MetroQuest Webinar on Finding Common Ground, Feb. 28th

Coming up at the end of February, NCDD member org MetroQuest will be hosting the webinar, How to Design Public Engagement to Find Common Ground; co-sponsored by NCDD, IAP2, and the American Planning Association (APA).  This webinar will be an opportunity to learn more on how to design public engagement efforts that uplift the common ground amongst the community and create solutions that demonstrate these shared ideals. You can read the announcement below or find the original on MetroQuest’s site here.

MetroQuest Webinar: How to Design Public Engagement to Find Common Ground

A 5-star recipe for public engagement – how to find common desires and build a winning plan!

Wednesday, February 28th
11 am Pacific | 12 pm Mountain | 1 pm Central | 2 pm Eastern (1 hour)
Educational Credit Available (CM APA AICP)
Complimentary (FREE)


When it comes to urban and transportation planning, motivated groups with competing demands often emerge in community outreach efforts. On February 28th, learn how online community engagement can help find common ground to build a plan citizens will support.

Mark Evans from BartonPartners and Mary Young with the Town of Westport will share their success in engaging the public to inform the Saugatuck Transit Oriented Design Master Plan. Find out how online engagement provided a fun and safe way for citizens to provide input without fear of reprisal from local insurgent groups. The result? A master plan that meets the common desires of the local community.

Register for this complimentary 1-hour live webinar to learn how to …

  • Create a public engagement process to find common goals
  • Ensure privacy in the process to uncover the true priorities
  • Optimize citizen engagement to go beyond motivated groups
  • Collect informed, constructive input from all demographics
  • Find the balance between livability, character, and transportation
  • Gain transparency with actionable data to support your plan

You can find the original version of this announcement on MetroQuest’s site at

Attend the 2018 IAP2 USA Skills Symposium in Austin, Texas

Are you looking to brush up on your IAP2 skills or really want to dive deep into learning public participation tools and techniques? We wanted to give folks in our network a heads up about the 2018 IAP2 USA Skills Symposium hosted by NCDD member org IAP2, happening in Austin from February 26 – March 2. This will be a great chance to take some of the classic courses from IAP2, as well as, several more recent training opportunities which you can read about below. They will also be hosting a National Dialogue event on February 28th exploring “How and why should the public be engaged in highly technical and complex projects?”. You can read the announcement below and find more information on the IAP2 site here.

Join us at the 2018 IAP2 USA Skills Symposium in Austin, Texas!

You’re invited! This year’s IAP2 USA Skills Symposium will feature a wide range of courses of varying duration and topics exploring skills, tools, and techniques that support effective public participation. This training will be undertaken in a rich learning environment, with activities building a creative and supportive space for participants whether they spend a day or the week at the event!

We will also be hosting a National Dialogue event on February 28, 2018 at the University of Texas at Austin talking about “How and why should the public be engaged in highly technical and complex projects?” See attached flyer for more details or register now!

Courses include but are not limited to…

Social Media And P2: How to design and host effective online engagement –  We know that online tools reach new participants and enable different kinds of conversation. But, it’s an emerging field and there is still much trial and error, so this course will give you a leg up by examining what’s worked and what’s failed. This interactive course will teach you to create social media campaigns that gather input creatively, enable collaborative online interactions, and sustain participation over time. You’ll also learn how to use social media for participant recruitment, and how to integrate mobile communication into your participation strategy. Bring your computer; this course gives you an opportunity to experience both the host and participant sides of online participation.

Evaluating & Measuring P2 – Evaluation should always be useful, and this introductory course will cover theories and practical strategies to help you evaluate your public participation efforts. In this hands-on course, you will apply foundational tools like logic models, examine the differences between process and impact evaluation, and review the components of an evaluation plan. You will craft evaluation questions, and identify indicators and sources of information to help you answer those questions. Overall, you will learn how to employ evaluative thinking as a learning strategy, in order to strengthen your work and achieve greater impact.

When Things Go Sideways: How to embrace emotion & outrage, and change results – Building on EOP2 (but not a pre-requisite) this highly participatory course will have participants uncover what’s driving emotion and outrage in P2 processes and discover what triggers these natural responses. Through exercises, discussion and multi-media presentation, participants will learn about AND PRACTICE highly effective, collaborative strategies to transform conflict and outrage and create an environment for constructive engagement.

