Spreading the word: Everyday Democracy’s Aicher Award

NCDD member organization Everyday Democracy is seeking nominations for this year’s Leadership in Democracy Awards! Please see their message to the NCDD network below for more information about the multiple awards this year, and how to help EvDem spread the word. Nominations and supplemental materials are due 10/31, so act now!

Each year, Everyday Democracy, recognizes outstanding leadership through our annual Leadership in Democracy Award.

In honor of our founder, Paul J. Aicher, we look for organizations, coalitions, and individuals who embody his values: voice for all, connection across difference, racial equity, and community change.

We have been inspired by the many exceptional applications from the past four years, and this year we expanded to two categories: one Aicher Award ($10,000) to an organization and two Civic Leadership Awards ($2500) to individuals.

We have valued your ongoing collaboration as partners, and we’d love to hear from you and your communities in this nomination process. Here are three ways you can help us honor and amplify powerful work through these prizes:

  1. Forward this blog post to your network.
  2. Share the word on social media:

3. Nominate a leader in your network using the Google Forms on this page

We must receive a nomination and supplemental application materials by 10/31, so we hope to spread the word quickly.

In partnership,

Everyday Democracy

Join Women Leading Disaster Recovery Webinar Weds, 2/24

You don’t want to miss the upcoming Equitable and Inclusive Engagement webinar hosted by Public Agenda, an NCDD member org, this coming Wednesday February 24th. The event will take place from 1-2:15pm Eastern, 10-11:15am Pacific. This segment will spotlight BIPOC Women Leading Disaster Recovery and the indispensable role they play in assisting their communities with what was needed in the aftermaths of Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy. This conversation is part of Public Agenda‘s FREE webinar series. Register here! Read more below about the event or find the original posting here.

Equitable and Inclusive Engagement: BIPOC Women Leading Disaster Recovery

Join Nicole Cabral, Associate Director of NY Engagement Programs at Public Agenda, in conversation with Maria Garrett, President of the Fresh Creek Civic Association in Brooklyn, New York; Myrtle Phillips, President of Grand Bayou Families United in Grand Bayou, Louisiana; and Daphne Viverette, former Community Development Director of the City of Moss Point, Mississippi.

Nicole will facilitate a conversation with these three leaders about the integral role they play in the recovery of their respective communities in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy.

Register here.

Maria Garrett is the founding member and first elected president of the Fresh Creek Civic Association in Brooklyn, New York. For over twenty-five years, Maria has been deeply involved in community building, conservation, and environmental resilience through her work with Flatland 7 and Flatland 8 Community Block Associations, United Canarsie South Civic Association (UCSCA), Community Board 18, the 69th Precinct and more. She resides in Canarsie with her husband and children.

Myrtle Philips was born and raised in Grand Bayou village in the bayou of Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana. She is the President of Grand Bayou Families United. As a Native American activist, she is dedicated to fighting for the community, even in the face of extreme environmental and political challenges.

Daphne Viverette is the former Coordinator for the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources in the Office of Coastal Restoration & Resiliency, where she played an integral role in her community’s recovery after Hurricane Katrina. Her past work includes twenty-five years in a public service capacity implementing and administering local, state, and federal grants as Community Development Director at a Gulf Coast multiple government.

Nicole Cabral is the Associate Director for New York Engagement Programs at Public Agenda. She manages the Public Engagement team in the development and execution of projects on a variety of local and national issues.

For reasonable accommodation requests to attend this discussion, please contact Jennifer Orellana at pe@publicagenda.org no later than Wednesday, February 17, 2021.

Find the original version of this on the Public Agenda’ site at: www.publicagenda.org/newsroom/equitable-and-inclusive-engagement-bipoc-women-leading-disaster-recovery/.

Civvys Nominations Accepted Until Friday December 4th

ICYMI The 2020 American Civic Collaboration Awards (The Civvys) are accepting nominations until Friday, December 4th. The Civvys, celebrate best practices in civic collaboration that put community and nation before party, ideology and narrow interests. These annual awards are organized by NCDD member org, The Bridge Alliance Education, Big Tent Nation, and the National Conference on Citizenship. Read the details in the post below and find more information on the main website; and most importantly, make sure you nominate those outstanding efforts of civic collaboration making impacts in local, national and youth communities!

THE CIVVYS: The American Civic Collaboration Awards

Celebrating Partnerships that Strengthen America

The 2020 Civvys are here – submit nominations here!

