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Constructive Conversations about Challenging Times: A Guide to Community Dialogue

This 60-page Public Conversations Project guide (2006) is for people who want to have more constructive conversations about divisive issues and challenging current events—especially conversations with people who think very differently than they do about the nature of the problems we face in the US and the most promising solutions. We hope that international readers will let US- centric content stimulate alternative ideas more suited to their situation.

The advice we offer here is drawn from PCP’s experience conducting dialogues among people involved in conflicts rooted in radically different values and worldviews. It includes step-by-step instructions for a single-session two-hour structured dialogue. It also suggests ways to plan and conduct briefer or less formal conversations.

The first edition of this Guide was written after September 11, 2001. We updated that guide during the months preceding the war in Iraq. This edition includes additional questions (see Appendix H) on the Red-Blue Divide in the US and a new Appendix (Appendix I) on using video clips (or a similar common experience) as a stimulus to dialogue.

Please note that after we produced this guide for use in community settings or “living room dialogues,” we published a more comprehensive guide that addresses more aspects of the convening process, includes guidance on multi-session initiatives, and gives more comprehensive advice about design and facilitation. That guide, entitled, “Fostering Dialogue Across Divides: A Nuts and Bolts Guide from the Public Conversations Project” is available as a download or as a 183-page bound book. It offers suggestions for designing dialogues on many topics and in many settings.

A very similar guide, one that is topic and audience-specific, is also available. It is entitled, “Constructive Conversations About the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: A Guide for Convening and Facilitating Dialogue in Jewish Communities in the US.” That guide was written in collaboration with the Jewish Dialogue Group in Philadelphia. Visit our website for more information about downloading or ordering those guides and for other resources including stories from people who have used earlier editions of this Guide: www.publicconversations.org.

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