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A Sample Dialogue

The dialogue outline that follows is based on several successful dialogue models.? It is geared specifically towards national service programs (AmeriCorps, VISTA, NCCC, etc.), but could easily be modified for other programs and groups.? Every national service program is different, as every community is different.? Be sure to tailor this and other models to your specific needs, especially if you choose to open up your dialogue to community members, staff or any other group.

Session One
Session Two
Session Three
Session Four

Session One

During the first phase, the facilitator introduces the dialogue concept and the purpose of the dialogue; expectations of the participants are made clear; ground rules are discussed and agreed upon; participants briefly introduce themselves; the agenda for the first session is reviewed; and the facilitator describes his or her role in the process.? After all of these very important details are discussed, the dialogue begins.

The President?’s Initiative on Race suggests initiating the dialogue by asking questions that don?’t necessarily focus on race, but that help the participants feel more comfortable about opening up to each other in this setting.? Here are some suggestions for National Service participants:

?• What things in life are most important to you?

?• What were you doing and where were you living before you joined your national service program?

?• Why did you join a national service program?

?• What are your first impressions of the community you are working in?? (Or, if you?’re not new to the community, how do you feel about the community you?’re working in?)

Depending on your participants?—how well they know each other, how comfortable they are opening up in groups, etc.?—you may choose to start with race-oriented questions, or to just ask one ?‘ice-breaking?’ question.? Some initial questions you may choose to ask are:

?• Share 1) how you see yourself racially, 2) how you assume people see you racially, and 3) how you wish to be seen racially.? Note how these things may be the same or different from how you might indicate your race on a form.

?• Did you grow up mostly around people who were similar to you racially and culturally?? (Elaborate?—yes or no answers do not suffice.)

?• What are some of your earliest memories of coming in contact with people who were different from you racially or culturally?

?• Relate a story or give an example to illustrate how your background or experiences have contributed to your attitudes about race relations.

?• Have you experienced racism personally?? Have you seen it in practice?? How has it affected you or people you know?

?• In what ways do your attitudes toward people of other racial or ethnic groups differ from those of your parents?

?• How often and under what circumstances (at work, socially, in stories, etc.) do you have contact with people of other races or ethnic groups?? How has this changed since you joined your national service program?

Wrap-up/Debriefing for this session:

?• How did you feel about this session?? What did you like or dislike about the discussion?

?• How well did the ground rules work?? How did you feel about the facilitation?

?• Is there anything that seems ?‘unfinished?’ to you, that you think should probably be addressed next time?

?• What would make these discussions more meaningful for you?

Depending on how many of these questions you choose to field, and how much progress you feel your group is making, you may choose to expand this self-exploratory stage to fill two sessions.? If you decide that this is the right route for your group, the following activity could help to address some of your participants?’ most pressing concerns.

Have each participant write down between one and three topics they would like the group to discuss.? Read over the suggestions, having someone jot them down on a flipchart, and then ask the participants to each put a star after the three issues they are most interested in addressing.? (To get more ideas flowing, have a list of some common race-related issues and concerns for the group to read over, such as ?“Why do racial groups often seem to segregate themselves when they don?’t have to??” and ?“Should white people reject their unearned race-based privileges?? In what ways??”)

Session Two

For the rest of the sessions, you should begin by reviewing what happened at the previous session, the ground rules, and the current agenda.? The ground rules and current agenda should also be posted at each session for everyone to see.

The second session of the dialogue forces participants to go beyond the ?‘I.?’? Addressing such important questions as ?“What are the underlying causes of racism and poor race relations??” and ?“Where are we as a community in terms of racism and race relations?,?” participants will identify specific themes, issues and problems.? All three of the following questions should be asked:

?• How would you describe the overall state of race relations in the communities you work in?

?• How would you describe the overall state of race relations within this national service program?

?• What do you think some of the underlying conditions are which affect race relations in the communities you are a part of (the community you work in, your national service community, etc.)?? In other words, what are some of the causes of racism and interracial conflict in your communities?

