Our Approach to Change

Whether you’re grappling with a divisive community issue, or simply want to include residents’ voices in city government, we have tools and resources that can help foster civic engagement.

Details About the Process

Our ultimate goal is to create positive community change that includes everyone, and we believe that our tools, advice, and resources will help foster that kind of change. There are many ways to engage the community to talk about and take action on various issues, and we encourage you to adapt any of our advice or tools to fit your community’s needs. At the most basic level, our advice focuses on three core components: organizing, dialogue, and action. As you dig deeper, you’ll find that we also have resources for other areas including facilitation, messaging, sustaining progress, and more.

Icon: plus sign Organizing

During the organizing phase, we emphasize coalition-building, recruitment of diverse dialogue participants, message development, early planning for action and training of facilitators. In this phase, it is crucial to reach out to every sector of the population to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard. Read more...

We encourage organizers to approach their work with the following principles in mind:
  • The most effective efforts are moved forward by a group of leaders reflecting all community constituencies and a broad range of perspectives.
  • Organizers include traditional leaders/decision-makers, as well as non-traditional or grassroots leaders.
  • 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.

See tips and resources to help you organize your community.

Icon: plus sign Dialogue

During the dialogue phase, different kinds of people come together around a public concern in a space that fosters constructive, respectful conversation. Participants listen to each other’s concerns, build relationships, and generate ideas for action. Typically, several groups of 8-12 meet over a 4-6 week period. Read more...

Key components of the dialogues:

Small groups. Having groups of 10-12 helps ensure that all voices can be heard during the discussion, and fosters relationship-building.

Trained facilitators. Neutral facilitators help the flow of the conversation, make room for all voices and capture in print main points made during the dialogues.

Ground rules. These are created and agreed upon by the group to create a space where everyone feels comfortable sharing opinions and stories.

Discussion materials. Facilitators use discussion guides to set up a framework for the conversation. People share personal stories, discuss the issue, examine multiple points of view, and develop ideas for action. Facilitators can use materials written by Everyday Democracy, or they may use a discussion guide written by a team in your community. Some communities modify an Everyday Democracy discussion guide, personalizing it to their town’s particular circumstances.

See tips and resources to help you in the dialogue phase.

Icon: plus sign Action

The dialogues lead to the action forum, where participants come together to share their ideas. The group decides on which action ideas to move forward on, and action teams form to carry out the ideas. Read more...

At this point, communities take various paths to support action groups and create change. These include:
  • Creating an action oversight group to help manage the work of the action teams.
  • Starting a nonprofit, or partnering with an existing organization to provide resources that further their goals.
  • Taking advantage of community momentum by starting another round of dialogues while action teams from the first round are moving forward with their efforts.
  • Teaching local organizations, schools, and nearby towns how to implement this process to create a more substantive impact.

Throughout this process, individuals often gain new insights and relationships, and sometimes even go through a personal transformation. They may become leaders in the community and advocates for change. The action teams work to create collective, institutional and policy change to make a lasting impact on the community.

See tips and resources to help you in the action phase.

Ready to use dialogue-to-change in your community?

Explore Tips and Resources for Each Phase of the Work

We provide discussion guides, how-to handbooks, trainings, advice, and other resources to help you create a more democratic and inclusive community. We invite you to explore the resources on our website and adapt them for the specific needs of your community.

How We Can Help

If you are interested in organizing a large-scale, community-wide dialogue, we may be able to provide assistance in setting up your program. Our Community Assistance Team provides in-depth, ongoing assistance via phone, e-mail, and (at times) field visits throughout the duration of your dialogue to change program. We consider a number of factors when deciding which communities will receive this customized assistance.


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