Friday, February 4, 2005

Dialogue and Deliberation: Part I, An Introduction

I have been involved in exploring the dynamics of dialogue and deliberation in the Owensboro community proper for several years. I have also served as a facilitator in various forms, particularly as an adjunct instructor in sociology for close to ten years. There have been many opportunities for dialogue and deliberation in the Owensboro community for the past six to seven years, particularly led by Community Conversations and the Public Life Foundation.

As vice chair of Community Conversations, I know all too well the challenge of maintaining neutrality in addressing community issues, particularly with a focus on providing the opportunity for all voices to be heard. To develop this process and approach to individual communication, intra-group dialogue, community dialogue, and subsequent deliberation on each of these levels, it becomes important to establish a foundation of theoretical justification for initiatives to proceed. The dialogue/deliberative work in the Owensboro community for many years has been characterized as "an experiment". Suffice it to say, the experiment has yielded some positive results (e.g., national attention to the community, our efforts have been nationally recognized in a published book by the Pew Partnership for Civic Change, substantial local media coverage for the ongoing Conversation Cafes, preliminary local media coverage on our immigrant Study Circle, commentary after the immigrant Study Circle had completed, coverage by the Kettering Foundation and National Issue Forums for the local work on race and ethnicity and our police forums, and others) for the community and for the participants in these efforts.

To provide more clarity on this perspective of dialogue and deliberation, I have decided to focus on the discipline, highlighting models and techniques, and the underpinnings that make such efforts failures and successes in our community and state. This will be an academic, as well as an applied exercise that will bridge theory with practice, and vice versa.

I begin part one of this project, which I expect to take several months, with some common definitions and perspectives on what is dialogue and deliberation.

From the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation:

"Someone who works with these processes of public talk might explain that dialogue is a process that allows people, usually in small groups, to share their perspectives and experiences with one another about difficult issues. Dialogue is not about judging, weighing or making decisions, but about understanding and learning. Dialogue dispels stereotypes, builds trust and enables people to be open to perspectives that are very different from their own.

They might then explain that deliberation is a related process with a different emphasis. Deliberation promotes the use of critical reasoning and logical argument in decision-making. Instead of decision-making by power, coercion or hierarchy, deliberative decision-making emphasizes the examination of facts and arguments and the weighing of pros and cons of various options."

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