leading controversies… both sides were in the right in what they affirmed, though in the wrong in what they denied; and that if either could have been made to take the other’s views in addition to its own, little more would have been needed to make its doctrine correct.”

The shift in your organizing premise will come through clearly to conservatives and it will draw them to you. For more, see the concept of “morality binds and blinds” in Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind. (Think of this blindness as akin to the dark side of the “asteroid” in our Asteroids Club metaphor.)

Empathize with conservatives through a key insight that’s commonly absent in liberal circles. In American Grace, Harvard’s Robert Putnam broadly observes that as tectonic plates moved in society beginning in the sixties – and since – liberals have won the culture war on most all fronts. We get it, if you’re liberal we’re still not there, but if you’re 50 years old pretty much everything has changed about our social order in the length of your life. From this vantage point, even just that level of change can be thoroughly disorienting, especially if you believe in conservative principles that follow the wisdom of the ages. That means that for over a half a century, conservatives have been living in a culture that violates their most essential guiding principles about how to maintain a functional society (don’t mistake that as being just about bias against women and minorities, it’s not).

Liberals are now less than one year into a presidency that violates their deepest held core beliefs about what constitutes a strong and healthy world. The natural (and healthy) reaction for liberals is they’re now circling their wagons and gathering in common cause to push against it. And in that short time, there’s already been reporting on the rise of “fake news” on the left. Bad facts on the right are inevitable after decades of feeling outside the prevailing culture, given that human beings “reason” in order to confirm what we want to believe, not what’s objectively true. Imagine the left in 50 years of a Trump-styled illiberal democracy and you’ll have more empathy.

Take a continuous meter reading on whether the environment you’ve created welcomes conservatives. A lost liberal who stumbles into a gun show wouldn’t need to see a single firearm to know they’re not with their people. Conservatives will know too. It’s a good exercise to think of everything you do through their eyes.

Scale up using a distributed leadership “cell” model(Alternative less-advisable name: “Use the al Qaeda model”) Whether you’re going for clicks, attendance, or some other kind of scale, look to a small key group of catalysts to become separate “hubs” to build a diverse audience. The very problem we face is that ideologically diverse groupings of people aren’t naturally occurring “in the wild” so you can’t just assume diverse people will naturally show up for you because you want them to. Creating diverse groups now requires a new intentionality.

A “cell” structure has long been powerfully deployed to create worldwide terror, or if you’d prefer something morally worth emulating, cells create the close connections that form the organizing ballast of megachurches. Point is, it works. Almost all of us can find 7 people who look and think different than we do and invite them to join us to do something. We’ve used this model to draw a racially diverse audience of 500+ to actually talk about race – we only needed 20 diverse catalysts to get it done. Once the engineered diversity starts shaping attendance, its momentum makes a diverse audience now grow naturally. Voila, you’ve essentially begun formation of a new tribe.

Recognize the hazard of lopsided groups. Truth is, we’ve had plenty of politically lopsided groups, it’s even possible that all of our now hundreds of events have had lopsided attendance (our original location is in a highly liberal city). You can do everything right and it’s still likely your engagement will lean left (spending an evening immersed in dialogue across diversity can seem to conservatives like a liberal thing to do). But it is critical that you stay highly aware of the imbalance – it will affect every decision you make toward keeping conservatives comfortable and lead to increasing success attracting conservatives into your project over time.

Respect that conservatives are going to be less thrilled with your forum or initiative for reasons that are truly legitimate (and have nothing to do with being mean, overly partisan or racist). It is simply a descriptor of the essential philosophical underpinnings of conservatism that they have moreconfidence in their families and faith communities to deal with problems than government or a shared civic space. What this means is that the very nature of most civility initiatives begins with a frame that many conservatives don’t fundamentally share with their more liberal neighbors. An incredible strength of so many conservatives we know is that they’ve got their guiding principles and they’re a little too busy following them to make it to an evening forum. We’ve learned that ultimately it’s our deep embrace of what they bring that’s unique that’s made all the difference.

Challenges notwithstanding, the rewards you’ll get for your efforts to welcome conservatives are both essential to your success and will be transformational for you. They have been for us – the liberals among us will never go back to a room full of people just like us. It’s boring and lacks insights we’ve grown accustomed to hearing.

