Promoting Mental Health in Community (IF Discussion Report)

The 18-page discussion report, Promoting Mental Health in Community, was published by Interactivity Foundation in October 2015 and edited by Nneka Edwards and Suzanne Goodney Lea. This is the initial draft of the discussion report; IF is planning to create a full discussion guide that communities can use when gun violence occurs in order to take mental health concerns into consideration when developing public policy. Below is an excerpt of the guide, which can be downloaded as a PDF for free from IF’s site here.

From IF…

This is a unique discussion project for IF, in that we have collaborated with the parents of a young man who was shot and killed in a mall rampage shooting in Columbia, MD, back in January 2014.  The young man who was killed (Tyler) was one of two young people killed before the gunman took his own life.  The shooter was only 18 and was most likely in the early stages of schizophrenia; he had actually tried to seek mental health care, but to no avail.  Tyler’s father did an interview on a local news station, and I was struck by his poise and compassion.  I’d never seen a parent in such a horrible situation exhibit such genuine empathy towards the shooter and his family.

It turns out that Tyler, who was just 25 when he was killed, had spent three years sober after overcoming addiction challenges.  He got sober once he made the connection for himself between his addiction issues and his own mental health state (he was manic depressive).  He had spent the three years before his death helping others to make the same connection between mental health and addiction so that they, too, could overcome their drug/alcohol dependencies.  The number of lives he touched surprised even his parents, who were moved by the many stories of the connections and healing Tyler had put out into the world around him.

Tyler’s parents have a strong desire to carry on Tyler’s work by helping citizens to become more aware of their own and others’ mental health—and of the importance of good mental health, more generally.  They are generally interested in creating a space to explore these issues in meaningful ways.  Violence is so rampant in American society, and, too often, efforts to discuss ways to curtail it become confounded by important debates over guns and gun restrictions.  Meantime, underlying mental health factors—which also must be discussed if we are to reduce the frequency and impact of these events–rarely get seriously explored.  We hope to begin to alter that narrative by providing the interesting array of possibilities in this discussion guide for exploration within communities of varying sizes and locations.  Very few American communities have been untouched by sudden eruptions of violence in a public space.

IF’s discussion guide on depression is by far the least discussed of any of our discussion guides.  This likely reflects the stigma associated with mental health conditions.  What’s interesting, however, is that when that discussion guide is discussed, the quality and meaningfulness of the discussion to its participants is marked.  We hope that your group’s exploration of the ideas and possibilities in this discussion guide will better inform your participants about things that they and/or their family members may be facing without even realizing it and about how to find and create the resources and support that will help to stave off the sorts of mental health disasters that too-often erupt within our communities.

If you are interested in further information about the process used to develop IF reports or IF’s work in general, we invited you to consult our website at interactivityfoundation.org

About the Interactivity Foundation
The Interactivity Foundation is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that works to enhance the process and expand the scope of our public discussions through facilitated small-group discussion of multiple and contrasting possibilities. The Foundation does not engage in political advocacy for itself, any other organization or group, or on behalf of any of the policy possibilities described in its discussion guidebooks. For more information, see the Foundation’s website at www.interactivityfoundation.org.

Follow on Twitter: @IFTalks

Resource Link: www.interactivityfoundation.org/discussions/promoting-mental-health-in-community/

Living Room Conversation Guide: Guns and Responsibility

Living Room Conversation published the conversation guide, Guns and Responsibility, which was released October 2017. The guide gives pointers on how to hold living room conversations in order to develop a deeper understanding between participants around gun beliefs, gun safety, and responsible gun ownership. You can read the guide below, find a downloadable PDF here, or the original on Living Room Conversation’s site here.

From the guide…

Overview
In Living Room Conversations, a small group of people (e.g. 4-7) people come together to get to know one another in a more meaningful way. Guided by a simple and sociable format, participants practice being open and curious about all perspectives, with a focus on learning from one another, rather than trying to debate the topic at hand.

The Living Room Conversation Ground Rules
Be Curious and Open to Learning
Listen to and be open to hearing all points of view. Maintain an attitude of exploration and learning.
Conversation is as much about listening as it is about talking.

