Creating Community Through Ben Franklin Circles

Back at the end of Summer, we announced an effort called Ben Franklin Circles (BFC), an NCDD member org that we have some exciting updates on! Done in collaboration with New York’s 92nd Street Y, Citizen University, and the Hoover Institution, we are starting to hear the stories from these Circles and we will continue to uplift them on the NCDD blog over the coming weeks. Learn more about the grassroots development of these self-improvement talking circles, inspired by one of our founding fathers, and the ways in which these experiences have helped to build relationships and community. We encourage you to read the post below or find the original on BFC’s site here.

Why I Started a Benjamin Franklin Circle

Even just a cursory look at headlines these days brings forth an environment of “us vs them” and foretells a path toward greater divisions.

While our society has had a history of deep divisions, this somehow seems different. What seems different is that the people who make this country work – the teachers, the social workers, the police, the tradesmen, the small business owners, the big business employees, are now pulled into a colossal, epic struggle among themselves. We are letting go of the final threads holding us together – the threads that remain after television first brought our attention indoors instead of out; after social media took us from face-to-face contact even with our closest friends and families; after the hectic life style took away our free time to build community. We are now building walls all over. You said this, so I reject you. You believe this, so I will un-friend you.

“Where there is no human connection, there is no compassion. Without compassion, then community, commitment, loving-kindness, human understanding, and peace all shrivel. Individuals become isolated, the isolated turn cruel, and the tragic hovers in the forms of domestic and civil violence.” – Susan Vreeland, Art, Peace, Compassion

But, I’m an optimistic at heart who believes that people, deep down, are good and want to bring joy to others in order to create happiness for themselves. And so, this brings us to a small but significant action you can take. Benjamin Franklin Circles is a model that revives a model of community gathering created by one of our founding fathers (And yes, our founding fathers were not perfect. Some had qualities that are incomprehensible or even reprehensible to us now, but play along with me here.) These circles aimed to gather people of diverse backgrounds for self-improvement and community benefit. Is this not what we need more of today?

I decided to start my own Benjamin Franklin Circle to build more community connections as a means to strengthen our society and build its resilience against the onslaught of divisive forces. In the best practice of starting with yourself and close to home, I decided to organize this Circle among my neighbors, of whom, after 8 years of living here, I knew very few. My personal objectives were two: to meet my neighbors, and create a stronger community spirit.

We have no community listserv. The last neighborhood directory was published in 2010. In short, we all live our lives inside our homes, smile at each other if we’re walking our pets, but we don’t ask a favor of them or even know their names, nevermind invite anyone over. In thinking about the Circles, my first fear was that if I invited neighbors, no one would come. While that slowed me down for a few days, I realized that there was no other way to reach my objective than to invite people I do not know. And what’s the worst that can happen? People I don’t know will think that my initiative was futile. And what’s the best that could happen? I meet new friends and feel more a part of a community. From that perspective, my decision was strengthened.

With no email addresses or phone numbers, I decided to create flyers and distribute them. I printed out 150 flyers and placed them on door knobs. In the process of walking around the community, I met many people for the first time. I learned stories of previous community networks that no longer exist. I was encouraged by everyone for the needed initiative. One neighbor walked with me and shared with me her knowledge of the community as she was one of the first residents. Without a single response to my invitation, the first objective was being accomplished!

The first responses came to me shortly after I returned from the distribution with the following messages:

“I just wanted to let you know that I would love to be a part of your Benjamin Franklin Circles! I think it’s great that you’re starting something like this; as we both know the world could use a coalition of thinkers for the better.”

“It was great to meet you today! I’ve read your flyer, and would love to participate in the circle.”

Within 10 days, the deadline I had communicated, I had 10 people on the roster. We held our first meeting in November.

So, if you are wondering what you can do or if you are wondering if small things can make a difference, I share with you one of my favorite quotes by Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

More connection, not less, is what is needed to help all of us bring forth our better selves. If we all make an effort, make some new friends and strengthen the bonds with those around us, that can only bring more good to the world.

Nanette Alvey spent the majority of her career in West Africa, managing education, health and training programs. She was recently Director of Leadership and Organizational Development at EnCompass LLC in Maryland. She continues to consult with international development programs and she’s working to strengthen US non-profits addressing economic inequities and racism in the Washington DC area. She runs a Ben Franklin Circle in Gaithersburg, MD.

