Dialogue and Discourse Resource Page

Public Discourse Resources for Campuses

Public Discourse is an ongoing public conversation that can take many forms, ranging from in-person discussions, to journalism, to online and off-line activism, to community projects, and beyond. The purpose of public discourse is usually to promote understanding of complex issues among people who disagree, in order to find common ground and take action.

Dialogic Terms & Examples:

Appreciative Inquiry is about the co-evolutionary search for the best in people, their organizations, and the relevant world around them. In its broadest focus, it involves systematic discovery of what gives “life” to a living system when it is most alive, most effective, and most constructively capable in economic, ecological, and human terms (Appreciative Inquiry Commons). Appreciative Inquiry is characterized by its 1) abandonment of “problem talk,” 2) focus on narrative exploration, 3) emphasis on positive explorations of the past, 4) the collaborative construction of alternative futures, and 5) the reconstruction of identities and relationships (The Taos Institute).

Examples:

  • Essential Partners offers an all day workshop called The Power of Questions: Inquiry with Impact.  In this workshop, will learn how to harness the power of questions to invite understanding and connections between the asked and the asker.

In arts-based civic dialogue, the artistic process and/or art/humanities presentation provides a key focus or catalyst for public dialogue on a civic issue. Opportunities for dialogue are embedded in or connected to the arts experience. Arts-based civic dialogue may draw upon any of the arts and humanities disciplines and the spectrum of community-based, experimental, mainstream, popular, and other art forms. It may be undertaken by individual artists and artist companies, community-based arts and cultural organizations, and major cultural institutions, utilizing a wide range of artistic practice and dialogic methods (The Animating Democracy Initiative of Americans for the Arts).

Examples:

  • ArtsEmerson’s Public Dialogue program fosters civic transformation through the shared experience of art and public dialogue.  Every Friday and Saturday night there is an opportunity for a dialogue with fellow audience members, artists and members of the ArtsEmerson staff.  These events range from lobby chats (our informal conversations in the Randall lobby) to artist interviews, guest moderated talkbacks and panel discussions.

The circle process, or council, is an ancient form of meeting that has gathered human beings into respectful conversation for thousands of years. The circle has served as the foundation for many cultures. What transforms a meeting into a circle is the willingness of people to shift from informal socializing or opinionated discussion into a receptive attitude of thoughtful speaking and deep listening and to embody and practice the structures outlined here (The Art of Hosting ).

Examples:

A Conversation Café is a one-and-a-half hour hosted conversation, held in a public setting like a café, where anyone is welcome to join. A simple format helps people feel at ease and gives everyone who wants it a chance to speak. At Conversation Cafés, everyone is “the talk show”-and it’s also fine for people to simply listen. Conversation Cafés are not instead of action. They are before action-a place to gather your thoughts, find your natural allies, discover your blind spots and open your heart to the heart of “the other” (Conversations Cafe).

Examples:

  • Bentley University’s Bentley Brave initiative was created to encourage open, honest and direct conversations. The Conversation Café: a two-hour focused dialog opportunity open to all members of the community is offered once a month. The Cafes are an introduction to the dialog group model and allow participants to practice a few of the six essential dialog skills covered in the Bentley Brave Dialog Groups. Participants will be placed at tables of 5 – 6 people and given a series of prompts to guide them through conversation. Each Café will explore a theme like civility, free speech, or privilege.

Deliberation is the kind of reasoning and talking we do when a difficult decision has to be made, a great deal is at stake, and there are competing options or approaches we might take. At the heart of deliberation is weighing possible actions and decisions carefully, by examining their costs and consequences in light of what is most valuable to us. Deliberation can take place in any kind of conversation–including dialogue, debate and discussion (NCDD).

Deliberative Dialogue is a face-to-face method of public interaction in which small groups of diverse individuals exchange and weigh ideas and opinions about a particular issue in which they share an interest. Whether or not they come to consensus, the group will ideally understand the complexities of the issue and come to an informed opinion about it. (Americans Institute for Research).

