Tuning in and Shifting Strategy with Ben Franklin Circles

As part of our partnership with NCDD member org, Ben Franklin Circles, we have been sharing stories from those participating in the circles and some of the key learning that has taken place during the process. Read the remarkable change that happened in Victoria Fann’s BF Circle when she decided to step back from facilitating and have the circle members take the rein. You can read the post below and find the original post on BFC’s site here.


The Spirit of Community

My Ben Franklin Circle in Weaverville, NC has been meeting since November 2017. Since I have been facilitating groups of various kinds since 1989, stepping into the role of facilitator for this group was easy for me. We met for the first four months with me asking most of the questions, reading the quotes and gently steering the conversation if we strayed away from the topic.

This seemed to work well, but something was missing. I had a gnawing feeling that there was a better way to structure our little group. Based on some words from his autobiography, I knew that Ben Franklin would heartily agree. For example, he writes, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”

Involvement was precisely what we needed!

The first small step in this direction took place at our February meeting. Instead of discussing the virtues in the order listed on the Ben Franklin Circle website, I decided to write each one of the remaining virtues on small slips of paper and fold them up. I brought those papers to the meeting and placed them in a hat. At the end or our discussion, I asked a member to draw out one of the slips of paper, saying that we would discuss whatever virtue was chosen.

This felt good—so good, in fact, that at the March meeting, I decided to take this idea a step further. Prior to the meeting, I wrote out that month’s virtue questions and quotes provided by the Ben Franklin Circle website onto small slips of paper, folded them and placed them into a bowl at our host’s house. I then invited members to draw one out and read it aloud to the group to prompt our discussion. I also encouraged members to add their own questions.

Franklin’s very own group, on which the BF Circles are based, encouraged a similar involvement from the members of the group as he writes here: “I should have mentioned before, that, in the autumn of the preceding year, I had form’d most of my ingenious acquaintance into a club of mutual improvement, which we called the JUNTO; we met on Friday evenings. The rules that I drew up required that every member, in his turn, should produce one or more queries on any point of Morals, Politics, or Natural Philosophy, to be discuss’d by the company; and once in three months produce and read an essay of his own writing, on any subject he pleased. Our debates were to be under the direction of a president, and to be conducted in the sincere spirit of inquiry after truth, without fondness for dispute, or desire of victory; and, to prevent warmth, all expressions of positiveness in opinions, or direct contradiction, were after some time made contraband, and prohibited under small pecuniary penalties.”

What we discovered during that meeting was that having the members chose the questions at random and read them to the group led to a much deeper level of conversation. I suspect this was because the playing field had been leveled and everyone felt more engaged and involved than when I was the one asking most of the questions. My leadership role softened as I yielded to this more community-based approach. Our trust of each other and our willingness to explore the outer edges of the virtue increased exponentially. Plus, there was almost a palpable feeling of relief among all of us once we shifted into this more egalitarian way of relating to each other. It was clear we’d been seeking it all along.

The lesson for me was a reminder of how important it is to tune into the specific needs of a situation without assumptions, agendas or formulas, but rather an open mind and a willingness to learn.

Though initially my “expertise” proved to be a hindrance, the group process itself became the catalyst that allowed the solution to emerge effortlessly.

Thank you, Ben Franklin.

Victoria Fann is a writer, transformational coach, group facilitator and workshop leader. Her Ben Franklin Circle meets in Weaverville, NC.

You can find the original version of this post on Ben Franklin Circles’ site at https://benfranklincircles.org/ben-franklin-circle-hosts/the-spirit-of-community.

Stories from Ben Franklin Circles in North Carolina

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


Circle Spotlight: Ty from Asheville, NC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NCDD Teams Up for Bridging the Divides Workshop in CO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

National Week of Conversation Kicks Off Today!

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

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

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

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


Schools for NWOC: Resource Guide

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

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

Free Services and Resources that can help

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

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

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

Libraries for NWOC: Resource Guide

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faith Communities for NWOC: Resource Guide

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

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

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

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

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

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

Join Us at the Boston Public Library for April 24th Dialogues

For those of you in and around Boston, consider joining us next Tuesday (April 24th) for seven dialogue events at the Boston Public Library as part of the National Week of Conversation.

