Photo: Community Meeting

Civic & Community

Photo: Public Meeting

I ran for my local school board in 2018 and was elected. Now I use the skills I learned from Essential Partners in our school board meetings, whether I’m chairing the meeting or not. It makes these meetings much more productive. We don’t go over the same topics over and over again!

Misty Stoll, School Board Trustee


Cities, towns, and neighborhoods face potentially explosive challenges year after year. These might be conflicts around major national topics like policing, complex local issues like housing development, or a small question about public parks that reveals underlying conflicts.

No matter where you are, conflict is inevitable. Don’t wait for your community to spiral into dysfunction, gridlock, or violence.

Essential Partners equips civic leaders, organizers, advocates, and community members with the tools to navigate polarizing differences.

EP's approach has been used for resident engagement programs, community dialogues, and public meetings. What kinds of partners do we work with? Here are a few examples:

  • Elected bodies
  • Advocacy organizations
  • Public libraries
  • Community foundations
  • Boys & Girls Clubs
  • Chambers of commerce
  • Major employers

EP’s trademark approach to community-building and public dialogue has been refined over thirty years. Collaborations with EP produce measurable outcomes, including:

  • Improved social cohesion
  • Repaired trust across differences
  • Mutual understanding of opposing views
  • More effective, lasting collective actions

Ready to foster a healthier civic life? Contact us for a free consultation.

Equipping Local Institutions

Essential Partners has also helped advance the capacity of civic organizations, whether it's leading more inclusive public engagements, navigating a strategic planning process, or convening diverse groups around a divisive issue.

Read about our work with The Frank Zeidler Center for Public Discussion in Wisconsin and with the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute in Arkansas.

EP equips civic institutions and local leaders to better serve their communities while advancing their vision. All collaborations are tailored to meet the needs of the local context.

Let's get started. Contact us today for a free consultation.

  • I did not anticipate having as many concrete takeaways as I do. I feel there is an immense practical application.

    Program Participant
  • I am now open to new views and can moderate my impulse to debate or persuade others of different views

    Program Participant
  • The thing that always feels like magic to me—and I’ve used it in several meetings that I’ve had since—is how the practitioners start by setting out pacts or agreements.

    Kate Cell
    Union of Concerned Scientists, Massachusetts
  • The Sheridan Community has changed in the best way since the Essential Partners training. The Center for a Vital Community has been holding monthly dialogues. I’m going to facilitate the upcoming one. What’s great is that we’re attracting a much more diverse group of participants. There are always the regulars who come, but now we’re also getting conservative Republicans to come as well—politicians come, even the Sheriff comes.

    Misty Stoll, School Board Trustee
  • We owe a debt of gratitude to Laura Chasin and her collaborators at Essential Partners… From them, we have learned about the transformative power of telling one’s story and speaking to the heart of the matter.

    Douglas Stone, Sheila Heen, and Bruce Patton
    Difficult Conversations
  • This has been quite different from other discussions in Liberia about peace. While many processes have been about how to reform ex-combatants, this was about how we may hold our own views but live together peacefully.

    Matthew Sandikie, Project Partner
  • In these divisive times, Essential Partners has given my local YMCA and now the national YMCA a means to build bridges through dialogue, re-establishing foundations for constructive change to occur.

    Janele Nelson, Mission Director
    YMCA of Pierce & Kitsap Counties (WA)
  • One of the things that we talked about was the ability to hear another person’s point of view, even if our minds aren’t changed. We have to remember that any sort of movement is movement. If we don’t acknowledge small movement, then we just stay on two different sides, and it’s all black and white, and we don’t hear each other.

    Anjali Bal, Associate Professor of Marketing
    Babson College, MA
  • As a former rebel, I really believe that if we had known about dialogue, perhaps we would not have had a civil war.

    Windor Dorko
  • Photo: Louise O’Kane, Community Places, Northern Ireland

    [Essential Partners’] technique is used to explore contentious or divisive issues. So looking at renewable energy we thought this was an ideal opportunity to explore all the complexities of that issue. I found it a really useful method, and although this is the first time we’ve used it I am sure we’ll be using it again.

    Louise O’Kane, Community Places
    Northern Ireland, UK
  • This is a new idea, so many people speaking from their hearts. People can come together...if people can understand, they can change their hearts; then this can bring about more change.

    Program Participant
    Interfaith Mediation Centre, Nigeria
  • This is a different tool for engagement. It’s not about you, it’s about others. It involves the art of listening and sincerely talking from the heart

    Program Participant
    Interfaith Mediation Centre, Nigeria
  • There’s a real difference to people who are coming to meetings. They say, wow this is so different. They all said how people were more on the ball, more congenial. Now people see growing the economy as a way to unify the receiving community and immigrant communities.

    Peter Cooke, Immigration Dialogue Participant
    New Hampshire
  • Instead of demonizing and dehumanizing the other, we built a deeper connection. The fact that we disagree matters much less. It matters much more that we are neighbors in this community.

