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Hosting Conversations about Questions that Matter

I posted this in the Cafe Questions/Best Practice section and Juanita suggested that I post it here as well, so here it is!


Here's the plan.  I want to introduce the Cafe process to my town with the intention of getting others involved in this and actually having an
event go through.  The first cafe would ideally be the precursor to the
following one(s), starting with a general set of questions around the
idea of how to better build community.

I have most of my weekdays taken up by work, with my entire weekends taken up by my two sons and
me being a single dad.  So, basically I need to gain allies in this. 
This project is fresh in mind, so I haven't made any moves yet.  What
I'm looking for from the community here is ideas, stories, suggestions,
tips, and anything else that will help me to get the ball rolling on
this project.

The town is Crystal Lake, Illinois, with a population of about 40,000+ and a median income of $67,000.  I do have
two contacts in the community, one a businessman who is my mother's
boyfriend, and the other a family friend that knows many people around
town including police and fire chiefs, and so I'm thinking maybe one or
both of them might be helpful in some way.  I plan to get a sort of
presentation together (could use help on that one!) to pitch to the
village board.

I picture giving a presentation to the board members, after talking with some local business people, then making
further contacts and having some lunch meetings and at home visits to
discuss the ideas, implications, and practicalities of the event.  Then I
envision a core group of about 3-7 people who will really be turned on
by this and step up to be my main workforce/support team.  Then I
envision some local businesses sponsoring us with just a little bit of
cash and maybe things like some flowers for the table from the local
floral shop and a light lunch provided by the local "green chef", and
things like that.  I imagine there being one or two local news articles
written about it leading up to the event.  I imagine signs around town,
and pre-event gatherings for people who have looked into the process
ahead of time (as will be suggested to all who RSVP yes or no) and want
to begin some conversation over drinks or something like that.  I
picture the results being somehow broadcast to the community- on the
town website, in newspaper articles, online reports, etc.  I envision
the first Cafe being just the beginning, leading to further Cafes based
on the results of the first, and opening the door to other wise
democracy practices throughout the general community.  I imagine this
leading to things like people learning to self-organize, with citizen
groups forming co-intelligently to deal with local issues like the
homeless, gangs, local food security and more. 

This project is really exciting me and it hasn't even begun!  I see this initial energy I
have as the intuitive indicator that this is a viable seed I'm working
with, now it just needs some fertile soil.

ANY and ALL help is needed, necessary, and completely welcomed and accepted with gratitude.  Thank you!!!

Views: 131

Replies to This Conversation

Hi Jarett,
World Cafés in Communities is a great idea.
Here are some of my thoughts (my English may be a little strange, as I am German).
Let me describe a process we did in our town (20.000 population) and my modification using World-café.
The mayor and the town parlament decided to create a vision for the town.
Goals have been: to become more attractive for young families, industry, for tourists, to improve social climate in town.
The effects of the demografic change may be not so severe in US as in our country; but it is a real danger.
So we started with a big event, where someone from the ministry gave a speach to set an impulse.
Than we created different work groups related to the subjects (i.e. marketing, culture, children, adults and elder people, sports, housing, ...)
After that we started in these groups and there I used sometimes world café.
What I couldn´t figure out from your description: What is your purpose, what burns in your heart?
Please think about that and make a clear statement to attract others.
Here in Germany we can often find mayors to support these kind of activities and we have several funds, that are sponsered by Government to start these movements. Did you checked that out?
So you could start and look for a subject (use your 2 friends for brainstorming), that is of importance in your community and you have already a dream of the future. Try to find at least 5 persons that are following your dream. Than start a campaign in radio and newspapers and invite them for the first World-Café. The title must be very, very clear and must attract the people; perhaps something around school, kids - to improve their live, security, ...
The questions should be precise and focused on the common dream.

o.k. these are some thoughts from good old Europe.
Good luck and please continue dreaming and play "Intendo"
Cheers
Michael
Michael, thanks for a response!


