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Featured D&D Story: Respectful Conversations Project

Today we’d like to feature a great example of dialogue and deliberation in action, the Respectful Conversations Project. This mini case study was submitted by Jerad Morey, Communications and Program Manager of the Minnesota Council of Churches via NCDD’s new Dialogue Storytelling Tool (add YOUR dialogue story today!).

Title of Project:
RespectfulConvProjectRespectful Conversations Project

When the state of Minnesota was facing a ballot question defining marriage, people were divided. Churches found themselves in sharp internal disagreements that mirrored those in the broader community. Fearful of the end result of a year’s worth of polarizing media campaigns on Minnesota’s civic discourse, churches decided to build peace as a way to love the communities they were in and strengthen Minnesota’s civic culture.

The Minnesota Council of Churches, with support from the Bush Foundation and in partnership with The Public Conversations Project, Twin Cities Public Television and The Theater of Public Policy, designed a conversation model not to change minds, but soften hearts. Respectful Conversations on the Marriage Amendment were conducted across the state in rural, exurban, suburban and urban communities. One thousand five hundred fifty Minnesotans participated in 54 conversations. 62% of participants reported experiencing more empathy for those with whom they disagreed. That figure grew much higher in those conversations were the array of viewpoints was most diverse.

People were excited to participate in these conversations and they have proven to be generative. In level 2 evaluations, participants reported improved listening skills, facilitation skills, reduced tension in home conversations, improved parenting skills and paradigm shifts. Many congregations have gone on to create peace in their communities around other divisive issues and sectors such as higher education, government and public health have studied the model for future implementation.

Which dialogue and deliberation approaches did you use or borrow heavily from?
Public Conversations Project dialogue

What was your role in the project?
Program co-designer and communicator

What issues did the project primarily address?
Gender / sexuality

Lessons Learned
Budgeting more for evaluations that captured people’s stories of the experience in multiple media would have been a great idea — we were surprised by all of the good will and gratitude generated by the project, and the thirst for follow-up activities. Had we captured it better to better report on it then we would have had a great storytelling tool that Minnesotans could be proud of.

Where to learn more about the project:

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Sandy Heierbacher
Sandy Heierbacher co-founded the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD) with Andy Fluke in 2002, with the 60 volunteers and 50 organizations who worked together to plan NCDD’s first national conference. She served as NCDD's Executive Director between 2002 and 2018. Click here for a list of articles and resources authored by Sandy.

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