People in conversation

Evaluating Conversations

This is the first of a series of blogs sharing what we we’re learning as an organization through our Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning program. (To learn more about the commitment we made to evaluate our work and what we do, see our Evaluation page.) We will continue to share regular updates that tell stories of our work and start conversations around what we’re learning and what that means for how we work in the world.

For almost thirty years we’ve helped communities around the world settle into tough conversations they need have, even in the most difficult of of times. But in the last year, we’ve been busier than ever. More people are realizing the need for effective communication across divides in our communities, and the need for relationships that bridge differences

Since January 2017, we’ve analyzed over 450 evaluations; helped over 350 people set goals for applying dialogue in their communities; and held over 70 follow-up interviews with workshop participants. We have taken what we learned in all the data we received, and set up an infrastructure to incorporate our learning into our work. We now know that in the months following a workshop with us, over 70% of respondents continue to feel committed and equipped to engage across differences.


“I feel like the whole lens has affected me in the way that I think, which affects what comes out of my mouth. How to ask questions, how to bring groups together. It’s changed the way I’ve brought groups together, the kinds of questions I ask to build community.”

Perhaps more importantly, though, we found that many people experienced personal transformation—once they learned another way was possible, they didn’t want to go back. 80% of people who participated in calls three months after a training spoke of a willingness to engage without being asked to speak about it. (One big learning for us was to start asking these questions, even in training.) These shifts were mentioned 64 times.

Of those, the most frequently heard response was of personal transformation. 57% of people who spoke of renewed commitment to dialogue following our workshop spoke of personal transformation (a total of 20 people). Others spoke of committing to engaging across difference, a belief that dialogue will help us understand one another, and a belief dialogue can be helpful to communities in the long run. We heard stories such as:

“I’ve been talking about dialogue and communication a lot in the last three months, especially. I have a commitment, a promise, a belief that communication can handle any problem … I’ve changed my doctoral focus – it is now about communication practices in church communities. The January training was significant in this change of direction.”

“Before the workshop, it was hard to be open beyond my own stance. I couldn’t do it… I now want to hear from people who have different opinions. I feel that I can bridge the divide”

“The HEDIT conference inspired us to start our own Difficult Dialogues group at school. We have a group of 12 to 15 people that meets at lunch. I can have a hard time separating my own emotions and anxiety when I’m in these conversations. FPP helped me to be able to do this. It also helped me guide the conversation.”

“I’ve used skills in situations where there’s been contention, when we’re mad at each other. When I get into these situations, if I can say to myself, “This isn’t working well,” then I can pretty much be assured that I’m one of the problems. I realize that there’s a good chance that we’re both in the room for the same purpose.  That there’s something we’re both concerned about but are probably looking at different sides of the same thing. We’re in the same boat, just looking at it from a different angle. And the bottom line is that the essential thing is the relationship. That’s what was emphasized in the workshop.”

“Personally, I’ve given this lots of thought - being humble about my own opinions. I’m more vocal on the pulpit, as well as more uncertain about knowing that I hold the answer. I intend to devote my high holiday sermons on these topics. Humility about our own opinions and curiosity about another’s opinions.”

“I’m taking more responsibility to be more dialogic in my conversations. To invite other people to be present and share their experiences. Listening for everyone’s voice. This has become more prominent for me and it continues to hold.”

We also learned that just over 40% of respondents reported making progress on their goals they set for their community three months after working with us. (That number rose to over 60% after six months, suggesting it takes time to see progress.) Less than half of respondents reported experiencing or observing positive changes in communication patterns within their communities over time. (This is true even though over 70% of participants could recognize destructive patterns.) This tells us that while people feel transformed after a workshop and often experience shifts in their attitudes or engagement, they also struggle to translate that transformation into sustained change in their communities.

As EP continues to provide transformative, high quality services that foster constructive dialogue across differences, we can acknowledge a broader understanding of the impact of our work over time. From our analysis, we can see a clear picture of people hungry for more specific tools, applications, and models for change in their communities. Without the support we offer, participants are less likely to successfully make progress toward their community goals or create sustainable social cohesion.


Stories Matter

The ability of our monitoring and evaluation system helps us prove the efficacy of stories in the context of transformative dialogue. For thirty years, we have tried to instill the value of stories in every organization and community we’ve worked with.

Unwrapping identity layers for the purpose of finding connections is one of the valuable results of storytelling. In this respect, the many thousands of stories we’ve heard continue to inspire and challenge us to think about how we ensure our work will equip others with the skills and attitude necessary to support resilient, cohesive communities through dialogue.

We welcome you to use and adapt what we created to meet your needs. If you’re interested in learning more, you can see our system here.


Katie joined Essential Partners after completing her graduate studies at Tufts University's Fletcher School, where her research in religious conflicts focused on the need for effective communication in complex political issues.