Got more ideas, models that have worked for you or do you just basically disagree with something we’re advancing here? Building bridges is a big job so we’ll need all shoulders at the wheel. Let’s keep talking.

You can find the original version of this article on The Village Square – Tallahassee’s site at https://tlh.villagesquare.us/blog/welcoming-conservatives/.

NCDD Teams Up for Bridging the Divides Workshop in CO

Several weeks back, I was invited by Colorado Common Cause to give a workshop at their monthly membership meeting in Denver, Colorado, on Bridging the Divide: or How to Have a “Productive” Political Conversation. This was an exciting opportunity to connect with this fantastic organization and share some of the best practices from the NCDD network on how to navigate emotionally-heated conversations.

Huge thank you to all the participants who attended the event and made it an engaging experience! Another big thank you to Caroline Fry from Colorado Common Cause for inviting NCDD to come speak with their members and share some of the tools and wisdom from our network to help better bridge divides.

Caroline kicked off the meeting with a brief intro to Colorado Common Cause –  an org that has been working for over four decades to improve democratic processes by reducing barriers to voting, working to ensure that elections are run fairly, reducing the influence of money in politics, and that our government is being held accountable through more transparent practices.

During the workshop, I shared the transformative work being done in the NCDD network to enable people to connect more authentically with each other, build deeper relationships, and engage in challenging conversations- specifically around heated political issues. I spoke on the importance of humanizing each other and finding common ground by connecting to our shared values; and how this work is possible in even the most painful conflicts (though it is by no means easy). I lifted up examples from our NCDD members of tools that help facilitate having challenging conversations and shared some deliberative processes that hold space for these conversations while contributing toward policy-making.

Finally, I shared a couple of upcoming events with participants, that I encourage you to join in!

  • National Week of Conversation is going on right now until this Saturday, April 28th – join this national movement to improve listening, deepen our connections through conversation, and better heal the divisiveness in our society. Join an event already planned on the National Week of Conversation site here or create your own, maybe using the resources provided on NWOC or right here on the NCDD Resource Center.
  • Our upcoming National Conference on Dialogue & Deliberation is being held this November 2-4 in Downtown Denver. Our conferences are an exciting mingling of enthusiasts and practitioners in dialogue, deliberation, and engagement work and we encourage you to learn more here.
    • “Super Early Bird” tickets are now available for a limited time, so make sure you act fast to utilize this great low rate by clicking here.
    • The theme for this year’s conference is “Connecting and Strengthening Civic Innovators”, and our intention is to focus on how we can further uplift dialogue, deliberation, and engagement work; learn more details on the theme here.
    • For folks interested in presenting a session at NCDD2018, the call for proposals is currently open for concurrent sessions – learn more here.

You can watch the full live stream of the workshop in the video below. I’ve also included a link to the resource doc I shared which has the exercises we did, as well as, the resources I referenced – which you can find here.

If you like what you see – NCDD staff would love to come hold a workshop with your group, organization, or event!  We are happy to tailor the workshop to your needs for navigating challenging conversations. I am located in Denver, Managing Director Courtney Breese is in the San Francisco Bay Area, and Co-Founder Sandy Heierbacher is in Boston; all of us can travel to our respective surrounding areas to hold workshops. For folks that are located outside of these places, contact us and let’s see if we can coordinate logistics with travel or technology to make a workshop happen for you! Please contact me at keiva[at]ncdd[dot]org for workshop inquiries. 

About Colorado Common Cause
Colorado Common Cause is a non-profit organization fighting for open, honest and accountable government. We work to strengthen public participation and to ensure that government and the political process serve the public interest, rather than the special interests.

We believe the serious issues that confront our society – problems like lack of affordable health care and quality education, poverty, discrimination, and global warming – will only be solved when government is responsive to the needs and the voices of its citizens, and not to the pressures of special interests. Partnering with groups representing diverse constituencies, we campaign to break down barriers to voting, ensure every vote is counted as cast, reduce the impact of special interest money in the political process, and promote open government and high ethical standards.