Toolz For Tough Conversations – This conflict de-escalation and civil discourse training program prepares individuals, organizations, and communities for difficult discussions, cross-sector deliberations and collaborative decision-making. The unique, multi-track engagement framework, body-based mindfulness strategies, and powerful conflict communication skills are useful throughout all phases of creating dynamic, inclusive, community engagement programs. This highly-experiential training demonstrates mindfulness strategies and provides time to apply key concepts in all phases of project design: scoping, invitation, implementation, evaluation, and continuous improvement and shared leadership.

That’s not all! See our online Schedule to about the other courses that we have to offer! Spaces are limited. Check out our website for more information.

Courses are offered at $300/person/day for IAP2 members and $375/person/day for non-members with the following exceptions: IAP2 Foundations and “Strategies for Dealing with Opposition & Outrage in P2” courses are offered at $350/person/day for IAP2 members and $425/person/day for non-members. There will be a special rate for full-time students, see the website. The daily rate includes mid-morning beverages and lunch.

We hope to see you in Austin! Feel free to email us at

You can find this information on the IAP2 site at

Exploring Restorative Justice in Law Enforcement

In case you missed it, we wanted to lift up this exciting online course from the Zehr Institute for Restorative Justice, a program of NCDD member org, the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University. The four-session course will provide an introduction to restorative justice with an emphasis on its application in law enforcement and other community partnerships. It will be a great opportunity for those working in or with law enforcement agencies, though make sure you sign up ASAP as the course is limited to 25 participants. You can read the announcement below or find the original on the Zehr Institute’s site here.

Law Enforcement Through Restorative Justice: Peacebuilding in the Community

This four-part online course is an introduction to restorative justice with an emphasis on its applications in law enforcement and community-engaged program partnerships. Participants will explore innovative ways to incorporate restorative justice within an agency, and to collaborate with community organizations on such initiatives. Through presentations and interactive discussions, examples of implementation in police agencies throughout the United States will be showcased. Some of these will include:

  • An alternative to, or within, the criminal justice system
  • Citizen complaints
  • Internal conflict and
  • Community engagement.

Restorative justice is often referred to as “the missing piece in law enforcement”. You will learn why police chiefs around the country have been utilizing or are incorporating restorative justice as an option within their organization. From victim advocacy, to offender accountability, restorative justice provides many benefits to an entire community. For example, police departments experience a high rate of victim satisfaction, community participation, and reduction in offender recidivism which ultimately results in accomplishing procedural justice and police legitimacy.

Course dates:

  • March 13, 2018 3 – 4:30 pm Eastern
  • March 20, 2018 3 – 4:30 pm Eastern
  • March 27, 2018 3 – 4:30 pm Eastern
  • April 3, 2018 3 – 4:30 pm Eastern

Course Fee: $200 for the full 4-week course.
Complete payment & registration by clicking here.

Course Objectives

  • Explore why and how law enforcement is implementing restorative justice programs across this country
  • Engage select guest speakers on the greatest successes and challenges they have faced in applying restorative justice to law enforcement.
  • Learn about innovative restorative justice practices that have enhanced law enforcement and community engagement, partnerships, and collaboration
  • Grapple with how to make law enforcement more restorative – changing structures, policies and procedures

Course Instructor(s): Dr. Carl Stauffer and Officer Vanessa Westley
Course Syllabus: Download Syllabus

Target Audience
The course is intended for people working in or associated with law enforcement agencies. Criminal justice practitioners, law enforcement agency directors, command level officers and those working in the field will benefit from this series.

Course Structure & Cost
The course will be held four consecutive weeks for 90 minutes per session – Tuesdays, March 13 – April 3, 2018 from 3-4:30 pm (EST), and will be synchronous, (i.e. live) through the Zoom platform. Unlike a webinar, all participants will be able to see, hear and speak to the others. Participants will need access to an internet-connected computer with webcam and microphone, head phones, a quiet spot and good lighting.

Enrollment is limited to 25. This is a non-credit course however, a certificate of participation will be provided upon request.

