Results of our Needs Assessment
of Dialogue Practitioners

In order to create some clarity about the ways in which dialogue practitioners could really benefit from a national conference on dialogue and deliberation - and whether or not there is a demand for such a gathering, we designed a needs assessment and invited dialogue facilitators, organizers, researchers and students to participate during the fall and winter of 2001.

115 people from throughout the dialogue community honored us by completing the online survey, and the results are both interesting and informative. We welcome you to utilize the survey information (just let us know!), and we look forward to more informed planning as a result of this survey. Email if you'd like an MS Word version of these results.

Thank you,
The Coalition for a National Conference on Dialogue & Deliberation

Sections of the Survey:

1. Interest in a Dialogue Conference
2. Desired Outcomes of the Event
3. Workshops
4. Presenters & Speakers
5. The Cutting Edge of Dialogic Practice
6. About Our Respondents

Interest in a Dialogue Conference

When asked if they would be interested in attending a gathering of leaders and practitioners of intergroup dialogue in or near Washington, D.C., 57% of the 115 respondents said 'Yes.' 41% stated that their attendance would depend on a variety of factors, with the timing of the event, affordability, and relevance of content being mentioned most often. Other factors included the goals or purpose, length, caliber and location of the event, the availability of financial assistance, world and national events at the time of the event, and the mix of practitioners and other participants.

Types or Mixture of Formats

Respondents were asked 'What types or mixture of formats would most suit your goals?' and given the following 6 options.The number on the left signifies the number of respondents who selected that format.

50 - Sample small-group dialogues utilizing various models and topics.
50 - Participatory workshops in which one to three people lead a group of about twenty people.
46 - Small discussion groups focusing on topics of interest to you.
35 - Structured networking events which allow you to 'meet and greet' many of the other participants.
34 - "Open Space" format, where programs (workshops, discussion groups, etc.) are created on the spot, depending on participants' interests and needs.
29 - Panels of speakers who are experts in the dialogue community.

Here is a sampling of some of the suggestions people had for additional formats:

I'm most interested in formats allowing me to get to know people involved with dialogue.
Provide opportunities to network, share what's working, new trends, increase competency in the field.
Participatory workshops that recognize the level of inexperience or expertise of the participants. Organized to accommodate all levels.
I think opportunities to share learnings, best practices, network, sustain our energy and dialogue would be super!
Beyond networking, I would like to get some understanding of the big picture. I always am involved in small groups and have little feel for how much things are actually changing in this country/world.
Doing dialogue and exploring the possibilities of the dialogic methodologies -- whatever the format.
Sharing Stories from dialogic practice where practitioners would relate a real story of working in a dialogue setting to stimulate discussion among practitioners.

Desired Outcomes of the Event

Respondents were asked to indicate whether certain possible outcomes of the event were very important to them, somewhat important, or not important. The outcomes are listed below in order of their importance to our respondents.

Learning about what's new in the field (new strategies and methods, new organizations, new research, new opportunities, etc.).
Very important to 78% of respondents.

Learning about other dialogue methods.
Very important to 73% of respondents.

Strategizing and beginning to work with other dialogue leaders to solve common problems and promote dialogue - both regionally and nationally.
Very important to 62% of respondents.

Networking with others in the dialogue community.
Very important to 61% of respondents.

Learning about proven strategies for problems you've experienced.
Very important to 57% of respondents (somewhat important to 32%).

Improving your skills as a facilitator.
Very important to 54% of respondents (somewhat important to 32%).

Improving your skills as a dialogue organizer.
Very important to 51% of respondents (somewhat important to 35%).

Being energized and motivated to continue your work and expand on it.
Very important to 38% of respondents (somewhat important to 38%).

Sharing your own strategies and experiences with others in the field.
Somewhat important to 55% of respondents (very important to 27%).

Working to make the dialogue community more cohesive by developing a national network of practitioners.
Somewhat important to 47% of respondents (very important to 33%).

