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Inspiring your Local PBS Channel to Host Dialogues – Do Try This at Home!

How’s this for initiative? Jacquelyn Pogue, a member of the D&D community based in Richmond, Virginia, noticed that her local PBS channel was about to air a nationwide series called “America at a Crossroads” for 6 consecutive evenings at 2 hours each and thought “What a great theme for a Conversation Cafe group!” She then called her local PBS station (she was already friendly with several staff there) and requested a meeting to propose that a community conversation about this series. They really loved the idea and decided that since they would need quite a few facilitators, Jacquelyn would do a Conversation Cafe training with some of their staff and others in the community. They also scheduled a second training as some could not make it the first time.

The station agreed to host the event on the Sunday afternoon following the series and invite selected members of the community since the series related to America’s role in the middle east. Participants were asked to watch at least one of the programs. This was viewed as an experiment so no publicity was given to the event, yet they had 3 groups of 8 people with 2 co-hosts for each group. After the groups met, they had a large group feedback session and people shared how surprised they were that everyone was so open and accepting of hearing very diverse views among those who were Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Christians and not religious….

When it was over, Jacquelyn also did a debriefing with the group leaders. The outcome of this was that PBS initiated the next steps of reviewing future programming for the coming year with Jacquelyn and they selected the next two for the fall. The PBS station will host them and also want to advertise the Community Conversations on air for the public in Richmond. Based on her success, Jacquelyn encourages others to “reach out to your local media stations and make an offering!”

If you want to try this at home, but don’t have connections with your local PBS station (or even if you do), you may want to go armed with ideas and examples from Active Voice and Roundtable Media — two organizations that have done a lot of work with PBS to encourage viewers to engage in dialogue on their programming. You can also email Jacquelyn at Siriusoul@aol.com for her advice.

Jacquelyn emailed myself, Vicki Robin (creator of Conversation Cafes) and some others about this today, and I wanted to also share Vicki’s response on the blog:

On behalf of every host who has dreamed of such a partnership, Jacqueline, I want to say how inspired i am and what a great step for creating a culture of conversation. That you saw a need and just stepped in shows that anyone with some courage can make it happen! That people were happily surprised by how open and accepting everyone was shows how brilliant we all are when given a good container (process and hosting) and a good question! That they want to do it again shows how conversation can be integrated into what is normally a passive experience of watching a tv show and make it exponentially better. we are on to something very important with our commitment to bringing conversation into the public square. there is a hunger and we can both reveal it and fill it.

Lorie is setting up a new tool of communication for CC hosts and once it’s up i’m sure a post like this will inspire many hosts to try partnering with their tv station.

Perhaps that could be an enrichment call sometime in the future: creating partnerships with organizations in your community to take the conversation further. or where have you taken Conversation Cafes? For eg, for three years I hosted a special members only breakfast at the BIONEERS, a conference that attracts several thousand people each year. usually a couple of hundred people showed up each time and many said it was a highlight of the conference which is largely talking head. Susan partnow has partnered with hostels international and the county library. Jacqueline, do you think you’d like to host such a call? Even if only half a dozen of us showed up, i’ll be it’d be the right half dozen and we’d learn a lot.

onward!
vicki

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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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