The basics of dialogue to change
When getting started, it’s often helpful to think about programs in three phases:
No single organization or person can create an effective program without help. To ensure diverse, large-scale participation, the program organizing must be driven by a group of community leaders and organizations who mirror the diversity of the whole community.
Ready to get started? Take the first steps:
Comprehensive community organizing
Leaders approach community organizing in a variety of ways, depending on the local situation, the issue at hand, the political climate and the people involved.
Organizers approach their work with the following principles in mind:
- The most effective efforts are led by a cross-sector group of leaders who come from all parts of the community and hold a range of viewpoints.
- These organizers include traditional leaders/decision-makers, who are part of the power structure, and non-traditional or grass-roots leaders, who may be perceived to be outside the "power structure."
- Measurable action and change is more likely to happen when key leaders are on board from the beginning.
- Change is more lasting and effective when it happens at many levels—individual, group, institutional, and policy.
Here are some resources to help you take the first steps in organizing your steering committee:
Build a strong and diverse team
Plan and carry out communications
Develop a budget and plan for fundraising
Document and evaluate your program
Recruit participants and form diverse groups
Recruit, train, and support facilitators
Dialogue (sometimes called study circles)
Dialogue-to-change programs embody an approach to community change that puts small-group facilitated dialogue at the center. Dialogues work because they bring different kinds of people together around a public concern, and create a space that enables constructive, respectful conversation. They meet over time, and people develop trust and relationships, as well as a shared understanding of the issue under discussion.
The dialogue is guided by trained facilitators who manage the discussion and make room for all voices. They rely on ground rules, created by the group, to help make the conversation work for everyone.
The dialogues use discussion materials which set up a framework for the conversation. People begin with personal stories, move on to a discussion of the issue, including data or other relevant factual material. Participants examine the issue from many points of view, consider many possible approaches, and ultimately, develop ideas for action and change.
Here are some resources to help you learn more:
Plan the kickoff
Find sites and handle logistics
Hold a round of dialogues
Connecting dialogue to action and change
The dialogues lead to a range of possible outcomes. Early on, organizers consider questions like “What are we hoping to accomplish? “What would success look like in our community?” and “How can we support the ideas that are generated through the dialogues?”
All kinds of change can result from a program:
- Changes in individual behaviors, beliefs, and attitudes
- New relationships and networks
- Institutional changes
- Changes in public policy
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.