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Facilitating Community Conversations for General Audiences

Training webinar for CC and CCYA facilitators.

Humanities New York

on 11 April 2014

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Transcript of Facilitating Community Conversations for General Audiences

What is "Community Conversations"?
"Community Conversations" provides an avenue for communities to talk about important issues through shared reading and discussion with an intimate group (between 10 and 30 participants).
How it works:
The group or class reads a text together.
A facilitator asks open-ended questions about the
text and the topic.
The group works together to understand how the
ideas raised in the text impact our lives and communities.
Program Goals
Focus on Civic Participation
The New York Council for the Humanities
Focusing on civic participation:
Helps to create empathy and a sense of community and civic engagement.
Allows groups to talk about difficult subjects from a safe, equalizing, and active distance.
"Community Conversations" seeks to:
Provide tools that help community organizations host open-ended conversations centered on important issues and ideas.
Encourage the use of shared texts as catalysts for engaged discussion.
Create opportunities for civic engagement and cultural understanding in places where people live, work and learn.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Day of Service
9/11 National Day of
Service and Remembrance
The mission of the New York Council for the Humanities is to help all New Yorkers become thoughtful participants in our communities by promoting critical inquiry, cultural understanding, and civic engagement.
What does the Council do?
Grants & Programs
The Council offers
to non-profit organizations in New York State who want to engage audiences in humanities public programming.
Text-Based Discussions
Discussion Series
One-Time Discussions
Community Conversations

(use our toolkit, find a local facilitator)
R&D Programs for Adults (including Serving theme)
Together & Unidos (for kids & family)
The humanities examine
What we Create
What we
What we
What are the Humanities?
Contact Us:
Erika Halstead
Good questions:
Are open-ended, and don't have a right or wrong answer.
Avoid focusing on basic comprehension or facts.
Invite personal response and text-to-world connections.
Encourage the group to build meaning together.
Continue the conversation by referencing comments and responses.
Are genuinely curious and invite multiple perspectives.
Give participants the tools to continue the conversation in other settings.
How to ask a follow-up question
Leah Nahmias
Good Facilitation
Goal 4: Let the group do the talking
Your job is to encourage the participants to discuss the topic and the text:
Don't plan to lecture or teach
Have pertinent information ready, but only include it to clarify or correct
Avoid answering your own questions
Speak last, sometimes not at all
Prioritize other voices over your own (85% participants, 15% facilitator)
Goal 2: Guide the conversation by asking good questions
Link comments and opinions:
Amaad, what do you think about what Jenny just said?
Do Hannah and Pedro's ideas have anything in common?
Introduce new perspectives or play devil's advocate:
Some people would rather be known for their contribution to science instead of their time volunteering. Can studying be a form of service?
How can people participate in a community that they don't feel part of?
Ask for clarification or other opinions:
I'd like to know more about that, Kiara. Can you talk more about your idea?
Saul brings up an interesting point. What do you all think?
Better Question
Dr. King says near the end of this passage that he wants “to leave a committed life behind.”
We can agree that he was successful in that pursuit. How?
Sample Questions
To what would you most like your life to be committed? What form might this commitment take?
Use the text as a basis for your discussion
Program Roles
Host Site
Responsible for:
Registering the event with the Council
Acting as the event contact person (and signing the contract with the Council)
Recruiting participants
Submitting a final evaluation
Responsible for:
Attending the training webinar
Preparing discussion materials based on the text and topic
Facilitating the discussion
Responsible for:
Attending the event
Participating in the conversation
Community Conversations Staff
Create a safe space for discussion
Sample Discussion Plan
10 minutes
Introductions & Starting to Think about the Topic
Introductions should be *very* brief
Ask for one word or brief introductions related to the topic:
10 minutes
Read the text aloud.
Have one fluent reader (preferably you) read the whole text aloud.
Make sure that everyone in the group has their own copy of the text.
50 minutes
10 minutes
Check comprehension.
Did everyone understand the vocabulary?
Are there any phrases that need further clarification?
Focus on interpretive and evaluative questions.
Interpretive: What does John Dewey mean when he says X?
Evaluative: What do you think about what he's saying?
10 minutes
Bring it back to civic participation.
Close the conversation by thinking about ways to serve your community:
If possible, seat participants in a circle or semi-circle.
Make enough copies of the text.
Give everyone a nametag.
Provide snacks if possible.
Use first names.
Sample Guidelines
Listen to each other.
Respect other ideas and opinions.
Share your ideas with the whole group.
Make sure everyone gets a turn to speak.
Think about how much you're talking.
Help others succeed.
Anticipate potential problems.
Value all opinions, but guide the conversation away from prejudice and stereotyping.
Set up guidelines for conversation.
Read the text several times to be thoroughly, intimately familiar with it.
The text should be the basis for a broader discussion on the role of civic participation in our lives and communities.
What does this text say about the importance of participating in our national and local communities?
How to use the text
Focuses the conversation on the theme
A starting point for discussion
A neutral place to return
(not on history)
You don't need to be an expert on the writer or the time period.
Over-prepare, but expect to use only about a third of your questions.
Focus on the shared text, not on personal experiences if the conversation gets too difficult or uncomfortable.
Next Steps
A Note on Silent Moments
Silent moments are inevitable, especially when working with people who aren't used to having a text-based conversation.

