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Conditions for Successful Dialogue & Deliberation

Written by NCDD director Sandy Heierbacher to expand upon the text on our “What Are Dialogue & Deliberation?” page.

Since dialogue and deliberation processes help people learn more about themselves or an issue (Exploration stream), resolve conflicts and improve relations among groups (Conflict Transformation), improve knowledge and influence policy (Decision Making), and empower people to solve complicated problems together (Collaborative Action), the keys to success differ based on purpose.

There are, however,  several conditions that help increase the likelihood of success of any dialogue or deliberation process:

Adequate time to do the process justice
Although some processes require just a single two-hour session, most complex issues require multiple meetings over several days—especially if resolving longstanding conflicts or takinge action is involved. Match participant, organizer, leader, and decision-maker expectations for outcome with a realistic time frame. And be sure participants know what they are committing to ahead of time.

The link to action and change is clear from the start
Regardless of the program’s intent, people should be prepared for how their participation may change things, or change them. Will they influence policy? Increase their knowledge? Change how they view people different from themselves? Take action on the issue? Different processes produce different outcomes, and participants should be told ahead of time what kind of outcome to expect.

Adequate resources are available
Organizations may have lofty goals and enormous passion and energy, but if the resources are not available, their project is at risk. Consider the resources needed before investing in a project. Will you need to rent space or high-tech communication equipment? Will you need to pay or train facilitators? Will you need to pay a consultant, a coordinator, or other staff? Do participants need childcare, food, translation equipment, or even transportation? How will you publicize your program, develop and print materials, or support action outcomes?

The issue is timely
If an organization is considering entering a new market in the next fiscal year, timeliness means that employees are engaged with plenty of time to impact the decision. On the other hand, a dialogue in October 2005 focused on improving race relations should not embrace a theme of “The Aftermath of Rodney King” or “Deconstructing the OJ Simpson Trial.” What is in the hearts and minds of people now? A timely issue helps get people in the door, enlivens the conversation and increases the likelihood of personal or collective action.

The process is organized by a neutral party
Ensuring that participants, decision-makers, and other stakeholders trust the dialogue or deliberation process is an important but difficult task. Establishing a diverse planning group that shares power helps. If a known environmental activist wants to spearhead a community-wide dialogue on conserving her town’s natural resources, for instance, working side by side with loggers and corporations serves the project well.

Participants’ needs and concerns are at the forefront
Finally, keep one question in the forefront: “What’s in it for the participants?” No matter how important the issue, how impressive the process, and how many human and financial resources are available, people simply will not show up if their hopes and concerns are not addressed.

What other conditions do you think encourage success across various types of dialogue and deliberation?  Please use the comments field to share them below!

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Add a Comment

  1. Ron Lubensky Says:

    A diversity of relevant views are included.

    If everyone had aligning beliefs and aspirations, you wouldn’t need a process of dialogue and deliberation. If only one section of the community represented, the outcome may not achieve general acceptance. Or there may be unintended consequences. So ensure that the full diversity of views finds voice, that difference is explored generously and accommodated creatively in outcomes.