For more information, please visit: You can follow BFC on FacebookInstagram, and on Twitter at @BFCircles as well as the hashtag #BenFranklinCircles.

You can find the resource on Ben Franklin Circles’ site at

NCDD to Present at Public Library Association Conference

NCDD is excited to announce that we will be co-presenting a session at the Public Library Association Conference in Philadelphia, PA on Friday, March 23rd at 2:00pm. Along with our partners at the American Library Association Public Program’s Office, NCDD will be talking with public librarians about the Libraries Transforming Communities: Models for Change initiative and will help them further explore how libraries can engage their communities through dialogue and deliberation. The session is open to all attendees.

The description for the session, titled Libraries Transforming Communities: Models for Change is below:

Through Libraries Transforming Communities (LTC), ALA seeks to strengthen communities by giving libraries the tools they need to bring disparate voices together and lead change. Public librarians who have completed LTC: Models for Change training will share real-world experiences with World Café, Future Search and Everyday Democracy’s methods for dialogue and deliberation. Participants will break into triads to try out tools with each other and discuss next steps for taking this learning home.

At the end of this session, participants will:

1: Learn specific context applications for dialogue and deliberation models

2: Gain confidence with facilitation instruments through modeling

3: Learn where to go and how to acquire skills aligned with specific deliberation models (e.g. Everyday Democracy, World Café) following the session

The session will also include an exercise in crafting questions to promote good dialogue and deliberation, as well as sharing updates on the initiative, such as the upcoming opportunities for librarians to learn more about Conversation Cafe and Future Search. More information on the current webinar series now underway for public libraries serving small, mid-sized and rural communities can be found here.

About Libraries Transforming Communities: Models for Change

This session is offered as part of Libraries Transforming Communities (LTC): Models for Change, an initiative of the American Library Association (ALA) and the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD). The initiative seeks to introduce libraries to various dialogue and deliberation approaches, enabling libraries to foster conversation and lead change in their communities.

LTC: Models for Change is made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services grant RE-40-16-0137-16.

Third Phase Begins for Am. Library Association D&D Training

We are thrilled to announce the third phase of D&D training for librarians is starting in February, as part of our partnership with the American Library Association (ALA) on the Libraries Transforming Communities: Models for Change initiative. Last year we kicked off this partnership to train librarians on D&D methods and processes to share with their communities and further be hubs for engagement and dialogue. The first series last spring was tailored to large/urban public libraries, Fall 2017 was for academic libraries, and this round will be for small, mid-size, and rural public libraries. In addition to the initial webinar NCDD will be doing, this round of trainings will include webinars featuring NCDD member org Future Search and Conversation Café. We encourage you to read the announcement below or find the original on ALA’s site here.

Free Facilitation Training for Small, Mid-Sized and Rural Public Libraries

ALA, the Public Library Association (PLA) and the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD) invite public library staff serving small, mid-sized or rural communities to attend a free learning series on how to lead productive conversations.

Through Libraries Transforming Communities (LTC): Models for Change, a two-year ALA initiative, library professionals have the opportunity to participate in three online learning sessions and one in-person workshop, all free of charge, between February and June 2018.

“I am excited to begin this process in our community, and I feel better equipped to do so,” said one attendee after a previous LTC: Models for Change learning session.

By attending these sessions, library professionals can learn how to convene critical conversations with people with differing viewpoints; connect more meaningfully with library users and better meet their needs; and translate conversation into action.

Registration is currently open for the following three webinars:

  • In Session 1, participants will learn about the range of dialogue and deliberation approaches available; start thinking about their libraries’ engagement goals; learn about resources available to libraries and how to access them; and be introduced to the two dialogue and deliberation approaches that will be featured later in this webinar series. Register for “LTC: Introduction to Dialogue & Deliberation for Public Libraries Serving Small, Mid-sized and/or Rural Communities(Wednesday, Feb. 28, 1 p.m. CST).
  • In Session 2, participants will learn how they can use the Future Search process to enable large, diverse groups to validate a common mission, take responsibility for action, and develop a concrete action plan. Register for “LTC: Future Search(Wednesday, April 25, 1 p.m. CST).
  • In Session 3, participants will learn how Conversation Cafés can help community members learn more about themselves, their community or an issue; essential elements of hosting a Conversation Café; facilitation skills; and techniques for addressing challenges. Register for “LTC: Conversation Café(Wednesday, May 23, 1 p.m. CST).