Meeting and becoming acquainted with the top leaders in the dialogue community.
Somewhat important to 44% of respondents (very important to 35%).

Feeling as if you are a part of an actual 'field'-or even a 'movement.'
Somewhat important to 38% of respondents (very important to 32%).

Gaining recognition in the dialogue community.
Somewhat important to 50% of respondents (not important to 38%).

Types of Dialogue
Respondents were asked 'What types of dialogues would you be most interested in learning more about?' The numbers on the left refer to the number of people who selected the corresponding option.

51 - Dialogue on Race/Ethnicity/Racism
31 - Dialogue on the current crisis (Sept. 11 and 'war on terrorism')
31 - Dialogue among groups that are currently in conflict
29 - Interreligious Dialogue
24 - Dialogue on controversial issues such as abortion, gun control, same-sex unions, etc.
24 - Dialogue on youth issues (education reform, violence in schools, etc.)
23 - Israeli/Palestinian dialogue


We asked respondents, if they were to put a title on a workshop/discussion they would sign up for immediately, what would it be? The responses to this question illustrate the diversity of needs and interests that exists for dialogue practitioners. They also show, however, that there are some very common interests and needs that could be addressed at a gathering for dialogue leaders. Responses were grouped into the following categories, which are listed in order of the frequency they were mentioned by our respondents.

Organizing Dialogues and Moving from Talk to Community Action
Sharing, Comparing & Networking
Handling Problems or Challenges
Addressing Issues in the Dialogue Community
Dialogue Basics
Specific Tools & Approaches

Organizing Dialogues and Moving from Talk to Action
The two most common workshop titles related to moving dialogue programs from talk to action and strategies for organizing dialogues. Respondents wanted information on how to organize dialogues for the following purposes (in order of times mentioned):

citizen involvement
conflict resolution
community action/change
relationship/trust building
community building
to inform/influence policymakers
innovation or idea-generating
organizational development (OD)
individual growth and restorative justice

Respondents were interested in learning new strategies for organizing dialogues about a variety of different topics. Race and racism, gender issues, environmental issues, September 11, and religious conflict were the 5 topics that were mentioned most frequently. Other issues ranged from colonialism and imperialism to poverty and class issues and police/community relations.

Some respondents also specified what groups of people they were interested in involving in a dialogue group. The most common intergroup dialogues mentioned include Israelis and Palestinians and other religious groups, or citizens and policymakers. Other dialogues specified were intragroup dialogues involving African Americans, gay men, and immigrant communities; and intergroup dialogues involving fundamentalists and pluralists, Blacks and Jews, and conflicting ethnic groups.

The environments in which dialogues are held was also specified by a number of participants. Respondents were interested in strategies for organizing dialogues on campuses, in communities, in classrooms, in rural areas and in businesses.

Sharing, Comparing & Networking
Many of our respondents expressed a need for opportunities to network and share information and experiences with their peers. The desire to share experiences facilitating and organizing dialogues was mentioned most often, followed by the need to compare various models of and approaches to dialogue.

Other dialogue practitioners are interested in sharing information and ideas, learning about other dialogue models (and sharing their own), and networking with people who do similar work in other communities.

Handling Problems or Challenges
Many respondents feel that a dialogue conference could help them handle or respond to specific challenges they face and problems they have. Most of all, respondents want to attend workshops that help them improve their facilitation skills. Specifically, people are interested in advanced skills training for facilitators and tips for handling common issues and challenges that facilitators face. One respondent suggested the conference provide a venue for getting feedback on one's facilitation style.

Other challenges that our respondents frequently wanted to address were:
handling power imbalances within dialogue groups
sustaining dialogue efforts
building trust among conflicting groups
marketing and working with the media
getting more people involved in dialogues (including youth, and not just 'the choir')

Some respondents also expressed the need for tips on:
dealing with resistance in race dialogue groups
living dialogue in the real world
creating an environment within communities to dialogue
managing advocacy among dialogue participants

Addressing Issues in the Dialogue Community
Respondents recognized that in order for the dialogue process to continue to develop in effectiveness and increase in popularity and use, a number of topics should be addressed at a dialogue conference.