In its fourth year (and what a year!) the American Civic Collaboration Awards will continue to highlight outstanding initiatives working to collaborate across divides at the national, local and youth levels. In light of the events of this year that have gripped our nation – from the spread of a deadly virus to the murder of George Floyd to a highly polarized election season – the 2020 Civvys Awards will focus more pointedly on those efforts at the national, local and youth levels that work toward greater equity, diversity and inclusion.

An esteemed panel of civic leaders will review the submissions to designate finalists and winners. The 2020 Civvys Winners will be announced in a livestreamed, virtual ceremony in March 2021.

Sign up for our email list so you don’t miss any updates!

The Civvys celebrate best practices in civic collaboration that put community and nation before party, ideology and narrow interests.

Since its inaugural year, the Civvys have highlighted outstanding efforts of civic collaboration making impacts in National, Local and Youth communities.

Award Categories

National: These projects are nationwide in scope and audience.

Local: These projects are designed to serve a local, state or regional community.

Youth: These projects have a focus on children, teenagers or young adults.


We are looking for a range of projects, programs and people that use civic collaboration best practices to achieve real results in facilitating dialogue, enabling cross-partisan action, or putting civility and community above ideology. Here are our core criteria:

Collaborative practices. To what extent does this work use civic collaboration best practices to achieve results? What groups, expertise or areas are they bringing together afresh?

Impact. Who has this work had an impact on, and in what ways?

Scalability. Is this work something that can easily be expanded to have a greater impact? Is it something that can appeal across geographic regions, or be used to effect change in other civics topics or challenges?

Equity and Inclusion: Does this initiative make strides toward creating a more just, equitable and inclusive America?

In addition, the Civvys celebrates programs and people that:

  • Engages a representative and diverse set of stakeholders
  • Cultivates civility and mutual respect
  • Creates meaningful shared goals for those involved, using the process of co-creation
  • Provides effective facilitation and supports dialogue throughout the process
  • Develops or utilizes metrics to measure outcomes

You can read the original version of this information on the Civvy’s site at www.civvys.org/.

Submit 2021 All-America City Award Letter of Intent by 12/1

ICYMI NCDD member org, The National Civic League, is now accepting Letters of Intent for the 2021 All-America City Award (AAC2021). For over 70 years, the All-America City Award has recognized communities that leverage civic engagement, collaboration, inclusiveness and innovation to successfully address local issues. Every year communities from across the country compete for the All-America City Award, telling the story of their community and their work. This coming year, AAC2021 will be a robust virtual event, lifting up communities’ work related to the theme “Building Equitable and Resilient Communities”. Submit Letter of Intent by December 1st and save $100 on your 2021 application fee. Join the free informational webinar this coming Monday, November 23rd from 12-1pm Pacific, 3-4 Eastern, to learn more about the AAC award program – register here!

Read more about the 2021 All-America City Awards in post below and find more information on NCL’s site here.

Since 1949, the National Civic League has designated over 500 communities as All-America Cities for their outstanding civic accomplishments. The Award, bestowed yearly on 10 communities, recognizes the work of communities in using inclusive civic engagement to address critical issues and create stronger connections among residents, businesses and nonprofit and government leaders.

The 2021 All-America City theme is “Building Equitable and Resilient Communities.” The 2021 All-America City Awards will recognize communities that have worked to improve equity and resilience. Equity is the fabric that allows communities to achieve broad-based economic prosperity and other goals. Resilience enables communities to face challenging times by not only preserving what makes their community great but adapting and growing stronger. Both qualities depend on inclusive civic engagement.

The need for equity and resilience has become more obvious in 2020, as communities have dealt with a global pandemic and racial bias incidents in law enforcement. Those communities with more equity and resilience have been more successful in combatting the pandemic and making the needed changes to improve the racial equity of law enforcement and other city services.

All-America City applicants for 2021 will be asked to discuss the strength of their civic capital—the formal and informal relationships, networks and capacities they use to make decisions and solve problems—and to provide examples of community-driven projects that have adapted and transformed the community to be more equitable and resilient.

Finalists are announced in March and invited to assemble a community team to present at the All-America City Event in June. Teams of residents; nonprofit, business, and government leaders; and young people from communities across the country will share insights with peers, learn from national thought-leaders, and present the story of their work to a jury of nationally recognized civic leaders. The transformational experience equips, inspires and supports leaders and communities to achieve more than they ever believed possible.