Those who view all three webinars, live or recorded, will be invited to attend a free pre-conference workshop exploring the Conversation Café approach in-depth at the 2018 ALA Annual Conference in New Orleans on June 22, 2018. Space is limited, and preference will be given to public library professionals serving small, mid-sized or rural communities.

This learning series is the third offered as part of Libraries Transforming Communities: Models for Change. Previous learning sessions, now available for free viewing, were offered for public libraries serving large or urban communities (recorded spring 2017) and academic libraries (recorded winter 2018).

LTC: Models for Change follows up on Libraries Transforming Communities, a two-year initiative offered in 2014-15 by ALA and The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation that explored and developed the Harwood Institute’s “Turning Outward” approach in public libraries. With this second phase of LTC, ALA broadens its focus on library-led community engagement by offering professional development training in community engagement and dialogue facilitation models created by change-making leaders.

Libraries Transforming Communities: Models for Change is made possible through a grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program. The initiative is offered by ALA’s Public Programs Office.

You can find the original version of this announcement on the ALA’s Programming Librarian site at

Save the Date: NCDD 2018 is set for Nov 2-4 in Denver!

It’s time to mark your calendars for the highly anticipated 2018 National Conference on Dialogue & Deliberation! We’re excited to announce that our next national conference will take place in downtown Denver this November 2-4.

Our conferences only come around every two years, and you won’t want to miss this one! NCDD conferences aren’t just about having fun and enjoying the company of our field’s movers and shakers. They’re about forming new partnerships, strategizing together about how we can tackle our field’s greatest challenges, showcasing some of the coolest arts, technologies, and methods for public engagement — and so much more.

If you haven’t attended an NCDD conference yet, watch our highlight video by Keith Harrington of Shoestring Videos to get a sense of the energy and content of the last national conference…

We can’t wait to see you this November!  We’ll be holding the conference at the Sheraton Denver Downtown.

Keep an eye out for registration, a call for volunteers for the planning team, and of course efforts to engage the broader NCDD community around conference content and theming. The call for workshop proposals will be distributed in a couple of months, but it’s never too soon to start thinking about what you’d like to present about and who you’d like to present with. Information will be posted soon at  For now, be sure to hold these dates on your calendar.

To stay up-to-date on NCDD Denver news and opportunities, be sure to subscribe to our conference updates email list!

Please share this post widely in your networks! Building on a 16-year legacy of popular, well-loved events, NCDD 2018 will be our 8th National Conference and just the latest of many events, programs and gatherings that NCDD has hosted since we formed in 2002.

Free NIF Workshop at ALA Midwinter Meeting in Feb.

As part of our partnership with the American Library Association, we have been working with the ALA on their Libraries Transforming Communities: Models for Change series; an initiative which seeks to train librarians in various dialogue and deliberation approaches. There is an opportunity for academic librarians to attend a free National Issues Forums workshop tailored for academic libraries on Friday, February 9th from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. MT at the 2018 ALA Midwinter Meeting in Denver. Qualifications for attending the workshop are in the post below or on the original post here. While participation is free, space is limited – please check it out and share with your academic librarian friends!

Free Workshop for Academic Libraries this February!

We’re reaching out to encourage you to contact your academic library partners about this exciting opportunity for them to receive a free training workshop in the National Issues Forums model at the 2018 ALA Midwinter Meeting in Denver.

Academic libraries are invited to attend “LTC: National Issues Forums Workshop for Academic Libraries,” which will be held on Friday, February 9, 2018, from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm.

The one-day pre-conference workshop at the 2018 ALA Midwinter Meeting will highlight the National Issues Forums approach to dialogue and deliberation. Participation in the workshop is free; however, space is limited and registration via this website is required.

NOTE: In order to qualify for the in-person workshop, librarians must view three 90-minute online learning sessions prior to the workshop and must claim a participation badge via after each webinar. View the online sessions here and create a Credly account by following these instructions.

