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Toward a More Perfect Union
in an Age of Diversity


Basic Steps in
Creating Community-wide Dialogue


by Study Circles Resource Center and Marci Reaven

© Copyright Topsfield Foundation and Marci Reaven 1997

  1. Build a diverse working group of community leaders who are committed to fostering dialogue. It is this group that will get broad community sponsorship for the study circles, work with the media, train the facilitators and set up the groups. Ideal partners in a working group hips include: Such a working group could include individuals from the mayor's office, the school system, ethnic associations, the community mediation center, the police department, the YMCA and YWCA, an interreligious or interfaith coalition, the NAACP, the urban league affiliate, and many others.

  2. Hold a study circle among your working group. This will help solidify your collaboration and help your group come to a better understanding of the study circle process. It will also help you finalize decisions about how you will present your program to the community and what materials you will use for your study circles.

  3. Decide how your working group will handle the overall coordination of the program. Decide who will recruit study circle participants and leaders, and how participants, leaders, and sites will be matched.

  4. Identify and recruit sponsors who can lend their resources and credibility to the program. They will expand the power of the study circle coalition and help reach out into the whole community. Think very broadly, and talk with everyone you can think of. The "working group" plus the larger group of sponsors will make a powerful community-wide coalition.

  5. Hold a few pilot study circles among coalition members. This will help solidify the commitment of sponsors and increase their understanding of the study circle process. Those who participate will gain an increased sense of ownership of the program, and will make a much more powerful call for dialogue to the community.

  6. Recruit potential discussion leaders. Sometimes the working group takes primary responsibility for this, and sometimes sponsors are asked to help. Whatever the case, recruit individuals from many backgrounds who know how to help people listen and engage in constructive dialogue, and who are comfortable dealing with people of different backgrounds.

  7. Hold a training session for the discussion leaders. A local college or university, a human relations organization, or a community mediation center are often able to organize this phase of the study circle program. The training organization should be part of the central working group, so that it can provide ongoing support for discussion leaders, and oversight of facilitator quality .

  8. In conjunction with your study circle training, consider holding a session or a training for your facilitators that focuses on cross-cultural communication and sensitivity. Tap into local expertise. (See the Resource listings at the end of this guide.)

  9. Recruit participants from a broad cross-section of the community. This is easier, of course, if your coalition is broadly representative of the whole community. Work hard to include people who do not normally get involved in community activities.

  10. Set a range of dates for the full-fledged program so that all of the study circles in the community will occur more or less within the same time frame.

  11. Hold a kickoff event to broadcast the study circle program.

  12. Let the study circles begin!

  13. Help participants find ways to become actively involved in putting their ideas to work in the community. A concluding event that brings together all the study circles and the sponsoring organizations can be a good way to do this: it can spur the formation of working groups throughout the community, and connect action steps with community institutions and programs.

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© Copyright Topsfield Foundation and Marci Reaven 1997