Hold a Round of Dialogues
Now you are ready to launch your dialogues! All the work of conceptualizing, planning and organizing is coming to a head. In fact, the most intense period of work probably happens four to six weeks before the dialogues actually begin. Your attention will be focused on recruiting participants, organizing publicity and outreach, arranging sites, and training facilitators.
At the same time, you will be preparing for the kickoff, getting dialogues started, and thinking about the large-group meeting at the end – the action forum.
Hold the kickoff.
Approaching the kickoff
You’ve done your preliminary planning for the kickoff: set the date, planned the agenda, lined up speakers, booked the space. As the day approaches, there are a few last-minute things to check.
- Visit the site again, and check: sound system, any other audio-visual equipment, seating arrangements, arrangement for refreshments, etc.
- Remind your speakers what time they should arrive.
- Make sure you have some helpers to assist you with the details.
- Be prepared to sign up people at the kickoff who haven’t yet been recruited.
- Call or fax a reminder to key members of the press you expect to attend. Find out if they are interested in any particular interviews, or if there are other ways to assist them.
At the kickoff, the coordinator and members of the coalition should be available to answer any questions. The keynote and other speakers will set the tone, explain the context, and help build excitement and support for the program.
After the kickoff
Shortly after the kickoff, the dialogues will begin – usually one to two weeks later. During this period, the coordinator and others will finalize the configuration of the dialogues, get discussion materials and other paper work to the facilitators, and handle any other last-minute logistical details. Participants will be added right up to the time the dialogues begin.
Conduct the dialogues.
The dialogues finally begin. Most will run in the same time period. Your aim is to have them all completed about a week or two before the action forum is scheduled.
NOTE: It is very important to hold the action forum near the completion of the dialogues to capitalize on the momentum and energy that has been created through the discussions. If you wait several weeks or more, you will lose focus and participants. Don’t delay!
While the dialogues are going on, the coordinator is trouble-shooting any problems which arise. Be sure to stay in close touch with the facilitators, to see how things are going.
Here are some things to watch for:
- Make sure all dialogue groups have discussion materials and other paper work.
- Be available to assist press coverage of the conversations.
- Be prepared for last-minute changes with child care, transportation, or other logistics.
- Keep an eye on the weather, in case you need to reschedule.
- Make sure the facilitators are supported. Have a trainer or mentor available for phone consultation. Or, better yet, bring the facilitators together part way through the dialogues for an informal gathering, to check in and see how things are going.
Hold the action forum, and support and track action efforts.
As the dialogues end, organizers make final preparations for the action forum. In most situations, it will take place a few weeks after the last dialogues end. This is a short period of time to gather the information from the dialogues (recording forms, newsprint, or whatever method has been used), and to analyze it.
Reviewing this information will help form a picture of each study circle, as well as the overall sense of the conversations. Any themes or trends that cut across the groups will emerge. This information will help you think about how to structure the action forum.
As the time approaches, the committee or volunteers in charge of the event will need to double-check their plans. Broad attendance is especially important, not only from the participants, facilitators and organizers, but from the larger community.
- Publicize the event widely.
- Remind facilitators and participants of the date and time.
- Issue personal invitations to key community leaders and representatives from organizations who are interested in the issue. These are the people who should be there to hear about action ideas.
The action forum is a key point in the community-wide dialogue - it marks the conclusion of the conversations. It also provides an opportunity to blend the ideas and energy from the groups, and it signals the beginning of the action efforts that will be carried forward. Be sure to encourage press coverage of this event. And don’t forget to recognize key volunteers, thank facilitators, congratulate participants – and celebrate!
Once the action forum is over and action groups have formed, support and track the action efforts. Make sure there are people and resources available to support the action groups as they move forward – with administrative help, assistance, research, access to decision makers – whatever it takes to help them achieve their goals.
Find sites and handling logistics | Next: Plan for action, including action forum
Note: These pages are adapted from Organizing Community-Wide Dialogue for Action and Change. You may download this guide in PDF format at no charge, or order printed copies for a nominal fee.