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Group Decision Tip: A Way to Talk    

Group Decision Tip iconIn principle, in order for people to avoid conflict there has to be a way for them to talk. When in tension with someone else in my group, rather than talk with them directly, it is easiest to assume a superior position and take steps to prove my righteousness. It is also relatively easy to propose changes to the system in which we both operate: new rules, new policies, new ways of doing things that I think will make the tension go away. But both of these approaches create conflict and/or burden for my group.

Sometimes the barrier to direct communication is of a mechanical nature such as language or physical proximity or connection. But most often the barrier is our own fear about having a hard conversation. We don’t trust ourselves to say the right things or react the right ways. We are afraid that in a one-on-one setting we will lose the battle we are trying to win.

Practical Tip: Don’t view tensions as battles to be won or lost but rather as shared problems to be solved in shared ways. Before doing anything else, seek first to find a way to talk with those who are part of the problem.

If there are mechanical barriers to talking, work to fix them. In today’s world, going to war because one party can’t physically communicate with another is no excuse. If there are personal emotional barriers in the way, work to fix them. You are part of the problem; have a talk with yourself. Creating conflict or requiring your group to consider systemic changes because of your own emotional issues is selfish and inefficient.

And if someone else proposes a way to talk with you about a shared problem, accept the opportunity. Always talk first. Find a way.


Group Decision Tips are written by Craig Freshley. At his website you can access a complete archive of all previously published Tips, comment and view comments of others. Free distribution of Group Decision Tips for non-commercial purposes is encouraged with proper credit to Craig Freshley. Providing Group Decision Tips™ to others for commercial purposes and/or for any type of compensation is strictly prohibited.

Rich discussion on best practices for virtual meetings in NCDD LinkedIn group    

Have you joined NCDD’s LinkedIn group yet?  The group has about 800 members, and it’s a great way to stay updated on what’s happening in the field and connect with new people who work in dialogue and deliberation.  We’ve had some rich discussions there as well, like the one on “Groundrules necessary to make the best of virtual meetings” initiated by Martin Pearson about a month ago.

Martin wrote that he was starting to use Skype more for meetings, and asked group members if they have created specific ground rules for their own virtual meetings (like asking people to not to browse the internet while participating in the meeting).  The conversation morphed into a rich discussion on best practices for virtual meetings, with over 30 comments shared.

Group member Geoffrey Morton-Haworth took the time to summarize this excellent conversation, and posted the summary on his site here (you can also download a PDF of the summary).  Definitely worth checking out!

Group Decision Tip: Decision Method Right-sized    

Group Decision Tip iconIn principle, the amount of energy (time, money, etc.) invested in a group decision should be in proportion to the amount of impact it’s likely to have. The magnitude of the impact is a combination of how many people are affected, how deeply, and for how long into the future.

Consensus decisions are best suited to those that we expect to affect many people and last a long time—decisions that are expected to live longer than the current generation of decision makers. Consensus decisions are characterized by inclusive participation, shared understanding, and acceptance among all key stakeholders. This is when everybody decides for everybody.

Majority rule works well for medium-size decisions: decisions that are expected to last for awhile but are open to challenge and easily changed as majorities change (as generations of decision makers turn over). This is when most of the people decide for everybody.

One person in charge works well for decisions expected to last a short time with limited impact. Here, one person makes decisions on behalf of everybody. (more…)

Find similar posts: ncdd members,resources & tools

Participatory Budgeting Practices, Places, Games and Resources    

Re-posted by Tom Atlee from…

Recently I’ve seen a swirl of information (mostly on the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation listserv) about participatory budgeting. Below, you’ll find a sampling of this info, in relatively raw form. I do not know enough to sort it all out, but it looks really fascinating.

Most of this material is about online public budgeting exercises, but some of it also describes the kind of face-to-face, seriously empowered mass-participatory civic budgeting processes developed in Brazil which have spread widely in the last decade or so. (more…)

Wonderful new videos from the Bertelsmann Foundation    

A few days ago, the Bertelsmann Stiftung (Bertelsmann Foundation in the U.S.) added a bunch of new videos to its YouTube channel.  They really are must-see videos for people in our field; they’re very well-made videos (about 4 minutes long each) that feature the finalists in the 2011 Reinhard Mohn Prize.  I can see the videos being used in the classroom, in workshops, as part of presentations to local government, and so much more.

I just added them to my dialogue & deliberation playlists on YouTube, where you can find hundreds of D&D-related videos.

With the 2011 Reinhard Mohn Prize, the Bertelsmann Stiftung wants to bring new momentum to the debate on how democratic systems can be made “future ready” by helping them respond to current and future challenges. As many of you know, the 7 finalists of the Mohn Prize (to be awarded this spring) emerged from an international search to identify innovative, exemplary approaches to strengthening democracy through citizen engagement.

