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Survey of Leaders of Intergroup Dialogue Organizations

This survey was conducted by Sandy Heierbacher for the Center for Living Democracy and the Corporation for National Service via telephone between the months of July 1998 and February 1999. Seventy-five leaders of U.S. dialogue organizations and dialogue groups were interviewed, the vast majority of whom primarily organize intergroup dialogues on race.

Representation & Attendance of Various Groups in Dialogue
Community Action
Needs of Dialogue Groups
President Clinton's Initiative on Race
Basic Questions
Questions for Further Research

Representation & Attendance of Various Groups in Dialogue

Do you feel that you have a good cross-section of the community involved in your dialogues?

58.7% Yes
30.7% Somewhat
10.7% No

Specific groups which were indicated as being underrepresented in dialogues:

33.3% Youth (youth refers to children, teenagers and college-age people)
32% Asians
32% Latinos
24% Working Class
13.3% African Americans
13.3% Native Americans
9.3% Non-Christians
8% People with little education
8% Males
4% Conservatives
4% Whites

Other groups which were mentioned once or twice: Black males, immigrants, non-English speakers. Despite the fact that nearly 60% of the respondents claimed that their dialogue participants represented their community well, nearly all immediately thought of a group or two when asked "which particular groupswhether it be a race, class, gender or whateverare underrepresented in your dialogues?"

It is extremely important to note that youth are often underrepresented in dialogue groups. There are several reasons for this which emerged during the interview process. First of all, youth are often not actively recruited for dialogue groups because some leaders feel that they will either not be interested or will have a hard time participating alongside members of older generations. Secondly, young peoples interest in dialogue seems to be hard to sustain, and youth who participate in dialogue often drop out of the process early on.

Third and most importantly, dialogues which are directed toward youth are not too common yet, and it is primarily the organizations which do not run youth-oriented dialogues that are not attractingand not retainingtheir young people. Even if these organizations make a point of recruiting young people for their dialogues, they fail at keeping them involved. Time and again, however, interviewees representing organizations that run dialogues specifically for youth touted their success at attracting and retaining young people and at changing their perspectives and building their relationships. The message is clear: if you want to involve young people in dialogue, try organizing dialogues specifically tailored to them.

Also important is the frequency that both Latinos and Asian Americans were mentioned as being underrepresented in dialogue. Both were mentioned by nearly a third of the respondents and usually, when one was mentioned, the other was, too. Is this because interracial dialogue is perceived as a black/white process, and other People of Color arent made to feel welcome or needed in the process? Is it possible that the dialogue process is more in sync with African American and European American cultures than with Latino, Asian or other cultures? Is there a language barrier which prevents non-English speakers from joining in? This finding raises a lot of interesting questions that our survey, unfortunately, cannot answer.

Working class people were also frequently mentioned as being underrepresented. Many groups admitted that their participants tended to be middle or upper-class, and that the working class people who got involved often left the group early. Several explanations were given during the interviews. Working class people tend to be more busy and have more day-to-day responsibilities (young children to care for, numerous jobs, etc.). They also may have more of an interest in seeing tangible results of their efforts, and are frustrated by dialogues lack of quick solutions to community problems. They also tend to lose interest when dialogue participants are allowed to venture past the personal and into more academic discussion. Dialogues that become intellectual debates are not uncommon, and not only do they tend to repel working class people and others, but they also distance the group from the reasons they got together in the first place: to increase their understanding, build relationships and make changes in their community.

Specific groups of people which tend to attend more often than others once they get involved in the dialogue process:

13.3% Whites
9.3% Women
6.7% Older people
5.3% African Americans
5.3% Middle class people
4% Clergy
16% No groups stand out

Other groups mentioned once or twice: Latinos, youth, working class, Bahai, men, people with more time on their hands, people who want to take action, people who have ownership in the process.

Specific groups of people which, once involved in the dialogue process, tend to attend less often or drop out of the process sooner than others:

21.3% African Americans
8% Asians
8% Latinos
6.7% Whites
5.3% Working class people
4% Native Americans
4% White males
16% No groups stand out

Other groups mentioned once or twice: Youth, Bahai, men and students.

