Photo: Zeidler Center

Building Civic Institutions: The Frank Zeidler Center for Public Discussion

Born in 1912, Frank Zeidler served as mayor of Milwaukee, Wisconsin over three terms from 1948 until 1960. Mayor Zeidler enjoyed a unique bipartisan appeal. He seemed able to connect with voters across the political, social, and economic spectrum about the policies and values that mattered most to them.

Mayor Zeidler remained active in civic life after stepping down from office, seeking to bring people together wherever possible to address conflicts and challenges. He pursued the public good through, among other activities, community dialogues.

Members of Mayor Zeidler's home parish, Redeemer Lutheran Church, wished to honor his values and vision. After Mayor Zeidler passed away in 2006, that group came together to found the Zeidler Center for Public Discussion.

Advancing expertise with Essential Partners

In 2013, affiliates of the Zidler Center felt the need to advance their facilitation expertise. They sought to add a set of powerful, flexible new tools to help connect people across differences of views, values, and identities.

So they attended an Essential Partners (EP) workshop, The Power of Dialogue.

Energized by the training they received, these facilitators brought the EP method back to their community and their work. The center has since facilitated dialogues on guns, racial reconciliation, interfaith dialogues, war, immigration, and segregation in Milwaukee, to name just a few projects.

“We so appreciate the leadership of Essential Partners in the field of dialogue across differences,” says Katherine Wilson, Executive Director of the Zeidler Center.

The Center now works locally, nationally, and internationally. Their partners include the Milwaukee Police Department, Safe & Sound, Habitat for Humanity, the Boys and Girls Clubs, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and Marquette University, among many others.

Collaboration and innovation

Facilitators at the Zeidler Center began by using EP’s Reflective Structured Dialogue (RSD) model precisely as it was taught, Wilson explains. But they needed more. EP has since collaborated with the Center to innovate and adapt the RSD approach for their context. “We’re now always evolving the model,” says Wilson, “after almost every training.”

“We are incredibly proud to have served as one foundation for the work of the Zeidler Center,” says John Sarrouf, co-Executive Director of Essential Partners. “Their success serves as the best possible proof-of-concept I could imagine. I’m excited to learn from their work and to support them as we continue to innovate and expand the EP approach together.”

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