Check out the videos for these finalists:

Group Decision Tip: Resentments Have Roots in Expectations    

Group Decision Tip iconIn principle, when we have expectations of others that don’t pan out it often leads to resentment which often brews discontent which often causes conflict. I have heard someone say that expectations are planned resentments.

The surest way to avoid resentment is to not have expectations. When I fall into a victim role it’s helpful to remember that I am rarely a victim of others and often I am a victim of my own expectations.

Practical Tip: As a participant in group decisions, I try hard not to develop false expectations. I expect from people only that they have specifically agreed to, and even then I keep in mind that most people are not capable of doing all that they agree to.

I focus on the good things that my group and the people in it have done, and what they could do, rather than what they should do according to my expectations.


Group Decision Tips are written by Craig Freshley. Please visit to subscribe and for a complete archive of all previously published Group Decision Tips. You can comment on any Tip and view comments of others. Also find handouts, links, and information about workshops. Group Decision Tips™ is the brand name for a specific set of beliefs and practices that help groups create new benefits and move toward peace in an efficient manner. Providing Group Decision Tips to others in any format is strictly prohibited for commercial purposes and/or for any type of compensation but free distribution for non-commercial purposes is encouraged in this format with proper credit to Craig Freshley.

The Conversational Commons    

The phrase “the commons” refers to domains and resources that belong to or affect the whole of a community.  The “conversational commons” then embraces everything that supports or makes possible the enjoyable and productive conversations of a community — notably including the health and productivity of professions that specialize in serving quality conversation, e.g., conveners and facilitators, mediators and negotiators, diplomats and public engagement professionals, and so on.

A legitimate and important function of professional organizations like the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation (NCDD), the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2), and the International Association of Facilitators (IAF) is (and could be more) the development of the conversational commons — the whole field of activities and resources within which these professionals do their work in service to their communities.

Elements of the conversational commons worthy of our attention include things like the following:

  • Conversational standards, values, and guidelines, such as the Core Principles of Public Engagement
  • Conversational methodologies being known, available and productively used
  • Conversational data, knowledge, understanding, and wisdom — research, databases, know-how, and clear articulations of deep dynamics
  • Capacity for conversation — at the grassroots level, in and among groups and organizations, in officials and leaders, and in communities and societies as a whole
  • Widespread recognition of the value and uses of conversation, including a culture that values it and demands quality dialogue and deliberation wherever it is needed
  • Funding for quality conversations and for research on the subject
  • Cultural qualities that support healthy expressiveness, including respect, listening, emotionality, rationality, and the arts
  • Media that honor, model, encourage, and empower quality conversation, from talk shows to chat rooms to social media to detailed reporting on citizen deliberations and community conversations
  • Conversational traditions, rituals, and institutions — particularly those that improve social capital (especially across cultural divides) and those that shape public decision-making
  • Enough competent people filling necessary conversational “helper roles” like facilitator, mediator, host, etc.
  • Language and other media for exploring shared meaning — and the ability to translate among media or realms of meaning
  • Opportunity times and spaces for conversation — from architectural nooks and free community spaces, to cafes and conferences; from listening booths and online forums to citizen deliberations and stakeholder dialogues; and all the rest…

How often should we be reflecting on questions like these:

  • To what extent are those of us in the conversational professions focused on our own professional development and networking, and to what extent are we focused on working together to create, nurture, and develop the larger social context within which we are all working?
  • To what extent are we seeking funding for our own projects, compared to working together to help major players in the field of philanthropy realize the opportunities and leverage provided by funding conversational efforts?
  • To what extent are we spreading our knowledge at the grassroots so that more and more ordinary citizens know conversational basics and rationales and therefore demand quality conversation in their communities, their work places, and their political lives?
  • How might we invest more time, care, attention, and resources in the development of our conversational commons?
  • What difference would a healthy and expanding conversational commons make in our lives and in the world we live in?

Find similar posts: D&D,ncdd members,resources & tools

Group Decision Tip: Self-Evident    

In principle, the best decisions are made when the answer is self-evident to everyone. When a group of reasonable people have a shared goal and they freely share information about the current situation and options for achieving that goal, they are very likely to come to a shared conclusion about what to do.

When the decision making process allows all participants to see all the evidence, the right thing to do reveals itself.

Practical Tip: Do not lead a group to a pre-established conclusion but rather provide opportunity and structure to consider and analyze all views. Be open to all possibilities and openly share all relevant information.

If you really want the best decision for the group as a whole, evidence-gathering may take a while: many conversations, several meetings, time for individual processing.

If there is not enough time, decide only as much as you have good information to support. Guessing, gambling, or rushing to judgment often causes more problems later.


