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NCDD’s Engagement Streams Framework

Did you ever wonder how Citizens Juries are different from Deliberative Polling?  When should you use World Cafe, rather than Open Space?  Or are Charrettes what’s called for?  First developed in 2005, NCDD’s Engagement Streams Framework (web version) helps people navigate the range of dialogue and deliberation approaches available to them, and make design choices that best fit their circumstance and resources.

streams_imageNo method works in all situations, yet too often people become overly attached to the first D&D process they learn about — and end up with less-than-satisfying results. Although it was designed for beginners to these processes, the tool also helps more seasoned practitioners understand where their own experience resides on the continuum, and which methods they may want to learn more about depending on the needs of their communities or clients.

The framework presents two charts:

  1. The first chart, Engagement Streams, categorizes dialogue and deliberation approaches into four streams based on one’s primary intention or purpose (Exploration, Conflict Transformation, Decision Making, and Collaborative Action), and shows which of the most well-known methods have proven themselves especially effective in each streams.
  2. The second chart, Process Distinctions, goes into more detail about 22 dialogue and deliberation methods, and includes information such as group size, meeting type and how participants are selected.

The full 8-page Engagement Streams Framework (.pdf) should be printed in color on 8.5 x 11 paper, front-and-back (so the charts line up across two pages). Download the print version of the doc at www.ncdd.org/files/rc/2014_Engagement_Streams_Guide_Print.pdf.  Last updated August 2014.

Acknowledgments and Citations

Sandy Heierbacher, NCDD’s Director, initially developed this resource to help inform workshops she presented in October 2005 with Tonya Gonzalez (at Everyday Democracy’s national conference) and Jan Elliott (at the Canadian Conference on Dialogue & Deliberation).

This framework built on a number of previous efforts to categorize or describe the public engagement and conflict transformation fields. All of the scholars and practitioners whose work was utilized to develop this framework (Barnett Pearce, Harold Saunders, Patricia Wilson, Tom Atlee, Matt Leighninger, Archon Fung, and others) were contacted for their feedback on the framework. Many of them provided ongoing feedback as we developed the framework.

The framework is most similar to and borrows most heavily from the four “social technologies for civic engagement” identified by Patricia Wilson in the article “Deep Democracy: The Inner Practice of Civic Engagement” (Fieldnotes: A Newsletter of the Shambhala Institute, Issue No. 2, February 2004). Download Wilson’s article here.

NCDD’s Engagement Streams Framework was featured in the May 2006 issue of IAP2’s Participation Quarterly publication. It was featured in a book published by the United Nations Development Programme called Democratic Dialogue: A Handbook for Practitioners, and is described in Sandy Heierbacher’s chapter on D&D in the 2nd Edition of The Change Handbook. Since 2005, it has been used by practitioners countless times to help community leaders and public managers understand their options.

Feel free to use and share this data widely. The framework can be cited in publications as:

NCDD’s Engagement Streams Framework (2005). Created by Sandy Heierbacher and members of the NCDD community. National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation. www.ncdd.org/streams

Two other documents are available for download:


Excel version of the Engagement Streams Framework

frameworks_thumbTwo straightforward charts on two separate tabs. To ensure legibility, print this out on legal-sized (8.5″ x 14″) paper. The Excel version has been updated to include all 22 methods, and to include links to more information about each method. You can also download a PDF of this legal-size version of the framework. (updated August 2010)

One-Page ComicLife Diagram of the Four Streams of Practice (.jpg image – 2.6 MB)

This fun handout (pictured right) provides a snapshot of the four streams of practice — Exploration, Conflict Transformation, Decision-Making, and Collaborative Action. It introduces the purpose for using each stream and lists some of the dialogue and deliberation methods that have proven themselves to be effective in each stream. This is useful to include in PowerPoint presentations.  Email sandy@ncdd.org if you need a PDF version of this image.

