Running a D&D Program – The Basics    

Here are some of the steps that are typically involved in organizing a public D&D program.

Create a diverse planning team
Involve respected leaders (including unofficial leaders) in the communities/groups involved with the issue. Focus on those whose voices are not usually heard, but also include those in traditional power positions (such as police officers and elected officials).

Determine what resources you have and need
Do some community mapping. What financial, human, structural, and organizational resources does your community have? Which of these are available to you? What resources exist in the planning team? Think about resources in terms of the planning phase, the actual dialogue process and the follow-up phase. Given what’s available, what do you still need?

Create clarity about your intent
Is it to resolve a conflict? To influence policy? To empower community members to make changes themselves? Something else? Several of these? What other goals do you have for the program?

Design a process, or choose a model or combination of models
Your decision will need to be based on your intent, your resources, and where people are in relation to the issue. Use NCDD’s Engagement Streams Framework to decide which streams to pursue. Then learn more about the processes that are used successfully in those streams and either select one or more models or create your own program based on the attributes of those models that you feel best fit your context.

Frame the issue
Figure out how to talk about the issue in an unbiased way (remember – you want to attract, not turn away, people from all ethic, educational, and political backgrounds). To make sure every perspective is acknowledged and considered, you may want to prepare deliberation materials that fairly represent those perspectives.

Recruit and train facilitators
The amount and intensity of training depends on the process you are using. Facilitators should represent the people and issues involved fairly well (a dialogue on race relations should utilize a balanced number of white and non-white facilitators, for example).

Recruit a representative group to participate
Here’s where your diverse planning team can really make things happen. Focus on marginalized groups such as immigrants, youth, elderly, and low-income people, since these will be the most difficult to get in the door. Tailor your outreach to each group’s needs and concerns. Alternatively, you could use a random sample of citizens and allow a smaller group to represent the whole.

Involve those with decision-making power
Dialogue and deliberation emphasize “power-with” principles instead of the typical “power-over” norms in practice today. If your intent is to empower your participants to influence policy or take actions themselves, the absence of those who hold power related to the issue at hand is a major detriment. Get the power-holders on board as planners, participants, sponsors, or supporters.

Inform the press and community
Get the word out as widely as possible, emphasizing the unbiased, inclusive nature of the process. You may also want to get members of the press signed on as participants or observers.

Convene the event
Steps vary depending on the process and other factors, but usually include establishing ground rules, hearing from everyone, connecting personal experiences with public issues, exploring a range of views, and discussing action steps or recommendations.

Follow Up
Evaluate the process. What went well? What could be improved next time? What exactly were the outcomes? Also, publicize the results of the process, or let people know this is ongoing and how they can join in. If there are action steps, follow up. Make sure those who are spearheading initiatives or further dialogue are supported; make sure decision-makers who agreed to listen to the results are held accountable.

Special Note…
One of the most important things to consider when initiating a public dialogue or deliberation effort is how it will or can fit into a larger civic engagement effort. “Civic engagement” refers to all types of involvement in public life and activities, from voting to volunteering in the community.

Dialogue and deliberation are powerful forms of civic engagement that motivate participants to stay more informed on issues of public concern and make people feel more connected to their community. They also help people feel more connected to those whose views and experiences are very different from their own. Isolated dialogue and deliberation processes can make an impact, but are most effective when they are part of a larger civic engagement effort.

How can you ensure this is part of a larger effort to engage citizens and build civic capacity in your community, rather than a one-time intervention? In order to strengthen your community for the long haul, you should consider how this effort can connect to and foster other efforts to get people thinking together and working together for the good of the entire community.

Do some research to determine where the community (or organization, region, nation, etc.) is in relation to the topic at hand, and where it is in terms of civic engagement in general. Are community groups already trying to address this issue? Are others considering dialogue as a way to resolve this conflict? Are there community groups or leaders who have supported dialogue and deliberation in the past?

Is There a Step-by-Step Guide I Can Follow?

Well, that depends on what you want to do. First, just to learn a little about some basic facilitation techniques, buy this fun book for five dollars:

The Little Book of Cool Tools for Hot Topics: Group Tools to Facilitate Meetings When Things Are Hot
This quick-reading 100-page book by Ron Kraybill and Evelyn Wright (2007) is a how-to collection of tools that have proven to be highly effective for facilitation of group conversation about difficult topics. The book shows how to help people hear each other when they feel like shouting; how to focus on the issues at stake rather than having a war of personalities; how to employ actual practices for better understanding (interviews, small-group discussions, role-reversal presentations); and how to move a group toward making a decision that all can honestly support.