NCDD has been working with the Boston Public Library and Big Tent Nation to offer these dialogues supported by highly skilled facilitators, and we encourage you to attend or to just help spread the word!

All dialogues will take place in BPL’s beautiful Central Library in Copley Square at 700 Boylston Street in Boston.

Here’s the rundown for next Tuesday…

3:00 – 4:30 pm

Immigration
a Conversation Cafe facilitated by Paul Weisman and Michele Simos of SMART Conversations (Register here)

Bridging Divides
a World Cafe facilitated by Kirsten Olson of Old Sow Coaching and Consulting (Register here)

Sexual Assault & Power Relationships
a Conversation Cafe facilitated by Heang Ly, Director of Consulting and Training at TeenEmpowerment.org (Register here)

5:00 – 6:30 pm

Race and Ethnicity
a Living Room Conversation facilitated by Vicky Peterson of CollabAction (Register here)

Guns and Responsibility
a Living Room Conversation led by professional facilitator Hilary Marcus (Register here)

7:00 – 8:30 pm

Safety and Justice
a National Issues Forum led by Mette Kreutzmann and Sara Cohen of the Massachusetts Office of Public Collaboration (MOPC) (Register here)

Bridging Divides
a Living Room Conversation led by professional facilitator Claudia Lach (Register here)

Exploring How We Engage Values with Ben Franklin Circles

As we mentioned a couple of weeks back, we are going to be sharing stories from the Circles convened by NCDD member org, the Ben Franklin Circles. NCDD teamed up with BFC on this collaborative effort to bring alive the circle process our founding father, Ben Franklin, maintained for over 40 years. In the article, NCDD member Katherine Roxlo reflects on the Circle she convened in Scottsdale, Arizona with students from the Community College Initiative; and how the experience impacted the youth, as well as, affected how the values play out in her life. You can read the post below and find the original post on BFC’s site here.


Circle Spotlight: Katherine from Phoenix

Name: Katherine Roxlo
Hometown: Phoenix, Arizona (Circle is in nearby Scottsdale)
Sponsor Organization: Scottsdale Community College
Date Launched: August 30, 2017

What attracted you to Ben Franklin Circles?
I have always been interested in respectful conversations and community. The Ben Franklin Circles give me an opportunity to reflect on important values in a constructive fashion and to develop a special community in my life. Concentrating on one value at a time has allowed me to work the values into my life. I feel that morality, ethics and respectful conversations that incorporate the good of our local and national community are at a low point right now in the U.S. The Circles are one small step in the right direction for me. And small steps are GOOD!

How did you recruit members for your Circle? Any lessons learned?
I sent out proposals to conduct Ben Franklin Circles to a number of organizations, including youth groups, senior citizen groups, schools and churches. Scottsdale Community College took me up on it! It is a perfect way to incorporate ethics into a class and to give the students a time to reflect on what they are doing.

I love the question that Ben Franklin started his day with: “What good can I do today?” We start each meeting with a meditation, prayer or moment of silence. It allows us all to calm down from our busy schedules and get centered. During this opening moment, we always ask, “What good can I do today? What good can we do for our community?”

How has hosting a Ben Franklin Circle impacted you?
So many ways! My Circle is made up of Community College Initiative (CCI) students. These are foreign students on a nine-month scholarship program in the U.S. with the goals of learning, gaining experience through internships in a field of interest and contributing to the community through 100-plus hours of volunteer service.

It is an honor to work with these bright students. I see them struggling, but also improving their talents, every time we meet. Some are speaking out more and improving their English. Some are taking on leadership roles. Some are learning to use their time more constructively.

Working with the group gives me extreme hope for the future. They are all thoughtful and smart. At first, the group was a little quiet. But, at the last two meetings, we started letting different students run different parts of the meeting. One conducts the opening. One reviews the past value, one the new value. One student keeps us on schedule. One student runs the last part of the meeting, which we call sharing, listening, caring. I was very impressed with how easily they stepped up to the plate. Giving them the opportunity has been enlightening for me! Now I just sit back, take notes and ask some questions. Often, I am working on my own issues with the virtue.

It is interesting to see the differences in values that they have. Their perspectives have been very good for me. They do not have the food addictions and issues with weight that many Americans have. They place a higher value on personal downtime and family time than those of us in the U.S. They say that Americans must be told everything specifically and literally, that we do not take hints that are obvious in their culture. They are more receptive to unspoken communication. This has been really valuable to me. I see how I can apply these perceptions to my own life in order to be a better person.

