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National Dialogue Bureau – Reports from Scoping Project

In 2004 and 2005, NCDD contracted with AmericaSpeaks to have them conduct a scoping study to determine whether a ‘National Dialogue Bureau’ was a feasible idea. The Dialogue Bureau, if developed, would supply journalists with a ‘one stop’ destination for the collection of views held by ordinary Americans who engage in informed dialogue about current affairs. The Dialogue Bureau would create a network of leaders of dialogue and deliberation groups who are willing to speak with the media about the key findings and concerns of their group. Here is the home of the final reports resulting from interviews with journalists and leaders in D&D.

The Marketing & Media action group that formed at the first NCDD conference in October 2002 envisioned a project with the potential to improve news coverage by bringing the informed views of ordinary Americans into the reporting process. The following NCDD members were especially active in developing a plan to create a National Dialogue Bureau:

  • Michelle Charles, President of Communications Consulting and researcher for the Kettering Foundation
  • Amy Malick, Communications Director of the Study Circles Resource Center
  • Attica Scott, Executive Director of the National Conference on Community & Justice – Knoxville Region
  • Lars Hasselblad Torres, Researcher for AmericaSpeaks

Original Vision for the Project

High quality newsgathering and reporting agencies frequently rely upon common techniques like focus groups to gather empirical evidence of ordinary Americans’ views on current affairs. Ordinary Americans who participate in dialogue and deliberation programs can add an important new voice to the reporting process: the informed opinion of citizens who have considered issues from multiple points of view and have come to a deeper understanding of the issue and the interests at play.

The National Dialogue Bureau will consist of a network of leaders of dialogue and deliberation groups who are willing to speak with the media about the key findings and concerns of their groups and, if appropriate, to connect journalists with dialogue participants. By providing mainstream news outlets with easy access to the informed citizen perspective on current, contentious issues, the Dialogue Bureau will deepen media coverage of an issue while providing practitioners – and dialogue and deliberation in general – with increased publicity.

The Bureau will supply journalists – in particular those who are part of civic and public journalism networks – with a “one stop” destination for the collection of views held by citizens who have engaged in dialogue and deliberation about current affairs. The National Dialogue Bureau will serve four primary functions:

  1. Provide journalists with information about the “field” of dialogue and deliberation, and its importance to democratic life.
  2. Supply journalists with contacts (“spokespersons” or dialogue facilitators) who can speak to how ordinary community members – whose perspectives have been informed through quality dialogue or deliberation – feel about specific issues, the way they are experienced locally, and how those issues are being tackled by leadership.
  3. Through spokespersons, place journalists in contact with a reliable, diverse pool of citizens in a community who engaged in dialogue about specific issues.
  4. Serve as a resource in communities for “local spokespersons” who can be relied upon to speak about issues in ways that resonate with the whole community.

The following publications were submitted to NCDD by Lars Torres (former Researcher with AmericaSpeaks) as part of a final report for the scoping project. Karla Andreu conducted the interviews with practitioners and journalists.

Summary of Findings for the National Dialogue Bureau Scoping Project
The purpose of this study was to understand the level of support for, and potential key services of, a National Dialogue Bureau. This 9-page report, some of which is excerpted below, lays out the basic framework for the dialogue bureau and a strategy to establish the bureau and phase in its services.

Journalists’ Views on Dialogue and Deliberation and the Media
To better understand the feasibility of a National Dialogue Bureau from the standpoint of the extent to which journalists would make use of its services, AmericaSpeaks interviewed 9 media professionals, including print and electronic journalists. This three-page report summarizes our findings from these telling interviews – including challenges we would face in involving journalists in a National Dialogue Bureau.

Practitioner Views on Dialogue and Deliberation and the Media
To better understand the feasibility of a National Dialogue Bureau, AmericaSpeaks interviewed 27 dialogue and deliberation practitioners from NCDD’s membership database. This 5-page report summarizes our findings from these interviews. NCDD members interviewed for this exercise collectively demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of media strategy and perhaps a lower level of awareness around existing media resources (as evidenced by their statements of need). Therefore, the primary finding of this report is to recommend that NCDD develop a resource guide to working with the media that directs its members to existing opportunities for media training and support.

National Dialogue Bureau Resource List
This 4-page document lists, describes, and links to dozens of organizations and programs playing a leadership role in dialogue and deliberation and/or in journalism.

