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Running a D&D Program – The Basics

Here are some of the steps that are involved in organizing a typical deliberative dialogue program (there are many other ways to do dialogue & deliberation!). Below this list you’ll find links to some of the best step-by-step guides out there.

1. Create a diverse planning team
Involve respected leaders (including unofficial leaders) in the communities/groups involved with the issue. Focus on those whose voices are not usually heard, but also include those in traditional power positions (such as police officers and elected officials).

2. Determine what resources you have and need
Do some community asset mapping. What financial, human, structural, and organizational resources does your community have? Which of these are available to you? What resources exist within the planning team? Think about resources in terms of the planning phase, the actual dialogue process and the follow-up phase. Given what’s available, what do you still need?

3. Create clarity about your intent
What are your goals for the program?  Are you doing this to resolve a conflict? To influence policy? To empower community members to take action together? To build relationships among participants or local organizations?  To increase knowledge or deepen awareness of an issue within your community or organization?  Something else? A combination of these?  Be clear on your intent so you can design the program accordingly. (The “Goals of Dialogue & Deliberation” graphic might help.)

4. Design a process, or choose a model or combination of models
Your decision will need to be based on your intent, your resources, and where people are in relation to the issue. Use NCDD’s Engagement Streams Framework to decide which streams to pursue. Then learn more about the processes that are used successfully in those streams and either select one or more models or create your own program based on the attributes of those models that you feel best fit your context.

5. Frame the issue
Figure out how to talk about the issue in as unbiased a way as possible (remember – you want to attract, not turn away, people from all ethnic, educational, and political backgrounds). To make sure every perspective is acknowledged and considered, you may want to prepare deliberation materials that fairly represent those perspectives. (See the Kettering Foundation’s Naming and Framing paper for help with this step.)

6. Recruit and train facilitators
The amount and intensity of training depends on the process you are using. Facilitators should represent the people and issues involved fairly well (a dialogue on race relations should utilize a balanced number of white and non-white facilitators, for example).

7. Recruit a representative group to participate
Here’s where your diverse planning team can really make things happen. Focus on marginalized groups such as immigrants, youth, elderly, and low-income people, since these will be the most difficult to get in the door. Tailor your outreach to each group’s needs and concerns. Alternatively, you could use a random sample of citizens and allow a smaller group to represent the whole community.

8. Involve those with decision-making power
Dialogue and deliberation emphasize “power-with” principles instead of the typical “power-over” norms in practice today. If your intent is to empower your participants to influence policy or take actions themselves, the absence of those who hold power related to the issue at hand is a major detriment. Get the power-holders on board as planners, participants, sponsors, or supporters.

9. Inform the press and community
Get the word out as widely as possible, emphasizing the unbiased, inclusive nature of the process. You may also want to get members of the press signed on as participants or observers.

10. Convene the event
Steps vary depending on the process and other factors, but usually include establishing ground rules, giving every participant the chance to speak, helping participants connect personal experiences with public issues, exploring a range of views, and discussing action steps or recommendations.

11. Follow Up
Evaluate the process. What went well? What could be improved next time? What exactly were the outcomes? Also, publicize the results of the process, or let people know this is ongoing and how they can join in. If there are action steps, follow up. Make sure those who are spearheading initiatives or further dialogue are supported; make sure decision-makers who agreed to listen to the results are held accountable.

Special Note…

One of the most important things to consider when initiating a public dialogue or deliberation effort is how it will or can fit into a community’s ongoing civic engagement efforts. “Civic engagement” refers to all types of involvement in public life and activities, from voting to volunteering in the community.

Dialogue and deliberation are powerful forms of civic engagement that motivate participants to stay more informed on issues of public concern and make people feel more connected to their community. They also help people feel more connected to those whose views and experiences are very different from their own. Isolated dialogue and deliberation processes can make an impact, but are most effective when they are part of a larger civic engagement effort.

How can you ensure this is part of a larger effort to engage citizens and build civic capacity in your community, rather than a one-time intervention? In order to strengthen your community for the long haul, you should consider how this effort can connect to and foster other efforts to get people thinking together and working together for the good of the entire community.

Do some research to determine where the community (or organization, region, nation, etc.) is in relation to the topic at hand, and where it is in terms of civic engagement in general. Are community groups already trying to address this issue? Are others considering dialogue as a way to resolve this conflict? Are there community groups or leaders who have supported dialogue and deliberation in the past? Make sure they’re involved, and that your project strengthens their efforts.

Is There a Step-by-Step Guide I Can Follow?

Well, that depends on what you want to do.


