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NCDD’s Beginnings

The National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD) was the result of the first National Conference on Dialogue & Deliberation, held in Washington, DC in October 2002. The 2002 conference was a collaborative effort among 60 practitioners and 50 organizations committed to strengthening and uniting the dialogue & deliberation community. The event drew 240 D&D leaders and up-and-comers, with dozens more waitlisted because we had exceeded capacity.

Photo from NCDD 2002 event.The momentum that led up to the event began at MRA’s Connecting Communities conference in June 2001 (MRA is now called Initiatives of Change), when Jim Snow of George Mason University’s ICAR program and Tamra d’Estree of Denver University began talking about the need for a conference that would allow dialogue and deliberation practitioners to experience each other’s models, share strategies and get to know their colleagues in the field.

Cricket White of Hope in the Cities joined the conversation and quickly began drawing in other conference participants who she knew had taken the lead in various dialogue and deliberation efforts. Cricket’s enthusiasm was contagious, and the following people began seriously talking about how we could make this idea a reality:

  • Sandy Heierbacher of the Dialogue to Action Initiative
  • Randy Ross of the New Jersey Office of Bias Crime and Community Relations
  • Jim Snow of George Mason University’s Institute for Conflict Analysis & Resolution
  • Melissa Wade of the Study Circles Resource Center
  • Mike Wenger of NABRE (the Network of Alliances Bridging Race & Ethnicity)
  • Cricket White of Hope in the Cities (of course!)

Upon returning home, Sandy Heierbacher quickly set up a Yahoo discussion list for the group, and the list was immediately abuzz with ideas for an event which would bring dialogue and deliberation practitioners together to learn about each other’s models and strategies and to address the disconnect and lack of infrastructure that exists in this emerging community of practice.

We also reached out to others in our networks, and were soon joined by the following people who became actively involved in our planning efforts:

  • Reena Bernards of The Dialogue Project
  • Chip Hauss of Search for Common Ground – USA
  • Maggie Herzig of the Public Conversations Project
  • Jennifer Murphy of George Mason University’s Institute for Conflict Analysis & Resolution
  • Maggie Potapchuk of NABRE (the Network of Alliances Bridging Race & Ethnicity)
  • Polly Riddims of Fusion Partnerships, Inc.
  • David Schoem of the University of Michigan
  • Toni Tucker of Dayton Dialogues on Race
  • Michele Woods Jones of the Citizens’ Unity Commission

It soon became evident that although everyone on the discussion list was committed to organizing a gathering of dialogue and deliberation leaders, each person had different ideas, needs and a unique vision for the event. In order to create some clarity about how people would really benefit from such an event – and whether or not there was demand for an event like this – the group decided to design a needs assessment, and invited D&D facilitators, organizers, researchers and activists to complete an online survey at thataway.org (then-home of Sandy’s Dialogue to Action Initiative).

115 people from across the spectrum of D&D practice completed the survey. The results, which were posted at thataway.org and publicized throughout the dialogue & deliberation community, were both interesting and informative, and confirmed that D&D practitioners had a strong need – and many great ideas – for a national conference.

Soon after that, a grant proposal was written and presented to the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation (thanks to David Schoem mentioning our efforts to Terry Amsler at Hewlett!). As soon as we heard the news from Hewlett on May 23, 2002, we moved into high gear. We had already found a great location in the D.C. area and had agreed on October 4-6 as the dates for the event, but that left us with little over four months to organize a national conference!

Sandy Heierbacher immediately sent out an announcement to about 2,500 contacts throughout the D&D community, hoping to not only encourage people to plan to attend, but also to join our Organizing Team and our conference Coalition. We wanted this conference to be welcoming, relevant, informative and inspiring to practitioners and scholars representing the entire spectrum of dialogic practice, and assembling a broad-based Organizing Team was an important step in achieving this goal.

Within a couple of days, we had received over 400 email messages from D&D leaders who wanted to express their excitement about the event. Many of these leaders accepted our invitation to join the conference Organizing Team or have their organization become a part of the Coalition for a National Conference on Dialogue & Deliberation.

With a large organizing team of 60 incredible people who had faith that we could pull this off in four months – not to mention six absolutely phenomenal committee chairs – we were able to put together an event that included 56 top-notch workshops that exposed D&D practitioners to a plethora of techniques and tools, and three plenary sessions that took conference participants through a dialogic and deliberative process to help them determine what actions we should take as a group to move our field forward.

NCDD 2002 photo of Tom AtleeThe 2002 conference was a truly wonderful event. The atmosphere was extremely positive and just charged with energy, and the overwhelming attitude of participants was one of gratitude for the opportunity to be together with fellow D&D practitioners and scholars, and excitement about what they could learn at the conference and share with others – and what we could begin doing together to strengthen our community.

The high-energy plenary sessions were effective in getting the group to think about what the D&D community needs and how we might begin working together to meet those needs. And the break-out sessions were highly varied and very well-facilitated. Overall, the conference was too short and the schedule was too tight, but participants’ hunger for learning about new methods and tools, meeting new colleagues and fostering new collaborative efforts was more than satisfied.

The large-group sessions were high-energy and were effective in getting the group to think about what the D&D community needs and how we might begin working together to meet those needs. And the break-out sessions were highly varied and very well-facilitated. Overall, the conference was too short and the schedule was too tight, but the spirit was one of learning about new methods and tools, meeting new colleagues and fostering new collaborative efforts.

Very soon after the conference, the 50 members of the Coalition for a National Conference on Dialogue & Deliberation decided to become the inaugural members of a National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation. The Coalition has grown from 50 founding members to more than 2,000 members in a few short years.

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