Show Respect and Suspend Judgment
Human beings tend to judge one another, do your best not to. Setting judgments aside will better
enable you to learn from others and help them feel respected and appreciated.

Look for Common Ground and Appreciate Differences
In this conversation, we look for what we agree on and simply appreciate that we will disagree on
some beliefs and opinions.

Be Authentic and Welcome that from Others
Share what’s important to you. Speak authentically from your personal and heartfelt experience. Be
considerate to others who are doing the same.

Be Purposeful and to the Point
Notice if what you are conveying is or is not “on purpose” to the question at hand. Notice if you are
making the same point more than once.

Own and Guide the Conversation
Take responsibility for the quality of your participation and the conversation by noticing what’s
happening and actively support getting yourself and others back “on purpose” when needed.

Though feedback is consistently positive, some people are concerned about managing people that dominate the conversation as well as off-topic, or disruptive situations during the Living Room Conversation. We offer these tips:
● Everyone shares responsibility for guiding the conversation and is invited to help keep the conversation on track.
● The group can decide to keep track of time in some way to help people remember to keep their comments similar in length to others. Soft music when the time is up is a great reminder.
● If an area of interest has arisen that has taken the group off topic, ask the group if they would like to set aside the new topic for a separate Living Room Conversation.
● If someone is dominating, disruptive or has found their soapbox, respectfully interrupt the situation, refer to the Ground Rules and invite everyone to get back on track with the current question
● If the group opts to shift from the format of the Living Room Conversations, please provide us with feedback for future learning. There are many ways to have a great conversation! Thank you! feedback@livingroomconversations.org

Rounds/Questions: The Living Room Conversation Starts Here
We all care about the victims of gun violence. We all love our children and our family. We all want children to arrive home safely at the end of the day. We have seen tragedy in our communities and want that to end. Let’s start with this as a given. This conversation focuses on our own personal experience with guns, gun safety and our beliefs about the balance between constitutional right and common good. This is a conversation about our hopes and concerns with a diverse set of community members in order to develop a deeper understanding of the opportunities and challenges surrounding responsible gun ownership.

Background Information: While you don’t need to be an expert on this topic, sometimes people want background information. Our partner, AllSides, has prepared a variety of articles reflecting multiple sides of this topic.

Round One: Getting Started / Why Are We Here?
● What interested you or drew you to this conversation?

Round Two: Core Values
Answer one or more of the following:
● What sense of purpose / mission / duty guides you in your life?
● What would your best friend say about who you are and what makes you “tick”?
● What are your hopes and concerns for your community and/or the country?

Round Three: Guns and Responsibility
Remember that the goal for this Living Room Conversation is for all of us to listen and learn about where we have different opinions and where we have shared interests, intentions and goals. Answer one or more of the following questions:
● Where did you learn about guns? And what did you learn?
● What role have guns played in your life?
● What are your concerns about gun safety?
● Are gun issues on your top 10 list of concerns? Why or why not?

Round Four: Reflection
Answer one or more of the following questions:
● In one sentence, share what was most meaningful / valuable to you in the experience of this Living Room Conversation.
● What learning, new understanding or common ground was found on this topic?
● Has this conversation changed your perception of anyone in this group, including yourself?

Round Five: Accomplishment and Next Steps
Answer both of the following questions:
● What is one important thing you thought was accomplished here?
● Is there a next step you would like to take based upon the conversation you just had?

Closing​ – Thank you! Please complete the feedback form to help improve Living Room Conversations.

To download a printable version of this conversation guide with the feedback form, click here.

About Living Room Conversations
Living Room Conversations are a conversational bridge across issues that divide and separate us. They provide an easy structure for engaging in friendly yet meaningful conversation with those with whom we may not agree. These conversations increase understanding, reveal common ground, and sometimes even allow us to discuss possible solutions. No fancy event or skilled facilitator is needed.