If you want to run a simple dialogue process to help people explore an issue or problem or help them get to know each other better (ex: a workplace dialogue on strengths or a public dialogue to get liberals and conservatives talking to each other), you should check out some of the following guides:

Mini-Manual for Conversation Cafe Hosts
Conversation Café is the simplest process we know and one that has a proven track record to be easily and reliably adopted by hosts who may have no previous experience – as well as by skilled facilitators. This 4-page Conversation Cafe host manual provides you with everything you need to know to start and host a Café. Conversation Cafés are lively, hosted, drop-in conversations among diverse people about our feelings, thoughts and actions in this complex, changing world. The simple structure of Conversation Cafés – and their spirit of respect, curiosity and warm welcome – help people shift from small talk to BIG talk. Also check out the Let’s Talk America Hosting Manual, which teaches the Conversation Café method in more detail.

Café to Go!
This concise guide covers the basics of the popular World Café process. It includes brief outlines of each principle, a description of Café Etiquette, an outline of key elements of the World Café conversations, and tips for creating Café ambiance.

Basic Guidelines for Calling a Circle
These guidelines are excerpted from the book “Calling the Circle, the First and Future Culture” by Christina Baldwin (Bantam, 1997). The guidelines introduce you to the basics of convening a “circle” or “council” – an ancient form of meeting that has gathered human beings into respectful conversation for thousands of years.

Conflict Transformation

If you want to resolve a specific conflict or build bridges between groups that are at odds with each other, you may want to start by looking over these guidebooks:

Fostering Dialogue Across Divides: A Nuts and Bolts Guide
This guide from Essential Partners (formerly the Public Conversations Project) – is chock-full of EP’s road-tested techniques for effectively engaging people across differences – is an invaluable resource for both established dialogue facilitators and newcomers to this work.

Building a Common Future: Jewish-Palestinian Dialogue
An 11-page how-to brochure of principles, rationale, guidelines, and answers to often-asked questions about Sustained Dialogue. This freely downloadable PDF document was prepared by the Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue Group of San Mateo, California, which has been going strong for over a dozen years and has inspired many other Jewish-Palestinian living room dialogues to launch across the country.


If you want to help people make more informed decisions that take a wide range of views into account, usually to influence public decisions and public policy and improve public knowledge about an issue, these guides are a great starting point:

Public Dialogue: A Tool for Citizen Engagement, A Manual for Federal Departments and Agencies
This 56-page guidebook is based on the lessons learned from a national public dialogue project of the Canadian Policy Research Networks. It provides a comprehensive step-by-step guide to the public dialogue process, outlines how the materials to support public dialogue are developed, and anchors public dialogue in a clear research methodology and analysis plan.

Public Deliberation: A Manager’s Guide to Citizen Engagement
This report from AmericaSpeaks documents a spectrum of tools and techniques developed largely in the nonprofit world in recent years to increase citizens’ involvement in their communities and government. It also highlights ways in which public managers can develop an active approach to increasing citizens’ involvement in government at all levels. Written for IBM’s Center for the Business of Government, the report is useful and informative to managers across the nation seeking new, innovative ways to engage citizens.

Moderator Resources from the National Issues Forums Institute
Each year, major issues of concern are identified by the NIF network for deliberation. Issue discussion guides, which provide an overview of the subject and present several approaches, are prepared to frame the deliberative work.Forums are organized by civic, service, and religious organizations as well as by libraries, colleges, universities and high schools, literacy and leadership programs, prisons, businesses, labor unions, and senior groups. Look over these resources for moderators to learn much more.

Collaborative Action

If you want to empower people to solve complicated problems and take responsibility for the solution themselves rather than handing it off to someone who’s in power – especially relevant for issues that can only be solved when multiple entities are involved – here are some places to start:

Organizing Community-Wide Dialogue for Action and Change
A comprehensive guide from Everyday Democracy to help you develop a community-wide dialogue-to-change program from start to finish. Study Circles (now called “Dialogue to Change”) are at the heart of a process for public dialogue and community change. This process begins with community organizing, and is followed by facilitated, small-group dialogue that leads to a range of outcomes.

The Power of Appreciative Inquiry: A Practical Guide to Positive Change
The Power of Appreciative Inquiry by authors Diana Whitney and Amanda Trosten-Bloom (2003) is a comprehensive and practical guide to using AI for strategic large-scale change. Written by pioneers in the field, the book provides detailed examples along with practical guidance for using AI in an organizational setting.

Future Search: An Action Guide to Finding Common Ground in Organizations and Communities
This book by Marvin Weisbord and Sandra Janoff (1995) describes a step-by-step process for planning and leading a Future Search conference, where diverse community members come together to envision and plan their shared future.