Community Conversations focus on building local capacity to engage with difficult issues -- more collaboratively and productively -- through the use of deliberative engagement processes.
Deliberative engagement processes help transform conversations beyond a collection of individual opinions into collaborative, community-focused learning. Processes are interactive, facilitated, and inclusive of small group discussions. Community Conversations provide a framework for dialogue, and can be used to support high quality communication that builds understanding around difficult issues.
Community Conversations is a partnership of the Estes Valley Library and Estes Valley Restorative Justice Partnership.
In 2018, the Estes Valley Library brought Dr. Martin Carcasson Ph.D., professor of Communication Studies at Colorado State University, the founder and director of the CSU Center for Public Deliberation (CPD) (www.cpd.colostate.edu), and the current chair of the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation Board of Directors (www.ncdd.org) to present to the community on "Tackling Wicked Problems." Because interest and attendance was so high, the Library brought Dr. Carcasson, back in February 2019 to begin putting these principles into action. Drawing on the Library's strengths of political neutrality and meaningful programs with wide community appeal, and EVRJP's skills in neutral facilitation, the organizations began to pursue the goal of becoming trained in and offering a deliberative model of engagement to better enable productive community conversations.
A 3-day workshop in January 2020 focused on building local capacity to engage with difficult issues more collaboratively and productively through the use of deliberative processes. The workshop...
- examined the concept of "wicked problems" as a framework to better understand difficult issues,
- reviewed recent research on social psychology,
- explored why traditional engagement processes are often counterproductive to supporting high quality communication, and
- built on foundations of deliberative engagement.
The workshop was again led by Dr. Carcasson, and representatives from EVRJP, the Library and the community attended.
Estes Valley Restorative Justice Partnership and Estes Valley Library formalized their relationship through a MOU and created a steering committee to guide and provide leadership for the program. The Steering Committee developed a vision and mission statement, guidelines for topic selection, and a timeline for programming. Additionally, the group fielded a community ask exercise to get input on topics of interest in the Estes Valley community.
Program implementation began in Fall 2020 in collaboration with Conflict Resolution Month programming. EVRJP and the Library continue to collaborate on this endeavor to elevate the quality of civil discourse in the Estes Valley.
- Mission & Vision
Vision: A kind community based on respect and collaborative problem-solving
Mission: Improve public communication, promote active community problem-solving and elevate conversations in the Estes Valley.
The Community Conversations framework includes:
Living Room Conversations (LRC): small group conversations that build relationships and foster connections using a nationally recognized model for dialogue. Participants find common ground and acknowledge differences through conversation centered on personal experiences. Utilizes conversation guides created by Living Room Conversations. LRC is open source and can be customized to meet needs.
Public Deliberation Event (PDE): participants grapple with ‘wicked’ problems that represent competing values, and for which there is no easy solution. It is a chance to gather information about what is most important to stakeholders and enable the public to evaluate various paths toward resolution without an either-or division through the use of small group facilitated dialogue.
- Benefits for Stakeholders
For Community Members:
- Weigh in on benefits and tradeoffs of each option, have voice heard and impact decision-making
- Level playing field; all input valued
- Opportunity to note concerns and values
For Agencies and Organizations:
- Grapple with data that represents a variety of perspectives
- Identifies shared goals and solutions, builds mutual understanding
- Problems get solved!
For Local Government:
- A free tool for weighing options with the public
- Transparency encourages public trust and buy-in
- Focuses on listening to understand and hearing difference views
For Decision Makers:
- Opportunity for meaningful public involvement and feedback
- Increased perspectives lead to better decision making, more diverse participation and collaborative action
- Those with power to implement change are involved and committed
- Topic Selection Criteria
The following criteria will be used to determine topic selection:
- Does the topic or project fit within the mission?
- Does adequate manpower, training, access to information and budget to complete the project in a quality manner exist?
- Is there sufficient public interest, and would it serve the interests of the community, to conduct a conversation or deliberation on the topic? Alternatively, does this topic support or complement programs/programming of the Library or Restorative Justice?
- Is there buy-in from organizations/entities with apparent stakeholder interests?
- Is it actionable? Is there an organization or entity that is receptive, empowered and prepared to act upon findings?
- If requested by an outside organization, is that organization willing to work within the Community Conversations deliberative engagement structure?
- Does adequate trust exist? Is there transparency with regard to motive, communication and use of findings?
In selecting topics or projects, consideration will be given to the fact that Community Conversations is backed by two public entities which are supported by taxpayer dollars, grants, and private donations, and that the partnership between the two entities is governed by a Memorandum of Understanding between their respective boards.
- Current Planning
Following are upcoming Community Conversations. Community Conversations is a partnership of the Estes Valley Library and Estes Valley Restorative Justice Partnership. Registration for all Living Room Conversations is limited, and participants should sign up in advance by the Events Calendar at www.estesvalleylibrary.org unless otherwise noted.
Social, Emotional & Spiritual Renewal - Living Room Conversation
Tuesday, Dec. 6, from 10:15 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. at the Estes Valley Library. Sign up.