Workshops which would update dialogue leaders on new research, trends and strategies in their field were most frequently mentioned. The future of dialogue practice was also a common concern, with respondents showing a desire to examine what's next for the dialogue field and work towards creating a plan of action for the future of dialogue.

Respondents also want to learn about the career opportunities and career paths that currently exist in dialogue work. And are interested in leadership in the dialogue movement: who are and have been the leaders in the field, and what can be done to cultivate new leaders.

Other issues respondents wanted to see addressed in workshops are:
Inter-organizational and practitioner collaboration and communication within the dialogue movement
Evaluating dialogue programs
Creating a common language in the field
Determining standard qualifications for facilitators
Dialogue as form of group learning/innovation vs. problem-driven dialogue

Dialogue Basics
Respondents were interested in attending workshops on the potential impact of dialogue in our communities - and in our world. They wanted to explore what dialogue can accomplish, what the various uses and applications are for dialogue, and how, why and under what circumstances is dialogue effective.

Specific Tools & Approaches
Dialogue leaders are interested in learning about the strategies, uses and drawbacks of online dialogue, and learning more about re-evaluation counseling (or co-counseling), consensus decision-making, conflict mapping and art-based dialogue.

Some Examples of Suggested Workshop Titles
Here is a sampling of some of the many excellent suggestions we received for workshop titles:

Power and authority: How to have a meaningful dialogue in the face of real power imbalances
Techniques to engage more and more communities in dialogue to solve local programs
The future of dialogue: Where are we headed, and how will we get there?
What can interracial dialogue leaders and Israeli-Palestinian (or Muslim-Jewish) dialogue leaders learn from each other?
Fostering collaboration and communication within the dialogue field
Racial dialogue: overcoming the boundaries of American society
Connecting dialogue to policy: When and how to involve policy-makers
Youth on the vanguard: Leadership in the dialogue movement
Evaluation: How do you know when your dialogue project is succeeding?

Respondents were also asked what kinds workshops or discussions they would be willing to lead, facilitate or co-facilitate. Many people listed one or two excellent titles. Here is just a sampling of these:

Teaching Dialogue: Skills and Theory Building in the University Setting
Demonstration Dialogue: Reaching Out to the Wider Community
Information Technology and Dialogue
Getting to Know Your Facilitator Self
Creating and Sustaining a National Dialogue Field: What will it take?
Deliberative Discourse and Organizational/Community Learning
Framing Issues for Public Deliberation
The Role of Dialogue in the Peacebuilding Process: An Exploration of the Ways Dialogue can be Linked with Other Conflict Resolution and Peacebuilding Processes
Incorporating Art into Dialogue and Bridgework
Infusing Dialogues on Race into Public School Curricula
Evaluating the Effectiveness of Intergroup Dialogues
How to Use the Media as a Sounding Board to Frame Issues, Report Progress, and Reach a Wider Audience
Working with Public Interest Law Firms to Move from Talk to Action and Accountability
Democracy in Real Time: Involving Non-English Speakers in the Discourse on Community Life
Motivating Youth to Civic Engagement Through Authentic Roles in Their Communities
Dialogue as a Civic Engagement Tool
The Current Crisis - How Can Structured Dialogue Support a Peace Process?
Using Dialogue in Teacher Training
The Life-Cycle of a Dialogue Group (Stages of Dialogue)
Changing the Way We Talk: Using Dialogue in Policy Decisions
Is there Tension between Dialogue and Community Organizing?
Exploring Models for Dialogue
Bookalogues: Building Shared Insight Through Dialogue About Books

Presenters & Speakers

Respondents were asked if there is a practitioner, trainer or speaker they would especially like to have offer a workshop or session. They were asked to name the person and specify what they would prefer the focus or learning goal would be at the session. (Some respondents didn't specify a focus.)