Follow on Twitter: @LivingRoomConvo

Resource Link: www.livingroomconversations.org/topics/guns_and_responsibility/

How Should We Prevent Mass Shootings in Our Communities? (NIFI Issue Advisory)

The 4-page issue advisory, How Should We Prevent Mass Shootings in Our Communities? was published September 2016 from National Issues Forums Institute and Kettering Foundation. The issue guide offers participants three options to use during deliberation on how to address the tragic realities of mass shootings that are occurring in our communities. The issue advisory is available to download for free on NIFI’s site here.

From NIFI…

The tragic attacks in Orlando, Florida, San Bernardino, California, and other places have raised concerns among many people across the nation. Other violent episodes, such as a teenager who was gunned down after returning home from the president’s inauguration, have also drawn attention. While mass shootings are infrequent, they may be increasing. Each event has devastating effects on the entire community.

Overall, the United States has become safer in recent years. Yet mass shooters target innocent people indiscriminately, often in locales where people ordinarily (and rightly) feel safe—movie theaters, college campuses, schools. How can we stop these violent acts and ensure that people feel safe in their homes and communities?

This issue advisory presents three options for deliberation, along with their drawbacks:

​Option 1: Reduce the Threat of Mass Shootings
The problem is that we are too vulnerable to violence. Communities and homes should be places where people are safe. The means for carrying out mass shootings are all around, and those who might perpetrate them are free among us. It is too easy for individuals to obtain weapons that are designed to kill a large number of people in a short time. We cannot stop all violent impulses, but we can and should make it much more difficult for people to act on them. We need to restrict the availability of dangerous weapons, identify potentially dangerous people, and prevent them from carrying out their plans.

Option 2: Equip People to Defend Themselves
The problem is that most people are unable to defend themselves against sudden danger from violence. There will always be some people who are a threat to those around them. In such situations, we cannot afford to rely on someone else to rescue us. We need to be prepared for violence and have the means to defend against it. The Second Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees this right.

Option 3: Root Out Violence in Society
The problem is that we live in a culture that perpetuates violence and numbs people to its effects. Violence and criminality are pervasive in popular music, films, television, video games, and sports. Mass murderers gain notoriety through nonstop media portrayals. This results in a culture in which stories of mass shootings circulate and gain momentum, increasing the likelihood of further shootings. We need to root out and stop the glorification of violence to break this cycle.

Note about this Issue Advisory
Recent horrific events involving mass shootings have touched a deep chord in many of us. Deliberative forums on this issue will not be easy. It will be important to remember, and to remind participants, that the objective of these forums is to begin to work through the tensions between security, freedom, and a healthy society.

Mass violence evokes raw emotions. Participants in this forum may become angry, and those with strong feelings may feel attacked by those who hold other points of view. This may sidetrack the deliberation. In productive deliberation, people examine the advantages and disadvantages of different options for addressing a difficult public problem, weighing these against the things they hold deeply valuable. This framing is designed to help people work through their emotions to recognize the trade-offs that each of us must wrestle with in deciding how to move forward.

The framework outlined in this issue advisory encompasses several options and provides an alternative means of moving forward in order to avoid the polarizing rhetoric now growing around the major policy options. Each option is rooted in a shared concern and proposes a distinct strategy for addressing the problem that includes roles for citizens to play. Equally important, each option presents the drawbacks inherent in each action. Recognizing these drawbacks allows people to see the trade-offs they must consider in pursuing any action. It is these drawbacks, in large part, that make coming to shared judgment so difficult—but ultimately, so productive.

One effective way to begin deliberative forums on this issue is to ask people to describe how the issue of mass violence has affected them or their families. Some will have had direct experience; many more will say they are affected by the fear of such acts. They are likely to mention the concerns identified in the framework.

The goal of this framework is to assist people in moving from initial reactions to more reflective judgment. That requires serious deliberation or weighing options for action against the things people value.

NIF-Logo2014About NIFI Issue Guides
NIFI’s Issue Guides introduce participants to several choices or approaches to consider. Rather than conforming to any single public proposal, each choice reflects widely held concerns and principles. Panels of experts review manuscripts to make sure the choices are presented accurately and fairly. By intention, Issue Guides do not identify individuals or organizations with partisan labels, such as Democratic, Republican, conservative, or liberal. The goal is to present ideas in a fresh way that encourages readers to judge them on their merit.