The All-America City Award shines a spotlight on the incredible work taking place in communities across the country. By celebrating the best in local innovation, civic engagement and cross-sector collaboration, the All-America City Awards remind us of the potential within every community to tackle tough issues and create real change.

We encourage you to learn more about the All-America City Award event on the National Civic League site at: www.nationalcivicleague.org/america-city-award/how-to-apply/.

Exciting Updates from the Tufts’ Tisch College of Civic Life

We received this announcement from NCDDer Peter Levine at Tufts’ Tisch College of Civic Life, sharing many exciting updates happening at Tisch that we wanted to help boost to the larger NCDD network. Don’t miss out on the next announcement and sign up for this newsletter via the Frontiers of Democracy Updates Email List linked here. Do you have information you’d like to share with the NCDD network? Then check out this page to learn how to boost information with the expansive coalition.

Update about Frontiers of Democracy and Civic Initiatives at Tufts

Via Peter Levine on email list for the annual Frontiers of Democracy conference at Tufts’ Tisch College of Civic Life.

RE: Frontiers of Democracy conference and/or the Summer Institute of Civic Studies at Tufts’ Tisch College of Civic Life. We canceled both of those events in 2020 due to COVID-19. We will make decisions early in 2021 about whether to hold them in-person or to offer online programming instead next summer. The dates for Frontiers will be June 25-27, 2021; the Summer Institute will be June 21-25.

In the meantime, we wanted to update you about several projects involving Tisch College that may interest you.

CivicGreen is a new collaborative project (and website) meant to enrich our democratic imagination and to expand our policy options for sustainable, resilient, and just responses to climate crisis in the United States in the coming decades. It locates civic engagement at the heart of work that needs to occur in communities of all kinds, across cities and regions, and among professional and other institutional partners that are key to solving problems for the long run. CivicGreen is fundamentally about civic democracy at the intersection of green strategies to address our ecological and climate crises and to build healthy and sustainable communities for all.

Equity in America is a new online tool that allows anyone to explore dimensions of equity and inequity in the USA and generate easily-interpreted statistics and graphics. It is meant to inform public debate and deliberation (including in classrooms). The site also presents “research briefs” on current topics, including COVID-19 and policing.

Political scientists may be interested in the new Civic Engagement Section of the American Political Science Association, which is open to all members of APSA, and the APSA’s Institute of Civically Engaged Research, which is also held annually at Tisch College.

In the domain of k-12 civic education, please stay tuned for Educating for American Democracy: A Roadmap for Excellence in History and Civics Education for All Learners, a major project of iCivics, the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership at Arizona State University, Tisch College’s CIRCLE (The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement), and Tisch College itself.

For youth voting and civic engagement and college students’ political engagement, please follow CIRCLE and the Institute for Democracy and Higher Education.

The Civic Studies Major at Tufts is going strong and offers a distinctive mix of theoretical, empirical, and applied courses.

Purpose at the Center Allows for Greater Online Success

In this article, Essential Partners, an NCDD sponsor organization, explores the challenges of adapting to the shift to online engagement, both creatively and effectively!  As we continue to rely on virtual spaces to convene due to the Covid-19 outbreak, we may have felt the limitations of online conferencing as a work alternative or for keeping up with loved ones.  Most of us find, that it simply does not capture the presence, nor the energy that meeting in real life does. EP finds that placing purpose at the center acts as a pathway to alignment and greater connectivity. You can read the article below and find the original posting here.


“We cannot simply retrofit our in-person reality to the online space. But we can stay grounded in our shared purpose, and design accordingly.”

As the whole world (seemingly) makes the shift to working and convening online in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, one big question keeps coming up. How can we not just adjust our work to the virtual space but actually adapt, so we meet our shared purposes online just as well as we would in person?

As an Essential Partners Associate, I am currently engaged with several projects—in higher education, theatre, non-profits, and high schools. In each of these, our partners are navigating many uncertainties. They’re being forced to make decisions that impact people’s health and safety as well as their livelihoods, access to basic needs, future prospects, sense of community, and more.

Holding these tensions is incredibly challenging. In one project, we are helping a large institution design a strategy for listening and constructive communication. Before the pandemic, we imagined doing so through in-person facilitation, training, and designing new communication systems.