Instructor Bios
Officer Vanessa Westley is a twenty-five year veteran of the Chicago Police Department.  She has served in various positions within the Department’s Patrol Division and other units.  She began her service in Community Policing in 2004 under now-retired First Deputy Dana V. Starks, as project manager in the Department’s CAPS Project Office.  She later served as project manager for the Mayor’s Office of Faith Based and Community Partnerships.  Currently she is the program manager for the Chicago Police Department’s and the Metro YMCA’s “Bridging the Divide” program.  She is the special projects coordinator for the CAPS Revitalization effort launched in 2013.  She leads the community engagement training program for the Department through DePaul University’s Center for Urban Education.  Vanessa is a Restorative Justice and Art of Hosting practitioner and trainer.

Dr. Carl Stauffer teaches Restorative and Transitional Justice at the Graduate Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Virginia. Stauffer also serves as Co-Director of the Zehr Institute of Restorative Justice and the Academic Director of the Caux Scholars Program in Switzerland. Stauffer entered the Restorative Justice field as the first Executive Director of the Capital Area Victim-Offender Reconciliation Program in Richmond, Virginia in 1991. In 1994, Stauffer and his family moved to South Africa where he worked with various transitional justice processes such as the Peace Accords, Community-Police Forums, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Local Community Development structures. From 2000 to 2009, Stauffer was appointed as the Mennonite Central Committee Regional Peace Adviser for the Southern Africa region. His work has taken him to 20 African countries and 15 other countries in the Caribbean, Middle East, Europe, Asia and the Balkans.

You can find the original version of this announcement on the Zehr Institute’s site at

Unrig the System Summit in NOLA Next Week

If you’re tired of political corruption and looking to improve our democracy, then check out what’s being convened next week! If you hadn’t heard already, Debilyn Molineaux, Co-Founder and Director of the Bridge Alliance – an NCDD member org – will be speaking at the upcoming Unrig the System Summit. The summit is February 2-4 in New Orleans, and is being hosted by BA member, Represent.Us. Convening folks from across the political spectrum, this conference will be an excellent opportunity to network and collaborate on next steps to improving our democratic environment. You can read the announcement in post below or find more information on BA’s site here.

Join us at Unrig The System Summit in NOLA!

We are thrilled to announce that Debilyn Molineaux, our Co-Founder & Director, will be a speaker at the Unrig The System Summit hosted by Bridge Alliance member Represent.Us in New Orleans on February 2-4.

Convening the Brightest Minds from the Right and Left to Fix American Politics…and Party in New Orleans

Unrig The System Summit is no ordinary conference. No endless panels and speeches. It’s fast-paced and fun, with plenty of time to self-organize as you mingle with top advocacy leaders, academics, comedians, musicians, celebrities, activists, philanthropists and journalists. This is about crossing partisan and ideological divides and working together on concrete solutions to unrig America’s political system…. with plenty of New Orleans fun mixed in. The Summit runs from Friday, February 2nd, 1pm through Sunday, February 4th, 2pm CT. Key programming will take place all 3 days, so plan on being in attendance for the entire event.

Click here to register – We hope to see you there!

Program tracks for Advocacy, Policy and One Helluva Good Time 
Shape the future of: Money in Politics, Gerrymandering, Citizens United, Voting Reform, Transparency and more. See the hour-by-hour agenda here, or get the Unrig Summit App to plan your personal agenda.

Advocacy Track Sneak Peek:

  • The Power of Storytelling – Learn the narrative skills that power winning campaigns from the experts who have organized some of the best. From gaining new recruits to getting press coverage, so much of what we do relies on our ability to tell a compelling story about our work and ourselves.
  • Fighting Big Money While Running for Office – If you’re running for office, thinking about running for office, supporting a candidate, or just interested in any of the above, come learn about how candidates can embrace a pro-democracy agenda on the campaign trail. You will learn about how to use the right language, how to raise money, how to run a winning campaign and build the next generation of elected champions who will fight to end the influence of big money.
  • Campaign Design Lab – In this interactive training, you’ll join a team to create a campaign live at the summit. You will be guided through a campaign planning 0simulation, and walk away with the recipe for designing and building groundbreaking new campaigns! After the workshop you may continue by participating in one of several follow-up workshops during the Summit. Build something great and it may even be showcased live from stage on Sunday!