Follow on Twitter: @NIForums

Resource Link: www.nifi.org/es/issue-guide/issue-advisory-how-can-we-stop-mass-shootings-our-communities-2016

The Truth Telling Project

The Truth Telling Project is a grassroots, community-based truth telling process that is designed to share the stories of Black people in the US and their experiences with police violence; and to address the legacies of racism in the US against Black people. The Truth Telling Project arose after the murder of Michael Brown and the lack of indictment of the police officer in his murder. It is a collaborative effort between “the Peace and Justice Studies Association, The Baker Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies at Juniata College, The Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Sophia Project of St.Louis MO and the National Peace Academy”.

The Truth Telling Project developed the The Truth Telling Initiative for Ferguson and Beyond (FTI), to perform community-based hearings of Black peoples’ stories of police violence. The FTI started with an initial panel event Nov 13-14, 2015 in Ferguson, MO; and was recorded to be utilized in living room conversations around the nation. The Truth Telling Project provides support for holding living room conversations called FTI WeFi gatherings- “Watch [parties], Exchange [ideas], Formulate [a plan of action], and Implement [the plan]”; to hear and address the issues of systemic and structural racism against Black people.

To learn more about The Truth Telling Project and the FTI, check out their site here.

From the site…

The information below is excerpted from the Truth Telling Project’s Mandate, the whole document can be read on their site here

In light of the shooting death of Michael Brown on August 9, 2014 and the subsequent findings of the Grand Jury not to indict the officer who shot Mr. Brown, despite witness testimony that his hands were in the raised, “surrender” position, and

In light of the overwhelming number of incidents where unarmed black men, women and children have been assaulted, injured, or killed at the hands of police officers or while in police custody in Ferguson, and

In light of the proliferation of deaths of black men, women and children in the 21st century at the hands of police or while in police custody in the U.S. and

In light of the racist and oppressive nature of Slave Patrols, Fugitive Slave Laws, Jim Crow Laws, Racial Profiling and Stop and Frisk Practices having all served as historical and/or contemporary directives comprising four centuries of police practices violating the lives of black men, women and children in the U.S.:

The Truth Telling Project, on behalf of the citizens of Ferguson, MO calls for the conduct of the Truth Telling Initiative for Ferguson and Beyond (FTI) to allow national and international audiences to listen to first-hand accounts of persons impacted directly and indirectly by police violence in the city of Ferguson and beyond.

The FTI is not for the purpose of exacting revenge or recrimination; additionally, the Truth Telling Project does not endorse violence in any form. The Truth Telling Project supports truth sharing for the purposes of helping all members of society acknowledge the realities and consequences of violence, and work towards the collective healing needed to produce reconciliation.

The Panel charged with listening to testimonial stories will have no powers, but they will be tasked with inquiring and helping others learn how persons came to be directly or indirectly involved in instances of police violence, including harm and death while in police custody. As a necessary part of the truth seeking process, the Panel will also consider questions of individual and institutional responsibility surrounding the stories presented.

It is the firm belief of the Truth Telling Project that giving voice to the voiceless through the power of storytelling will humanize persons in a manner that no Commission report, visual representation or media interview can. Given the historical and perennial nature of violent assaults and deadly encounters between police and African Americans in the U.S., it is urgent that the national and international community be given an opportunity to hear personal accounts directly from those impacted; the FTI will provide this opportunity.

It is the position of the Truth Telling Project that addressing the legacy of structural and systemic racism and its consequences in the U.S. must begin with citizen actions to expose truths. We believe that promoting truth will increase mutual understanding and respect, and lay the foundation needed for healing the long-standing wounds and by-products of oppression in our nation.

There can be no genuine healing and moving forward without honestly, courageously and collectively involving the citizens of Ferguson, MO in confronting truths surrounding accounts of police violence and fully acknowledging the direct and indirect suffering associated with those experiences. Giving recognition to individual experiences and truths is the beginning of healing and the related processes of resolution; each is a necessary step if we are to move our society through, and then past the pain associated with the legacies of racism in the U.S.

