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Everyday Democracy’s Dialogue-to-Change

Part of a larger community program, an Everyday Democracy dialogue (formerly known as a “Study Circle”) is a group of 8 to 12 people from different backgrounds and viewpoints who meet several times to talk about a critical public issue. In a dialogue, everyone has an equal voice, and people try to understand one another’s views. They do not have to agree with one another. The idea is to share concerns and look for ways to make things better. A neutral facilitator helps the group look at different views and makes sure the discussion goes well.

In a large-scale Everyday Democracy dialogue-to-change program, people all over a neighborhood, city, county, school district, or region meet in diverse dialogue groups over the same period of time. All the dialogue groups work on the same issue and seek solutions for the whole community. At the end of the round of dialogues, people from all the groups gather in one place to work together on the action ideas that come out of the dialogues. Dialogue-to-change programs lead to a wide range of action and change efforts.  Learn more at www.everyday-democracy.org.

Under what circumstances are dialogues-for-change most successful or fitting?

  • When other efforts to resolve a long-term, intractable community problem have failed and the community needs to hear ideas from a range of perspectives.
  • When a crisis or disturbing incident (teen suicide, racial unrest, etc.) has focused the community’s attention on a public problem. When communication and trust have broken down between people and groups from different backgrounds and sectors.
  • When the community is divided about how to move forward on a critical public issue.
  • When people need to come together in a structured way to create new relationships across barriers of race, constituencies, and points of view.
  • When public input is important to the quality of a long-range project (like a strategic plan).
  • When complex challenges call for innovative and inclusive approaches to community problem solving.
  • When many people want a chance to work productively with others on a public problem.
  • When people want to link dialogue to community action and change over the long term.
  • When public officials need informed citizen opinion on an issue.

About Everyday Democracy

Everyday Democracy (formerly called the Study Circles Resource Center) is a national organization that helps communities find ways for all kinds of people to think, talk and work together to solve problems. We work with neighborhoods, cities and towns, regions, and states, helping them pay particular attention to how racism and ethnic differences affect the problems they address. Created in 1989 by The Paul J. Aicher Foundation, Everyday Democracy has worked with more than 550 communities nationwide on many different public issues.

From neighborhoods to large cities, broad coalitions of community groups are bringing together hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of people from all walks of life to deal with important issues like racism and race relations, education reform, the achievement gap, crime and violence, immigration, diversity, youth concerns, growth and development, police-community relations, building strong neighborhoods, and more.

Everyday Democracy staff members provide consultation, generally free of charge, at every stage of creating a community-wide dialogue program. This includes advice on: developing a strong, diverse organizing coalition; setting program goals and finding ways to assess progress; writing or customizing discussion guides; building the community’s capacity to train facilitators; connecting dialogue to action and change. Staff members or Everyday Democracy associates make occasional community visits; they also conduct regional dialogue workshops. In many instances, Everyday Democracy can provide up to 500 free study circle guides for large-scale programs.

Further Resources on Dialogue-to-Change

Mobilizing Citizens: Study Circles Offer a New Approach to Citizenship
Leighninger, Matt, and McCoy, Martha. 1998. National Civic Review, National Civic League. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Engaging the Whole Community in Dialogue and Action: Study Circles Resource Center
McCoy, Martha, and McCormick, Michael A. 2001. In David Schoem and Sylvia Hurtado (Eds.), Intergroup Dialogue – Deliberative Democracy in School, College, Community, and Workplace. University of Michigan: The University of Michigan Press.

Deliberative Dialogue to Expand Civic Engagement: What Kind of Talk Does Democracy Need?
McCoy, Martha L., and Scully, Patrick L. 2002. National Civic Review. National Civic League. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Everyday Democracy website – www.everyday-democracy.org

Training for Racial Equity and Inclusion: A Guide to Selected Programs
Shapiro, Ilana. (2002). Queenstown, Maryland: The Aspen Institute.

Organizing Community-wide Dialogue for Action and Change
2001. Pomfret, Connecticut: Topsfield Foundation.

What Democracy Feels Like
2002. Pomfret, Connecticut: Topsfield Foundation.

  More Resources  

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