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Opening Session at NCDD 2006: Reflecting on Our Past

The following post was written by Dale Ironson for the 2006 NCDD Conference. Also see Loretta Donovan’s reflections on this opening plenary, and download the full record of what attendees wrote on the timelines posted on the walls. Kenoli Oliari and Marc Tognotti did a phenomenal job facilitating this unique dialogue activity among the nearly 400 participants.

Discovering the Collective Story that Brought Us Here Today

IMG_0130In this plenary session, we explored our personal stories and the evolution of the field of D&D, amidst the background of world events, to provide a common ground of experience and insight. By having a sense of how we came to this work personally, and what events shaped the development of this field, we gained both a personal grounding and an evolutionary perspective on how things grow and evolve over time. We also deepened our connections with others through the personal sharing and got a sense of the key events of each decade shaping the world and the emerging field of dialogue and deliberation.

There was much excitement and richness in these discussions. It was amazing how the exercises and future search methodology was able to so quickly and powerfully capture the essence of the evolutionary journey and provide us all with a solid common ground of experience and history upon which to build on during the conference. It was both a deepening and a broadening of our individual and collective perspectives as well as a wonderful opportunity to experience using the tools of the Future Search approach in brining large groups together quickly and effectively.

The Future Search approach is a large-group, whole-system planning method, which makes it possible for a complex and diverse group of stakeholders to discover common ground and decide how to act on it. This approach was an ideal way to get a large and diverse group, such as NCDD, into an awareness of both our unique and common journeys and highlight both the rich diversity and deep commonalities of this group.

This session was facilitated by Marc Togonotti and Kenoli Oleari, who are Co-Directors of the San Francisco Neighborhood Assemblies Network (NAN) and who regularly employ large-group, whole-systems approaches in their work with organizations and communities.

Working with the Timeline

When we came into the room we were surrounded by large paper covered walls divided in sections for each decade from the 60′s through 2010. There were three levels upon which we were asked to contribute our thoughts one – The first level was our personal experience that led us to become involved with this field. A second level was what was going on in the world at the time – in society at the national and global levels, and the third level was what was going on in the developing field of dialogue and deliberation during that time.

Marc stared out by asking us to pick a partner, someone who we didn’t know, and setting up a two person interview which is an approach used in Appreciative Inquiry. We were asked to share with our partners a story about the time we first knew we were interested in dialogue and deliberation.

What year did it happen? What influenced it? We were asked to try to cite a specific experience or time. We had 5 min. to tell our story and then we switched.

We then paired up with another group – so there were four in the new group, and then introduced our partner’s story to the new pair.

Mapping Our Experiences

We were then asked to map our experiences on the wall charts, which were segmented by decades with each decade having a 10 year timeline, by writing our comments on one of the three streams –

1. Our personal timeline, – the significant events in our personal lives, including the ones hat affected your relationship to D&D.

2. The global picture – important events going on in the society/the world at the time.

3. What was happening in The Dialogue and Deliberation field during this time. We were asked to cite important events affecting public dialogue, and developments in the dialogue and deliberation field, etc.

timelines in action - emailable


After each person wrote their input on the wall we were asked to select a decade that represented our entry into the field of D&D work and to form small groups of 6 – 8 to

1. Discuss what we saw on the three timelines for our decade and

2. Create a shared story about your decade.

Report-Outs from the Decade Groups

One group from each decade was then asked to report out their reflections on what key themes they had identified. There were several groups for each decade and unfortunately there was only time for one group from each decade to report out. The lists presented below are only from the groups who reported out to the large group. The total wall chart data was collected and might be available at some point in time. (I don’t know if you have plans to do this or not, so you need to make this statement accordingly).

From the 60′s Group

We still look pretty good (a comment on the age of the members in this group, i.e. you have to be older to have been there in the 60s).  Nov 22, 1963 – the day JFK was shot, represented the “End of Camelot”.  The influence of the GI Bill – getting educated Political development.  The sexual revolution & The Pill.  Drugs and the Impact of Music – The battles defining change.  Beginning of Dialogues – around civil rights, the war in Vietnam Prosperity level in the US was high.  Assassinations of JFK, Martin Luther King, Malcom X, and Robert Kennedy.  Huge community movement.

From the 70′s Group

War, Sex, the Environment, the Civil and Human Rights movements, Inner and Outer self.  Democracy in the workplace.  Interdisciplinary move in education.  Spirituality.  Communal living.  D&D.  Sensitivity training.  Psychology (Esalen)Training for D&D.  Think Globally, Act Locally.

From the 80′s Group

Anti-Reganism.  Arms buildup.  AIDS.  Anti-Apartheid Movement.  Personal Growth and Healing.  Social Politics.  Mediation training as pivotalest training & Beyond War groups.  Freeing of Women – reclaiming their lives from the imposed maternal only role.  Efforts to create change – mediation model.  End of cold war in ’89.  Conflict resolution.

From the 90′s Group

Global conflicts.  Dayton Peace Agreement.  IRAQ / Kuwait Wars.  National use of mediation skills, etc., in their work.  D&D level – organizations taking root.  Politics – new polarizations – not a lot of bridge building going on.  High Tech and Y2K.