Examples:

  • Northeastern University‘s, Conversations That Matter, program is the campus dialogues initiative. The aim is to provide necessary training for Northeastern community members, including students, faculty, and staff, to learn the skills of structured dialogue across difference and to incorporate it into their daily lives, in and out of the classroom.
  • The University of Connecticut Humanities Institute  workshop, “A Dialogue on Campus Dialogues”, was inspired by the surge in campus protests and controversies nationwide and the efforts to address them through dialogic interventions. The goal was to bring various constituencies together in a productive, apolitical, working-group atmosphere to discuss how to encourage more meaningful dialogue on campus and off.

Dialogue is a process in which groups come together to share experiences around issues that are often avoided or argued toward the goal of informed decision-making. Dialogue involves mutual understanding, suspending judgment and listening deeply, rather than seeking to win (NCDD).

Examples:

  • Clark University offers a Dialogue Seminar to deepen students understanding and experience of dialogue. This half-credit course is led by teams of faculty members, paired with experienced DD fellows. It includes a set of readings on dialogue, with an emphasis is on the practice dialogue itself—built around issues raised by the public events in the Difficult Dialogues symposium series.
  • Hampshire College launched the Transformative Speaking Program in 2013 to bridge the gap between students’ extraordinary ideas and the oral communication skills they need to be effective change makers in their careers and lives. The program provides resources for developing specific skills necessary for persuasive public speaking, productive civic discourse, and meaningful interpersonal communication.
  • The Tolerance and Dialogue Student Association at the University of Massachusetts Lowell is established for the expressed purpose of promoting and enhancing dialog, understanding, and tolerance among people of diverse cultural communities on campus and in the community.

Discourses are shared, structured ways of speaking, thinking, interpreting and representing things in the world.  Public discourse is when individuals discuss the issues that are facing their community the goal of which is to find common ground.

Examples:

    • Trinity College’s Bridging Divides initiative was created to bring together the community by creating an environment that invites dialogue and promotes understanding across differences.  All community members are encouraged to bring forth ideas and topics for discussion and programming
    • The Encounters Series at the University of Connecticut Humanities Institute is dedicated to fostering unexpected conversations around the most divisive issues. Encounters has two main focuses: Dialogues and Reading Groups. Dialogues center on particular topics and consist of facilitated, small-group discussions followed by a “question and answer”-style conversation with UConn faculty who specialize in those topics. Readings are provided beforehand so as to better encourage informed and informal dialogue within conversations.

Intergroup dialogue is an innovative practice in higher education that promotes student engagement across cultural and social divides, fostering learning about social diversity and inequalities and cultivating an ethos of social responsibility. This approach to diversity education on college and university campuses responds to a growing need for educational practices that prepares students to live, work, and lead in a complex, diverse, and stratified society (University of Michigan).

Examples:

  • The Mount Holyoke College Intergoup Dialogue Weekend Course: Exploring Race and Racism in the United States is designed to encourage students to develop skills for exploring differences and commonalities in diverse social settings. 
  • Bentley University’s Bentley Brave initiative was created to encourage open, honest and direct conversations. Through dialogue and an off campus retreat, campus members will learn how to communicate better across difference, increase facilitation competencies, talk about hot topics, and create an action plan to benefit Bentley and beyond.

Public Deliberation, simply defined, is the discussion and choice-making that is necessary before we can solve problems that affect our communities together. More broadly, public deliberation is the name we use to discuss the various models of communication which are designed to help citizens form their own political voice (University of Houston-Downtown’s Center for Public Deliberation).

Examples:

  • National Issues Forums (NIF) is a nonpartisan, nationwide network of locally sponsored public forums for the consideration of public policy issues. It is rooted in the simple notion that people need to come together to reason and talk—to deliberate about common problems.

Resources:

The National Issues Forum Guides

The National Issues Forum (NIF) publishes and distributes an ongoing series of Issue Guides and videos to prepare citizens for thoughtful discussion of many of today’s divisive issues. Click on the image below to access some of the most recent NIF Issue guides.

Related Organizations:

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