Ohio Civic Engagement Incubator: Reflections Mid-Stream
The world feels rife with harshness, hate, and horror—but don’t for a second think that’s all there is. People of all kinds are stepping forward to learn how to support their communities by having conversations that make a lasting, positive difference.
Last fall, in cooperation with the League of Women Voters and Welcoming America, leaders from across Ohio joined Essential Partners for a yearlong Civic Incubator training to learn to foster better dialogue. In Cleveland, Akron, and Dayton, participants committed to bringing their newly-developed dialogue facilitation skills back to their communities. These skills include:
- Conflict Management and Collaborative Decision-Making,
- How to Design and Facilitate Reflective Structured Dialogue, and
- Dialogue to Collaborative Action.
With continuing support from Essential Partners and team coaches, incubator participants have begun to facilitate dialogues in their communities on topics like race, immigration, police/community relations, neighborhood collaboration, civic decision-making, and water quality improvement. Their work has just begun, but here's what we've learned:
- A community is built upon relationships, which are strengthened by open-hearted conversation. Learning to stay present, be aware of our own reactions, to de-escalate heated situations, and to frame issues so that all parties can see that their interests are essential.
- Better conversations about divisive issues require a “safe-enough” space to begin. Essential Partners’ framework helps participants and facilitators create a space where people with divisive backgrounds and significant differences can enter into dialogue with a sense of common good faith. This allows them to establish relationships built on mutual understanding, and these relationships lay the foundation for a stronger civil and democratic society.
- Dialogue is a skill we all need to learn. Dialogue skills are rarely taught in school, and they're rarely demonstrated in society. “Dialogue” is a conversational search for mutual understanding, a way of meeting another person with genuine curiosity to learn about who they are and what they care about. While dialogue may not focus on decision-making or problem-solving, it often makes decisions easier and more inclusive while encouraging wiser, more sustainable solutions.
Are we suggesting that the Essential Partners’ dialogue framework is a panacea? No. But it does make it possible to safely open up to each other, to understand each other, and to better understand ourselves as well. Dialogue is the basis of a strong community and a life well spent.