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Report on the Youth Dialogue Project

YDP group shotDeborah Goldblatt, director of the Youth Dialogue Project (YDP) submitted the following reflections on the YDP at NCDD Austin. Sponsored by the Rockrose Institute, the YDP’s goal is to ensure that the voices of young leaders are included in creative and innovative ways. To this end, the YDP hosted three inter-related sessions at the conference: one workshop for people under 30, one for people over 30, and a trans-generational sub-plenary session. The first session and the sub-plenary were co-designed and hosted by six young leaders from the On the Verge leadership training program in partnership with a team of mentors and elders currently active in the D&D community. The second session was co-designed and hosted by the YDP mentoring team.

NCDD is grateful for the extraordinary leadership of Deborah Goldblatt, the entire Youth Dialogue Project team (including the graphic recorders whose work is featured here), and the Rockrose Institute. It was a pleasure working with you, and we hope to work with you again soon!

What worked:

Young Adult Leadership session and sub-plenary were successful due to:

  1. an intentional invitation from NCDD to include and provide space for younger members to become more visible in the NCDD community.
  2. creating opportunities for younger D&D facilitators to model their skill and generate new ideas.
  3. modelling inter-generational design collaboration for participants.
  4. giving a voice to current concerns within young adult leadership and raising self-reflective questions about inter-generational collaboration.
  5. addressing challenges of bias and inclusion in community, especially NCDD.
  6. the sessions were highly experiential bringing in technology and the arts, which all ages appreciate, and offering young participants tools for engaging other participants.

YDP graphic close-upWhat was learned:

How can we help young people succeed and thrive in the D&D field? It really comes down to creating opportunities and pushing for breakthroughs in schools and colleges through willing, trained faculty. I refuse to believe that time and money are the key obstacles to making that happen, but in my experience of creating the Youth Dialogue Project, it is apparent that those two things stand out as obstacles to progress.

As we (hopefully) are now entering an age of transparency, issues inter-generationally of trust and control may be opened up to where faculty are more willing to relinquish the reins and experiment. Steve Pyser’s post recently on your blog is a perfect example of what we need to model much, much more of to help young people succeed and thrive in this field. Most young people just aren’t aware that D&D is out there.

It would be great to see who in the NCDD community is currently having success in this area so people like myself, who are wanting to help the Steve Pyser’s in the world create more opportunities for young people to experience D&D, can team up. Opportunities for young D&D facilitators are so few and far between, but gatherings like the Clinton Global Initiative, where younger people are invited to submit their passionate issues with a plan of action, would be a great space where people could learn more about D&D. Maybe Sandy, you and I, and a couple of recent YDP facilitators could propose an experiential session for CGI’s young participants to learn about D&D? What draws young people to the field are other young people, there’s no secret there. Perhaps there’s someone in the NCDD network that is currently working on this idea – but that sort of Forum leverage in our soon to be transparent political climate might be just the combo we’ve been waiting for!

The primary questions that came out of the Young Adult Leadership session are helpful for NCDD members considering how we can help young people succeed and thrive in the D&D field. Clearly, from what I see on the GR scolls, young people want to be asked this question. What was written was:

  • We want people to ask us how we can get there and what we need. We need you to listen, not lecture.
  • Having a lot of one age in a room can be a block to younger people joining in.
  • Cheesy talk doesn’t cut it across generations and cultures.
  • How can we be brought into the design and processes for OUR understanding?
  • What is our role in articulating our needs and our responsibility for sharing those needs?
  • How many times have I let tension in the room go unspoken/unnoticed?
  • When we have full partnership, older adults don’t need to come in and fix.
  • Risk, allow failure.
  • What would it mean for an older person to let go of their power and value?
  • Older adults need to break habits of fixing or supporting right away.
  • Frame the conversation more in terms of ally than mentor.
  • What constitutes legitimacy in a community?  Who has the entitlement to bestow legitimacy of someone’s work and skill sets?
  • Acknowledging people (at NCDD) here have a heartbeat for change, and an interest in collaboration, what does REALLY collaborating (intergen) look like?