Policy Track Sneak Peek:

  • At Our Whit(ford)’s End With Gerrymandering? – Join the lawyer who argued on behalf of Wisconsin’s voters in the Supreme Court’s recent Gill v. Whitford gerrymandering case and other redistricting experts to find out how the Court might rule, and how to prepare for next steps in each possible scenario. Gill v. Whitford is a potential blockbuster case to decide whether partisan gerrymandering is constitutional — and we expect a decision soon after the Summit.
  • From Russia, with Facebook: Foreign Influence in American Elections – Join leading experts in a discussion on how we can limit the influence of people who are beyond the reach of our laws — and if we should. The 2016 presidential cycle showed how vulnerable our elections are to foreign influence.
  • What to Do About Citizens United? – Hear from the best legal minds in the country about how we can fight Citizens United, super PACs, dark money, and more. What are the most promising avenues for legal reform, and where should we be focusing our efforts? What’s the near- and long-term game?


  • Friday Night Welcome Party – Join us for a night on the town, and meet the movement at one of New Orleans’ most prolific venues: The Howlin’ Wolf, featuring local live music from Meschiya Lake and the Little Big Horns, and Brass-A-Holics. Make sure to arrive on time to catch the open bar happy hour sponsored by Center for Secure and Modern Elections. This mixer is designed to help you meet new allies. Don’t be shy! 
  • Saturday Night Live Performance – Saturday night is the marquee event of the Summit: an inspiring evening of live music, stand-up comedy, and short speeches in a 1,800-seat historic New Orleans theater. The evening will be hosted by Jennifer Lawrence and Adam McKay and will be livestreamed on multiple platforms. Speakers include Represent.Us Director Josh Silver; Professor Richard Painter; comedians Nikki Glaser, and Adam Yenser; astronaut Ron Garan; former State Senator and Our Revolution President Nina Turner and more, with live music from HoneyHoney, and the legendary New Orleans-based Preservation All-Stars. 

Remember to follow the #UnrigTheSystem hashtag on Twitter for more in-the-moment happenings!

You can find the original version of this announcement on Bridge Alliance’s site at

Healing Through Conversation and Connection

We wanted to share this piece from longtime NCDD member Parisa Parsa, Executive Director of Essential Partners, which was posted on the blog of NCDD member org, the Bridge Alliance. In the article, she speaks on the lack of connection and trust amongst people today and all-too-common feelings of isolation and avoidance despite technological advances in communication. Our ability to be in conversation with people, especially those with whom we disagree, is one of our greatest connections to our humanity; and we need to repair it in order to heal our society and ourselves. We encourage you to read the article below or find the original on BA’s site here.

Staying Connected in the Midst of Differences

In 1989, a group of therapists engaged in some commiseration at their shared Cambridge practice. They discussed a concern about what had become of sane discourse about weighty issues of policy in the United States. At that time one of the therapists, Laura Chasin was a doctoral student of government with a special interest in the philosophy of John Dewey, who in the late 1800’s expressed his profound belief in expressing how democracy and ethical ideals of humanity were synonymous.

In the office with the others, Laura shared how she was particularly distressed by the chaos and ineffectiveness of public debates about abortion. Her colleagues Corky Becker, Dick Chasin and Sallyann Roth, along with researcher and editor Maggie Herzig, puzzled at how much was lost in the public shouting matches that passed for debate. The mutual understanding, restoration of trust and sheer humanity that was the bedrock of effective family therapy were utterly absent from the publicly televised conversations about some of our most critical social and political issues. What was common however, were disjointed policies, stalemate and a devolution of the social fabric in communities around the country, just when our democracy needed solutions most.

From the confines of those pivotal hours of discourse, the question the group considered was, “Could the practices of family therapy be engaged to build relationship and understanding, and restore trust among folks who were deeply divided on issues that were rooted in their core values?” That question motivated years of research and the development of the practices at the core of the Public Conversations Project, now Essential Partners.

In the last 28 years, the United States has seen a continuing rift between what passes as public discourse and the practices that have been developed to be effective in building and sustaining personal, direct relationships. Today as much as anytime since, the same question that brought our founders together is a source of dismay, concern, alarm or despair for people across the political and social spectrum.

