Dialogue and Discourse

Dialogue & Discourse at Campus Compact

Dialogue and Discourse are two aspects of civic and community engagement that can shape social change efforts and directly influence outcomes.

Dialogue is a structured process that usually occurs in the early stages of a project or initiative in the community. According to Everyday Democracy, an organization dedicated to strengthening deliberative democracy, dialogue brings together “people of varied ages, ethnicities and perspectives come together around a public concern in a space that fosters constructive, respectful conversation.”

Civil Discourse in community engagement 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 civil discourse is usually to promote understanding of complex issues among people who disagree, in order to find common ground and take action.

Combined, Dialogue and Discourse are powerful tools for bringing citizens and neighbors together in order to solve problems in their community.

Dialogue & Discourse are Tools for Social Change

Volunteers and community leaders can choose from a range of strategies to accomplish their social mission. In many instances, a combination of strategies is the best approach. Dialogue and Deliberation are universal tools for creating social change. The graphic above illustrates the strategies where Dialogue and Deliberation would play an integral part in cultivating impact.

Note: the graphic and the explanation below were adapted from a Minnesota Campus Compact presentation slide. Get more details on the Social Change Wheel on Minnesota Campus Compact’s website.

Exchanging and weighing different ideas, perspectives, and approaches around particular issues in a public setting

Examples Include:

  • Organizing ongoing local discussion circles
  • Using a National Issues Forums guide to prompt a group to consider multiple options on an issue

Bringing people together to act in their shared self-interest

Examples Include:

  • Mapping the skills, interests, relationships, and other assets of residents to inform work on particular issues
  • Developing an issue campaign to call for change in a troubling practice, such as the overuse of school suspensions

Supporting an idea or cause through public and private communications, and collecting evidence to support one’s position

Examples Include:

  • Speaking or writing to individuals, groups, or elected officials on behalf of a cause
  • Sharing a video about your cause on social media

Strengthening the capacity of local residents and associations to work together through interpersonal connections

Examples Include:

  • Creating local history projects profiling both long-time and new residents
  • Organizing neighborhood clean-ups or National Night Out activities

How Can Dialogue and Discourse Benefit Students?

College students can leverage the power of Dialogue and Discourse to create change on their campus and in their community. As they begin to develop a sense of civic responsibility and become community leaders, they will need effective tools to help them understand what the community wants before taking action.

The video below shows students explaining how dialogue has an impact on their campus. It comes from the Washington State University Center for Civic Engagement.

Resources to Download:



Everyday Democracy

Dialogue on Campus- An Overview of Promising Practices_Page_01

Dialogue on Campus: An Overview of Promising Practices

Journal of Public Deliberation

Resources from Campus Compact

Links to External Resources

  • Project Dialogue – Vanderbilt University
    • Project Dialogue is a co-sponsorship based program based in the Office of the University Chaplain and Religious Life created to promote conversations on issues that affect our campus community.
  • National Institute for Civil Discourse – University of Arizona
    • NICD envisions elected officials who work collaboratively to tackle the big issues facing our country; a media that accurately informs and involves citizens; and a public that actively engages with its government
  • National Center for Dialogue and Deliberation
    • The National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD) is a network of more than 2,300 innovators who bring people together across divides to discuss, decide, and take action together effectively on today’s toughest issues.

Dr. Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer - Dialogue in Citizen Engagement

  • update-img-new

    Get updates on what's new with Connecticut Campus Compact