But that’s not possible now. And for a long time, we were stuck. How could we possibly achieve the same outcomes without being in the room together?

My colleague, Meenakshi, offered a brilliant solution. She suggested that we acknowledge and leverage this moment of uncertainty and stress—that we work with and within it, rather than trying to work around and through it. Instead of focusing on circumstances, we focus instead on purpose.

The purpose of this project was to develop a culture and strategy of constructive (internal) communication, which led to contingency planning once the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything.

Image: Video ConferenceWe designed a new exercise to use collective reflection as a way to observe this moment of dynamism and change more deeply and clearly. We invited the participants to reflect on the negative patterns exacerbated by the transition to virtual spaces, as well as the patterns that are serving their community well in this stressful moment.

We cannot simply retrofit our in-person reality to the online space. But we can stay grounded in our shared purpose, and design accordingly.

Download our new free resource, Designing for Purpose in Virtual Engagements, to help you plan your next online meeting, training, dialogue, or convening!

This period of physical distancing invites us to meet challenges with fresh eyes. If we are to pursue our goals creatively and effectively, we must design from scratch, navigating uncertainties with purpose as our anchor.

You can find the original version of this announcement on the Essential Partners site at  www.whatisessential.org/successful-shift-virtual-work-lean-purpose

The 2020 All-America City Award Event is Now Virtual!

Let the 2020 All-America City Award Competition begin! This beloved annual community event hosted by NCDD partner organization, the National Civic League, kicks off today and continues until the Weds. August 19th. This inspirational event recognizes communities that leverage civic engagement, collaboration, inclusiveness and innovation to successfully address local issues. This year has gone virtual but you can still join by heading on over to the NCL site linked here. If you are looking for a great boost of spirit, then we strongly encourage you to join the live stream via the AAC Facebook page and cheer on these #AAC2020 finalist communities! Learn more about the event below and on the NCL website here.

The 2020 All-America City Award Event Kicks Off!

This event recognizes communities that leverage civic engagement, collaboration, inclusiveness and innovation to successfully address local issues. The All-America City Award shines a spotlight on the incredible work taking place in communities across the country. By celebrating the best in local innovation, civic engagement and cross-sector collaboration, the All-America City Awards remind us of the potential within every community to tackle tough issues and create real change.

The 2020 All-America City theme is “Enhancing health and well-being through civic engagement.” The 2020 All-America City Award is focused on celebrating examples of civic engagement practices that advance health and well-being in local communities. We are looking for projects that demonstrate inclusive decision-making processes to enhance health and well-being for all, and particularly for populations currently experiencing poorer health outcomes.

Since 1949, the National Civic League has recognized and celebrated the best in American civic innovation with the prestigious All-America City Award. The Award, bestowed yearly on 10 communities (more than 500 in all) recognizes the work of communities in using inclusive civic engagement to address critical issues and create stronger connections among residents, businesses and nonprofit and government leaders.

You can learn more about the All-America City Award and this year’s happenings on the National Civic League site at: www.nationalcivicleague.org/america-city-award/.

Register for the Virtual Annual Civic Institute on August 21st

This announcement comes to us from our friends at the David Matthews Center for Civic Life. ICYMI on Friday, August 21st, the Matthews Center will be hosting their annual Civic Institute with this year’s theme, Common Bonds: Collective Purpose and Civic Resilience in Uncertain Times.  The event this year will be entirely online and open to folks outside the state, as well as free-of-charge! Make sure you see Dr. David Mathews, President and C.E.O. of the Kettering Foundation, give the keynote address sharing from his experiences at the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, during a past global epidemic. Read more in the article below and find the original posting here.

Common Bonds: Collective Purpose and Civic Resilience in Uncertain Times

The Mathews Center will host its annual Civic Institute on August 21st, 2020. The event will be held entirely online. The theme of this year’s event is Common Bonds: Collective Purpose and Civic Resilience in Uncertain Times.

Dr. David Mathews, President and C.E.O. of the Kettering Foundation, will deliver a (pre-recorded) keynote address drawing on his experiences at the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare—where he served as Secretary during the Swine Flu outbreak of 1976.