If you want to run a simple dialogue process to help people explore an issue or problem or help them get to know each other better (ex: a workplace dialogue on strengths or a public dialogue to get liberals and conservatives talking to each other), you should check out some of the following guides:

Mini-Manual for Conversation Cafe Hosts
Conversation Café is the simplest process we know and one that has a proven track record to be easily and reliably adopted by hosts who may have no previous experience – as well as by skilled facilitators. This 4-page host manual provides you with everything you need to know to start and host a Café. Conversation Cafés are lively, hosted, drop-in conversations among diverse people about our feelings, thoughts and actions in this complex, changing world. The simple structure of Conversation Cafés – and their spirit of respect, curiosity and warm welcome – help people shift from small talk to BIG talk. Also check out the Let’s Talk America Hosting Manual, which teaches the Conversation Café method in more detail.

Basic Guidelines for Calling a Circle
These guidelines are excerpted from the book “Calling the Circle, the First and Future Culture” by Christina Baldwin (Bantam, 1997). The guidelines introduce you to the basics of convening a “circle” or “council” – an ancient form of meeting that has gathered human beings into respectful conversation for thousands of years.

Conflict Transformation

If you want to resolve a specific conflict or build bridges between groups that are at odds with each other, you may want to start by looking over these guidebooks:

Fostering Dialogue Across Divides: A Nuts and Bolts Guide from the Public Conversations Project
This guide from the Public Conversations Project – chock-full of PCP’s road-tested techniques for effectively engaging people across differences – is an invaluable resource for both established dialogue facilitators and newcomers to this work. Freely downloadable from PCP’s website (for a suggested donation).

Building a Common Future: Jewish-Palestinian Dialogue
An 11-page how-to brochure of principles, rationale, guidelines, and answers to often-asked questions about Sustained Dialogue. This freely downloadable PDF document was prepared by the Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue Group of San Mateo, California, which has been going strong for over a dozen years and has inspired many other Jewish-Palestinian living room dialogues to launch across the country.


If you want to help people make more informed decisions that take a wide range of views into account, usually to influence public decisions and public policy and improve public knowledge about an issue, these guides are a great starting point:

Public Dialogue: A Tool for Citizen Engagement, A Manual for Federal Departments and Agencies
This 56-page guidebook is based on the lessons learned from a national public dialogue project of the Canadian Policy Research Networks. It provides a comprehensive step-by-step guide to the public dialogue process, outlines how the materials to support public dialogue are developed, and anchors public dialogue in a clear research methodology and analysis plan.

Public Deliberation: A Manager’s Guide to Citizen Engagement
This report from AmericaSpeaks documents a spectrum of tools and techniques developed largely in the nonprofit world in recent years to increase citizens’ involvement in their communities and government. It also highlights ways in which public managers can develop an active approach to increasing citizens’ involvement in government at all levels. This report, written for IBM’s Center for the Business of Government, is useful and informative to managers across the nation seeking new, innovative ways to engage citizens.

Deliberation and Your Community: How to Convene and Moderate Local Public Forums Using Deliberative Decision-Making
This freely downloadable training manual is a compilation of materials used by a people in the National Issues Forums network to train others in deliberative decision-making. It addresses deliberation as another way to decide and is based on how to use local public forums, especially National Issues Forums, as a venue for deliberation.

Collaborative Action

If you want to empower people to solve complicated problems and take responsibility for the solution themselves rather than handing it off to someone who’s in power – especially relevant for issues that can only be solved when multiple entities are involved – here are some places to start:

Organizing Community-Wide Dialogue for Action and Change
A comprehensive guide to help you develop a community-wide study circle program from start to finish. Study Circles are at the heart of a process for public dialogue and community change. This process begins with community organizing, and is followed by facilitated, small-group dialogue that leads to a range of outcomes.

The Power of Appreciative Inquiry: A Practical Guide to Positive Change
The Power of Appreciative Inquiry by authors Diana Whitney and Amanda Trosten-Bloom (2003) is a comprehensive and practical guide to using AI for strategic large-scale change. Written by pioneers in the field, the book provides detailed examples along with practical guidance for using AI in an organizational setting.

Future Search: An Action Guide to Finding Common Ground in Organizations and Communities
This book by Marvin Weisbord and Sandra Janoff (1995) describes a step-by-step process for planning and leading a Future Search conference, where diverse community members come together to envision and plan their shared future.

Other Stuff to Help You Get Started

NCDD’s website hosts, describes, categorizes and links to thousands of resources to help people organize high-quality dialogue and deliberation programs. Our Learning Exchange is a great place to explore, but we know it can get overwhelming. Here are some specific links we thought you may want to know about:

© 2003-2008 National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation.
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