Follow on Twitter at @CommonCauseCO
Connect on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ColoradoCommonCause

Ben Franklin Circles and Understanding Common Ground

One of the more challenging realities when trying to find common ground is that often times the core understanding of words can be dramatically different than from someone “across the aisle”. As NCDD board member, Jacob Hess discusses in this relevant piece with NCDD member org, Ben Franklin Circles, while we live in a period of rampant hyperpartisanship – how can we work together to find common ground when folks can have fundamentally different definitions? How do we take this phenomenon into account when building relationships and working towards bridging these divides? We encourage you to read the post below and carry this with you as you also check out the National Week of Conversation, happening until April 28th, that works to do just this through connecting conversations. You can find the original post on BFC’s site here.


Rediscovering Common Ground We (Mostly) Share

In our polarized American landscape, we often hear that if we “just came together” around values we share, we could find a lot of common ground.

I believe that, but only partially. The reason is I’ve spent years talking with people across the political spectrum about some of these core values.

And for anyone who does that – and there are many wonderful civic, community and dialogue leaders who have done similar things – something obvious emerges. While we might, in fact, hold common agreements on the importance of certain key principles, values and virtues, we sure don’t agree on what those mean, how to define (or redefine) them in the modern age and what, if any, application and relevance they hold for the many complex issues facing society today. For example, what does “justice” mean today or “compassion” or “religious freedom”? (hint: not the same thing across the political spectrum).

This isn’t bad news. It’s just the way things are. Even the very words we use come to mean fundamentally different things. I was involved in a project in 2016 mapping these different meanings in collaboration with dialogue professionals across some of the more salient socio-political differences. The goal was to create some kind of a term guide that might help translate and clarify between these understandings (and perhaps encourage more humanizing in real life). Included in that Red Blue Dictionary (now hosted as the All Sides Dictionary) are the contested meanings for basic words like “American,” “facts” and “politically correct” and “progressive,” and other terms with uniquely triggering meanings (for some), such as “white privilege” and “politically correct.” Still other emotional terms have been variously defined in very broad or limited ways, depending on the context, including “extremist,” “radical,” “irrational,” “hate,” “bigot,” “racist,” and “anti-gay.”

In each case, we document and explore fundamentally different ways of conceiving these principles, terms and definitions – and in some cases, these values. Depending on that meaning, the words can be experienced and function in profoundly different ways. For instance, when defined broadly, the word “extremist” or “radical” can be used to shut down those we disagree with, and can be experienced as very silencing. And words like “fact” and “truth” may be experienced so differently that people are hardly speaking about the same thing. Once again, this is not bad news at all – as long as we’re aware it is happening (in which case, we can respond in some kind of a productive way).

Unfortunately in most cases, for most Americans, this is simply not happening. They are almost entirely unaware that some of the basic words they use might actually mean something remarkably different to their left-leaning neighbor or to their right-leaning uncle.

In the absence of that recognition, a couple of things happen: first, we have a very difficult time communicating. Imagine two people coming together speaking two languages, but not even aware they are speaking two languages. This is kind of what’s happening now according to many observers in America. “Let’s all fight for social justice!” says one progressive college student – hardly aware that this very word, “social justice” can feel like an existential threat to many conservatives. “As long as can uphold what is Biblical we’ll be okay as a society” says another religious conservative – with little awareness at how much of an existential threat this word now represents to those who identify as LGBT+.

You can guess what happens next: we get frustrated. Instead of realizing that this person sees the same fundamental principles in a different way, we lash out them, treating them somehow as if they are somehow inferior or motivated by selfishness or evil, because they actively oppose things that, to our mind and our community, seem eminently and urgently needed, good and right (and righteous).

You see, as long as we are not understanding how fundamentally we are seeing things differently, we are left to scramble for another explanation. And that explanation is served up by the professional polarizers that have become de facto leaders for so many communities in our country – across the political spectrum.

There are real fears on both sides of the spectrum that the other side is destroying the true fabric of the country and betraying its core values. And in vocalizing these fears, Americans tend to draw on heavy rhetoric that draws promiscuous boundary lines that contribute to an especially frightening picture – aka, all conservatives lumped together with white nationalists and all liberals lumped together with revolutionary Marxists, etc. And so it goes and goes and goes – and expands and metastasizes until we are so much at each other’s throats that more than one political commentator has openly wondered about the possibility of growing political-inspired violence on the horizon.