Our first digital-only Civic Institute will explore strategies deployed by individuals and communities as they respond and adapt to the challenges posed by a global epidemic. Community leaders across Alabama will showcase the innovative ways in which they have resisted social isolation by forging new connections with their fellow citizens and by exploring alternative perspectives uncovered through local historical research. This three-hour event (9:00am – 12:00pm CST) will be packed with the same quality thoughtful discussions and meaningful connections that you have come to expect from us each year.

  • 9:00 am – Opening Remarks by Cristin Brawner
  • 9:05 am – Pre-Recorded Keynote by Dr. David Mathews
  • 10:00 am – Short Talks with Panelists
    • Terrance Smith, Director of the Mayor’s Innovation Team in Mobile will discuss how his city is adapting to the challenges posed by the pandemic.
    • Margaret Morton of SAFE Sylacauga will discuss a new community resilience initiative with Laura Strickland (Director of the Sylacauga Chamber of Commerce) and Brigadier General Robert Holmes (retired).
    • Dr. John Giggie of the University of Alabama’s Summersell Center and students from Tuscaloosa’s Central High School will discuss The History of Us, a year-long course created to help students explore the African American history of their own community. Dr. Giggie co-taught the course with his graduate teaching assistant, Ms. Margaret Lawson, who will join the panel alongside students from the course.
  • 11:15 am – Breakout Discussions: Rebuilding, Recovering, and Reimagining Our Future
  • 11:50 am – Closing Remarks

Because the event will be offered entirely online this year, registration will be free of charge! If you are able, we ask that you consider making a donation to the Jean O’Connor-Snyder Fund here. One-hundred percent of your donation goes directly to support the JOIP internship program, which provides immersive civic learning opportunities for college students to research deliberative practices and asset-based approaches for working with Alabamians in community-based projects. Those who donate $25 or more will receive a DMC care package full of our latest resources and a special gift!

Register Now

You can find the original version of this event on the David Matthews Center for Civic Life site at  www.mathewscenter.org/common-bonds/.

Kettering and NIFI Release Publications on Developing Deliberation Materials

Kettering and NIFI: Developing Materials for Deliberation

The Kettering Foundation researches and develops issue guides, and the National Issues Forums Institute (NIF) shares the materials across the country along with the deliberative practices on which they are based.

How Kettering and NIFI think about developing materials that support public deliberation is freely available in two publications: Naming and Framing Difficult Issues to Make Sound Decisions, which outlines the conceptual foundations of this approach, and Developing Materials for Deliberative Forums, which is aimed at people in communities who might want to do this work themselves, in their own contexts on their own issues. When KF and NIFI work on national materials, we use the same approach. There are many ways to do this, and the more one does it the more readily it comes. In this way, this work is a “practice,” learned and improved upon by doing, yet accessible to all. It does not take experts. (Another resource, a little more schematic, is this two-page overview.)

This is not necessarily the best way to develop such materials, but it is the one that we have developed and used over decades. Other innovations are most welcome, and we are always interested to hear about them.

What we mean by “public deliberation” is simple: people deciding together about how they should address a shared problem by weighing options for action against the things they hold valuable. It is particularly useful, and some might even say it is needed, on certain kinds of problems, including when the cause of the problem is in dispute, people from all walks of life will need to act, there is no objectively correct solution, and any potential path forward brings with it drawbacks that affect things that are held deeply valuable. Some call such problems “wicked.” The main idea is that they don’t have a correct solution, but the problems are pressing, so we must still decide how to move forward in the absence of complete agreement. NIF issue guides are designed to be a support to deliberation by people in communities on a range of these kinds of issues. People deliberate all the time in their personal and professional lives. It is not a new skill that needs to be learned. The NIF issue guides are simply designed to prompt the process. (Some people use them for educational purposes, but their main intended use is to support direction-setting that leads to public decision-making.)

The challenge for anyone trying to develop a document that supports people deliberating on such a problem is to 1) describe the problem in such a way that it is universally recognized as a problem that merits discussion and 2) present options for action that lay bare the tensions between the things that we might do. The first item is called naming, and the second framing.

All of this work starts with research. It is not work suited to just one or two researchers who go off and write—it is collective work aimed to be useful to collectivities of people. In terms of “desk” research, the chief areas of inquiry are: What arguments are being made about this issue? By whom? How do they differ? What solutions are being proposed? The public research is the most important aspect of developing these materials.