The sub-plenary generated the longing to create spaces for generations to share power.  It was noted that “Change is natural, the process needs to be intentional.”  It was suggested that by beginning with an “Elder/Youth Jam” celebration might kick things off to a good start!  There were requests for opening current boundaries by becoming more dialectic. Fear is keeping generations boxed in.  Pause to ask yourself:  “How can I help YOU get to the next level, (regardless of age)?  “How do we communicate in youth generated language?”  “Why are we still using dualistic language?”  Another question was “How/What conditions ARE present to allow people to let go of their power they possess cross-generationally?  After all, isn’t leadership all about empowerment – strengthening each other?

YDP graphicThose are the most outstanding points from the scrolls.  It would be fun to keep the conversation going and see what further thoughts and ideas have surfaced since the conference.

What we could have done better – and if we do it again:

Had more time! 90 min. sessions are adequate, but time for sub-plenary was too short.

Preferably not plan sub-plenaries so that participants have difficult choices to make! We also noticed that Saturday afternoon is a popular nap time for people who will be spending their Sunday travelling home!

Give clear instructions at lunch time and make an additional invitation to attendees from one of the hosts/facilitators or speakers of those subs, if there are choices of sub-plenaries.

Could have held the Young Adult Leadership session and the Mentoring session in different time slots. In my view, and as this was my (unfortunate) choice in planning (coz Sandy originally had them scheduled on different days), it unintentionally created a split in not only the YDP team but within some of the larger collective.

More clearly frame our sessions so that we are intentionally creating “no-ageism” – e.g. naming young people’s sessions as “Young Adult Leadership” (not mentioning any ages) only. Need to specifically target younger members of NCDD to attend the session while being clear that ALL participants know that those sessions must not exclude anyone of any age, even though the sessions are designed for younger people and their issues.

Our “Mentoring” session was too short for exploring different ways of seeing mentoring in this “New Day”. Our intention was to raise awareness of how we used to mentor, how we do mentor and how or if we want to change those ways. Attendance was low and we’re still unsure why – maybe because one of us had put a sign on the door saying “Over 30” and people objected to that?! I think folks were looking for more concrete tools rather than an exploration of questions on their own mentoring and mentoring others. Maybe too many sessions planned simultaneously? Maybe all the people wanting mentoring were in the other room?!!

Make our own signage outside session that does not label anyone any age.

We need to be mindful that “youth” activities are not planned outside the main conference days and that the sessions intended for higher young participation are not on a school day or on any pre-conference days. Saturday and Sunday only.

Next time, I would like to partner with Active Voice – for younger participants to host an intergenerational dialogue on a topic using film. (We’ll see if we can experiment with this in the Bay Area before the next NCDD conference!).

Would also like to partner YDP with Madeleine van Hecke to create a “surfacing blind spots” in intergenerational relationships in the work place, as a session or sub-plenary….or something like that. I’ve had a conversation with Madeleine suggesting this.

Would also like YDP to explore pattern language with Peggy and Tom to surface challenges within an intergenerational context around language. I’m on the list of the small group or maybe large group by now of folks interested in this subject.

Mariah Howard is almost finished with an article on the World Cafés for TWC community and we’ll forward that on to you to post on the NCDD site as well. Also, I know Mitch Findley will upload all his photos onto flickr after Nov. 20th and Abigail Joseph will send along her digital story once she gets a break in her schedule to work on it some more…..

As for the rest of us, it was a great opportunity for our whole group to be a part of NCDD this year. We all felt stretched through the work that went into the project, carrying it out somewhere other than our usual Bay Area circles, and meeting such wonderful people in Austin. We’re pleased to hear overall that we made a positive impact and hope we get another chance to do more in the future.

Thanks, Sandy and Andy, Diane and the whole team for your stellar work.

Best,
Deborah, Ken, Milton, Mariah, Abigail, Alissa, etsuko, Jonna, Mitch and Nick

Nick Challed of On the Move submitted these additional reflections…

Hi Deborah and Sandy – I’m happy to have a moment to respond and add a bit to the great work Deborah has already done here, to bring together ideas, lessons, and questions we are left with after the intergenerational sessions in Austin.