Getting people to come together across the divide won’t be easy. There’s no app for that. But there are ways forward, albeit not simplistic ones. For instance, we can begin by sitting with someone who doesn’t see the world as we do and actually hearing them out with sincere questions and honest curiosity. Let’s be honest. That’s hard work. Especially now. Especially with our minds so cluttered by the residue of professional provocateurs so much so that their aggressive angst sit on the tip of our own tongue.

But here’s the good news: for those willing to actually go there, to actually try this, to actually sit with their discomfort and listen – really listen, not the fake kind, not the ‘let-me-watch-for-whatever-opening-I-need-to-expose-the-ridiculous-delusion-of-this-other-person’ kind – for those willing to do that, things can change. And things do change…dramatically.

Trust me. I’ve lived this for over a decade. As a conservative Mormon, some of my best friends and most cherished relationships include atheist professors, lesbian activists and even some crazy, adorable Marxists. My own fear and anger to my many political opposites has lightened, and given way to curiosity and affection. From experience, I know that fear can evaporate. The animosity can diminish. And affection can grow. And all of a sudden, you’re falling in love in small, but real ways, with your political opponents.

Earlier this year, I saw these principles in action in a group I joined called a Ben Franklin Circle. There were 6 across the political spectrum who came together to discuss one of Franklin’s 13 virtues to live by. For example, we spent one meeting talking about the virtue of sincerity, what it meant and how (and whether) it applied to society today. Then we looked at ways to apply it and maybe experiment with it more in our own lives. It was so sweet that I still remember how refreshing it felt.

Say what you want about the founding fathers. Disagree with many of the positions that they and most Americans at the time happened to hold. But one thing we might all agree upon is that they understood the value of virtues like, honesty, integrity, like moderation—virtues that seem in short supply today.

What if we made space – even just a little, even just once in awhile – for these virtues by coming together to direct our attention, on purpose, to one of these ideals? We would talk together about what they mean and whether they are applicable to us today—and if so, what they call on us to try in our lives – and what they could mean for our country.

Once again, we won’t agree on those answers, but that’s not the point. It’s really never been the point. Because as soon as we have a conversation. Things change, for all of us. And that might be just what America needs right now.

You can find the original version of this post on Ben Franklin Circle’s at https://benfranklincircles.org/ben-franklin-circle-hosts/rediscovering-common-ground-we-mostly-share.

National Week of Conversation Kicks Off Today!

Today officially kicks off the National Week of Conversation, an unprecedented week of connecting conversations that will run until next Saturday, April 28th!

The last few years have been hard on conversations. 75% of Americans now believe our inability to engage civilly with one another has reached a crisis level. We have not been this divided since the 1850s.  And the way we use technology tends to separate us even more.

The National Week of Conversation is about bringing Americans together to talk it out. Organizations can sign up to partner and host affiliated events (you can even add them to our calendar!). Individuals can sign up to participate both in person and online (individuals are welcome to host their own events too).

We strongly encourage you to check out the National Week of Conversation’s site here and see how this effort is happening all across the US. For those interested in starting your own event there are many supporting conversation guides, background information on a variety of subjects, and other resources. To facilitate these conversations even more, NWOC offers resources specifically designed for schools, libraries, and faith communities – which we have lifted up in the post below and you can find on NWOC’s site here.


Schools for NWOC: Resource Guide

Why? With the advent of social media algorithms and increasingly biased news pushing us into our own individualized filter bubbles, the country is reaching levels of division that in some ways is the worst we’ve seen since the 1850s. This is why it’s more important than ever to teach the next generation how to reach beyond their own bubbles and have civil conversations with people who disagree with them or have different backgrounds and perspectives.

Are you an educator interested in NWOC but can’t participate this year? Please still sign up your school to receive resources and updates about the next National Week of Conversation.