Excerpt from the Summary of Findings document…

OPPORTUNITIES:

There are several opportunities driving the finding that this is a good time to create a national dialogue bureau.  The indications that the time might be right to introduce a resource like the national dialogue bureau include:Media as an industry is undergoing transformation.  Emerging models of information creation and distribution are encouraging mainstream media outlets to rethink their business model.  This presents an opportunity for creative actors to enter the news creation cycle.Media as an institution is less trusted by the public.  Americans trust the mainstream news outlets to deliver factual, relevant, and balanced coverage of important issues less and less.  As a result, some newsmakers are looking to deepen their relationships to trust-raising institutions that can help them to connect with audiences.

The robustness of the “We media” and citizen journalism movement.  New technologies like blogs using text, images and video have demonstrated that citizens can create content for which there is a sizable online audience.  Furthermore, the opportunity to “speak out” or share ones voice has proven to be a compelling reason for many users to associate with certain online outlets.  At its base, the movement’s repeated claims and evidence that citizens can contribute something unique, important, and profitable to the world of journalism reinforce the core messages of the Dialogue Bureau.

Practitioners have a desire to develop skills, seek resources.  The opportunity here is that this finding opens the possibility that NCDD can essentially split its tasks into two strategic phases, the first is a capacity and infrastructure-building period during which is creates tools and services that respond directly to existing member needs.  When this user-base is firmly established and has bolstered the Dialogue Bureau “brand,” the opportunity arises to offer more tangible, realistic benefits to journalists.

KEY PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Both dialogue and deliberation practitioners and journalists were able to identify several kinds of products and services that a National Dialogue Bureau could offer to fill existing resource gaps in their work related to dialogue and deliberation’s influence on the media.

Practitioner-Identified Services:

  1. “Issues-tracker” for those topics of discussion that are being addressed by D&D practitioners.
  2. Repository of stories about outcomes of dialogues on “critical” issues.  These are those subjects that are either in the media often, or frequently addressed by the D&D community.
  3. A guide to making sound-bytes, press releases, and packaging nuanced messages for the media. Basically, a guide for translating complex and nuanced narratives into media-friendly sound-bytes.
  4. Regional working sessions between dialogue practitioners and journalists to develop and update models on how to cover dialogue, ie effective media-practitioner collaboration.
  5. A good housekeeping “seal” of approval, kind of a quality assurance stamp indicating effective, innovative media relations. Such a seal would give further credibility to opening the doors between media and dialogue communities.
  6. Organizational back up and support to practitioners and organizations too small and/or under-resourced to maintain their own routine media outreach.
  7. National journalist directory and their beats.
  8. Media advisors or resource persons that can help practitioner community to understand the media, the demands and pressures that they are under and what its like on the “inside”, helping to craft messages, approaches, how to invite in and welcome the media at dialogue forums.
  9. A short film (ie 10min) on dialogue and deliberation for use when practitioners are trying to pitch a project to a member of the media.

Journalist-Identified Services

  1. “Black Box” standard and “how to” guide for community events where people can speak their minds to journalists.
  2. Web-site mining of citizen organizations and blogs of citizen activists.  An aggregation service.
  3. Capacity to seek out and encourage local convenors of community meetings around current affairs and community issues if no one else is.
  4. Civic mapping exercises to understand the “dialogue infrastructure” of various media markets.
  5. Email alerts to reporters with a list of available D&D sources on hot topics of the day. Journalists and editors could pick an issue that was hot that day and find a list of names, short bios of expert dialogue spokespersons, and their contact information. The feature could include a summary of how the issue is being discussed
  6. Go-to database of dialogue “expert” organizations on different topics and background data. This databases could assist editors in finding the right community person to write an op-ed or give a quote for an article.

MOVING FORWARD

Based on findings from interviews and our own assessment, there are some short- and long-term activities the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation can take to build a National Dialogue Bureau over time.  High-level strategies in moving forward include:

  • Establish working partnerships with select credible local and regional news outlets
  • Establish reciprocal value-added partnerships with media support agencies like Pointer Institute and J-Lab
  • Establish reciprocal value-added partnerships with media training centers like the Communications Consortium and Spitfire Strategies
  • Establish a base membership of credible, newsworthy dialogue spokespersons
  • Build a database of dialogue activities taking place in the targeted media market

AmericaSpeaks’ reports to the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (2005)

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