From the 2000 Group

Entry points on a personal level (i.e. comment about people’s entry into the field of D&D was from direct personal experience of D&D approaches at conferences, workshops, classes, etc.).  On a global level it was more external.  Need to focus on philanthropy & academic sector to get into the work now.

Reflections & Observations

Post Wall Chart exercise, small group discussions and table report-outs.

What comes up for you? What insights, and reflections do you have about these perspectives and data points about our past and how we come to be here, and the changes in the field of D&D over these decades till now?

All comments are numbered – and captured as best I could. They are not word for word quotes. I tried to get the gist of the comment.

1.  How seeds planted grow.  We lose sight of this big picture.  The Beyond War Movement said – Think Globally, Act Locally many years ago.  It’s interesting to see this statement evolve into a cultural icon over the years.

2.  We’ve lived through all this! A view of how things evolve. We’re between two worlds – an old way which is dying and a new world which is being conceived and is emerging but is not quite here yet.  This conference is part of birthing the Gazelle.

3.  I was there in the 60′s, Participatory Democracy & the War on Poverty

4.  Viral Spread – It all started with me going to a dialogue group.

5.  In the 50′s & 60′s it was thought that adults could not learn. The 70′s questioned this assumption.

6.  The crystallization of the role of dialogue – The Path of the Social Progressives – The Discourse around Value – reframe the conversations that need to happen to move us forward.

7.  The 80′s and Ronald Regan. I was thinking of How much energy we have put into defense (in terms of spending etc.), and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Now we can free it up. We can move Energy from Defense to more constructive uses. It’s somewhat disheartening that we’re not doing this, i.e. using our resources in a more productive way.

8.  The Labor Movement and the influence of the Media and affluence. Advertising messages – and our identities as informed by the media, i.e. consumerisms, the NRA, influence,. We take our collective identity from the media – in the public sector, and this influences us greatly in terms of who we think we are and our public policies, etc.

9.  Impatience and a sense of urgency. We need to think about a strategy for communication with the world.

10.  Feeling a sense of hope – This awareness and consciousness of there being hope.

11.  We are post colonial – We are learning a new democracy Our forefathers, the founders of this country, put their lives on the line. The newest (us) and oldest (our founding fathers) are coming together.

12.  The end of the draft in the 60′s (was a monumental event).

13.  The effect of 9/11. People’s desire to connect as opposed to the mentality of you’re either for us or against us (fear driven). The task of making meaning of 9/11 – i.e. What does it mean? How do we choose to see it and respond to it? Defining our relationship to this event and how we respond to it – from a place of fear and defense, or from a place of vision and larger perspective that can lead to more positive outcomes and responses for all of humanity.

14.  In the 80′s – Refusal to look at the scientific research (I believe this refers to the data on global warming). But the world wasn’t quite ready at the time.

15.  In the 70s – surging and waning – Carter – working with Presidents – who are open and progressive – in these windows of opportunity.Relationship of citizen groups & government – i.e. under Roosevelt.  Form a dialogue to move things forward.

16.  Listening for patterns – Emerging patterns for D&D – In the 60′s – Adversary basedIn the 70″s – Internal Inner and personal developmentIn the 80s – MediationIn the 90′s – Corporations and Love of technology with Networks (the internet).  2000 – Building on this – the whole system in the room.

17.  Bowling Alone (the name of a book) – rates of inclusion (or isolation/ alienation)

18.  The trauma of all the assignations in the 60′s. But there’s still chance for hope.

19.  Places of Hope in this decade – Speaking truth to power in the 2000′s. In Latin America – the uprising of people power, in the US immigration rights.

20.  The 80′s – The browning of America. Emerging Multiplicity of Voices.

21.  The role of religion – the Moral Majority, The Christian Coalition in Public discourse.

22.  Human migration

23.  Low intensity warfare going on around the world – the number of armed conflicts

24.  Drive for connectedness in the 60s.  The need for connectedness – After Katrina – chat rooms, awareness that we couldn’t depend on the government. But after Katrina – we’ve moved on – we’ve forgotten about it.

25.  Grass roots dialogue groups sprung up all over the place (i.e. Palestine – Israel) but Arafat put a stop to it.

26.  Motivation – What motivated each of us to make changes – My anger & dissatisfaction in the 60′s over women’s rights issues, nowin the 90′s & 2000.  Young people seem to be coming from a place of more caring and compassion for humanity.  The consciousness of peace itself.  From spiritual awareness I connect with the peace within myself and from this we can bring peace into the world.  We need to be the peace we want in the world.  From being anti-institutions -> To asking how can we institutionalize what we’ve been about?

27.  Life growing up in the 60′s – getting lost in TV screens.  We have lost the art of having face to face conversations especially with people who disagree with us. We live in a world of polarization and competition. There is a new generation of “screen heads” and the “blog generation”.

28.  Over the last 40 – 50 years things have gotten a lot tighter (economically). This clamps down on the energy of the 60′s. The issue is one of who gets to use the skills we have in this room?  Servants of power – “Who has access to these skills?” i.e. using the skills in this room for the benefit of the larger environment and to celebrate ourselves.

The session then closed and people adjourned for lunch.

This collection of notes from our Friday morning “Reflecting On Our Past” plenary was written and transcribed for us by NCDD2006 San Francisco participant Dale Ironson.

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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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