Interestingly, only four people were mentioned more than once, out of a total of 37 speakers (plus 6 organizations) our respondents expressed interest in. The fact that speakers were rarely mentioned twice, coupled with the assortment of speakers that were suggested, outlines the diversity of interests, experiences, and professional backgrounds of dialogue practitioners.

The four people who were mentioned more than once are:

Harold Saunders of the Kettering Foundation, author of A Public Peace Process: Sustained Dialogue to Transform Racial & Ethnic Conflicts (mentioned three times).
Glenna Gerard, Co-Founder of the Dialogue Group and co-author of Dialogue: Rediscover the Transforming Power of Conversation (mentioned twice).
William Isaacs, author of Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together (mentioned twice).
John Paul Lederach, founding Director of Eastern Mennonite University's Conflict Transformation Program (mentioned twice).

The other 33 potential session facilitators that were mentioned are:

Valerie Batts, Executive Director of VISIONS, Inc. (topic: recognizing, understanding, appreciating differences)
Ruby Beale, University of Michigan professor (topic: social psychological implications of dialogue)
Reena Bernards, The Dialogue Project
Cherie Brown, Director of the National Coalition Building Institute
Dr. Yolanda Burwell, Associate Professor, East Carolina University
David Campt, former policy analyst with the President Clinton's Initiative on Race (topic: comparative approaches to dialogue)
Laura Chasin, Director of the Public Conversations Project
Aleco Christakis, CogniScope (topic: interactive management)
Dr. Joy DeGruy Leary, Professor, Portland State University
Louise Diamond, the Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy
Ron Fisher, Professor of Conflict Analysis and Management at Royal Roads University, Victoria, Canada
Joe Folger (topic: the transformative powers of mediation/facilitation)
Paula Green, Director of the Karuna Center for Peacebuilding
Sandy Heierbacher, Director of the Dialogue to Action Initiative (topic: talk and action issues)
Lenise Jackson-Gaertner, Founder of Mothers for Race Unity and Equality
John Landesman, Study Circles Resource Center
Victor Lee Lewis, Director of the Center for Diversity Leadership
Martha McCoy, Director of the Study Circles Resource Center (topic: creating an organization with staying power)
Lee Mun Wah, producer of the video The Color of Fear
Dr. Sandra Postel, Director of the Global Water Policy Project (topic: water as a cause of conflict)
Randy Ross, New Jersey Office of Bias Crime and Community Relations
Walter Ruby, Long Island Jewish World journalist
David Schoem, University of Michigan (topic: the evolution of the UM's Program on Intergroup Relations)
Randa Slim, Kettering Foundation
Larry Susskind, President, Consensus Building Institute (topic: assisted negotiation)
Dr. David Suzuki of the David Suzuki Foundation (topic: environment as cause of conflict)
Richard Tagle, Public Education Network (topic: dialogue as a tool for public engagement)
Beverly Daniel Tatum, Professor and Dean at Mount Holyoke College (topic: discussing race issues in the classroom)
Libby & Len Traubman, San Francisco Bay Area Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue Group (topic: how to hold Jewish/Palestinian dialogue groups and get broad-based support)
William Van den Heuvel (topic: Bohm Dialogue Concepts in Practice)
Cricket White, Hope in the Cities
Dr John Woodall, professor at Harvard Medical School
Ximena Zuniga, professor at University of Massachusetts (topic: facilitation skills)

The following organizations were also mentioned, without a speaker specified:

CDR Associates
Hope in the Cities
Re-evaluation Counseling
STAR (Students Talk About Race) program at UCLA
Study Circles Resource Center

The Cutting Edge of Dialogic Practice

One of the open-ended questions we had the opportunity to ask in the survey was: "What issues do you see as on the 'cutting edge' of development in dialogic practice? If the dialogue process and practice were to develop beautifully over the next 5 years - to be ever more supportive of effective work - in what ways would practice change or would practitioners be more skilled?"

