Plan for Action, Including the Action Forum
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Community-wide dialogue-to-change programs help people lend their hearts, hands, and minds to the task of solving public problems. The process provides a way for large numbers of community members with different backgrounds, experiences, and views to listen to each other, and then work together productively.
Typically, the action coming from dialogues falls into various categories. Remember that a large, diverse programs will result in many different kinds of change, happening at all levels in the community. For individuals, ideas for change start through the dialogue process. Collective action and change often begin after the round of dialogues, when participants pool their action ideas. It is these ideas for collective change that can require additional oversight and resources.
To move from dialogue to action, plans need to be put in place at the beginning.
Refer back to your program goals.
Review the decisions the whole coalition made about program goals and supporting action during its planning conversations.
Once you’ve reviewed the goals, consider the following: Does the action committee have the right diversity of people and skills to help move from dialogue to action? Who else is needed for the committee?
Decide how much support you can provide for action initiatives.
With members of the coalition, action committee, and coordinator, talk about what will happen when the dialogues conclude. Consider these questions:
- What kinds of support can we give to the action ideas (coordinating, administrative, tracking, etc.)?
- Will we help set up task forces, oversee task forces, write a report, link participants to other related initiatives in the community?
- Who will plan the action forum?
- What kinds of resources do we need?
- What will we do with the action ideas that the task forces are not working on?
Here are some possible levels of support:
- The organizers plan the action forum, but do not provide ongoing assistance. OR
- The organizers plan the action forum and provide limited support for the task forces. OR
- The organizers take responsibility for providing ongoing support for the action ideas emerging from the dialogues. This may require additional staff.
Have a conversation about how change occurs in your community.
Understanding how change occurs in your community is key to moving from dialogue to action. Ideas for change often stall because the program organizers haven’t given enough thought to questions of what meaningful change looks like, and how to achieve it.
Below are some questions to consider, as you think about how to bring about change in your community.
- What would genuine, beneficial change look like? How will we know if we are successful? What are our short-term and long-term goals?
- Who needs to be involved for change to happen? At what point in the process do they need to be involved?
- How will we get community leaders who are not part of the dialogues to take the recommendations seriously?
- What information will be needed to help change occur? What form should the information take?
- What obstacles might get in the way of change occurring? How can we address these obstacles?
- Are there people/groups that should be kept informed along the way?
Think again about organizations and agencies already working on the issue, and reach out to them. It will increase your chances of success if some community leaders lend their support to the program up front. They can do this by being part of the coalition, participating in dialogues, and committing to listening to the recommendations – and acting on them whenever possible.
Develop a process for collecting and prioritizing ideas from the dialogues.
Decide what the facilitator/recorder should record from each dialogue group. Then consider these questions:
- Who will be responsible for collecting the records from each dialogue group?
- Who will review the records and put them in a workable format?
- What is the best way to track themes, trends, and categories of ideas as they emerge?
- How will we pool the ideas across the dialogues, and choose overall priorities?
- How many action ideas do we think we are able to work with?
Some programs combine records into a report for the program as a whole. This can be distributed at the action forum, used to give updates to public officials and journalists, and can form the basis of significant input into policy decisions.
Plan the action forum--a meeting to pool ideas.
The action forum is a community event designed to tie together the work of the individual dialogues, and help participants move to individual and collective action. At the forum, groups can share their ideas for action, and participants can join or create action efforts.
The action forum should take place no more than two weeks after each round of dialogues, to build on the momentum of the discussions.
As you plan the action forum, start thinking about who might convene the task forces. Choose a person who can help a group get started; ideally, this will be someone who knows a lot about the issue and understands group process.
Assist task force leaders before they begin their work.
It is very important to support your task force leaders! Encourage them to use these guidelines as they begin their work:
- Try to include people in each task force people who know a lot about the issue and have the authority to help implement change.
- Establish ground rules. Many task forces use some version of ground rules established in the dialogues.
- To build relationships and establish trust in your group, use Session 1 (or more) of your issue discussion guide. Ask people to share some thoughts about their dialogue-to-change experience.
- Establish a process for working together, including decision making, a timeline, and a meeting schedule.
- Clarify goals. What would genuine, beneficial change look like? How will we know if we are successful? What are our short-term and long-term goals?
- Assess the capacity of your group. What does the task force need in order to get the job done? (for example, leadership training, better group process skills, better connections to decision makers, more information on the issue, more administrative support) How can we get what we need?
- Ask yourselves, “Who else should be we be working with? How can we invite them to join us?”
- Find out what else is going on in the community related to this action idea. How can you connect to those efforts?
- Stay in touch. How will the work be connected to the overall dialogue-to-change program? How will we report our outcomes?
Track and support the action and change efforts.
Help the task forces in the following ways:
- Stay in touch with task force leaders. Bringing everyone together, from time to time, to share progress and challenges, and to stay connected.
- To build community support and momentum, focus attention on the task forces. Consider a newsletter, a website, or a column in the local newspaper to share progress reports.