At least as far back as Plato, the notion of public discourse has been engaged and debated in philosophical treatises. Questioning the effectiveness and relevancy of open dialogue is part of democratic ideals. Within a democratic system, the common person is assumed to have the right to engage in discussion about the realm of truth and justice. In that regard, which topics warrant engagement, and what qualifications ought one have to properly engage? If we are to have a system of government in which each person has a vote, it is assumed then that we can express freely, differences in ideas, opinions, world views. The free exchange of ideas, the ability to argue, debate and dialogue has been central to the democratic experiment — not just in forming public policy, but in considering what defines the common good.

The spirit of public, civilized debate that operates according to competing arguments that proceed rationally until there is an objective winner, has become a charming anachronism, especially in our current political arena. Persuasive strength of one side’s logic often pushes into the shadows the ideals of democratic discourse and goals. In the lead up to the 2016 election, there was much hand-wringing about the lack of reasoned argument and loose treatment of facts in the formal debates. Even the moderators were subject to personal attack from candidates. And then it was open season on everyone — candidates, moderators, audience members, on social media, on broadcast television and in public.

The issue we have today is not the lack of access to information – it is a lack of connection and trust. Added to our political polarization are alarming rates of afflictions borne of isolation and despair: rates of depression and anxiety have skyrocketed; addiction rates are escalating and, in the case of opioids, are now being declared epidemic; suicide rates increased by 24% from 1999-2014. Measured as cultural trends, these point to a deep need to relocate ourselves in relationship with caring others and with a sense of purpose and meaning that goes beyond the struggles within us. This can be accomplished through therapy, of course, but the practices of connection, relationship, trust and understanding need to be activated among us in community as well. After all, the wider definition of human community includes agreements despite conflicting perspectives.

“Apart from conversation, from discourse and communication, there is no thought and no meaning, only just events, dumb, preposterous, destructive.”  These words of John Dewey in 1922 seem to capture well the malaise of our times. We live a frustrating paradox: the many vehicles at our fingertips for pumping out information have not resulted in an increase in communication. The real interchange of ideas beyond lobbing insults or competing “facts” at one another has been the true casualty of our times. The advent of social media simply provided an accelerant.

While working on this article, in fact, I overheard another coffee shop patron discussing the news of the day with a companion: “I feel like I have so much to say and nowhere to say it,” he said, “I think I’ll open a Twitter account just to have somewhere to vent it all.” We are good at talking about those “dumb, preposterous, destructive” events, but lack the corresponding opportunities for the kind of discourse that makes meaning of those events and our relationship with them. It is only through conversation, that shared experience of knowing and being known, that we arrive at a sense of our purpose, and what comes next.

At Essential Partners, we believe our times demand a refreshed public discourse. Our approach rests on the fact that behind every belief is a person with a story. Our practices help to build a web of relationships that assumes difference and can remain connected even through deep disagreement. When we have a foundation in the honoring of one another’s humanity, a relationship built on the trust that our neighbor or political opponent comes at their view honestly, we can hold our disagreements alongside the fact of the others’ fundamental dignity. And then our passionate, principled differences remain grounded in the fact that we are mutually interdependent.

Conversation is the simple and profound act of sharing who we are with one another. It has been the primary mode of human connection for as long as humanity has existed. Connection between ideas and their implications in real lives. Connection between our pain and our joy: the recognition of the arc of human living that includes isolation, loss, despair and also exalted moments of the pleasure and privilege of being alive. Connection between our past, rife with wrongs done and wrongs done to us, and a future in which we demand and strive for better. The suffering of generations that is born anew with each tends to be given too short a story arc in our imaginations and in our societal awareness: our short memories are stunting not just our sense of history but our sense of compassion as well. Our ability to tell one another our stories – and tell them fully, truly, in all their complexity – is what builds a sense of the truth that honors the depth and breadth that those old philosophers may have been getting at.

In our current cultural moment, we hear constantly that people avoid or suppress the desire to be in this kind of conversation with folks who think or believe differently. The loss in this turning away, in this avoidance, is one that cannot be overstated. Because it confuses our political ideas with our humanity, and allows us to build destructive stereotypes of each other based on exaggerated differences. That practice, no matter how principled ones opposition is to the other side’s views, always leads to terrifying conclusions. The rampant conversation right now about whether one should entertain views that are “simply wrong and destructive” forgets that those views are held by people. We don’t get to cast fellow human beings to the wayside because their ideas are wrong to us, lest we too find ourselves on the wrong side of that equation. We can disagree with our opponents ideas and still hold a bedrock conviction in their humanity and their dignity. This has been the core outcome of our sustained dialogues among folks in leadership on different sides of the biggest divides.