The responses that we received were thoughtful, informed and varied. They fell into seven categories. They are, in order of importance to our respondents:

The Development & Utilization of the Dialogue Process
Connection & Collaboration Across Various Sectors of Dialogic Practice
Training & Skills Development of Dialogue Practitioners
Marketing, Promotion & Support of the Dialogue Process
Outcomes of Dialogue
Overall Shifts in our Local and Global Communities

The responses are fascinating and insightful, and express the visions, ideas and needs of organizers, facilitators, researchers and students across the growing dialogue community. Much can be learned from simply reading over these comments, which were edited to read as future truths, and we hope that they will be used for planning purposes throughout the dialogue community.

The Development & Utilization of the Dialogue Process

(25 total comments)

Dialogue programs will become more and more inclusive, in terms of culture, race, nationality, language and citizenship. Dialogue programs will adapt as needed in order to involve those who are not already involved. (5 comments)

There will be clarification and specificity of the term 'dialogue' versus interactions such as discussion, conversation, debate, etc. (3)

Evaluation tools for assessing dialogue programs will continue to be developed and improved, and dialogues will routinely be evaluated for effectiveness. (3)

Dialogue on the web (online dialogue) will increase in popularity and effectiveness, and online facilitation will improve. (3)

Telecommunication technologies (particularly the internet) will be utilized to get more people engaging in dialogue with those they would otherwise not have the opportunity to interact with. (2)

Strategies will exist be utilized for making community dialogue a part of communities' automatic response to crises and conflicts.

New applications of dialogue will be discovered, utilized and shared.

Strategies for utilizing dialogue principles in the face of power differentials will be developed and distributed.

More and more dialogue research will be conducted and shared.

There will be a thorough mapping of the variety of dialogue models used by practitioners.

Quality control methods will be utilized by dialogue practitioners.

Ways to interface dialogue with other interactive processes such as brainstorming and team building will be developed.

Guidelines and strategies will exist for assessing the appropriateness of dialogue and consensus building opportunities in particular situations.

More people will engage in dialogue despite vast worldview chasms and Jayne Docherty's concept of 'worldview dialogue' will be better understood (Doucherty is a professor at Eastern Mennonite University).

Connection and Collaboration Across the
Various Sectors of Dialogic Practice

(22 total comments)

Systems will be in place which allow dialogue facilitators to network with each other, and to share information, experiences and best practices. (5)

Institutions of higher education will strongly support the dialogue field. More dialogue-oriented offices and positions will exist on college campuses and curriculum will be transformed to incorporate dialogue principles. (3)

Ways to help dialogue leaders better communicate with one another about their work will be developed. (2)

The development of a national dialogue organization which encompasses various models and methods and works closely with related fields (social change, conflict resolution, organizational development, community building, etc.).

Mentoring opportunities will be created in order to help new dialogue leaders learn from more seasoned practitioners.

People will develop more complex philosophies on human actions, and the field will have a larger link to the psychology field, in explaining human behavior.

All religious institutions will have a Director of Dialogue, who connects with the surrounding religious communities and encourages interreligious (especially fundamentalist/pluralist) dialogue.

There will be more collaboration between educational and community groups.

There will be more of a linkage between dialogue and:

direct action organizers
higher education
public interest law firms
the arts
the conflict resolution field
democracy and civic renewal
human rights

Training & Skills Development of Dialogue Practitioners

(20 total comments)

Advanced facilitator training will be readily available to practitioners. More in-depth and multi-leveled approaches to facilitator training will be developed. (4)

A standard for facilitator training will be established and agreed upon by major dialogue organizations and practitioners. (2)

Dialogue facilitators will be culturally competent. They will be cognizant about and comfortable with the communication difficulties that commonly arise in multicultural dialogue situations/groups. (2)

Dialogue facilitator training will be widely available through a variety of institutions.

Facilitator training will focus on replicable skills and techniques, and will be highly experiential, so that the techniques become second nature.

Dialogue facilitators would be able to obtain certification, and utilize a variety of professional development opportunities.