"What I couldn't figure out from your description: What is your purpose, what burns in your heart?"

I personally could come up with many big questions, although they will most likely have my own personal beliefs built in. I'm interested in pitching the idea of a Town Cafe, so to speak, in which the attendees of the initial Cafe come up with the issues and questions themselves.

In the World Cafe book, there is the idea that someone had of sending out a kind of questionnaire to the guests ahead of time, and then either posting those up for the Cafe or picking one that is really "juicy" to start with. That is probably the approach I'm going to take because again, I'm not exactly sure what questions will get people motivated in this area.


"Here in Germany we can often find mayors to support these kind of activities and we have several funds, that are sponsored by Government to start these movements. Did you checked that out?"

I have not looked into that yet as I am still in the early phase of this, which means I'm reading through the World Cafe book carefully, with a second pass through to take detailed notes. Once I'm confident in my understanding of the general process then I will work on "pitching" the idea to local officials. . . .that will be the real beginning of this project.

If there are not funds set up for projects like this, as there are in your country, I'm hoping that whatever persuasive ability I display for the officials will inspire them to assist me in reaching out to local business leaders and the wealthy (as there are certainly wealthy people around here if the types of vehicles often encountered are any clue). I'm an idea guy, someone with motivation and a bright disposition when I'm excited about something real, but I'm not in any way a fundraiser or advertising genius! Basically I'm going to need a lot of help from local people to "pull off" a Cafe in a town like this.

I have pegged two other local towns that are of smaller size, one that I grew up in and the other with a very good commons area, that might actually be where I first unveil the Cafe process. Either of these two towns hosting a Cafe might be a good way to attract more attention here in my own town.



Thanks again for the reply, it is very helpful! I also hope that this thread will continue and develop, especially once the "ball is rolling" here in Crystal Lake, and then this thread can be another study guide for others in a similar situation as my own!
Hi Jarret,

Your enthusiasm is contagious! I live in a big city (Phoenix, Arizona, USA) and we also have the need to build better communities.

That was part of the intent of the Community Conversation on Immigration that Collaborative Spark hosted last August. And it was definitely part of the focus for the September 23rd Open Space on Civic Action.

I appreciate your sense that you can’t do this alone. A wonderful thing about finding others to collaborate with you is that as you develop your plans, you will actually be building community!

I generally start my thinking-out-loud with a small group of kindred spirits who live in the community. In fact, that is how Collaborative Spark was born. I posted a conversation thread on this group and fellow Arizonans Sharon Flanagan-Hyde and Regina Blakely responded within minutes. Very soon, 5 other Arizonans who also had a passion for hosting a civil conversation on the topic of immigration joined us. Among them are Reuben Sanchez, Maren Showkeir and Jamie Showkeir, who are also members of this group. We quickly realized that we love working together and have since officially registered Collaborative Spark as an Arizona business.

In September, we went on to host another community conversation as part of It’s Up to Me, AZ: A Day of Civic Action. This time we used Open Space Technology as our method.

As Michael has said, I also wonder what "What is your purpose, what burns in your heart?" Through crafting a clear statement to attract others you will begin to build your community.

Wishing you continued enthusiasm and an outpouring of kindred spirits.

Warm wishes from a cloudy and (finally!) cool Phoenix afternoon,

Christine

Dear Christine,

the link to Open Space on Civic Action is not active/available. I woudl be very interested in it. Any way of receiving or viewing it? Thanks!

Cheryl

Jarrett

A wonderful and thrilling idea...in Lancaster UK a group of us have come together to explore how we might midwife into being a culture of community conversations (WC is certain to be in the l mix) in our small city (about 50,000 people) envisioning how great our hometown will be in a world after oil...this is all part of the Transition Movement in the UK...what are the possibilities in a world free of oil and all it s excesses...The Transition Movement is all over the world now and it occurs to me that there might be a Transition Group in your own town who would love to work with you...Meanwhile I will continue to post how our local community conversation initiative is going...Cliodhna

Well, no less than two weeks or so after posting this, my daily schedule dramatically changed and took away pretty much all of what little free time I had to work on this project.  My hope that I will, by this summer, have at least one local town engaging in a World Cafe has greatly diminished.

