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Notes from 1-31-09 Austin Focus Group

On Saturday, January 31st, we conducted an intentionally small focus group with just a few people from the Central Texas conference planning team. Present were Diane Miller, Juli Fellows, Tobin Quereau, Steven Fearing, Patricia Wilson, Taylor Willingham and Terry Crain. We wanted to discuss two things with the focus group:

1. A local D&D network
What would you want from a local network of dialogue and deliberation folks? What can NCDD to support a local network? How can we make the network as low-maintenance and self-organized as possible?

2. A local, multi-process D&D “demonstration project”
What might a demonstration project look like in Austin? What role would NCDD have? What role could outside NCDD members/method leaders have? See www.ncdd.org/3478 for more info about the demonstration project idea that came out of the 2008 NCDD conference.

Here are some things group members seemed to agree on…

Asset mapping and project mapping.
We need to map the existing resources (D&D, but also broader civic engagement) in Central Texas. We want to know who’s doing what work in Central Texas, and be able to connect with each person/organization. We need to figure out what technology will best enable us to do this.

Assessment and learning.
We want people to start doing some basic reporting on their programs. What were the successes? What was challenging? We want to capture learnings from public engagement initiatives, and make them available to those doing this work.

Coordinate activities.
In any given issue (health care, climate change, etc.), there are many activities being run already. Rather than start from scratch on a demonstration project, why not start recording and assessing what’s already happening? We can agree in principles, on elements we think should be consistent across programs, and on assessment measures, and then ask people to practially continue what they’re already doing. This would strengthen our capacity without starting from scratch, and give us data to amplify citizens voices and make a greater impact.

Learning community.
The people in the room were more interested in forming a small learning community than in establishing a larger local network. Members of a learning community would meet to share learnings and challenges, and might work together on projects. They would run professional development activities for each other, such as informal trainings in different D&D methods. Although NCDD would want to help with a more exclusive learning community however we can, we are determined to help create the space for a larger, open local network of practitioners and scholars.

Demonstration project.
The group felt that they had the human resources locally to be able to design and run a multi-process D&D demonstration project, without much involvement of outside process leaders. The involvement of NCDD was most welcome in several ways:

  1. To bring in additional funds (it was felt that, as a national organization, NCDD would be more successful with national and local funders)
  2. To provide guidelines and evaluation mechanisms that could be standardized among multiple programs
  3. To collect and amplify the results of public engagement programs

Group members agreed that any demonstration project should focus on one particular topic that is timely in the community. They agreed that the issue needed to be one where we could have some control over the process (local government is not already planning a major engagement initiative around the issue, for example). And they felt that a key ingredient of any project would be to have specific goals, and be very clear about what you’re trying to accomplish (too many things have been happening lately with no clear endpoint or purpose).

A couple of clear next steps emerged…

Larger-Scale Networking
NCDD is going to create a larger listserv to help public engagement folks in Central Texas connect, share resources, and announce opportunities (or we partner with Texas Forums to do this together).

Mapping Resources and Projects
Research technology that would allow us to map out who’s doing what D&D work in Central Texas. Look into whether we can also get people to start doing basic reporting on their programs (what were the successes? what was challenging?).

A small group met to talk about these things in depth. What do others from Central Texas think about the idea of a demonstration project, or how best to run a local D&D network? Your ideas and feedback are most welcome!

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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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