Silence doesn't mean that the conversation has stalled or that no one has anything to say.

Give participants a moment to think about their responses. If no one thinks of anything, try approaching the topic from another angle.

If that doesn't work -- or if the same thing is being said over and over -- move to the next question.
Step 1: Schedule your event and register with the Council
Step 2: Download the toolkit
Step 3: Host & facilitate the conversation
Step 4: Submit an evaluation
Featured sites must register their event when they apply to be a featured site.
You will be able to download the toolkit once you've registered with the Council.
Toolkits Contain:
Featured Sites:
Schedule your event when you register
Notify the Council if your event date or time changes at least 7 days in advance
Publicize your event
Flyer template and logos are available on the Council's website
Recruit at least 12 (but no more than 30) participants
Sign and return your agreement letter
Be respectful of other commitments and start on time.
Keep accurate attendance data.
Share your thoughts with the host site coordinator after the event.

Host Site Coordinators:
Complete the online evaluation with attendance information within 2 weeks of the event.
You may want to have participants fill out an evaluation as well. (And feel free to share them with the Council!)
Receiving the stipend
If you are selected to be a featured site, you must do the following to receive the $200 stipend:
1) Sign and return your agreement letter
2) Recruit at least 12 participants
3) Host the conversation
4) Submit an evaluation
* Use the stipend as you wish, but the Council recommends that $150 go to the facilitator and $50 to the host site. Receipts are not required. You should receive your check or gift card within 6 to 8 weeks.
Goal 1: Plan ahead
Who is your audience?
What themes and ideas do you want to cover?
How will you begin the conversation?
What will you do if discussion doesn't take off?
What challenges might you face?
How will you close the conversation?
Goal 5: Avoid pitfalls
Here are some common pitfalls that can derail or weaken your conversation.
Reliving a specific date or time period
History lessons
Debating political views
Offensive or discriminatory language
Stereotypes and generalizations
Who would you vote for?
Where were you when...?
Ages? Backgrounds?
Goal 3: Build a Conversation
Treat the discussion like a conversation between friends:
Listen with genuine interest
Focus on learning, not teaching
Look at the person speaking
Ask questions that make sense for the conversation already happening
Empower the group to ask their own questions
"All Southerners are Republicans"
Use the text as the basis of your conversations
Create a safe space for discussion
May be the same person
What one word springs to mind when you think about democracy?
In one word, how would you describe your mood right now?
What drew you to tonight's conversation?
How can we make our community more welcoming to immigrants?
How can we encourage others to practice democracy?
How can we keep the service legacy of 9/11 alive locally?
What are some ways we can inspire environmental stewardship in our communities?
Welcome & Roles
Discussion Questions
Tips for Facilitators
Tips for Hosts
Sample Discussion Plan
Participant Evaluation
Other Council Grants & Programs
Program Partners
Dewey talks about the relationship between education and democracy.
Are you worried about our nation's future when you look at our public schools?
What's the link between education and democracy? Does education empower democracy?
Be sure to call in to hear the audio presentation:

Participant code: #336514

**There are theme-specific prompts in the toolkit's sample plan!
Tina Thompson
& Tina!
Rockyatu Otoo
New! Environmental
Full transcript