Free Services and Resources that can help

  • AllSides for Schools provides tools, lesson plans and resources from across the web for teachers and students to understand and discuss news and issues from different perspectives and across differences with civility and respect. Programs available for middle school, high school and college.
  • Bill of Rights Institute provides Bridge the Divide, a program that allows students to weigh in on hot-button political questions in a moderated online forum. Students can add their own opinions as well as up-vote the opinions of other students and see how peers view the important issues. Ideal for high school students.
  • Empatico is a tool for teachers to connect their lower-school students to classrooms around the world using seamless video conferencing technology. Activities are standards-based and designed to promote meaningful interactions and positive perceptions. Students are able to explore their similarities and differences with curiosity and kindness and develop practical communication and leadership skills. Designed for 7-11 year old students.
  • Mismatch connects teachers across the country so they can introduce their students to other students from different regions of the country with contrasting socioeconomic backgrounds and political perspectives. Students then engage in structured, respectful video conversations across differences, gaining mutual understanding and appreciation for one another. Ideal for high schools and colleges. Sign up your class for Mismatch now!

Click here to find Conversation Guides and Lesson Plans for Schools by Topic on:

  • Set the Tone – Getting your classroom started
  • Media Bias, Polarization, and Fake News
  • Free speech
  • Guns and Responsibility
  • Immigration
  • Race & Equity
  • Sexual Assault & Power Relationships
  • Other Topics

Libraries for NWOC: Resource Guide

Why should my library participate? The National Week of Conversation (NWOC) is an opportunity to help your library’s patrons connect with other people in their community and across the country. Libraries are a trusted gathering place in communities across the country, and can help in NWOC’s mission to revitalize our democracy. NWOC will allow your patrons to connect to other people in conversations they normally would not be able to have. Check out our PDF guide for participation.

How Can My Library Participate? There are a number of different ways your library can participate in NWOC!

Host an event, or make your library available for conversations:

  • Book Clubs: Provide space for your local book clubs to discuss a book that brings up important issues. Check out this list of suggestions from the Kansas City Public Library.
  • Living Room Conversations offers self-facilitated conversation guides. Simply provide meeting space and conversation guides to groups of patrons who can meet at your library for conversations.
  • Facilitated Conversations: Send an email to courtney[at]ncdd[dot]org to learn about bringing a facilitator to your library.

Provide computers for your patrons to connect with others across the country:
Mismatch is a service that utilizes free video conferencing systems to connect people across the country for conversations across divides. Simply provide space in your library for people to use computers and participate. Point your patrons to Mismatch.org where they can sign up for a conversation.

These are just a few ideas. We invite you to be creative and register your own event. Perhaps you want to use your own conversation guide or invite an expert speaker to your library? Please register your event and direct any questions to jaymee[at]allsides[dot]com.

Faith Communities for NWOC: Resource Guide

Why should my faith community participate? The National Week of Conversation (NWOC) is an opportunity to help your faith community’s members connect with other people in their community and across the country. Faith traditions share the common value of peace-making. Congregations of all faiths are trusted gathering places for the larger community as well as members of their own community. They also are organized to help people gather in communities across the country. This peace focus, trust and capacity for hospitality can help in NWOC’s mission to revitalize our democracy. NWOC will encourage your members to connect to other people in conversations they normally would not be able to have.

How Can My Congregation Participate? There are a number of different ways
your congregation can participate in NWOC!

Host an event, or make your congregation available for conversations:

  • Create a fellowship event: Invite members to gather for conversations that will help them grow in understanding and deepen relationships. Check out Planning a Community Living Room Conversation.
  • Provide a conversation opportunity for established groups: Most congregations have groups that meet regularly for fellowship, study, governance or service. Commit one meeting time to a conversation that will enrich your time together.
  • Build effective teams: Support congregational teams by offering conversations that give practice in understanding others’ perspectives, building trust and listening respectfully.
  • Living Room Conversations offers self-facilitated conversation guides. Simply provide meeting space and conversation guides to folks from your  larger community who can meet at your site for conversations.
  • Facilitated Conversations: Send an email to our Faith Communities Partner for assistance in hosting a virtual conversation (linda[at]livingroomconversations[dot]org) or locating a facilitator (courtney[at]ncdd[dot]org) who can be present with you.

Provide computers for your members to connect with others across the country:
Mismatch is a service that utilizes free video conferencing systems to connect people across the country for conversations across divides. Simply provide space in your congregation for people to use computers and participate. Point your patrons to Mismatch.org where they can sign up for a conversation.

These are just a few ideas. We invite you to be creative and register your own event. Perhaps you want to use your own conversation guide or invite an expert speaker to your faith community? Please register your event and direct any questions to linda[at]livingroomconversations[dot]org.