Craig FreshleyI’m posting the above Tip because it’s related to Tom’s recent post on Creative Deliberation.

Group Decision Tips are written by Craig Freshley. Please visit to subscribe and for a complete archive of all previously published Group Decision Tips. You can comment on any Tip and view comments of others. Also find handouts, links, and information about workshops. Group Decision Tips™ is the brand name for a specific set of beliefs and practices that help groups create new benefits and move toward peace in an efficient manner. Providing Group Decision Tips to others in any format is strictly prohibited for commercial purposes and/or for any type of compensation but free distribution for non-commercial purposes is encouraged with proper credit to Craig Freshley.

“Minds on the Edge” mental health dialogue    

This appeared in my inbox this morning in an email from Linda Frasher Meigs, child and mental health advocate based in Georgetown, Texas…

MINDS ON THE EDGE is expanding the conversation about mental illness online and in the community. Join in encouraging this urgently needed dialogue everywhere from kitchen tables to coffee shops, from town halls to state houses, in libraries and at professional meetings. Answers we need to meet this challenge can only emerge from an informed and robust public conversation, and each of us can provide a critical piece of this civic dialogue.

MINDS ON THE EDGE: Facing Mental Illness is a multi-platform media project that explores severe mental illness in America. The centerpiece of the project is a television program initially aired on PBS stations in October 2009. This video component is part of a national initiative that includes extensive web content with tools for civic engagement, active social media on Facebook and Twitter, and an ambitious strategy to engage citizens, professionals in many fields, and policy makers at all levels of government. The goal is to advance consensus about how to improve the kinds of support and treatment available for people with mental illness. (more…)

Start with a Question    

Craig Freshley My name is Craig Freshley and I’m in Brunswick, Maine. My one-page Group Decision Tips are shared around the world and are all posted for free at: There are about 140 Group Decision Tips available: all one-page pdf’s. They cover all topics relevant to group decision making: communications, conflict, leadership, policy development, facilitation techniques, etc.

Sandy Heierbacher has been a fan of the Tips for years and I have been a fan of NCDD. She invited me to share some of my Tips via this blog.

One of my Group Decision Tips is called Start with a Question. If you want good dialogue and deliberation, no matter what setting, that’s always a good place to start.

Group Decision Tip:  Start with a Question

In principle, when I enter into a discussion with a statement rather than a question I am presuming to already know all the answers. Most conflicts are due to misunderstanding so when my opinion is based on presumption I am probably headed for conflict.

When I begin a discussion with a question I show respect for others, that I want to hear what they have to say. The longer I remain truly open-minded the greater the chances that my opinion is based on complete understanding.

Practical Tip: Even though you might have an opinion forming in your head, hold off expressing it and start with questions instead. Be genuinely open to changing your opinion based on new things you learn. Good questions start with “why”, “how” and “what.” Good questions are open ended. Examples: “Why do you think that? How has it worked well in the past? What do you think is the cause of the problem?”

When I start with a question I am less threatening to others, I am more likely to develop a well-informed opinion, and I increase prospects for avoiding conflict entirely. (more…)

Christian Science Monitor features articles on civility and dialogue    

The Christian Science Monitor put together an excellent issue on civility-related matters, which you can check out at  Definitely worth a look!  Here are the articles featured…

After the Arizona shooting, the civility movement sees tipping point

Calls for unity in response to the Arizona shooting are seen as an opportunity for the civility movement to tackle partisan rancor.

Four ways to kick the partisan habit

How you can do what President Obama has asked the nation to do: move beyond the political blame game to constructive conversation. (A short list of great tips by NCDD member Laura Chasin, founder of the Public Conversations Project)

From vitriol to civility: Should parties sit together at State of the Union?

Sen. Mark Udall is proposing that Democrats and Republicans sit together at President Obama’s State of the Union address as a practical first step toward more civil political discourse.

Arizona shooting: Don’t blame Sarah Palin — get public schools to discuss politics

Ever since Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in Arizona Saturday, critics have been pointing fingers at Republicans for their nasty anti-government rhetoric. They have a point. But the real problem is in our public schools, which have left millions of Americans unequipped to engage in rational politics. (more…)

Please “like” some NCDD resources on Facebook!    

Happy 2011, everyone!  I hope this is a productive and prosperous year for all of you.

I wanted to point out a couple of things on the NCDD site that I’m excited about, and that have the potential to help us spread the word about the critical work you’re all doing in this field.

We have over 2,500 resources listed in the revamped NCDD Resource Center at (which uses the new web design and logo we’re switching over to). There, you’ll find more resources about dialogue and deliberation than you knew existed:  books, articles, programs, models, guidebooks, evaluation tools, case studies, videos, and more.