One of our most interestingand most importantfindings came out of these two questions. One out of every five of our respondents admitted that African Americans are dropping out of their dialogues and, when asked why, they stated again and again that blacks are leaving dialogue groups because they are frustrated by the lack of action.

Unlike the whites in the group, the African Americans have talked about race all of their lives. Being in a mixed-race group and sharing their own and listening to others perspectives and experiences is a very positive experience for them, but they still seem to need to move on before the others in the group are ready. Some research says that this is because the dominant group (whites, in this case) tends to get involved in dialogue so they can learn about others, get beyond guilt and other feelings and build relationships, whereas marginalized groups (People of Color) tend to see dialogue as a means to constructive change in their community.

This is an important issue for the dialogue movement, and one which should be addressed by every dialogue group before it begins. Expectations should be clear for all group members: this is a process that leads to collaborative actionit is expected that you all will utilize what you learn in the dialogue process to try to make changes in the community. Or: Intergroup dialogue is a powerful process that can change peoples lives. You may choose to take some form of action in your own lives or within the community, but our purpose here is to engage in dialogue.

Community Action

Does moving from talk to action become an issue for your dialogue groups?
In other words, do participants start wanting to move beyond dialogue into community action, and does this cause some conflict or tension?

69.3% yes
16% for some groups
14.7% no

How does the facilitator handle this issue when it comes up?

56% we move toward action
20% we talk about it
8% nothing is done
6.7% we have the group do a community service project
4% other

Is moving from talk to action a good route for a dialogue group to take?

69.3% yes
12% usually
10.7% sometimes
4% unsure
1% no

These findings may be the most significant of the survey. Nearly 70% of our respondents claimed that moving from talk to action was an issue for their dialogue groups; that groups commonly arrived at a point where some participants wanted to answer the question "So what are we going to do about this?" About the same number of respondents agreed that moving from talk to action is a good route for a dialogue group to take, many commenting further that dialogue groups naturally want to take action in their communities based on the experience.

Why, then, are African Americans dropping out of dialogue groups, frustrated at the lack of action? What can dialogue proponents do differently, so that the move toward action is more successful, and so that the entire group is ready to transition from talk to action at (nearly) the same time? 56% of the groups surveyed claim that they do move toward action eventually. But their efforts at taking action are not always successful.

Many leaders who were interviewed claimed that they simply did not have the time to try to move their group(s) toward action. Many had other jobs, and were organizing dialogues in their spare time. Even those who were employed full-time leading dialogue efforts claimed that they did not have the time or knowledge to really help the dialogue groups make the kinds of long-term community changes they strove for. Others admitted that, since their dialogues involved only a small percentage of the community, some important stakeholders were not involved, making it difficult to get the support of certain individuals or groups they needed to have on their side.

Do your organizations dialogue groups ever volunteer/do community service together?

44% no
29.3% yes
26.7% some groups do

This question was asked because the researcher is interested in the impact community service could have on dialogue groups. If a group intends to eventually move from talk to action, a one-time community service project could prevent People of Color from dropping out before the group is ready for the transition to action. Instead of having six dialogues and then deciding on what action to take, for example, the group can participate in three dialogues, then spend one evening doing a community service project together (painting a house, preparing food boxes, etc.), then continue the dialogues and then move toward action.

This minor change could benefit the group in several ways: all group members would start thinking about community action, the members that are feeling frustrated with just talk may be temporarily appeased and continue the process, and the group will have a common experience to talk about when they do start discussing action. In addition to these benefits, a community service project is also very likely to improve relationships among group members, increasing trust and building teamworkthings which are important for groups that are hoping to work together to make changes in their community. Community service also increases dialogue groups visibility in the community, and helps groups develop potential community partners. For more information on why and how community service can be incorporated into dialogue efforts, click the button on the right.

Needs of Dialogue Groups

What would be helpful to your dialogue efforts?