I don’t have too much to add to everything Deborah has collected. I think the stuff from the scrolls especially captures the emotions, questions, and ideas generated.

In response to Sandy’s question, “How can we help young people succeed and thrive in the D&D field?”…

I agree with everything Deborah mentioned and would also add:

– I believe there are more programs engaging young people in D&D practices than we are possibly aware of, so in terms of bringing them together for NCDD, YDP and other collaborations, it may be more of a question of networking with young leaders and providing more opportunities of attractive programs and sessions (just as was did with the YDP in Austin, the Youth Poetry performance, etc.)

– A great source of inspiration and potential could be found by especially bringing in programs for youth (ages 13-18) that are practicing, or interested in practicing, D&D methods. My experience is that youth are in some ways “naturals” for D&D. I’ve found them very willing to dive into deep and meaningful conversations and engage in creative solutions for tough problems. I think they have less “social masks” and barriers to wade through than us adults! Again, the networking and creation of “youth-friendly” spaces (ie: not tons of jargon!) will make this possible. It would also be essential to bring in and network with the leaders of these programs – who often are young adults themselves.

I also have a lot of thoughts about the complaints of “ageism” and “division” people expressed due to the concurrent sessions being framed as “under 30” and “over 30”. Perhaps the language could be framed differently, and the purpose of these sessions could be much better defined – however i think that there is actually a very important value and opportunity for both younger and older generations to engage in separate dialogue so that we can all better explore and process the challenges that arise around intergenerational leadership and work.

As someone mentioned in the subplennary, many of the conversations that arose were not much different than any conversation dealing with inherant issues of power, allyship, and “bridge” work – such as discussing issues of race, sexual orientation, etc. My experience has been that doing “caucus” type work, where for example, people of color and white folks discuss some issues separately – is sometimes very important in order to heal and process the challenges we are uniquely facing. I believe there is also an important value of engaging in these caucus-like conversations around generational work – with a bigger purpose of us coming together. Again – this is not only for the younger generations to have “their space” but also for the older generations to have the same. We have unique experiences and roles throughout this process of working across generations – and sometimes engaging in dialogue specifically with those who directly identify with your experience is helpful and healing.

I believe it is also worth noting that it is common (from my own and others’ experience) for folks who tend to be in the positions of power to complain about this structure of “caucus” work – and claim that it is a form of discrimination and non-constructive. For example, when i have been in structures of dialogue which provide a space for people of color and white folks to meet together to discuss strategies of healing from racism and building bridges – some of the white folks have claimed this to be a problem (never people of color). This is not to say that issues of working across generations and race are identical – but i do believe some similar power dynamics when we deal with issues of leadership do exist.

The last thing i would like to add from the entire Austin NCDD experience is that there seemed to be a growing capacity for leadership for myself and other young adults who find themselves somewhat in the “middle” – the “tweeners” as we claimed ourselves – who are in our young-mid 30s. As we went through the enriching and sometimes challenging process within our design group and conference sessions – a group of us found ourselves breaking through with new understanding and compassion for the unique experiences we face when doing this intergenerational work. The “tweeners” are no longer in a developmental stage of young adults who sometimes feel the need to “fight” their way into positions of leadership with frustration and fear. And we are not yet in a developmental stage of “seasoned” adults either, but now have insight into their search for opportunities to share expertise and wisdom, while sometimes finding young adults and youth unwilling to appreciate what they have to offer – or invite a role for them to play.

What a rich and worthwhile journey to embark on! And with the scope of the domestic and global challenges we currently face – this work seems essential – as i believe our solutions can only succeed with people coming together across generations. Only then will we utilize the energy and creativity of youth – along with the wisdom and insight of our elders.

Please keep me in the loop with ongoing efforts within the NCDD and the YDP. Consider me a life-long advocate for intergenerational leadership and dialogue!

Yours,

Nick Challed
On the Move
nchalled.otm@gmail.com

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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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