We’ll be tagging resources for a while yet before that’s all done, but there are multiple ways to find the resources you need (including my favorite, the advanced search, which lets you cross-search both tags and categories to hone in).

Recently I added some new social media features that I want to encourage everyone to use. You’ll see a “follow” bar on the right edge of any page in the NCDD Resource Center, which sends people to NCDD’s updates, facebook group (over 2,200 members strong!), linkedin group, twitter, rss.  If you’re not already a member of our facebook group and linkedin group and following our twitter feed (and use these tools), you can always use those links to remedy that!  Some cool stuff happens in those places.

More importantly, every resource now has a “like” button beside it (which allows you to post a resource on your facebook wall) as well as a string of icons above the comments field that allows you to share the resource on linkedin, twitter, facebook, send an email about the resource, bookmark the post on Delicious, or follow the RSS feed for a particular resource so you can see who comments on it.

I’d like to ask you to take a minute to do two things if you can:

1.  Look for your own work, or work you value highly, and “like” or “share” those resources today!

(If something’s missing, just email me at sandy at with the details and we’ll try to get it added soon.)

2.  Click on the links at the top of the right sidebar under “Great places to start” (pictured)…  Beginner’s Guide, Best-of-the-Best Resources, Quick Reference Glossary, Resource Guide on Public Engagement, etc. and PLEASE “like” or “share” these resources as well (“like” is at the top; “share” links are at the bottom of the page).  These are the best resources NCDD has to offer, and it would benefit us all to have more people aware of them! (more…)

Online neighborhood forums making an impact in Minneapolis    

Here’s a touching and inspiring note from NCDD member Steven Clift, founder of…

I am in the middle of swarm e-communication, where thanks in part to a 500+ person neighborhood forum we host -, hundreds of people have been organized to come a vigil tonight in a local park after a terrible series sexual assaults in the area. See the note from the victim to the forum at

The vigil:

And press about the forum+:

Everyone here is a neighbor somewhere, I encourage NCDDers to use your skills to create a space for your neighbors online because if you don’t do it, who will? Grab some tips at Then join your peers here:

- Steven Clift,

10 tips from Greg Keidan on engaging residents in regional community planning    

Here’s a great list of tips from Greg Keidan‘s 11/18/10 post on the new AmericaSpeaks blog.  Greg works with Terry Amsler at the Institute for Local Government’s Public Engagement and Collaborative Governance Program.

Greg is currently researching strategies for involving residents in regional sustainable community planning, which is a hot topic right now in California.  He outlines a few of the challenges local and regional government agencies are facing as they seek to engage residents in this issue (including the fact that “regional sustainable community planning requires thinking twenty and thirty years into the future about a large area”).

Here are some of the key things Greg has learned about how to overcome these challenges:

1. Make it Relevant
Develop messaging that demonstrates how people’s lives will be affected at a local level; bring the issue home.

2. Seek Partnerships with Other Organizations
Cross sector collaborations are one key to engaging a broad cross section of residents.  Nonprofit organizations, foundations, congregations, other faith organizations, businesses, public health organizations, libraries, unions and schools can be essential partners in outreach.

3. Go to Where the People Are
Some regional agencies have found conducting public outreach at popular gathering places such as transit hubs, farmers markets, fairs, shopping centers, and colleges to be fruitful.  Staff from several regional planning agencies have noted that they are generally more successful when they ask community groups to host meetings where their members can interact with agency staff, and less successful when they ask the public to come to a meeting hosted by the agency. (more…)

Yes, Public Engagement Works!    

The following post is from brand new NCDD blogger Craig Paterson of the California National Issues Forums Network…

No one wants to waste time, energy or enthusiasm. So…when it comes to inviting people to get engaged in a public conversation about one of our important issues, there is a normal and healthy skepticism. The problem we in the public engagement and deliberation community have is this: we haven’t prepared an answer to this most logical question. How can we know public engagement and deliberation works? This is one of our most troublesome barriers in gathering people for community conversations. Yes, public engagement works…but to see this you have to look in the right place.

This topic came up again during a workshop at the Kettering Foundation in Dayton, OH. “It’s difficult to document the effectiveness of deliberation.” As a result of a serendipity blending of learning events recently, my immediate response was “I don’t believe it is difficult…you just need to look local, rather than national.”

By the very nature of National Issues Forums (NIF), they’ve focused on thorny, systemic dilemmas that have consequences across the country. Data on deliberation on these issues then has been gathered without regard to locally unique conditions…after all, these topics most times were seen to require federal legislation for resolution to be found. But local NIF practitioners soon found this deliberative methodology to be applicable in their own communities, counties and sometimes states. In these situations, NIF-style deliberation proved itself to be visibly effective. (more…)

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