This public research starts with gathering concerns of people. This is usually done in small groups, as people share their concerns about a topic. The name of the issue is not yet known—it will develop and emerge iteratively throughout the process. We are trying to learn two things: What is the question that people feel we must grapple with? How does this issue relate to the fundamental things that everyone holds valuable, but in differing degree? By talking about their concerns, people lay bare these things. We typically try to have broad-based concern gathering sessions, eliciting input from many groups, across difference. The broader the better.

Once there is a good, broad set of concerns (usually hundreds), we begin to “cluster” them according to things that are held deeply valuable that appear to be driving them. They typically will readily narrow down to a handful of main driving concerns such as collective safety, equity and being treated fairly, having freedom to act, having control over one’s future, and so forth. It is useful to get down to three or four main groupings. These clusters will become the options of the resulting issue framework, and three or four options is about as many as one can get through in one discussion.

What emerges from this clustering work is a name for the issue and the beginnings of a framework of options (each a major direction for addressing the problem). To give a sense of specificity to the options, it is useful to have examples of specific actions that each option suggests. The result of all this work is the “grid” format that you can see at the back of most NIF issue guides: a description of the problem, three options for action, each with a set of actions. Each of these options will have a trade off—the downside will be unpalatable, or it will pull against one of the other options, or both.

At this point, we develop a draft of such a framework and test it by holding deliberative forums with groups of people. We are looking for how well it sparks deliberation.

We have learned that a useful framework will:

  • Name the problem in such a way that people immediately respond
  • Include a range of options that are in tension with one another
  • Give voice to marginal and sometimes unwelcome views
  • Clearly and fairly show the downsides of any suggested course of action
  • Shake up the dominant left/right polarized discourse
  • Often leave people stewing as they consider ideas they may not have encountered

In my own experience in doing this work, this testing almost always results in improvements and sometimes major revisions. Sometimes an option needs a complete rework. Sometimes the name is clearly wrong. For instance, once we thought we were framing an issue related to “campaign finance,” and people in concern gathering sessions literally laughed at how narrowly that was drawn and insisted that the problem was almost the entire political system.

One of the challenges of doing this work is that it works best if one approaches it with openness and a willingness to alter course based on what is learned. It makes it difficult to create hard-and-fast timelines and to provide early specificity.

Once the overall framework is working, we develop a full-length issue guide. These are all reviewed anonymously by people who are familiar with the topic at hand before publication. At this point, we are looking for balance between major viewpoints and major gaps or errors.

You can find the original version of this announcement on the Kettering Foundation site at www.kettering.org/blogs/kf-and-nifi-developing-materials-deliberation.

Interview with Joan Blades of Living Room Conversations

This story about Living Room Conversations, a longstanding NCDD friend and member organization, articulates the vision and relevance of gathering with others to practice communication in spite of differences. In 2010, Joan Blades in collaboration with friends from different political identities, created Living Room Conversations when they noticed the increasing difficulties in communicating with people across political divides. Living Room Conversations provides an important practice space where people can meet and discuss issues that matter greatly to communities across America.  These online gatherings allow, respect, and celebrate the diversity of viewpoints which are as varied as topics and participation.

The entire interview can be read below and you can find the original posting on the Gratefulness site here.

Grateful Changemakers: Living Room Conversations

Living Room Conversations envisions a world where people who have fundamental differences of opinion and backgrounds learn to work together with respect and even joy. The non-profit’s open-source conversation model — developed by dialogue experts — provides an accessible structure for engaging in meaningful, civil conversation — anywhere in the world, even virtually — with those who may have different viewpoints. Anyone is welcome to use Living Room Conversation’s free resources, which can be adapted to address the needs of any community working to bridge divides. Co-founder Joan Blades (who also co-founded moveon.org) shares more about how Living Room Conversations build relationships that support collaborative problem-solving and generate compassion.

What sparked the creation of Living Room Conversations?

In 2004, I wanted to understand why conservative people saw things so differently than I did. This required intentional effort to spend time with people that have very different views. I made friends and learned a lot, but by 2010 it was actually harder to have a good conversation about the climate with a conservative than it was in 2005. This inspired me to work with dialogue experts to design a simple and small conversation format that is massively reproducible, and so I co-founded Living Room Conversations with a conservative and independent friend.

How does Living Room Conversations fill a need for our society?