Here are a few ways people are using the framework:

“The Engagement Streams Framework is a critical tool for us at the CPD as we initially evaluate potential projects for deliberative ripeness, and then again when we get down to process design. It succinctly introduces and organizes the diverse world of D&D in a very practical way. It’s simple enough for beginners to not get overwhelmed, but rich enough for more experienced practitioners to return to again and again.”
-Martín Carcasson, Colorado State University Center for Public Deliberation

“I’ve found NCDD’s Engagement Streams Framework to be a very valuable tool when conducting workshops with local government staff and officials on how to improve public engagement practices. It not only helps give the big picture of what methods make sense to use when, but provides enough detail so that people can begin thinking about how they could apply these methods in their local engagement efforts.”
-Diane Miller, Civic Collaboration

“I love the Engagement Streams as a jumping off point to understanding what features you need in a deliberative process. It’s one of the best breakdowns I’ve seen for explaining the progression of complexity in implementation of the deliberative process. I trust NCDD, which is regularly looking at ALL the methods in play, to do a sound analysis as opposed to people who might be seated in a particular practice or approach. This kind of logical analysis from the community itself is invaluable for technologists to build applications that effectively support dialogue and deliberation.”
– Ele Munjeli, Web Developer

“When I was working on my report on the civic engagement landscape in Chicago, I had no idea how to organize the thousands of diverse pieces of information I’d collected into a coherent narrative. As I thought through options, the information naturally seemed to cluster into four areas, strikingly reminiscent of the four NCDD Engagement Streams. At first, I hesitated using that framework, designed to categorize methods, to segment a city’s organizations and projects. Surprisingly though, it has proven the single most valuable tool in helping Chicagoans understand the local D&D field.”
– Janice Thomson, Stakeholder Engagement Consultant

“I use the framework in both leadership training and traditional teaching environments. I found it very helpful for adults taking leadership courses who often had little experience with dialogue, as the framework helped them “get it” and differentiates dialogue from other processes. It also quickly gave them several models of dialogue, so they understood that there are many ways to approach it. With professors and students who are engaged in “Difficult Dialogues” classes at UT Austin, focusing on challenging topics such as immigration, science and religion, and HIV, the framework helps them understand what I mean when I say “Dialogue is NOT your usual classroom discussion” and gives them a useful context for learning how to talk about these controversial topics in a meaningful and productive way.”
– Juli Fellows, Organizational Consultant and Trainer

“We built the Streams of Engagement framework into our online Issue Guide Exchange. When someone uploads a guide to the tool we give them the option of identifying which streams of practice the guide addresses. Then, when someone is searching for guides, the streams of practice provide them with another way to figure out which guides will best meet their needs.”
– Carrie Boron, Everyday Democracy

“I just discovered the framework and am using it in a group facilitation workshop I’m teaching to AmeriCorps interns. My intent is to get them to think about what type of facilitation they are attempting and what outcomes they are looking for, and then look at what methods make the most sense, given the desired outcomes.”
– Marty Jacobs, Systems In Sync

“I’ve used the engagement streams cartoon mostly, since it’s a great tool for introducing people to the ideas of different uses for the methods. I’ve used it and prepared it for Carolyn [Lukensmeyer] to use at presentations for United Way leadership, state elected officials, and college classrooms.”
– Susanna Haas Lyons, formerly of AmericaSpeaks

Web Version: www.ncdd.org/files/rc/2014_Engagement_Streams_Guide_Web.pdf (373KB)

Print Version: www.ncdd.org/files/rc/2014_Engagement_Streams_Guide_Print.pdf (3.5 MB)

We also recommend you download NCDD’s Resource Guide on Public Engagement at www.ncdd.org/files/NCDD2010_Resource_Guide.pdf, which features the engagement streams in full.

  More Resources  

Add a Comment

  1. Joe Raelin Says:

    Wonderful resource.
    Here is a very minor editorial suggestion. The processes are listed alphabetically in the table, and the 21st Century Town Meeting comes first because most sorts place numerics before alphanumerics. But if the 21st were spelled out to be Twenty-first, it would stylisticallly be listed after the s’s!

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