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Opening/How Did We Get Here

Originally posted by Loretta Donavan for the 2006 NCDD Conference…

The room is filled with the rhythm of drums of Maracats  . . . enraptured, the participants are focused on the sound, glitter and motion at center stage.  Sounds get louder. Symbolically, the lights dim around the room, then come up again in the room and dim on the stage . . .  the focus is on the whole space . . . the participants are where the energy is at. Cheers and hoots as the troupe of drummers end their *big bang*.

MC Priya Parker of Women in Security, Conflict Management and Peace welcomes everyone to the conference.  And tells us NCDD is a community “greater than the sum of its parts”.  Introducing Sandy Heierbacher, NCDD founder, tells of how the coalition grew from Sandy’s personal involvement in causes, growing interest in particpatory methods and tech-savvy collaboration with her husband, Andy Fluke.  As Malcolm Gladwell has explained the The Tipping Point, there are 3 approaches that people bring to the world. Sandy, Priya explains, has all 3 – the room rises in applause to confirm that they strongly agree.

With thanks and praise for the conference committee, volunteers and funders, Sandy establishes the context for the conference.  There will be themes collected during the conference . . . based on the growth of the field.  In an effort to increase awareness, the buttons “Ask Me About Dialogue” and the tote bags (good conversation starters) make every participant a walking talking PR machine with elevator speeches ready. Biases and assumptions can be a starting point for conversation and collaboration.  At the back of the conference guidebook, there is a place to focus right from the start.  Confernce goals, what’s your OrangeBand, people to follow up with, personal timeline, current trends, next steps . . .

Kenoli and Marc take on the amazing task of facilitating a dialogue among the nearly 400 participants. Tell me about the time you became interested in Dialogue and Deliberation . . . borrowing a generative interview in pairs approach from Appreciative Inquiry for sharing stories. Pairs joined to form quads to explore how it felt to be in the interview process.

Moving to the decades timeline around the room.  Here is my group, the 1990s, as we added our data points to the wall and gathered for dialogue with others in groups of eight:

Report outs identifying trends from each decade are contributed by representatives of each decade from the massive timeline than circles the room.

Observations and insights from the assembled group are shared as the morning activities reach closing time (I paraphrase):

  • from the 1960s – seeds planted grow over time . . . really easy to lose track as we go about our work – think globally act locally heard about in 3 decades
  • we are between 2 worlds – one that is dying as the medida tells us, and another that is being born. We are birthing a gazelle.
  • the vital spread of the field of dialogue is noted – on the personal level people fell into a course and many years later dropped into the field
  • common wisdom was that adults stopped learning at age 25, glad to see the 1970s recognized that this was not the case
  • the path for social progressives who had abdicated the values is now about to reframe the conversation
  • the beginning of the 80s and the later fall of the Berlin Wall showed that the action can be shifted to a more productive way.
  • labor movement emerged in the 60s . . . Media and the consumer culture offered us what we realized we did not need . . . collective identity was claimed in the public sector
  • feeling of impatience and urgency with the human sector . . . need to talk about our strategy for communicating with our nation and the world about what we can contribute
  • I feel a sense of hope that this conversation can move us forward.
  • We are learning a new democracy from indigenous peoples around the world .. . the oldest and newest are coming together.
  • The effect of 9/11 – people desired to come together and the impact of the us/them paradigm presented about the terrorists
  • Considering that people in the room were around in the 60s at the time of the assassinations, it is hopeful that they are still here and engaged despite what they had experienced at that time.
  • Over the last 50 years things have gotten tighter . . . part of it is who gets to use the skills we have in this room. Corporations are making use of them and the people have not been used as much in the labor movement . . . I want to celebrate that these skills can be used on behalf of the greater community as well.
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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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