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DeKalb, IL Plans for Future with Conversation Cafe Model

We recently heard the story of an exciting project that the City of DeKalb undertook to engage citizens in its strategic planning process that we wanted to share here. With a few of our NCDD members’ help, DeKalb held a series of Conversation Cafe-style public meetings and will turn the input they gathered into a 10-year vision for the city. We encourage you to read more about the process in NCDD member Tracy Rogers-Tryba‘s write up of the project below.


The City of DeKalb enlisted the assistance of the Center for Governmental Studies at Northern Illinois University to embark upon a multi-year, collaborative, grassroots strategic planning effort. Utilizing a modified Conversation Cafe model, the City has turned to city residents, students, workers and employers to share their ideas about DeKalb’s future. Responses to these questions will help shape a vision for the City of DeKalb.

The goal is to provide an understanding of the City’s assets and improvement opportunities, suggestions for change strategies, and ways for the City to maintain ongoing dialogue and communication with people who live, work or attend school in DeKalb.

“These meetings have been excellent opportunities for us to hear first-hand the hopes and aspirations that DeKalb residents, students, and workers have for our city,” said Mayor John Rey. “We want a vision of DeKalb that is meaningful to everyone, and we also want to hear the ideas people have for realizing that vision.”

Eight open Conversation Cafes, entitled Community Conversations, were held throughout July. All community conversations were open to anyone from the public. Conversations were held at facilities located on public transit routes and transportation was made available for those individuals needing assistance. Interpreters were also made available for non-English speaking participants. Prior to the Conversation Cafes that were open to anyone from the public, the Center held smaller targeted meetings for homeless populations, international and high school student populations, as well as for various sectors of leadership throughout the community.

Results of the outreach efforts, and information collected by the Center for Governmental Studies will be transmitted to the City. Resident populations have expressed appreciation and encouragement for the City to continue this form of collaborative engagement as it reflects efforts of a more open collaborative community dialogue.

dekalb process photo

City Administrator Anne Marie Gaura opens an citizen input session in DeKalb

Following up on the dialogue efforts, Janice Thomson and Hubert Morgan – both of whom are experts in D&D and NCDD members – provided an introductory workshop entitled Conversation for Vibrant Communities on the four streams of engagement in D&D practice on August 5, 2015.

All the data has since been collected, and the Center continues to work with the City’s administration and senior elected leaders on drafting new mission, vision, values, and strategic initiatives for the 10 year visioning plan. This work product has been handed over to the City’s administration and employees so that they can also provide their input. The Center will then take this information and look to connect it to work done by residents, leadership, and employees to build out a plan that has community input.

The final 10-year plan and results of the process will be presented back to the Council and residents in October.

Thanks so much to Tracy Rogers-Tryba for writing this piece and for sharing it with us!

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Roshan Bliss
An inclusiveness trainer and group process facilitator, Roshan Bliss serves as NCDD's Youth Engagement Coordinator and Blog Curator. Combining his belief that decisions are better when everyone is involved with his passion for empowering young people, his work focuses on increasing the involvement of youth and students in public conversations.

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