  • additional funds yes: 90.7% no: 2.7% unsure: 6.7%
  • additional publicity yes: 89.3% no: 4% unsure: 6.7%
  • information about other dialogue efforts yes: 85.3% no: 9.3% unsure: 5.3%
  • connections with other dialogue efforts yes: 80% no: 9.3% unsure: 10.7%
  • more connections within the local community yes: 78.7% no: 14.7% unsure: 6.7%
  • regional conferences on dialogue yes: 78.7% no: 8% unsure: 13.3%
  • office help/volunteers yes: 70.7% no: 20% unsure: 9.3%
  • additional training for facilitators yes: 62.7% no: 21.3% unsure: 16%
  • additional resources on dialogue yes: 60% no: 28% unsure: 12%
  • national conferences on dialogue yes: 60% no: 12% unsure: 28%
  • additional community service projects yes: 52% no: 17.3% unsure: 30.67%
  • young energy yes: 52% no: 18.7% unsure: 4%

Several of these questions are trying to get at whether or not organizations and groups that do intergroup dialogue feel disconnected with other such groups. The question was asked more directly below, with nearly 40% admitting that they did feel disconnected and 17% saying that they were unsure.

We were interested in finding out what the interest and need was for both regional and national conferences on intergroup dialogue. Many of the people we interviewed expressed concerns about cost and about the different issues dialogue groups faced in various regions in the U.S. For these reasons, regional conferences were more popular than national, although both ideas were responded to very favorable. Fortunately, a number of regional conferences have already been held, and many more are being organized (but not enough), although most are specifically geared toward a certain type/model of dialogue.

Do you feel a lack of connection with other dialogue efforts?

44% no
38.7% yes
17.3% unsure

Are you interested in having more of a connection to other dialogue efforts?

74.7% yes
18.7% unsure
6.7% no

President Clinton's Initiative on Race

What was your opinion of the Initiative?

52% mixed feelings
38.7% positive
9.3% negative
4% depends what government does next

This survey was administered during the culmination of President Clinton's Initiative on Race, which primarily promoted intergroup dialogue and white privilege awareness. Most of the people who were interviewed first stated that they felt the Presidents Initiative on Race was a very positive step in an important directionand they were proud that a President had finally admitted that the race problem still existed and that something had to be done about it.

However, most respondents followed up that initial statement with a but. But it didnt get nearly enough publicity; But the Lewinsky thing took too much attention away from the efforts, including the Presidents; But the town meetings were the wrong way to go; But the Advisory Board wasnt representative; But he just didnt do enough. Most of the respondents had initially had high expectations for the Initiative that just were not met.

What kind of an impact did the Initiative have on your efforts?

44% no impact
34.7% slightly positive impact
17.3 positive impact
2.7% unsure

The groups that came under the category of slightly positive impact were the groups that received extra publicity because of the Initiative, or a few extra participants. The groups which claimed that the Initiative impacted them positively had usually worked directly with the initiative (a town meeting was run in their community, they helped the Initiative put together the One America Dialogue Guide, etc.).

What do you think the President/Federal Government should do next?

28% help communities organize dialogues
28% support grassroots efforts (non-financially)
26.7% provide funds for grassroots efforts
14.7% institutionalize the initiative somehow/continue efforts
14.7% go beyond just reporting and recommending
13.3% back up efforts with policy changes
12% help dialogue groups communicate and work together (develop network)
10.7% help dialogue groups obtain more publicity
9.3% share the Advisory Boards reports with the public
6.7% distribute dialogue resources to groups across the country
6.7% examine how governmental policies affect People of Color
4% nothingefforts should not be top-down
9.3% not sure

Other suggestions that were mentioned once or twice were: Support structures that already promote dialogue; organize regional and national conferences on dialogue; eliminate intellectual debates that market themselves as dialogues; focus on the link between race and class; develop common terms; identify obstacles to communication; and support businesses that are diverse at all levels.

Several publications can still be downloaded for free from the One America web site (www2.whitehouse.gov/Initiatives/OneAmerica/america.html) or ordered through the White House bookstore (202-512-1800). Downloading is recommended, because the bookstore is charging for the publications.

The publications that are available are: Pathways to One America In The 21st Century: Promising Practices for Racial Reconciliation (a reference guide of race-based programs); the One America Dialogue Guide (a small but very useful guide to organizing and conducting a dialogue); One America in the 21st Century: a New Future (the Advisory Boards Report to the President); and Changing America: Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being by Race and Hispanic Origin (a statistical report by the Council of Economic Advisers for the Initiative). Also, there is now a One America office in DC (opened up in February 1999), which will follow up on the Initiatives efforts, and is meant to be a more permanent fixture in the capitol. You can contact One Americas Director, Ben Johnson, at 202-395-1010.