Please share this opportunity with your academic librarians and encourage them to both view the free webinars and apply to attend the workshop. Space is still available but it won’t last long!

About Libraries Transforming Communities: Models for Change

This workshop is offered as part of Libraries Transforming Communities (LTC): Models for Change, an initiative of the American Library Association (ALA) and the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD). The initiative seeks to introduce libraries to various dialogue and deliberation approaches, enabling libraries to foster conversation and lead change in their communities. LTC: Models for Change Series 2 highlights dialogue and deliberation models most useful for academic libraries.

LTC: Models for Change is made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services grant RE-40-16-0137-16.

You can find the original version of this announcement on ALA’s LTC site at:

THANK YOU for Your Support During our NCDD Fund Drive!

WOW! Huge thank you to everyone who showed their support for NCDD during our 2017 end of year fund drive – by directly contributing donations to the drive, and to those who joined NCDD as a member or renewed their membership. Over the course of the drive, our network met two fundraising matching challenges – the first of which was sponsored by NCDD board member Simone Talma Flowers and the second matching challenge which was sponsored by NCDD board chair, Martín Carcasson and an anonymous donor. We finished off the drive and 2017 by raising a total of $8,501 during the holiday season, which we understand can be a tight time of the year for extra expenditures – so a major thank you indeed!

We are humbled and appreciative of the support from our network for the work we do connecting the growing dialogue and deliberation field, and your generous contributions give NCDD an extra boost as we accelerate into 2018. For over 15 years, NCDD continues to serve as a hub, resource clearinghouse, and facilitative leaders for the dialogue, deliberation, and public engagement community. In addition to the work we already do supporting and connecting the D&D community through our conferences, blogs, listservs, forums, and resources; we are excited to expand our partnerships (like those with the American Library Association), our Emerging Leaders Initiative, and to put on another fantastic conference this year.

We are a small operation running on a shoestring budget and every little bit helps! We have lots in store for 2018, especially our 2018 National Conference on Dialogue and Deliberation, which will be happening next fall. Stay tuned to the NCDD blog, where we will be announcing the date and location of the conference and the application process for workshop proposals. We are thrilled for this upcoming conference, as the past conferences have been a fantastic opportunity to mingle and collaborate with folks in the field driving D&D work. If you’ve never been to an NCDD conference and you’re interested to learn what past conferences have been like, then click here!

Although the fund drive is officially over, you can always support NCDD at any time by giving a donation, joining as an NCDD member or renewing your membership by clicking here. Some benefits of being an NCDD member include: sharing content on the NCDD blog and having access to other members-only opportunities (read the full list here), being listed in the member map/directory, and discounts on NCDD events and with our partners (listed here). For a full list of member benefits and to join our thriving network of practitioners and innovators, click here!

Thank you again for your support, and here’s to a great New Year!

Last Chance to Have Your Contributions to NCDD Matched!

Dear NCDD Supporters, 

We are just four days away from the end of 2017, and that means there are just a few days remaining for your to make a tax-deductible contribution to NCDD.

NCDD is a small organization with a huge reach. Our staff of four work hard to keep our members and contacts (all 30,000 of you!) up to speed on the latest news and information in the field of dialogue & deliberation. And we look forward to continuing to connect you and provide opportunities for you all to learn and collaborate together in 2018 – especially with our next national conference! Take a look at this letter from our Board of Directors for more information on our aims for 2018 and beyond.

Your support, whether membership dues or donation, goes directly to helping our staff make it all happen. We run on a small budget, so every little bit counts! Plus, right now your contributions will continue to be matched, up to $1,500! There is no time like the present to make a contribution, whether $5 or $50. 

So as you reflect on 2017, and celebrate the coming of the new year, consider NCDD in your giving. We appreciate all the support we receive from this wonderful community, and we look forward to continuing this important work together in 2018. 

Thank you,

Courtney, Sandy, Joy & Keiva

Second Opportunity to Double Your Contribution To NCDD!

Thanks to everyone who has stepped up by donating or renewing membership dues — we have raised a total of $4,761 to date! Today, we’re announcing that NCDD Board Chair Martin Carcasson and an anonymous donor are prepared to match up to $1,500 if other donations and member dues can match that amount by December 31st. So, now is the time to donate, even if you can only give $5 or $10!