“There comes a time in the life of every community when it must look humbly and seriously into its past in order to provide the best possible foundation for moving into a future based on healing and hope.” – The Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission, 2006

Follow on Twitter: @TruthTellersUSA

Resource Link: http://thetruthtellingproject.org/

Turning To Each Other

The article, Turning To Each Other, was written by Parisa Parsa and published July 2016 on Public Conversations Project blog. In the article, Parsa discusses the need to not be a neutral party within this society because it furthers the injustices of this world. Instead she offers the alternative of multi-partiality, to not remain neutral and both hold one’s own opinion while also being able to hold alternatives perspectives, even if they differ dramatically. The dialogue and deliberation field very often is a vehicle through which conflicting opinions converge, build relations, and create change. Parsa calls for communities to turn toward each other, no matter their perspectives, in order to grow and ultimately reach liberation.

Below is the full article and it can also be found on Public Conversations Project blog here.

From Public Conversations Project…

The violence, grief and acrimony of the last week has been brutal. In the midst of such public anger and heated rhetoric, I was reminded of another piece of sad news: the death of Holocaust survivor and man of brilliance Elie Wiesel. Of a lifetime of wisdom, no words of his have felt more urgent than these; I have clung to them for both courage and challenge:

“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” ― Elie Wiesel

It seems like a forthright, straightforward–if bracing–statement. We have a duty, moral and relational, to stand with those who are suffering injustice. As an activist, I prided myself on living that commitment: to be on the side of what was right, to speak up for those who were being tormented.

Now I lead an organization that works to bring people with very different perspectives, beliefs, and backgrounds, into relationship. What we see in our work that community is not a given – it does not arise spontaneously due to our proximity in neighborhoods or workplaces. Community is a choice: an act of courage when fear and mistrust threaten to tear us asunder. Because of our commitment to being present with the many perspectives that reside around any issue that matters, we do not take a side on the issues. Yet we are not neutral. We make an active commitment to listen, to engage, to honor each person and perspective that arrives. Our practitioners call this being multi-partial – not im-partial, or lacking a side, but multi-partial: willing to hold each part, even though they may contradict each other.

This precarious balance requires careful preparation to make sure all those “parts” meet on ground that is as level as possible. Instead of asking “What do you want to say?” we ask, “What do you need in order to feel heard?” What do you need to do to prepare yourself to really listen to others? What agreements will help to secure a space for you to tell your truth, and to listen with resilience? These are not superficial questions – they live in the very heart of power differences, and invite reflections on the assumptions we make about each other that guide most of our communication.

What we find, over and over again, in our conversations is that it is rarely so simple as to say there is a single oppressor or oppressed. When we are able to really speak and listen from the depths and complexities of who we are, we find that we are all suffering from the human systems that keep us separate, fearful, misunderstood and misunderstanding. And we find that what takes real courage is the work of turning to one another, against all the tides that would tell us to pull back, to withdraw, to point fingers and build walls, and instead to ask: where are you hurting?

The gross atrocities of humanity don’t usually begin with hard lines of good and evil. They begin with people trying to make sense of the world from their place in it, limited in what they can know and see, acting to protect and promote the life of those they care about. This is true in this particular moment for men and women who are serving in law enforcement, and it is true for black and brown people who are advocating for a change in a society that has disproportionately imprisoned them. It is true for people who advocate fiercely for the right to bear arms, and it is true for those who are outraged at the lack of gun regulation. There are indeed systems and structures that have affected particular people disproportionately and yet those structures are not the ones whose bodies are sacrificed routinely on the altar of our misunderstanding. “We see the world not as it is but as we are,” wrote Anais Nin. I think it is safe to say we are all suffering.

Being told we are wrong rarely prompts a moment of awakening; instead, we retreat into the known, even though it may cause us greater pain. Finding a wider lens with which to view the world, situating ourselves in the midst of a bigger scene, helps us widen the circle of life we commit to promote and protect. Knowing our neighbor more fully makes connection more visible, and less optional. The more you see of that neighbor, the more you are truly seen. We don’t take a single side, because true liberation is a choice made from seeing the whole. That whole is painful, complicated, uncertain – and it is our great responsibility, no matter what our cause, to share our truth and let go of the belief that it is the only one. I’m not sure Wiesel would disagree, and it is my great loss that I never had the chance to ask him.