Dialogue facilitators will be skilled and trained at:

obtaining funding for their programs
not replicating old dynamics in the dialogue
resolving tensions between 'neutral,' welcoming, non-judgmental facilitation and explicit social change agendas
advocating for dialogue
explaining dialogue
helping people practice new ways of communicating
getting people talking to each other
getting people to tackle politically sensitive subjects

Marketing, Promotion & Support of the Dialogue Process

(17 total comments)

Ways to frame and 'sell' the value of dialogue to the wider culture and to funders will be developed. (4)

Each community will utilize many opportunities and settings for dialogues. (2)

There will be more funding available to support dialogue programs. (2)

Dialogue practitioners will be better able to work with the media.

There will be more publicity for dialogue programs, and more information in the media about dialogue.

Organizations will recognize the value of dialogue, and incorporate it into their practices with their employees.

New opportunities to support and fund dialogue work will be initiated.

The interface of dialogue with peace, tolerance and learning would evident. People would understand that dialogue is action, and that dialogue fosters more action.

Dialogue 'Centers' will be developed to practice and promote this 'new' form of communication. These Centers will focus primarily on relationship-building as opposed to problem-solving, which is the next step.

A campaign will be launched which emphasizes the importance of people talking to each other in a constructive manner.

Successful dialogue programs will receive the recognition they deserve.

Policymakers will understand and value the dialogue process.

Outcomes of Dialogue


Dialogue will lead more strongly and successfully into action steps. Dialogue will be seen as a springboard to informed action. (3)

Dialogue will resolve conflicts in a more complete and lasting manner. (2)

Practitioners will know how to build joint political action out of dialogue.

Communities will move from dialogue to community organizing for results.

A plan for change will exist, and dialogue will be utilized to catalyze the plan.

Better ways for minority groups to get along will be developed.

Overall Shifts in our Local and Global Communities


Interdependency and multicultural exchange will become a global concern, and dialogue will focus on strength through diversity.

People will shift to a mindset of seeking consensus (win-win outcomes) instead of majority rules (win-lose result).

People will develop an understanding of the concept of comprehensive community building (dialogue is a part of this 'bigger picture').

By listening and talking to each other in dialogue, the paradigms that guide our culture will change. Shouting each other down will no longer be seen as a valid way to communicate.

There will be an acceptance of dialogue on all levels as a 'better way' than debate. Dialogue principles and practice will be a part of many people's everyday life, in daily encounters.

About Our Respondents

Respondents represented a great variety of terrific organizations. 25% represented a college or university (21 different institutions were mentioned). 23% of respondents were affiliated with one the following dialogue organizations: the Study Circles Resource Center, Hope in the Cities, the Public Conversations Project, the National Issues Forum and the National Conference for Community & Justice (with no organization far outnumbering any of the others). 36 other organizations were also represented, from the American Jewish Committee and the Art Therapy Center to the Japan Center for Preventive Diplomacy and the Nonviolent Peaceforce.

73% of our respondents have experience facilitating dialogues, 18% have similar facilitation experience (as mediators, anti-racism trainers, etc.), and 10% currently lead intergroup dialogue organizations.

Respondents have experience in a variety of dialogue applications, models and topics. 33% have run or facilitated community dialogues, 22% campus dialogues, and 24% have dialogue experience in other venues, such as churches, businesses, nonprofit organizations, online dialogue and international dialogues. 10% identified themselves as researchers or students (primarily graduate students and doctoral candidates).

Issues that respondents have commonly focused on in their dialogues range from race and racism (19%), diversity (10%) and community improvement and civic engagement (8%) to police/community relations and interfaith understanding.

Other dialogue topics that were mentioned are: the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, abortion, environmental issues, September 11, health care, organizational development, disabilities, sexual abuse, nonviolent communication, land use, sexual orientation, nuclear war/disarmament and youth issues.

- about the conference
- who should attend

- why this conference?
- full proposal (pdf)

Purpose & Goals
- conference goals
- survey results

- history of conference
- organizing team
- coalition
- Hewlett Foundation
- conference director

About Dialogue
- what is dialogue?

- registration form