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What Brings Me to NCDD

Originally posted by Kai Degner for the 2006 NCDD Conference…


Since I’m one of the ”new practioners” represented at the NCDD this year, I thought I might share a mini-version of how I got involved with this wonderful crowd.  I hope to convey to any readers the opportunity I feel exists for involving hundreds of thousands of people into more regular conversation about things important to them. This will also set the stage for the title of my Friday showcase titled “OrangeBand: A Gateway to D&D.”

In 2003, I was a senior undergraduate student working at James Madison University’s Community Service-Learning Office.  Even being connected with other “engaged” students, I still felt there was a lack of quality conversation going on around me about things that mattered.  Turns out, I wasn’t the only one.  In a lunch conversation with a few friends who shared this sentiment, we decided to do something to try to get people talking.

Our initial goal was to spark a campuswide conversation, but we soon decided to come up with a way that would welcome into the same conversation people who thought differently from each other.  Rallies and protests didn’t seem to do that.  Soon in the planning we decided to focus the conversation on the then-pending war in Iraq, which seemed to warrant more conversation than was being had (no matter if you were in favor of it or not).

Our idea was simple: hand out orange strips of fabric to be used as invitations to conversations about how YOU felt about the issue.  The OrangeBands would spark the conversation but also bring attention to nonpartisan events we organized during the week of the big band distribution.

Well, in that first week, 2,000 people took OrangeBands, 400 came to our 8 forums, 3 other schools picked it up, and there was a buzz of conversation!  The response was unexpected and overwhelming.  The next semester, we decided the OrangeBands would represent any issue someone felt important to bring into conversation.  Since then, more than 6,000 more OrangeBands have been distributed and there has been interest in our model from students and faculty across the country.

Over the last few years, this experience has tuned me onto a connection between three major areas: civil discourse (respectful conversation), social capital (trusting relationships), and civic engagement (citizenship).  Civility, respect, and thoughtfulness is far from the norm in popular media; quantity of relationships seem to be favored over quality; and rates of civic participation are abysmal according to a variety of measures.  OrangeBand seems to tap a reaction against these trends.  It amazes me how the question, “What’s Your OrangeBand?” so consistently sparks conversation about one of these deeper issues.

Until I connected with NCDD, I felt I was in my own bubble, unsure of what it was exactly that I – and OrangeBand – was trying to accomplish.  But then I caught the term “dialogue practioner” and liked it.  I dove into some of the models and techniques available on the website and began incorporating them into OrangeBand events and into facilitation jobs. 

This all helped crystalize an important point: OrangeBand, like the  NCDD community, is here to empower and support people to create spaces for respectful conversation.  The niche I believe OrangeBand can fill is reaching out to students and others who may not come into contact with these concepts and models in an academic or professional setting.  But this niche can best be served in tandem with some of the models, processes, people, and organizations represented at the NCDD conference.

So, I’m coming to the NCDD to find collaborators in facilitating a widespread elevation in the quality and content of our conversations.  I have everything to learn and an OrangeBand to offer.

See you in San Fran!


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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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