About Public Conversations ProjectPCP_logo
Public Conversations Project fosters constructive conversation where there is conflict driven by differences in identity, beliefs, and values. We work locally, nationally, and globally to provide dialogue facilitation, training, consultation, and coaching. We help groups reduce stereotyping and polarization while deepening trust and collaboration and strengthening communities.

Follow on Twitter: @pconversations

Resource Link: www.publicconversations.org/blog/turning-each-other

Our Differences Do Not Have To Become Our Divisions

The article, Our Differences Do Not Have To Become Our Divisions, was written by Jessica DeBruin and posted June 20, 2016 on Everyday Democracy‘s site. DeBruin wrote this article in memory of the 49 victims from the Orlando massacre at Pulse nightclub, an LGBTQIA club. In the article, DeBruin shares her experience as a queer person in the aftermath of the massacre and calls for the urgent need to improve the civic process by demanding the need to ensure the voices of marginalized folks are at the table in an authentic way. She gives explicit ideas on how to do this by listening to affected communities, ensuring the mic is shared, and directly challenging and interrupting violence [in all forms].

Below is an excerpt from the article and read it in full on Everyday Democracy’s site here.

From the article…

It may be near impossible for all of us, even allies, even queer folk, to comprehend how we have internalized and acted out these violences on a daily basis – but it is essential that we begin to do so. When good people witness hate speech and say nothing, we have participated in that hate. By failing to challenge hateful narratives we become complicit to them. When we cling to compartmentalized notions of identity, we erase the experiences of people who live at the intersection of multiple group identities.

We will slip up. We will do all these things on occasion because these concepts have been with us most of our lives. Our progress will be imperfect, but we must continue to push ourselves to do better.

Where do we begin this process?

We begin with acknowledgement. We must acknowledge that on some level, great or small, we have all internalized homophobia. We acknowledge that the gender roles which some of us find comfort in, do not necessarily apply to or benefit us all. We acknowledge that institutional racism and colorism hold us all back, and rob us of the opportunity to better connect with one another.

Next we hand the mic to affected communities.

We uplift and magnify the voices of the marginalized, those who have been on the receiving end of violence.

We listen.

We listen to them, we listen to each other. We cannot feign deafness to avoid inconvenience or discomfort. If you consider yourself an ally to the queer, or any marginalized community, it is past time that you recognize that yielding the mic is one of the most powerful things you can do to support us.

Of course even within these communities, there are myriad factions, and perspectives and experiences. This touches upon a fundamental need for the creation of civic culture where people from all walks of life can come together in respect to share our experiences, to hear other people’s lived realities, and to find a way to work together.

We must find a place where we can acknowledge and uplift these differences. We must recognize that our differences do not have to become our divisions. A democracy that is alive and thriving should facilitate this kind of communal meeting of minds. This is what American core values should be.

In 1970 the grassroots implementation of this kind of dialogue between radically different queer communities produced the first Pride Marches. In cities across the nation, LGBTQIA folk came together to stand and be counted. They took tragedy and oppression and turned it into a celebration of being.

We are faced with a similar opportunity to continue this difficult work today. May we not shy away from it. May we instead use it to fuel action and positive change. May we instead practice the democracy of earnest and inclusive civic dialogue, so that on the other side of it we can emerge stronger than the sum of hatred and indifference.

Read the article in full here.

About Jessica DeBruin
Jessica is a writer and actress living in Los Angeles, dedicated to creating feminist, queer-inclusive art and media.

Follow on Twitter: @JessicaLaVerdad

About Everyday Democracy
Everyday Democracy
Everyday Democracy (formerly called the Study Circles Resource Center) is a project of The Paul J. Aicher Foundation, a private operating foundation dedicated to strengthening deliberative democracy and improving the quality of public life in the United States. Since our founding in 1989, we’ve worked with hundreds of communities across the United States on issues such as: racial equity, poverty reduction and economic development, education reform, early childhood development and building strong neighborhoods. We work with national, regional and state organizations in order to leverage our resources and to expand the reach and impact of civic engagement processes and tools.