We have teased ourselves apart so that we primarily spend time with and talk to like-minded people. This is making it easier and easier to demonize good people who have different beliefs than we do. Living Room Conversations invite us to reach out and get to know people who have different views than we do. The conversations allow us to deepen our own understanding as well as deepen relationships with friends and family. They improve our listening and connection skills. We have over 100 conversation guides based upon the current interests and needs of our users. The upcoming presidential election has inspired conversations about how we want to contribute to the political conversation.

A few years ago I began to describe this work as domestic peacebuilding. Terrible things can happen when we demonize people. Everybody I know from across the political spectrum wants good things for their community, their family, and the world. This is an important starting place. To address the big challenges we face, we need everyone’s best ideas and the capacity to work together.

What do you think inspires people to participate in Living Room Conversations?

Sometimes the motivation is an invitation to join a friend. Sometimes it is curiosity about a particular topic. Or the opportunity to get to know new people. Faith communities, libraries, and other groups offer Living Room Conversations to their members to deepen ties and also invite in missing voices. We have over 100 conversation guides on different topics, and the reasons for participating are as numerous as our many guides! As polarization has escalated in the U.S., more and more people no longer want to talk to “those people,” while there are others who are recognizing the deep dysfunction of dismissing entire segments of our population. And now with the coronavirus, there are people looking for meaningful connections at a time when they are feeling cut off from their normal social connections.

How does Living Room Conversations bring gratitude to life?

I’m grateful for the wonderful people I meet and the friends that join me. I’m grateful for increased understanding and sometimes increased confusion because I better understand the complexity of a challenge. I think everyone gets something different out of the conversations, but my experience may be a good sense of how this practice enriches our lives.

How does Living Room Conversations help cultivate qualities like awareness, appreciation, and compassion?

Living Room Conversations are a listening practice. Listening fully to others is generous and fulfilling. Awareness, appreciation, and compassion flow naturally out of the human connection that is nurtured.  Conversations about forgiveness, hope, status and privilege, finding meaning, and many others offer space for self-reflection and more intentional living.

What are some of the common barriers, obstacles, and fears that arise for participants? How are they navigated?

Many people feel like they don’t have the time for a 90-minute or hour conversation. I think one of the reasons our model has been embraced in faith communities is that this practice speaks to our desire to be the best version of ourselves, which is what I think we seek in faith communities. Also some people are anxious about conversation with people who hold different views. It is easy to choose a conversation topic that is reflective, such as Forgiveness, rather than one that is focused on a controversial topic, such as Guns and Responsibility.

What has been the impact of the project thus far?

We have some sense of the impact but not nearly as much as we would like because our model is open-source, and we often don’t hear about outcomes. Fortunately there has been some research that has revealed evidence of immediate and longer-term impacts:

  1. Immediate – improved mindset, listening skills
  2. Immediate – learned something new every time
  3. Longer-term – application of tools to other parts of life
  4. Longer-term – interest in systemic change spurred by mutual understanding and “humanizing the other”

How does Living Room Conversations plan to grow/move forward?

We are working to support individuals and communities around the country in their use of Living Room Conversations. Also, we have wonderful partners. We know that the conversations have been used around the world, but our focus is the U.S. because this is where we have maximum cultural competence, which is key for this kind of work. These conversation guides are free to all that want to use them, and no fancy event or skilled facilitator is typically needed. We hope that massive numbers of people will choose to have Living Room Conversations and help create the kind of community we all want to live in.

In this particular time of transformation, Living Room Conversations have adjusted course to adapt to new needs — to help our in-person communities transition to video and enable people who are feeling isolated to connect in meaningful conversations. Our Minnesota leaders were having conversations about Covid-19, and now they are using our Race in the Time of Corona and Police and Community Relations conversations guides as well as writing new conversation guides to meet the needs in their community. These conversation guides are available for communities anywhere.

I dream of this work creating culture change — a world in which respect and dignity for all people is the norm. And even though we have not yet achieved this big vision, each conversation is beautiful and enlightening on its own. I am incredibly grateful to be able to work on this!

If you could share one message about gratefulness with the world, what would it be?

This world is amazingly beautiful. And the people I meet want good things for their communities and future generations. This gives me hope that we can do what we need to do if we can discover each other. I am grateful for this. If you too dream of a world in which respect and dignity for all people is the norm, please help us share this practice in whatever way you see it may serve this purpose.

You can find the original version of this interview on the Gratefulness site at gratefulness.org/grateful-news/grateful-changemakers-living-room-conversations/.