In our pluralistic society we can never expect to be without difference and even conflict. In the world of conflict resolution we know that the process of moving through conflict is not about tying things up in a neat little bow, but about building practices that help us transform conflict in ways that are generative. Rather than imagining conflict is something to be avoided, suppressed, or expelled, we believe we can build a kind of public discourse that opens up the creative possibility when conflicting ideas meet. We can always learn something about ourselves and one another and realize a new truth: our ability to stay connected in the midst of our differences. These practices are critical to sustaining a healthy culture.

Ultimately, when people enter the public sphere with opinions and values informed by the deep, relational connection with others who believe differently, the whole quality of our public discourse can be transformed. Through this education and growth we can learn to embrace passionate views that sharply differ without dehumanizing our opponents.

Almost 30 years after the meeting between the founders of Essential Partners, we have come to a critical point in our self-evaluation of democratic ideas. If our collective social values are dependent on communication and dialogue, then this new norm can truly allow difference to flourish, while sharpening our understanding of how our beliefs, ideas, policies and actions affect others. And through all this, we can rebuild our democracy.

You can find the original version of this article on Bridge Alliance’s site at

MetroQuest Hosts Facing Contention Webinar, Jan. 30th

Coming up at the end of January, NCDD member org MetroQuest will be hosting the webinar, Facing Contention – How to Detox Public Engagement; co-sponsored by NCDD, IAP2, and the American Planning Association (APA).  If you are looking to improve public engagement processes around controversial projects, then make sure you register ASAP to join the webinar.  We encourage you to read the announcement from MetroQuest below or you can find the original here.

MetroQuest Webinar: Facing Contention – How to Detox Public Engagement

Are you looking for effective ways to collect meaningful and constructive public input for controversial projects?

Tuesday, January 30th
11 am Pacific | 12 pm Mountain | 1 pm Central | 2 pm Eastern (1 hour)
Educational Credit Available (CM APA AICP)
Complimentary (FREE)


Jeanette Janiczek from the City of Charlottesville with Jonathan Whitehurst and Sal Musarra from Kimley-Horn and Associates will discuss their success with an innovative approach to public involvement on the contentious Belmont Bridge Replacement project.

Numerous forces have combined recently to create an increasingly toxic and adversarial climate for public engagement. These patterns and their effects are being felt across the country and its planners and community engagement staff who increasingly find themselves on the front lines of this conflict. Finding ways to design and manage public engagement efforts to maintain a respectful and productive dialog and collect meaningful and constructive public input is more important than ever.

This highly-visual webinar will showcase the Belmont Bridge Replacement case study along with proven best practices, research findings, and practical tips to guide agencies towards the successful application of community engagement on hot button and contentious projects.

Attend this complimentary 1-hour webinar to learn how to …

  • Create public engagement process to mitigate tensions
  • Engage more people from a broader demographic to hear diverse viewpoints
  • Collect informed and constructive public input on contentious topics
  • Get past entrenched positions to understand community priorities
  • Work with opposing groups to create a more harmonious outcome

You can find the original version of this announcement on MetroQuest’s site at

Honoring the Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy, we wanted to share this article from NCDD member org, Everyday Democracy‘s Executive Director, Martha McCoy. The article speaks on the painful realities of racism and how it continues to afflict the world around us. McCoy calls on us to better understand and address racism together in order to create a more just and true democracy. You can read the article in the post below or find the original on EvDem’s site here.

The Urgency of Now

EvDem LogoThe writings of Martin Luther King continue to urge me to clearer sight and greater urgency on issues of racial justice.

As a white girl growing up throughout the South – with most of my young years in Richmond, Virginia – I saw and was part of a genteel culture of segregation and inequality that supported discrimination and a systematic denial of opportunity for people of color. That experience was seared into my brain and soul. I was blessed that black faith leaders and teachers took the time to teach me when I was in my teens and early 20s. They helped me understand the meaning of what I was seeing.