Follow on Twitter: @EvDem

Resource Link: www.everyday-democracy.org/news/our-differences-do-not-have-become-our-divisions

The Compost of Disagreement: Creating Safe Spaces for Engagement and Action

The 6-page article, The Compost of Disagreement: Creating Safe Spaces for Engagement and Action (2014), by Michele Holt-Shannon and Bruce Mallory, was published in Journal of Public Deliberation: Vol. 10: Iss. 1. The authors describe the experience coordinating the New Hampshire Listens campaign to address the growing concern around aggressive and combative many public events were becoming from mid-1990s and on. Over years of experience, they found that the more diverse and varied the participants and experiences, the richer the conversation that would emerge. And in order to do so, it is vital to create spaces that are safe for all parties involved, in order for transformative dialogue to take place.

Find the PDF available for download from the Journal of Public Deliberation site here.

From the article…

We understand that one of the most important contributions we can make to public life is to create safe spaces where diverse points of view can be expressed, deeply held differences can be explored, and the potential for discovering common ground amidst the cacophony can be nourished. The work runs counter to the natural tendency to want to “manage difference” or find “consensus” or help everyone to “just get along.” Paradoxically, we use the tools of deliberation to uncover those things that divide in order to find a shared path forward.

We could think about this uncovering and exploration as working the community compost. Taking the raw ingredients of values, beliefs, attitudes, cultural norms, local history, municipal policies and practices, traditional and social media, and the multifaceted personalities of local actors, we strive to create a space that allows for heat, conflict, and the transformation of old patterns and approaches to new kinds of rich, nuanced, adaptive solutions. Believing that knowledge and action are co-constructed in the milieu of community, it is logical that listening to and considering a range of perspectives can give rise to feasible, practical approaches.

In addition, we have witnessed explicit attempts to shut down deliberation and essentially block action by elected and appointed officials. Using audio and video recording devices in ways that are felt as intimidating or harassing, and occasionally displaying side-arms, these vocal few make it hard for others to feel that their views will be heard or respected. We are not suggesting this has become the norm, but the frequency has increased since we began this work. Our response has been to engage these voices as much as possible, both in focused conversations to hear directly their concerns and by welcoming them as participates in public deliberations. With some exceptions, we have found that the use of clear, agreed-upon ground rules; facilitators capable of fostering a respectful, honest, safe conversation; surfacing and recording the disagreements as well as common ground; and close scrutiny of participant evaluations regarding their experiences are all necessary for creating safe spaces for disagreements.

In the end, welcoming the most skeptical voices into the conversation is fundamental to the integrity of the process, creates a richer mix of perspectives and ideas, and helps us learn how to create conditions that maximize both safety and disagreement. The challenges described here have made us better. Balancing the sometimes competing constructs of safety and strong disagreement, we are able to be more transparent, we are clearer about digging into disagreements, and we are more skilled at setting boundaries that are legal and effective. Over many years, we have learned from those who have taken issue with the fundamental tenets of deliberative democracy, from the everyday citizens who want to make their communities better in some way, and from the various public and private stakeholders who are directly affected by engaged deliberations. The most important lesson, perhaps, has been that the richer the compost mix, the better the result. The complementary lesson is that strong disagreement requires a safe space if shared understanding and action are to be achieved.

Download the case study from the Journal of Public Deliberation here.

About the Journal of Public Deliberation
Journal of Public DeliberationSpearheaded by the Deliberative Democracy Consortium in collaboration with the International Association of Public Participation, the principal objective of Journal of Public Deliberation (JPD) is to synthesize the research, opinion, projects, experiments and experiences of academics and practitioners in the emerging multi-disciplinary field and political movement called by some “deliberative democracy.” By doing this, we hope to help improve future research endeavors in this field and aid in the transformation of modern representative democracy into a more citizen friendly form.

Follow the Deliberative Democracy Consortium on Twitter: @delibdem

Follow the International Association of Public Participation [US] on Twitter: @IAP2USA

Resource Link: www.publicdeliberation.net/jpd/vol10/iss1/art22/