    Linda Gryczan, Mediator
    Montana Mediation Association
  • Authentic conversations will lead people to reflect on their own thinking and transform their perspectives to include that of others.

    Belle Abaya
    The Conflict Resolution Group Foundation, Philippines
  • Together, we married our ideas to create a dialogue model that took into consideration our young people’s particular needs, and our culture.

    Belle Abaya
    The Conflict Resolution Group Foundation, Philippines
  • The learning we received from Essential Partners has helped us open up space for people to have difficult conversations in a different way. The more we do this, the more we realize that dialogue has to be a part of all our work.

    Janet Harris, Winthrop Rockefeller Institute
  • I ran for my local school board in 2018 and was elected. I use the skills in our meetings, whether I’m chairing the meeting or not. This makes the meetings much more productive. We don’t go over the same topics over and over again.

    Misty Stoll, School Board Trustee
  • I read this comment from the 14th Dalai Lama: "Every change of mind is first of all a change of heart.” It seems appropriate for what we are doing.

    Program Participant
    Bayview, Michigan
  • I think Essential Partners' training should be mandatory in every legislature. I think it should be a requirement.

    Veronique Cavaillier, Director of Eastern Trade Council
    The Council of State Governments
  • I have never heard people talk so openly about race, especially in a class setting. Everyone was respectful and honest at the same time. The dialogue structure helped me learn about my peers and helped me feel more comfortable than I ever have about discussing controversial issues.

    Undergraduate Student
    Gordon College, Massachusetts
  • What is special about Essential Partners' approach is that it promotes authenticity, reduces defensiveness, increases curiosity, and boosts connectedness.

    Belle Abaya
    The Conflict Resolution Group Foundation, Philippines
  • I notice that my classmates take much more care when speaking about people who practice other religions. They make fewer assumptions, and they’re more careful with their words to make sure to avoid unintentional connotations.

    Undergraduate Student
    Bridgewater College, Virginia
  • This wasn’t a policy debate [about guns]. Instead, two people whose backgrounds and views diverged in almost every way possible shared a moment of honesty that struck at the heart of the matter.

    Cricket Fuller, The Christian Science Monitor
    Boston, Massachusetts
  • This is the best adult learning experience I have had in the past five years. I wanted to learn new skills—I did!

    Program Participant
  • I felt an amazing sense of accomplishment when the Essential Partners training ended; that I'd done something important for my community and something important for me.

    Program Participant
  • What surprised me was how much you could transform a relationship during a three-hour conversation.

    Nicki Glasser, Policy Coordinator
    Transformation Center, Massachusetts
  • Essential Partners does the best work in the field of dialogue and communication.

    Bob Bordone, Expert and Author
    Harvard Negotiation & Mediation Clinical Program, Co-Founder
  • The highlight for me was the interconnectedness of the participants’ views, mutual respect, and range of experiences within the group

    Program Participant
  • Dialogue not only teaches you how to interact and understand more deeply those around you, it also teaches you more about the world around you and yourself. I think dialogue is super important to my growth as a student, a global citizen and a human being. I have learned to listen, I have learned to speak out, I have learned how to access my stretch zone (where I feel uncomfortable speaking but not turned off) and I have learned where my limits are.

    Meirav Solomon ’20
    Cary Academy, NC
  • Before, I thought all dialogue that does not culminate in solution was considered equivalent to failure. Now I see that dialogue is a stage complete in itself.

    Program Participant
  • Essential Partners has played a catalytic role in our ability to facilitate dialogue time and time again, and we could not have done this work without them.

    Rebekah Shrestha, SVP
    Belfer Center for Innovation & Social Impact and Office of Strategic Planning, 92NY
  • I learned that I can build relationships, that I can be connected to anybody who I want to be connected to, no matter how difficult it is

    Romeo McCauley, Project Partner
  • I realized that by using the “dialogue” approach, people could talk of what is deep in their heart, especially things that have harmed them.

    Etionette Nshirmirimana, Burundian Master Trainer
  • I am amazed at what came out—the way people shared their stories. This is not like a role-play; it really touched me.

    Seth Karamage, Mediator
    Interfaith Mediation Centre, Nigeria
  • The community dialogue was instrumental in helping us create a new policy around class rank. Though a controversial topic in the community, the dialogue EP helped us run ensured all voices were heard and valued. Regardless of how people felt with the final result, one parent summed it up best for us, ‘sometimes the process is more important than the outcome’.

    Andrew Wulf, Principal
    Newburyport High School
  • Through this training, we will have more people in the stream of work that we do and become better equipped with the know-how, skills and techniques. But most important, together we will sow a seed that will germinate and become a source of the antidote to terrorism, fanaticism, bigotry and extremism.

    Imam Sani Isah
  • There was a remarkable change in the way we were able to communicate with one another following the facilitated conversations.

    Bill Scott, Project Director
    Massachusetts Department of Mental Health
  • I’ve gained not only confidence but tools. The Essential Partners training was worth every penny.

    Kim Davidson, Ombuds
    Oberlin College, Ohio

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