Basic Questions

What dialogue model(s) do you use?

45.3% Study Circles Resource Center model
34.7% Their own model
5.3% Hope in the Cities, 4% Bahai/Race Unity model, 3% Future Search, 3% National Coalition Building Institute, 3% National Conference for Community and Justice, 3% National Endowment for the Humanities, 13% Other models (10 models, each mentioned once), 3% No model.

The percentages add up to well over 100% because some organizations claimed that they utilized two or more models. Also, organizations that use the Study Circles model often modify it to meet their own needs more precisely.

What dialogue materials do you use?

43% Study Circles Resource Center
30.7% Materials theyve developed
9.3% Hope in the Cities
5.3% Bahai/Race Unity materials, 5.3% National Conference for Community and Justice/Honest Conversations, 4% National Coalition Building Institute, 4% National Days of Dialogue, 4% World of Difference Institute (Anti-Defamation League,) 3% Teaching Tolerance (Southern Poverty Law Center), 3% Visions, Inc,. 36% Other materials (materials mentioned during one interview only), 1% No materials.

The percentages add up to over 100% because some groups claimed to use two or more organizations materials.

Why did your organization or group form? What made you start doing dialogue?

38.7% because of an individuals or groups interest
22.7% a local event or crisis brought people together around the issue of race
17.3% a national event or crisis brought people together around the issue of race
16% community need for it

Two respondents also claimed that a conference was the impetus for their dialogue initiatives. For the respondents whose dialogue efforts resulted from a national event or crisis, four mentioned the Rodney King incident, four mentioned the OJ Simpson trial, three the National Endowment for the Humanities dialogue initiative, two the Presidents Initiative on Race, two the Million Man March, two Minister Farrakhan (in general) and one Martin Luther Kings assassination.

Do your dialogue groups use a facilitator?

90.7% yes
9.3% sometimes
0% no

How often do your dialogue groups discussions tend to focus on current community issues?

36% often
26.7% always
25.3% sometimes
6.7% rarely
0% never

Are discussion topics planned in advance for your dialogues?

61.3% yes
25.3% sometimes
9.3% no

Do you use ground rules?

77.3% yes
14.7% sometimes
6.7% no

Where do the ground rules come from?

45.3% We give the group a list and they have the option to modify it.
25.3% Our organization has its own list of ground rules.
16% Each dialogue group establishes their own rules.
5.3% We use another organizations ground rules.

Do you ask the group to agree on the rules before the dialogue begins?

78.7% yes
9.3% no
4% sometimes

Do your ground rules include&?

65.3% Listen with respect
50.7% Try to suspend judgement until speaker is finished talking
49.3% Try not to interrupt others
45.3% Monitor yourself (how long and how often you speak)
38.7% Use I statements

A common ground rule we failed to ask about specifically, but which was mentioned frequently was confidentiality.

Questions for Further Research

How do dialogue groups modify the Study Circles Resource Centers dialogue model and materials to meet their own communitys needs?

What kinds of modifications seem to work, and which should be discouraged?

Over a third of the respondents said they used their own dialogue model. What are these models?

What do they have in common, and what aspects of the models seem to work?

What makes a successful youth dialogue, and how are they different from adult-oriented dialogues?

When do young people stay interested and involved in primarily adult dialogues?

Why are Asian Americans and Latinos underrepresented in dialogue groups, and how can they be included more?

Why are working class people often underrepresented in dialogue groups, and how can they be included more?

What is it about the dialogue process that keeps whites and womenand especially white womeninvolved?

What could be changed so that others stayed involved, too?

What are the different motivations of whites and People of Color, and men and women, who involve themselves in dialogue?

How are the different groups hopes and expectations met and not met by dialogue?

How can dialogue groups move more successfully toward action?

How can retention in dialogue groups be improved?

How can the dialogue movement become more cohesive, with groups learning from each others successes and failures?

How can email and the internet be utilized to bring dialogue efforts together?

[Return to the "What's the Problem? page]

The Dialogue to Action Initiative and www.Thataway.org are ?2001 by Sandy Heierbacher and Andy Fluke. ?
Last changes added on Saturday, December 29, 2001 6:30 PM ?
? ?