People in conversation

From diatribe to dialogue on divisive public issues: Approaches drawn from family therapy


Conflict Resolution Quarterly

This early article on Reflective Structured Dialogue, co-authored by EP's co-founders, discusses the design and theory of the approach at that time.

In the abstract, the founders write that public discourse on divisive issues is often dominated by destructive debate between polarized opponents. Applying family therapy ideas, the Public Conversations Project (now Essential Partners) fosters constructive dialogue on such conflicts.

The approach includes (1) collaborating with participants, starting with extensive premeeting exchanges, (2) using ground rules and formats that prevent reen-actment of the “old” conversation, and (3) fostering respectful inquiry to stimulate a “new” conversation that increases understanding of the “other” as a person, not a stereotype or position.

The project's emphasis is not on resolving specific disputes but on improving the way people with strong differences relate to each other.


Corky Becker, PhD
Richard Chasin, MD
Maggie Herzig
Sallyann Roth, MSW
Robert R. Stains, Jr, MEd