Through the work of Dr. King and others, I began to see how racism affects all of us, not just people of color, and how it suffuses the very fabric of our democracy, to the detriment of all of us. That is why envisioning and fighting for a “New South” that would embrace racial justice – and indeed, a “new United States” – became an integral part of my life’s work.

As we commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and his assassination, may those of us who have internalized his messages bring them to life.  For me, Dr. King is so much more than an historical figure. He affects me directly. The people he taught went on to teach me, and as a result I am working to pass those teachings along. He still speaks to our country today about the “fierce urgency of Now” – a line from his “I have a dream” speech that is less often quoted.

We have an urgent need to help all people in our country understand the ways in which racism sickens our souls, our relationships, and our body politic. We need to understand that racism is a “shape shifter” that uses culture, policies, institutions, and social media to perpetrate itself. But there is the hope that Dr. King described. He called on us to see racism clearly, understand its impact, address it together, and use the highest democratic principles to create true opportunity for all. The more of us who understand that and move forward to create a “New United States” that embraces racial justice, the more authentic our democracy will be, and the more our country will experience true greatness.

You can find the original version of this article on Everyday Democracy’s site at

Community-Police Relations Confab Call Lessons with PCRC

In case you missed it, we had another fantastic Confab call with NCDD member org, the Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center (PCRC) in December. We were joined by roughly 60 participants to learn more about PCRC’s work over the last 20 years coordinating community-police relations and their best practices for how they have brought people together. Listen to the recording if you weren’t able to make it, because it was a great call!

On the call, we were joined by PCRC Executive Director Michelle Vilchez and Engaging Communities Initiative Director Malissa Netane who shared with participants some of the tenets of PCRC and strategies they’ve used to bridge divides between the community and police in San Mateo County, CA. A big part of the work that PCRC does is done collaboratively and before any engagement effort immense pre-work must be done, especially for more contentious issues. They are diligent to go to the community they are working with and personally get to know folks, ensure that people have a space to share their stories before gathering together in a larger group, and build relationships through dialogue. PCRC is mindful of the communities they are working with and are sensitive of the particular needs of each group, they emphasized the vital need to work with cultural humility when dealing with communities. – “When engaging any group that’s outside your own, you don’t have to be an expert in someone else’s culture. Have a commitment to learn and know there are culturally appropriate ways to communicate.”

“What a great call. I was struck particularly by how dialogue is one element in their larger strategy for community building: in many ways, they’re engaging in culture change as much as anything else. It makes me wonder how many dialogue efforts are tied into larger strategies in this way.” – John Backman, Confab participant

We want to thank Michelle, Malissa, and all the Confab participants for contributing to this important conversation! To learn more about NCDD’s Confab Calls and hear recordings of others, visit

Confab bubble imageNo worries if you couldn’t participate in the Confab – we recorded the whole presentation, which you can find on the archives page by clicking here. Access to the archives is a benefit of being an NCDD member, so make sure your membership is up-to-date (or click here to join). We had several excellent contributions on the chat, which you can find the transcript of here.

Finally, we love holding these events and we want to continue to elevate the work of our field with Confab Calls and Tech Tuesdays. It is through your generous contributions to NCDD that we can keep doing this work! That’s why we want to encourage you to support NCDD by making a donation or becoming an NCDD member today (you can also renew your membership by clicking here).

Civil Conversation Transforms Holiday Experiences

While the holiday season is now behind us, we wanted to pass along this reflection shared with us from NCDDer Ellen Geisler on their transformative holiday experience bringing facilitated dialogue to her family. In the article, she talks about how a civic engagement series at a public library opened up space for community dialogue (similar to the NCDD partnership with ALA). Geisler then brought civil dialogue home for the holidays and shares a key takeaway as we move into the New Year – that we can strongly disagree and still hear each other out. You can read the article below or find the original here.

Helping Families Learn How To Disagree About Tough Topics Over The Holidays

Every year, my large, extended family gathers for the entire week of Thanksgiving, which also coincides with deer hunting season in Wisconsin. While we agree to get along, we also rarely talk about controversial topics and the underlying values we hold that shape our perspectives on them. This Thanksgiving, though, inspired by my work as a community development educator for University of Wisconsin-Extension Marinette County, I brought one work project home to my family gathering.