A huge thank you to Martin Carcasson and our anonymous donor! If you don’t know Martin’s work already, you should check out the Center for Public Deliberation, which Martin directs.

These matches make your money go farther – a donation of $25 becomes $50, and every additional bit goes to help NCDD’s staff continue to bring you the latest news, events, and opportunities to engage with and learn from one another.

Here’s a couple ways you can support NCDD during the drive:

  • Make a donation here.
  • Renew your NCDD membership. Consider upgrading to a sponsor member! Learn more about the additional benefits of this level at
  • Not a member? Join NCDD! We have several options for membership, so choose what works best for you.

Check here on the fund drive page to see our progress!  We’re also acknowledging our donors and their contributions on that page, and feature some quotes from leaders in our field about why they feel NCDD is worth supporting.

Our goal for this fund drive is $15,000, and I would love to see us reach $10,000 before the Christmas holiday.Your money will go twice as far for the organization, so take this opportunity and act today!

Letter from the NCDD Board of Directors

Dear NCDD Supporter,

With so many crucial and important issues facing society today – from health crises, to disconnection, to mass shootings, to nuclear threats – even if we could talk about these issues together, it would be a deadly serious time….

But, of course, we can’t even do that some days.

XS Purple NCDD logo

As you know, the National Coalition of Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD) is a gathering place for people who know it doesn’t have to be this way – and who are doing something concrete about it. While so many others fret and philosophize about the current polarization and hyper-partisanship, this organization and its members offer practical answers that have been shown to make exactly the difference this country needs.

In the very moment this country could benefit the most from the collective skill set of this community of “domestic peacekeepers” (NCDD member Joan Blades, Living Room Conversations), however, most people remain caught up in the rhetoric of the “professional polarizers” (NCDD member Liz Joyner, Village Square).

We believe it’s time for that to change. It’s time to raise the profile of the work of our network in a way that far more Americans know about it. The Board and NCDD staff have been discussing a number of ways to do just that over the next several years:

  • Collaborative efforts to lift up the stories of NCDD members and the communities they work with making these changes. Highlight that this work happens at every level – neighborhood, local, regional, state, national, and global; in public and private sectors.
  • Bringing this network together with journalists, social justice organizations and activists, government officials, and others whose work and goals can be enhanced by better public engagement, dialogue and deliberation.
  • Fostering partnerships between NCDD members, libraries, and other community institutions to expand the public’s access to D&D.

But everything takes resources. What we can do will depend on having sufficient resources to do it. If you believe it is time for these kinds of changes in our country, please consider making a donation to these efforts – so we can get what we offer as a community in front of more and more Americans.

All contributions are welcome, whether they are $10 or $1000. Please visit to make your tax deductible donation today! Or, consider joining or renewing your membership in NCDD. You will be helping NCDD reach our $15,000 goal, which will be such a boost to these efforts in 2018. Thank you so much for supporting NCDD.


NCDD Board of Directors:

Martin Carcasson, Chair
Susan Stuart Clark
Simone Talma Flowers
Jacob Hess
Betty Knighton
Wendy Willis

Thank You for Rising to the 48 Hour Challenge!

I am humbled by the support coming through for NCDD’s work. We announced at noon last Wednesday that Simone Talma Flowers was matching up to $1000 in additional donations by Friday at noon, and by that time we had exceeded the $1000!

Over the 48 hour challenge, contributions totalled $1,228              (check them out here). With the match, that brings our two-day total to $2,228! As of this morning, we have raised a total of $3,746 for NCDD. We still have a little ways to go in reaching our goal of $15,000, but it has been so heartening to see this support for NCDD, especially during the holiday season! It means so much to Sandy, Joy, Keiva and I to witness such support, both in donations and membership renewals the past two weeks!

If you haven’t yet participated in the fund drive, you still have time (not to worry!). You can contribute at any time at If you would rather, renew your membership for another year (or join NCDD, if you are not currently a member!). Both types of contributions are tax deductible, and help NCDD greatly in continuing to offer our programs and services. We appreciate you all and thank you for your continued support!