 

Despite this setback, there is some hope on the near horizon.  A local town, which also seemed to be the most fruitful area to pitch a Cafe, has stirred up some energy between the local Unitarian church and some members of a Transition Town initiative that has begun to form in this county.  Recently they held a "re-skilling" workshop at the church and the turn out was great- both young and old, straight-laced and dread-locked people attended.  For a first time, it was a complete success.  This group is planning another event similar to this one, with series of workshops and presentations, and not only did one of the organizers comment to me that a World Cafe would have been perfect at the end of the last one, but that they'd like to end the next event with one!  Also, it very likely that I will be allowed to give a presentation which will be focused on some of these transformational group processes such as the World Cafe, Dynamic Facilitation, Citizen's Consensus Councils! 

 

I will keep updated posts coming as new events present themselves.

Hi, Jarett.  I highly recommend you download Everyday Democracy's guidebook "Organizing Community-Wide Dialogue for Action and Change."  It's a comprehensive guide to help people develop a community-wide study circle program from start to finish -- and I think MANY of the tips and tools in this 157-page document are relevant and useful for your work, even though the guide focuses on a different form of dialogue.  The tools in this doc could end up saving you A LOT of time, and helping you think through what's involved in running a community-wide program.

Just as an example, here are some of the sample docs in the guide that you can modify for your own needs:


1. Invitation to Coalition-Building Meeting

2. Agenda for Coalition-Building Meeting (Annotated)

3. Sign-up Sheet for Sponsors/Coalition Members

4. Press Release

5. Public Service Announcement

6. Media Advisory

7. Flier

8. Talking Points on Education – Student Achievement

9. Participant Questionnaire

10. Report on Program Implementation

11. Report on Program Outcomes

12. Form for Participant Registration

13. Agenda for Action Forum (Annotated)

14. Invitation to Potential Facilitators

15. Form for Facilitator Registration

The doc can be downloaded at http://www.everyday-democracy.org/en/Resource.39.aspx (though you have to register on the EvDem site).

Also, feel free to be in touch down the road if NCDD can be of assistance by helping locate facilitators in the area, or helping publicize your work to the broader dialogue & deliberation community.  Good luck with this great project!

Sandy Heierbacher

Director, National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD.org)

sandy@ncdd.org

Keep it simple, but not too simple. There is inherent simplicity in the complexity of any endeavor. Limit your goal to facilitating the discovery of the power of people's perspectives by focusing on that purpose. When people shift from the need to find what is right and what is wrong to appreciating things as different first, that appreciation becomes the foundation to working together to understand what it means and the endless possibilities of what if, which leads to a better appreciation of the process and the people participating in it.

Jarrett - keep this fire burning! I took a personal initiative too. I deliberately started small with leaders of 5 ecological organizations whom I personally knew and they suggested 3 others whom I did not know but also invited.

I visited each personally with my Idea which was to begin a process for collaboration among these disparate (and sometimes antagonistic) groups. I did so out of my growing sense of urgency about our times. When I was sure I had the agreement of the majority of them to attend some thing I would host, I carefully crafted the Invitation. iIt included the request that they arrive having pondered the following Question: What do you think is the most important Question of our times for our local community when it comes to sustainability/relilience? I assured them that this was an informal, exploratory conversation.

I used practices of Circle and Appreciative Inquiry. The process was highly based on asking powerful questions and remaining positive.In one and a half hours, this small group of non-profit and voluntary sector leaders got a demonstration of these practices, went deepeer than they may have ever gone in talking to each other before and agreed that they wanted this 'exploration' to continue with more leaders. I'm in the process of designing the next session. It will likely begin with a World Cafe (again, an opportunity to demonstrate/experience that process) using the Important Questions generated at the 1st session.

Hope this helps you in some way.  Good luck!

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