Civility Speaks was a series of discussions held at the Stephenson Public Library in Marinette from June 2016 to June 2017. The series began when a patron asked if the library could organize events for visitors to learn and talk about controversial issues in a non-threatening environment in the lead up to the 2016 presidential elections. Working with UW-Extension, the library hosted community discussions that gave participants an opportunity to talk about controversial issues.

The goals of such discussions are that as participants learn about issues, they learn how to transform conflict, take individual and collective action, and improve institutional decision making. In turn, these changes can lead to increased civic capacity and improved community problem solving.

The series included discussions on a variety of topics throughout the year. For example, one was co-facilitated by Amy Reddinger, director of the LGBT Center at UW-Marinette, which serves Marinette and Oconto counties in Wisconsin and Menominee County in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  More than 30 people gathered at the library to learn and talk about transgender youth. One participant attended “to learn more about LGBT communities and how I could be more open-minded toward LGBT people,” and another asked, “what cultural issues can address these issues for our children and take away fear and [stigma] that may exist?”

It was surprising to hear transgender youth who attended the discussion describe their experiences with teachers and school administrators. The youth said they felt unsupported and in some cases threatened by classmates and adults. The LGBT Center, which opened in February 2017, continues to host events about transgender-related topics and other issues to build awareness and fulfill needs of the region’s LGBT community and their family and friends.

Prior to Thanksgiving this year, my uncle invited me to share with our family what I do for work — I suggested we organize a facilitated discussion about the use of technology. Politics, religion and agricultural production methods were all topics that hit close to home, so I proposed we start with an easier topic that wouldn’t necessarily feel so personal.  We all needed practice disagreeing with each other and talking about our values, as we rarely reach that area of conversation within our family.

After supper the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, my uncle introduced me as the guest facilitator for our family’s discussion, which would include 25 people ranging from age 8 to 65. We started by establishing ground rules as a group, and to my surprise everyone agreed to stay and participate instead of moving to another table to play cards. Everyone worked in groups of three or four responding to questions I offered. Every 10 minutes, they rearranged into new groups and I gave another prompt.

When the family came back to a large group to debrief, the most pleasing feedback was two adults, ages 65 and 35, saying they were impressed and excited by the thoughtful responses and participation from the youngest members of the family.

Our family comes from a dozen households, each with differing set of rules about what can or cannot be talked about in polite company. However, because this discussion started with established ground rules, everyone was on the same playing field.

During our family discussion, it was surprising to notice the kids seemed more at ease than the adults. When probed with questions like, “What about that is important to you?” the younger family members were eager to expound. The fact that so many relatives could listen to each other encouragingly suggests that we can disagree openly and continue to get along.

The day after our family discussion, it was revealed that four cousins in their 20s stayed up well into the night, prompted by one cousin who expressed an interest in discussing “something that matters, like abortion or euthanasia.” In another unanticipated outcome, a cousin and I slowly worked our way into discussing our perspectives about a topic about which we very strongly disagree.

My family is making progress in ways I could never have imagined. My optimistic five-year plan is to encourage family members who don’t want to ruffle feathers to talk about more contentious topics like reproductive rights, gender and sexuality, or immigration. It was exciting to take civil dialogue home for the holidays.

WisContext produced this article as a service of Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television and Cooperative Extension.

You can find the original article on the WisContext site at

Connecting Outside of our Filter Bubbles

Have you seen the recent Ted talk featuring two prominent folks from the NCDD network? NCDD member Joan Blades of Living Room Conversations and John Gable of AllSides, recently did the Ted talk at the TEDWomen 2017 conference in November. The two talk about the power of breaking outside of your filter bubbles by holding authentic conversations with people that are different than yourself and that by building relationships with people we tend to “listen differently to people we care about”. They share how their friendship has formed despite coming from very different ideological backgrounds and experiences, and how that has transformed the work they do. You can listen to their Ted talk below or find the original here.

Free Yourself from your Filter Bubbles

Joan Blades and John Gable want you to make friends with people who vote differently than you do. A pair of political opposites, the two longtime pals know the value of engaging in honest conversations with people you don’t immediately agree with. Join them as they explain how to bridge the gaps in understanding between people on opposite sides of the political spectrum — and create opportunities for mutual listening and consideration (and, maybe, lasting friendships).

You can find this Ted talk at