the perspective exchange

What is a community dialogue?

A community dialogue is a structured, carefully facilitated conversation between six to eight people around a divisive or uncomfortable topic affecting the community. The purpose of the dialogue is to enable participants to deeply listen to and understand one another so that they can move toward finding common ground and understanding. While a dialogue may suggest solutions, solutions are not the objective. Community dialogue builds better connection and understanding, which lays the foundation for further meetings that can focus on solutions.

Once we have a topic, we invite people from all over the community to join the conversation. We invite those who would have an obvious interest in the chosen topic, but we want anyone with interest to feel welcome to attend. Community dialogues provide a forum for everyone to be heard. A dialogue takes about two hours to complete.

Our facilitators are trained through the Essential Partners facilitated dialogue project in Cambridge, MA. Essential Partners' method, called Reflective Structured Dialogue, is designed to help people have the conversation they want to have about some of the most difficult topics. It draws on strategies developed by family therapists to promote effective communication in the midst of painful differences. Our practitioners also incorporate insights and tools from mediation, interpersonal communications, appreciative inquiry, organization development, and psychology and neurobiology. This approach enables participants to share experiences and explore questions that both clarify their own perspectives and help them become more comfortable around, and curious about, those with whom they are in conflict.

Our method is a relationship-centered approach that includes:

  • Preparing people for new conversations

  • Reflecting on one’s own and others’ perspectives

  • Using shared agreements that guide the conversation

  • Encouraging curiosity and honest questions

  • Structured conversation that prevents old, unproductive patterns and enhances listening and speaking respectfully (from the Essential Partners website)

What happens after I register?

Once you register for a dialogue, you will receive a phone call from one of our team members. The purpose of the call is to allow you to ask questions, establish ground rules for communication, and to let you know what to expect. We want to make sure that everyone who attends the dialogue feels comfortable coming into the room.