Which virtue means the most to you personally and why?
I am not sure. With temperance, I focused on tempering my use of playing solitaire on my cell phone. I had to keep my cell phone in another room at night. What an addiction! It gave me more time to be productive. It also gave me compassion for those who are addicted to drugs or alcohol. If I have this much trouble with playing solitaire, I can only imagine someone’s struggle with drugs. Part of the problem is that there truly is a short-term pleasure and positive body response from addictive material. But I know it is short lived and leads to ruin.

With silence, I worked on not giving too many constructive suggestions to my husband (and to never repeating a request). By being silent I learned that he was doing more than I thought and actually had some good ideas of his own.

With order, I made a list of things I wanted to get done. All my plans and order went out the window when my husband had a heart attack. I gladly spent three days in the hospital with him, and realized how flexible and subject to change our priorities can be. It is easy to reorganize when something that is truly important comes up.

With resolution, I successfully gave up chips. That must sound like something small, but it isn’t for me. For more than a year, I have been focused on improving my health and fitness. I am cutting out as much sugar, flour and processed food as I can. The open bag of chips that my husband leaves above the refrigerator have been a huge temptation. I was never able to kick the habit of grabbing that bag of chips when I got home and was tired. But we are reporting our progress on our resolution back to the group and I didn’t want to tell them I failed! I am happy to say I can report eating no chips for three weeks. It is easier to give them up completely. Having to be accountable to my Circle is a huge driver for success.

You can find the original version of this post on Ben Franklin Circle’s at https://benfranklincircles.org/circle-spotlight/circle-spotlight-katherine-from-phoenix-az.

Kick off NWOC at Listen First in Charlottesville April 20-22

The National Week of Conversation (NWOC) is coming up this month from April 20-28th! It will be an unprecedented week of conversations throughout the Nation designed to bring folks from across divides to build relationships and provide opportunities to work more effectively together in addressing the divisions in this country. NCDD is a proud organizing partner for this effort, joined by over 50 partner organizations, all working to help Americans have better conversations with each other.

One of the first major events to kick off this exciting week is Listen First in Charlottesville (LFC), which will be from Friday, April 20th – Sunday, April 22nd. This event will convene several heavy hitters from the NCDD network, including our own Sandy Heierbacher -We strongly encourage folks to attend! Sandy will be moderating the final panel at the Saturday session, Bridging Divides Across America, with NCDD member David Leaverton of Undivided Nation, as well as, David Blankenhorn of Better Angels, Malka Fenyvesi of On Being’s Civil Conversations Project, and Joseph Pinion of Conservative Color Coalition.

LFC will also feature many influential people in the D&D field, including NCDDers Pearce Godwin of Listen First Project (a major convener of this event!), Parisa Parsa of Essential Partners, Dr. Carolyn Lukensmeyer of National Institute for Civil Discourse, Debilyn Molineaux of Bridge Alliance and Living Room Conversation Project, Liz Joyner of Village Square, John Gable of Allsides, John Steiner of Mediators Foundation, and Erin Leaverton of Undivided Nation. Check out the incredible line-up hereWe are thrilled to see so many exciting and engaging leaders in the field at one event, we hope you can make it!

Below is the agenda for the weekend with events beginning on Friday evening and concluding on Sunday. For those from the NCDD network that will be attending, Sandy would love to connect with you, so let her know that you will be there by emailing her sandy[at]ncdd[dot]org. To learn more about other exciting events happening during the National Week of Conversation, to start up your own event, or to join as a partner – click here to learn more!


Listen First in Charlottesville

Presented by Bridge Alliance Education Fund
April 20-28, 2018

  • To support the progress of healing and reconciliation in Charlottesville.
  • To inspire America toward mending the frayed fabric of society by bridging divides with conversations that prioritize understanding the other.

Friday, April 20th, 6pm, various locations
Village Square & Connect Cville Challenge invite you to host or attend diverse Charlottesville Dinners. Register at ConnectCville.org or contact liz@villagesquare.us.

Friday, April 20th, 8:30pm, The Haven
Free concert by Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary.