End this session?—and the remaining sessions?—
with the same wrap-up questions as the first.

Session Three

During this dialogue session, your goal is to get your members to begin talking about how racial problems might be addressed.? It is important to continue to encourage a wide variety of viewpoints during this session.? It is not yet time for participants to begin narrowing down ?“what needs to be done.?”? The group should still be exploring and learning from one another.? In this session, two or three of the following questions could be asked:

?• The struggle to improve race relations has a long history in this country.? How has change come about?? What strategies and actions were most helpful in the past?? What kinds of efforts are needed today?? Why?

?• What experiences do you have in addressing racial problems?? What did you see work, and what failed?? Why?

?• What things can be done to improve race relations within the group?

?• What are some organizations doing to address this issue in the communities you work in?? What do you think your national service program could do to assist them?

?• What existing resources or tools could be better utilized to dismantle racism and improve race relations and equality, either within your program, the greater community, or both?

Session Four

Most dialogue groups naturally want to take some sort of action based on what they?’ve experienced.? Although being a part of a dialogue group is a powerful kind of action in and of itself, in which each member has a positive effect on every other member, as well as oneself, it is common for many members of a dialogue group to exhibit a passionate need to do something about racism or race relations beyond engaging in dialogue.

Since national service members are already spending most of their time and energy trying to change their communities and environments for the better, the need to move from talk to action must be addressed differently than for most dialogue groups.? National service participants should be encouraged to observe and respond to race-related injustices within the work they are already doing and within their national service community.? The dialogue experience will enhance their efforts within the diverse communities in which they are placed, and could open their eyes to inequities within every community in which they are involved.

If national service participants who experience the dialogue process are determined to address racial problems in their communities, they should be encouraged and assisted in doing so.? They should also be reminded that real change with such deep-rooted problems can take many years.? Initiating a program that can last well after they are gone, and which leaves the long-term problem-solving to the community may be the most appropriate and effective action to take.? They may choose to help initiate community-wide dialogues, for example?—a decision that could empower local citizens and strengthen the community more than they can imagine.

Dialogue groups made up of national service participants have different specific strengths and weaknesses than typical dialogue groups.? Since they are working directly with community problems, they may be more aware of important initiatives that are already taking place, specific barriers that may hinder their efforts, and various community assets that could prove to be useful.? If they are new to the community they are working in, however, or if they are only involved in that community during their term of service, their efforts to make changes in their communities based on their dialogue experience may be less successful.

For these reasons, National Service participants who want to move from dialogue about racism and race relations to addressing these issues in the local community should seek out community members and organizations which are doing similar work.? Such groups?’ and individuals?’ knowledge, experience and support will greatly enhance their efforts, and will increase the sustainability of their efforts after they are gone.

If the group is interested in utilizing what they?’ve learned from the dialogue process by taking action either individually or collectively, some questions to ask are:

?• What seemed to be the major themes in the previous dialogues?? Were there a number of shared concerns?? What were they?

?• What are some concrete steps you can take?—by yourself or with others?—to address these concerns?

?• What are some of the obstacles you can foresee for these efforts?? How can you overcome these barriers?

?• Who should be involved in the efforts you are discussing?

?• What new insights or ideas have you gained from this discussion that might help you in the future?

?• How do you think this dialogue experience can influence your work in the community?

?• What goals can you set for yourself based on what you?’ve discovered about yourself or learned about others during the dialogue?

If enough time remains, participants can begin to work on some action planning, either individually or as a group.? Setting goals, establishing committees and delegating tasks are important steps for dialogue groups that are interested in taking action as a group.? This is not a quick process, however, and the group may want to schedule at least one more meeting for action planning.

The Dialogue to Action Initiative and www.Thataway.org are ?2001 by Sandy Heierbacher and Andy Fluke. ?
Last updated Thursday, December 27, 2001 12:53 AM ?
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