NCDD Commentary - March 24, 2003

A Visit to a Hub of Dialogue and Deliberation - Seattle, Washington

Submitted by Sandy Heierbacher

I had the opportunity to travel to Washington state a couple of weeks ago at the invitation of NCDD member Jim Rough, Co-Founder of the Center for Wise Democratic Processes and creator of the Dynamic Facilitation process. At the October conference, I heard wonderful things about DeAnna Martin and Rosa Zubizarreta's (Dynamic) facilitation, and wanted to learn more about this process and increase my own facilitation skills.

Jim Rough.

Jim Rough and his very happy dog.

Dynamic Facilitation is a transformational process that leads to breakthrough solutions to seemingly impossible to solve problems. Click here for a 3-page summary of Dynamic Facilitation and the choice-creating process by Tom Atlee and Rosa Zubizarreta. I had a great time at the 4-day training, and enjoyed spending time with Jim, his wife, Jean, and the other workshop participants, and learning about Jim's vision of a "Citizens Amendment" to the U.S. Constitution. (Read more about this in Jim's book Society's Breakthrough! Releasing Essential Wisdom and Virtue in All the People). You can also contact Jim at , 360-385-7118, or go to

Fish on ice.

Fresh fish at the Pike Place Market.

Jim's training took place in Port Townsend, a beautiful town outside of Seattle, but I was able to spend a full day in the city before my flight back. I had a great time in Seattle, visiting the Pike Place Market, walking around Capitol Hill, but most notably meeting with three amazing people - all NCDD members doing fantastic work in dialogue and deliberation out of Seattle.

I had a lively brunch with Susan Partnow, a professional consultant who works with the Compassionate Listening Project (, helped create the Conversation Cafés movement (more about that below), and is currently working with her city council on a large-scale dialogue project. Susan and I had a lot of fun driving around some very funky Seattle neighborhoods. Susan can be reached at 206-789-8697 or .

Sandy with Susan Partnow

Susan and I with the Fremont troll.

Next was a very active visit with John Spady, Director of Research for the Forum Foundation. John wanted to take me to the Space Needle, so we parked nearby at one of five old-fashioned hamburger restaurants that his father owns. He treated me to a quick lunch (very good - I highly recommend Dick's Drive In to all Seattle visitors), and then we walked over to the Space Needle.

The view was fantastic (it began raining about an hour later, so we were lucky), and I took some gorgeous pictures.

John and I talked about the Forum Foundation's current project, which helps teachers engage their students in discussions about the President's State-of-the-Union address and gathers the results of these discussions via the internet. Go to to learn more, and feel free to let teachers know of this free resource.

Sandy with John Spady

John and I in front of a ferris wheel near the Space Needle.

The Forum Foundation has been conducting dialogue research since the early 70's, and is interested in the idea of "large-system collaborative dialogues" - how effective dialogues can be moved beyond the "small group" and scaled to benefit to larger social systems. You can contact John at or 206-634-0420.

Next I had the pleasure of meeting Vicki Robin for the first time. Vicki is the founder of the Conversation Cafés movement that has hit Seattle and several other cities by storm, and is the author of the popular book Your Money or Your Life, which helps people free up their time from the work-and-spend treadmill. Vicki and I met at the Blue Willow Tea Shop (with John joining us for a while) - a cozy and stylish café with a sign on its front door letting people know about the regular Conversation Cafés that take place inside.

Sandy with Vicki Robin

Vicki and I at the tea shop.

Vicki and I talked about the potential of NCDD and I asked for her advice on some challenges that I'm facing that she seems to have overcome with her projects. We talked about how Conversation Cafés, which are low-risk face-to-face dialogues that get 'strangers' talking about issues they share, are a great way to introduce the masses to the benefits of dialogue.

Andy and Sandy.

Happy to be home with Andy!

I also raved (again) about how innovative they are in their marketing of the Cafés. If you want some ideas for fun, catchy, high-energy ways to market dialogue, check out the Conversation Cafés website ( - and get your hands on their credit card-size handout that includes ground rules, resources and more. To contact Vicki, email or call 206-527-0437.

Thank you Jim, Jean, Susan, John and Vicki, for making my trip to Seattle so memorable! And thank you to Libby and Len Traubman for inspiring me to start photo-documenting my meetings with the wonderful people in our field.


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