Saturday, April 21st, 1-5:30pm, Sprint Pavilion
Listen First Conversations which prioritize understanding the other among panels of local and national influencers as well as personal conversations amongst all attendees that both enhance understanding and spark ideas for action, followed by inspiring keynotes. Conversation topics will include:

  • Charlottesville’s Historical Divisions and Fresh Wounds
  • Charlottesville Working to Heal and Progress
  • A Nation Divided
  • Bridging Divides Across America

Sunday, April 22nd, various times and locations
Programming by Listen First Coalition partners Living Room Conversations, Montpelier, Common Ground Committee, Better Angels, Converge UVA, United Citizen Power, AllSides, and Charlottesville’s Playback Theater. Details at the Saturday event.

National Week of Conversation
This event is part of the first National Week of Conversation (April 20-28) in which Americans come together coast to coast and #ListenFirst to understand the other in conversation. At a moment in history in which we’re increasingly isolating ourselves from our fellow Americans, especially those with whom we disagree, NWOC is an opportunity to mend the frayed fabric of America by bridging divides one conversation at a time. Learn more at NationalWeekofConversation.org and share your experience using #ListenFirst & #NWOC!

You can find the original version of this announcement on Listen First Project’s site at www.listenfirstproject.org/listen-first-in-charlottesville-event/.

Opportunity to Host a Jefferson Dinner!

We are excited to announce NCDD is working with NCDD member organization The Village Square to support dialogues across the country using the format of the Jefferson Dinner, which invites people with differences of opinion to discuss an important topic over dinner.  These dinners are compelling experiences that The Village Square wants you to experience firsthand, and so we are letting you all know about an exciting opportunity!

Because they are particularly interested in making this surprisingly powerful tool available to NCDD members, they are offering stipends to at least 15 moderators to organize and facilitate a Jefferson Dinner. And the best part is that you can pick the topic for your dinner from any current political or civic topic around which there is substantial disagreement in the public square.

Some history about this tradition: Jefferson hosted his dinners at a time when prospects weren’t good that our new republic would hold together. Early legislators were described as coming to work “in the spirit of avowed misunderstanding, without the smallest wish to agree.” Sound familiar? Jefferson hosted dinners that were profoundly humanizing for these angry opponents. One dinner – with guests Alexander Hamilton and James Madison – resulted in the Dinner Table Bargain of 1790, widely credited with saving the American experiment.

In the same way that Jefferson mastered the art of these dinners as a way to make things happen that mattered to him, The Village Square would like you to experience how you can do the same.  Your dinner is about what’s in your heart  – whether that’s starting a civic project, running for office, contemplating solutions to a problem that deeply concerns you or imagining the future. By intentionally gathering people with diverse opinions – something that doesn’t happen enough these days – you’re harnessing incredible power toward whatever matters to you.

All that’s really required: 8-12 diverse guests, 1 dinner table and a welcoming environment. Could be your home, a private room at a restaurant, or a picnic table at a park. If you’re feeling inspired, put a modern twist on it & make it a brunch. Live a little!

The Village Square also hosts group Jefferson Dinners (a number of conversations in the same room, as part of a public event) and is delighted to support you in offering this format as well.

Find the Village Square’s Jefferson Dinner project online: www.jeffersondinner.org.  Read a feature piece about a dinner here.

This is a great opportunity for members to use this model to connect people who normally wouldn’t share a meal together and experience its potential to form the basis of unique alliances. NCDD would love to see a whole bunch of our members get involved with Dinners across the country. It’s another great way we can work to strengthen community connections and help people bridge divides, at this particularly divisive time in our nation.

If you are interested and would like to connect with organizers to learn more about how the dinner format can be used to achieve your goals, please fill out this quick form here and they will contact you directly!

For more information about The Village Square please visit https://tlh.villagesquare.us/. The Jefferson Dinner project is funded by a grant from the Bridge Alliance and in partnership with the 92Y’s Ben Franklin Circles project (all NCDD Members!).

“I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend. ”  — Thomas Jefferson

Creating Community Through Ben Franklin Circles

Back at the end of Summer, we announced NCDD had teamed with Ben Franklin Circles (BFC), an NCDD member org, and we have some exciting updates to share! BFC is a collaborative project 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: benfranklincircles.org. 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 www.benfranklincircles.org/ben-franklin-circle-hosts/why-i-started-a-benjamin-franklin-circle.

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.