Whether you’re grappling with a divisive community issue, or simply want to include residents’ voices in city government, we have tools and resources that can help foster civic engagement. Our advice focuses on three core components: organizing, dialogue and action.
Our ultimate goal is to create positive community change that includes everyone, and we believe that our tools, advice, and resources will help foster that kind of change.
While we have many online resources, we are also available via email and phone to answer any questions you may have. Through conference calls, webinars, and in-person trainings, we can help you along the way.
Throughout this process, you should actively work against inequities that may be present in your community, particularly racial, ethnic and economic inequities. We’ve found that regardless of the issue, structural inequities tend to be an underlying force behind it. To make a real impact, these inequities need to be addressed.
During the organizing phase, we emphasize coalition-building, recruitment of diverse dialogue participants, message development, early planning for action and training of facilitators. In this phase, it is crucial to reach out to every sector of the population to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard.
We encourage organizers to approach their work with the following principles in mind:
- The most effective efforts are moved forward by a group of leaders reflecting all community constituencies and a broad range of perspectives.
- Organizers include traditional leaders/decision-makers, as well as non-traditional or grassroots leaders.
- Measurable action and change is more likely to happen when key leaders are on board from the beginning.
- Change is more lasting and effective when it happens at many levels—individual, group, institutional, and policy.
During the dialogue phase, people of varied ages, ethnicities and perspectives come together around a public concern in a space that fosters constructive, respectful conversation. Participants listen to each other’s hopes and concerns, build relationships, and generate ideas for action. Typically, several groups of 8-12 meet during a 4-6 week period.
Key components of the dialogues:
Small groups. Having groups of 10-12 helps ensure that all voices can be heard during the discussion, and fosters relationship-building.
Trained facilitators. Neutral facilitators help the flow of the conversation, make room for all voices and capture in print main points made during the dialogues.
Ground rules. These are created and agreed upon by the group to create a space where everyone feels comfortable sharing opinions and stories.
Discussion materials. Facilitators use discussion guides to set up a framework for the conversation. People share personal stories, discuss the issue, examine multiple points of view, and develop ideas for action. Facilitators can use materials written by Everyday Democracy, or they may use a discussion guide written by a team in your community. Some communities modify an Everyday Democracy discussion guide, personalizing it to their town’s particular circumstances.
The dialogues lead to the action forum, where participants come together to share their ideas. The group decides on which action ideas to move forward, and action teams form to carry out the ideas.
At this point, communities take various paths to support action groups and create change. These include:
- Creating an action oversight group to help manage the work of the action teams.
- Starting a nonprofit, or partnering with an existing organization to provide resources that further their goals.
- Take advantage of community momentum by starting another round of dialogues while action teams from the first round are moving forward with their efforts.
- Teaching local organizations, schools, and nearby towns how to implement this process to create a more substantive impact.
Throughout this process, individuals often gain new insights and relationships, and sometimes even go through a personal transformation. They may become leaders in the community and advocates for change. The action teams work to create collective, institutional and policy change to make a lasting impact on the community.
Ready to get started? Check out tips and resources to help you make change in your community.